This rare Jeep Grand Cherokee “Excursion” may be the most 1990s SUV of all time. Based on the already rather “90s” Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ — with its plastic cladding and headlights that faded to yellow as soon as they left the factory — the Excursion added the conversion-van treatment that was so popular in the era. That means it has a cathode ray tube TV, VHS, tall roof, and plenty of wood trim inside. The bull bar pushes the ’90s nostalgia over the top, making this incredible Jeep well worth saving from a junkyard in Detroit.
Making the rounds on the internet right now after Spencer Strucienski snapped some photos at my former go-to Detroit junkyard, Ryan’s Pick-a-Part, is this red 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Excursion. “I found a thing today that I didn’t know existed! Located at Ryans Pick a Part in Detroit,” Strucienski wrote in the Junkyard Finds Facebook page, where he posted the photos you see here. He’s not the only one surprised upon seeing this Jeep; legendary car journalist Doug DeMuro once wrote an article on Autotrader titled What Is This Weird Jeep Grand Cherokee? referencing this very mystery Jeep.
And really, it’s a fair question, because information on the Excursion is scarce.
I’m really not entirely sure which upfitting company handled the conversion after the Jeeps rolled out of the Jefferson North Assembly Plant. As for how they built the Jeep? That seems fairly straightforward.
The conversion company cut a big hole in the roof, and grafted on a taller fiberglass lid complete with awesome Land Rover Discovery-like skylights. Below the rockers sit running boards, in the rear is a spare tire carrier, and at the ends of each axle is a custom aluminum wheel (well, those are missing from the Jeep at the junkyard). A bull-bar protects the grille and headlights, with some big round auxiliary lights adorning the outside of the Jeep. Atop the fiberglass lid is a roof rack, which has bars that reach down along the A-pillars to the top of the front fenders.
Out back, you can see the remnants of the spare tire carrier. Part of the hinge juts out of the plastic bumper cover on the passenger-side, and the latch to lock the carrier in place sits between the license plate housing and the rear glass handle. Just to the left of the latch plate is what appears to be a plug, which I’m assuming is there to power the interior bits while the engine is off.
Speaking of the interior bits, check them out:
There’s a power sunroof, a cathode ray tube TV (the best kind of ray tube, if you ask me), hookups for gaming systems or other audiovisual equipment and two headphone jacks. In the back, there’s a big storage bin with an integrated VHS player and air compressor:
You’ll notice the wood surrounding the VCR. You’ll find that wood darn-near everywhere in this Jeep:
That’s wood on the door panels, wood on the dash, wood on the shifter surround, wood on the transfer case surround, and is that wood around gauges? This cabin is a damn termite’s paradise, and while it looks a bit hastily slapped together, I can’t say it doesn’t add a bit of character.
Overall, it appears the headliner has held up much better than the factory one would have after 24 years. In fact, overall, the Jeep doesn’t look that bad. If I had to guess, the notoriously unreliable 44RE four-speed automatic bolted to the 5.2-liter V8 is the reason why this Jeep is in the junkyard.
I think someone should save it and swap in a better transmission (perhaps a manual from one of my “holy grails”?), even if it would be an utterly idiotic, impractical endeavor. As cool as this Jeep would look off-road or on safari, it’s really no better equipped than a lightly modified ZJ. The fiberglass roof adds what looks like negligible usable space, and the audio and video equipment is so old, it adds pretty much no value. Really, the only things worth keeping, and that you couldn’t easily replicate via from aftermarket, are the sky lights and the overall exterior look.
But those are what matter! Those windows in the roof are just awesome, as is the overall shape of this ZJ. To see this rare machine (I have no clue how many were built, but I can’t imagine it was more than a thousand) lightly lifted and turned into an overlanding rig would be great. The ZJ platform, with its solid axles, reasonable curb weight relative to its interior space, short-ish overhangs, flex-y fully coil-sprung suspension, and disc brakes is a great platform for the trails. Or, if someone were to simply clean the Jeep up a bit and keep it stock, it’d likely win every Radwood show ever.
Alas, it’s not likely to happen. Generally, once a car had reached the rows of a junkyard, it stays there until it meets the crusher.
Update June 22 11:45 P.M. ET: Per the ad above, Mark III Industries from Ocala, Florida did the conversion on this magnificent Jeep. Here’s a little info from a May 1995 Automotive News article:
Designers at Mark III Industries Inc., the nation’s largest vehicle converter, are poring over a Jeep Grand Cherokee to see what can be done to gussy it up.
Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee owners often spiff up their vehicles on their own with running boards and other luxury amenities, said Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12, which represents workers at Chrysler’s Jeep assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio.
‘They can really jazz them up,’ Baumhower said. ‘It’s interesting that the conversion companies seem to have found a new market for our vehicles.’
Mark III will send its modified Grand Cherokee to Chrysler Corp. for inspection.
‘The real trick is getting the TV inside,’ said Jim Hossack, Mark III vice president of product development and materials. Mark III is experimenting with inserting a TV in the back of a front seat in the Grand Cherokee.
Interestingly, The New York Times’ July 1996 story mentions Indiana-based Glaval planning a Grand Cherokee conversion:
This year, the Chrysler Corporation is letting the Glaval Corporation of Elkhart, Ind., convert Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicles, Chrysler’s most popular vehicle. Glaval will raise the roofs of the Grand Cherokees, creating space for a television, a videocassette player, a Nintendo machine, a high-end stereo, indirect lighting, a cabinet and other trimmings of the conversion trade. The converted Grand Cherokees will join the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Suburban and Blazer in the ranks of the sport utilities turned limousines.