Home » Battle Of The Big Jeeps: 1970 Wagoneer vs 1979 Wagoneer

Battle Of The Big Jeeps: 1970 Wagoneer vs 1979 Wagoneer

Sbsd 11 16 2023
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Welcome to another fun-filled edition of Shitbox Showdown! Today, we’re looking at two examples of the same car. I found them within minutes of each other, and they each fill in gaps in each other’s shortcomings. So we’re going to do the traditional either/or vote, but I’m also going to add in the rarely-seen “Both” option.

But before we get to those, let’s see which melee weapon you chose yesterday. I had a feeling I knew which one was going to win, by virtue of it being both cheaper and in better condition, and I was right. The potential cigarette smell in the Buick put a lot of you off, and it would put me off too. That Buick was my second choice for yesterday, actually; I was going to feature a really nice Cutlass Ciera wagon, but it was for sale at a buy-here-pay-here lot, and they did that stupid thing where they add a banner with their phone number to every image. So Smokey the Buick got the nod… and lost.

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It’s one of the many pitfalls I face each and every day to bring you the finest in crappy old cars. Often, I find a car I really want to feature, but it has one or two bad photos, or twenty photos but all close-ups, or nothing but iPhone screen shots. Honestly, after doing this job, I could teach a class in how not to take photos for a classified ad.

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All right; let’s talk Jeeps. After World War II, civilian Jeeps were more or less the same as military ones, meaning tough, rough, and mostly bare steel. But with competition from International and others making more comfortable and car-like vehicles, a more civilized Jeep was needed. Enter the Wagoneer. This big four-door wagon had a long lifespan, lasting from 1963 all the way until 1991 – that’s three owners of the Jeep name. Today we have one from the Kaiser era, and one from the AMC years. Let’s check them out.

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1970 Jeep Wagoneer – $2,600

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Engine/drivetrain: 350 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: Eagle Creek, OR

Odometer reading: 100,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs, but not roadworthy

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One of my favorite things about writing this column is that I get to learn stuff I never knew about all sorts of cars. For example, I had no idea that the first Jeep Wagoneers were available with independent front suspension and an overhead-cam inline six. Sophisticated stuff for 1963. Both options were gone by the time this Wagoneer was built in 1970, likely due to cost reasons. This one has a simple solid axle on leaf springs, like the Jeep CJ, and a Buick-built 350 cubic inch V8. I assumed the Buick engine was just a case of “let’s throw in whatever’s lying around to get this thing running,” but no; it came that way from the factory.

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This one runs fine, and the Turbo-Hydramatic 400 transmission shifts fine, and you can drive it around a little. But it’s not what you’d call roadworthy – it has a new alternator but no belt for it, and the cooling system is empty, probably after some other recent work. There is also the small matter of the driver’s seat, or rather, the lack of one. Or any interior at all, for that matter.

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That’s not all that’s missing: the grille, headlights, taillights, and tailgate are also gone. And I think we have to assume that gone means gone; the seller makes no mention of any of that stuff being included. The bare interior lets you see the rust damage; it isn’t bad, but it does need some work on the floors.

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But apart from the floors, this doesn’t look like a rustbucket. It looks like it could be saved, if you could find the missing parts. It already runs and moves under its own power, so that’s a good first step.

1979 Jeep Wagoneer – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 360 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, full-time 4WD

Location: Tillamook, OR

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Odometer reading: 144,000 miles

Runs/drives? Nope, had an engine fire

And speaking of those missing parts, look at what we have here: a complete but rusty 1979 Wagoneer. This one has the classic fake woodgrain sides, a saddle-tan interior, and all its exterior trim. It also has David’s favorite engine – the nearly-useless AMC 360 V8, backed by a Chrysler Torqueflite automatic and a full-time 4WD Quadra-Trac transfer case. David’s hatred of this engine is vindicated in this case – it has suffered an engine fire. The seller has started trying to fix it; it looks like the carburetor is new, and the seller says they have a new wiring harness for it, but no longer has time to work on it.

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Apart from the obvious engine damage, this Jeep has some pretty serious rust damage; the rocker panels are shot, the fenderwells are rusting through, and there’s the fire damage to the hood, of course. With the corners and rocker panels as bad as they are, I can only imagine what the floors are like.

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The interior isn’t perfect, but it is there. AMC interiors were always sort of cheap and flimsy, but comfortable. This one is missing a window crank – they all seem to be – and has some tears in the driver’s seat, but otherwise looks all right.

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You could continue the work the seller has started, and bring this Wagoneer back to life, probably without too much trouble. But it will still be rusty. I think the right call here might be to buy both, and transfer parts over to the ’70 shell with the good-running Buick engine. I think there are enough parts here between these two to make one pretty good Wagoneer. It won’t be a showpiece, but it could be a good-running, decent-looking truck for a lot less than the insane asking prices that clean Wagoneers are commanding these days.

Or, you could take the ’70 and turn it into an off-road beast, or tackle the rust and the engine work on the ’79 and try to flip it for some outrageous price. The choice is yours.

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Starhawk
Starhawk
8 months ago

Given the choices presented, I’d take both and combine them, as suggested. The KFC flambe’d engine is good for a Craigslist “I know what I gots” listing.

But I also want to chime in with an oddball third. Not a specific vehicle /per se/, but a specific /kind/ of vehicle that I don’t think gets the attention it should.

When I’m asked to recommend a car, I used to recommend, pretty universally, an early 90s Ford Escort. (Clarity: I live in the USA.) Unfortunately, as gloriously unkillable as those are, despite everything, they’re sadly now of an age where I can’t really do that any more. What do I recommend instead?

A Dodge RAM or Ford Econoline handicap conversion passenger van, aka a HandiVan. The pre-Eurovan kind specifically.

Why?

Most of the folks I know need something practical, durable, that can withstand a butt-ton of abuse in an area where people drive like a crack-addled Helen Keller at the best of times, but is relatively rural (in the East Coast sense) so there aren’t many of them, but the economy is so bad that you have a significant number of choices if you need to hire a landscaping company.

A HandiVan is actually even better than a tradesmen cargo van. Hear me out on this.

With the seats in, you can take the family on a road trip to wherever, even if it’s just to the nearest campground for one of those “Calvin & Hobbes” vacations where it doesn’t stop raining till you pull up the tents. Heck, if you’re smart about it, you can camp IN the van. The built-in wheelchair lift means that, if you’re going to the airport after all, suddenly your suitcases can weigh more, as long as you’re walking to pay the plane company for it. On a road trip and Billy won’t stop harassing Bobby? You literally can pull over and walk back there to deal with it.

Take out one or both bench seats (or, sometimes, with a couple dog tricks and a tiger through a flaming hoop, they fold out of the way) and suddenly you have the ultimate cargo van. You don’t need a loading dock, you have a quarter-ton-or-so cargo lift right behind the rear doors, folded up and ready for use. Need to rearrange things mid-ride? Pull over, put it in park with the flashers on, do your thing, keep going.

It’s a family minivan, a pickup with a roof, a tradesman’s work van, and an econobox sedan, all in one. Sure, it’s not sexy, and it’s not elegant — but remember what Red Green Guy had to say about that. Most folks around here (myself included) are pretty well stuck relying on that, anyways.

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