Last year, my friend Brandon and I nearly lost our minds after we flew across the country to fix and road trip a rare, manual transmission Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now there’s an even cooler “Holy Grail” Grand Cherokee for sale just one state over in Illinois, and nobody’s buying it. It makes no sense!
That trip to Colorado last year was a test of the human spirit. It was a grueling, multi-day wrenchfest that sent my friend Brandon into a spiraling deluge that nearly caused him to give up on the trip. Read that article when you get a chance, but for now, just look at this amazing Jeep:
I know, I know. It just looks like a first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee “ZJ,” and nothing remotely worth spending your precious morning reading about. But look a little closer:
That’s a manual transmission, making this 1993 model one of roughly 1,500 Jeep Grand Cherokees ever offered with a stick. And that’s a big deal because the Grand Cherokee was a phenomenally comfortable and off-road capable machine let down only by its weak, Chrysler-designed four-speed automatic transmissions. A few 1993 models could be had with Aisin-Warner automatics which were much tougher, but besides those, the only truly durable first-generation Grand Cherokees are the rare manual models like this one.
Perhaps just as important as the transmission is the interior. This Grand Cherokee has the coveted red interior. Red door cards, red seats, red dashboard, red headliner — the whole thing is red, and it is epic.
The red interior and the manual transmission make this the best Jeep Grand Cherokee ever made. There is no question. My 1994, with its green exterior paint and brown interior, comes in at a close second but there’s no arguing with these beautiful red seats:
What we have here is a truly special machine.
Lots of people in this world laud the Jeep Cherokee XJ for its reliability and toughness, which is partly why XJ prices have risen so high in that past few years. But ZJs remain cheap and, while that might make sense given the questionable reliability of the vehicle’s automatic transmissions, it makes very little sense for the manual transmission models not to command a similar premium as the XJ as they’re basically just Cherokees with slightly rounder, larger bodies.
The axles are the same, the five-speed manual is the same, the front suspension is the same, the steering is the same, the engine is the same—I could go on. There’s so much commonality that Chilton actually combines the two vehicles into a single repair manual (see below). And yet, manual XJs fetch much more money than manual ZJs.
While I get that part of that has to do with the XJ’s exterior design being a bit more classic, the discrepancy still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Manual ZJs are, in many ways, superior to the rougher, cruder manual XJs.
The manual ZJ may be a bit larger and less agile, but it is more comfortable and quieter, with a more robust cooling system, and more available parts cars at the junkyard than you can even imagine. It’s an awesome machine, and to see—month after month—a rare one like this still up for sale for only a couple of grand—especially given that it has the amazing red interior—is just baffling.
Per the listing, the 1993 model’s inline-six runs well, with only 165,000 miles on the odometer. Ball joints, track bar, steering box, and sway bar are apparently new, and—and this part is amazing—the air conditioning works! This is impressive for an old Jeep.
Unfortunately, the ZJ needs a tailpipe and radio, and there is surface rust on the roof. But that all seems trivial. The question, really, is how much rust is below, because the Jeep is for sale in Hartford, Illinois; that’s a rusty town, I bet. I do see a bit of Fe2O3 starting on the rear quarter panels, but things up top seem fine otherwise.
The two grand asking price is damn cheap. I paid $700 for mine, but its paint is way worse than this one’s, I had to fly across the country to get it, I had to replace a clutch and various other parts and I had to drive the machine 1,700 miles back to Michigan. I’d much rather have bought this one (though the story wouldn’t have been as epic).
Anyway, someone needs to buy this before I’m tempted to send my new coworker Mercedes to pick this thing up on my behalf. I’m not sure my company would be thrilled if I used my position as a veteran Jalopnik writer to pressure new employees into buying cars for me.
I actually reached out to the seller back in February of 2019, but I didn’t buy it. I’m not sure why, though I think the seller took the listing down since someone he knew needed to drive the Jeep. Eventually, the Jeep went right back up for sale and, though a few people have taken the thing on a test drive, the vehicle remains listed and has been so for “a while,” per the seller.
It is a reminder that maybe, possibly, feasibly, this obsession with manual transmission Jeep Grand Cherokees is mine and mine alone. Where I see a beautiful, reliable, comfortable, rare old Jeep, perhaps the rest of the world sees simply: An old SUV.
Maybe the fact that I’m surprised this vehicle is still for sale is an indicator of how delusional I am — how separated from reality I find myself now that I’ve been writing for Jalopnik for over five years. I find this vehicle to be highly desirable to the point where I traveled across the country to snag mine; meanwhile, much of the rest of the world says “meh” and moves on.
Hopefully one of you buys this thing this weekend because I’m calling up my coworker Mercedes right now. I wrote this article for the same reason that I wrote a similar story “A Beautiful ‘Holy Grail’ Jeep Grand Cherokee Is For Sale For $2,650 And I’m Trying To Resist Buying It” a few months ago—I don’t need another vehicle.
But then again, we all know the rule: Buy first, think later.