Home » Detroiter Attends Swap Meet And Buys Me A Motherlode Of Jeep Drawings From The Original Designer

Detroiter Attends Swap Meet And Buys Me A Motherlode Of Jeep Drawings From The Original Designer

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“At a swap meet in Detroit I recently came across a bunch of original sketches from the lead designer (or so I’m told) of Jeep at the time, Joe Papai,” Autopian reader Lucas messaged me on Facebook yesterday. “I thought you’d be interested in all this concept ZJ sketches!” Lucas then told me that he was still at the swap meet, and that he’d buy these priceless sketches on my behalf if I wanted him to. So today I’m $300 poorer, but richer in so, so many ways. Here’s a look at this incredible loot of Jeep design history.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ has a fascinating history. Many folks just see it as a moderately tweaked Jeep Cherokee XJ, but in reality, there was a time when it wasn’t clear what this vehicle — initially designed by American Motors back in the late 1980s (the vehicle wouldn’t debut until the 1993 model-year) — was going to be. Would it be a Dodge or would it be a Jeep? There was even a Dodge Version built:

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Image: Car Design Archives via The Drive

The Last American CEO — a book about Joe Cappy’s time at AMC, where he’d be the company’s final CEO before the Chrysler merger — discusses this whole phase of the ZJ project, writing:

…Lee Iacocca decided to stage a gunfight at the OK Corral. He requested both divisions — Dodge and Jeep — to prepare position papers. Joe Cappy, reporting to Ben Bidwell, would make the case for Jeep, while Ron Boltz, an incredibly bright product planner and Vice President reporting to Chrysler VIce-Chairman and product wunderkind Bob Lutz, would prepare the paper for Dodge.

[…

The competing please from both Jeep and Dodge to get the all-0new SUV were made in front of Chrysler’s top brass.

[…]

Minutes later, Bob Lutz was on the phone. “Congratulations, Joe, the ZJ will be a Jeep.”

And once it was decided that it’d be a Jeep, what was the plan for it? Would it take over the Jeep Cherokee XJ’s spot as a mid-size family hauler, or would it become something different. Jeep showed off the “Concept 1” back in 1989, highlighting that it was built on the XJ platform, and that it offered significantly more space:

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Here’s a brochure for the 1989 Concept 1 :

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It also wasn’t clear where the “ZJ” would be built.

In the end, AMC’s ZJ became a larger and more luxurious Jeep separate from (and sold alongside) its sibling, the Jeep Cherokee XJ; and it ended up bringing about an entirely new, state-of-the-art, multibillion dollar factory in the city of Detroit, Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP):

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Were it not for Chrysler’s decision to switch its inline-six-powered Grand Cherokee transmissions from an Aisin-built automatic to a Chrysler-built one six months in 1993, I have no doubt the ZJ would have gone down in history as one of the greatest Jeeps of all time. But alas, the transmission failures meant it will forever remain thoroughly in the shadows of its smaller sibling, the Cherokee XJ.

I myself remain obsessed with the ZJ because not only was it the car I initially learned to drive as a kid, but I am lucky enough to own a rare manual transmission variant, which rids of the reliability concerns and truly allows me to enjoy one of the greatest Jeep platforms ever built. It’s large, but not too large. It has solid axles that allow for great suspension articulation for off-road use. The fully-coil sprung suspension was a first for a Jeep, and offers a great ride. The interior comfort is phenomenal. I could go on and on, but I won’t, because I need to show you these amazing sketches that Lucas bought me at that indoor swap meet in Novi, Michigan. Behold:

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A note about these sketches from our designer, Adrian Clarke:

These are an absolute goldmine. It’s very rare to see sketches like this outside of the studio environment, because obviously the design studio is top secret and access is extremely limited. These XJ images look like different ideas for the front graphic. When designing a car the first thing that is nailed down is the exterior shape – the overall proportions and volumes. Then you add any feature lines to the body. Finally it’s the graphics – the lights, grilles and trim pieces that make up the jewelry of the car. That’s what we’re looking at here – the designer has the outline of front view of the car (probably from a computer plot of the body data – remember this is well before Photoshop) and is just trying out different themes and ideas. They’re quite simple in that there’s only two or three gray tones, but in the hands of a skilled designer that’s all you need to indicate highlight and shadow to represent a 3D form. The next stage would be to mock these up crudely on the clay model – using tape and paint to see if they would work at full size.

The side view sketches [below] are again freehand using ink, markers, pastels and pencils. The wheels look like they are cut out from a magazine or existing photo. This is done because wheels are time consuming to draw and tricky to get right. We still do the same thing today, only digitally. In the design studio time is everything. The roof rail system is a cut out piece overlaid on the same sketch – an old pre-Photoshop graphic design trick…Traditional old style media is time consuming and inflexible, which is why it was replaced by working digitally. Quicker, cleaner and allows you to make changes without having to redo the whole thing.

Holy crap! These are incredible!

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These sketches, never been seen by the general public, are bonkers! Look at the one just above with the amber turn signals up high. Then there’s the one on the right with the horizontal-bar in the center of the grille. My god, in the upper photo, what’s that on the left?! And the one at the top in the middle appears to have no upper grille opening!

I asked Lucas about these sketches, and he claims that the seller at the swap meet was friend’s with Joe Papai’s wife, and that he’d received the entire art collection from his estate after he died in 2020. By the way, you can see Joe’s signature in these other sketches from 1996 — ones that appear to show something similar to what would replace the Jeep Cherokee XJ, the 2002 Jeep Liberty:

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The Detroit Free press wrote an obituary for Joe Papai in 2020. Via the Detroit Free Press via Legacy.com:

Joseph Andrew Papai, Jr., age 80, passed away Nov. 24, 2020. He was born April 28, 1940 in South Bend, IN to Virginia and Joseph Papai and attended Central High School, graduating in 1958. He was awarded a partial scholarship to study art at the University of Notre Dame, graduating with a BA in Fine Arts. He was presented the prestigious Jacques Gold Medal from the Dept. of Fine Arts and received a full fellowship from the university, then obtaining his master’s degree. Joseph worked for Ford Motor Co., Coachmen Industries, American Motors and Chrysler Corp., and achieved an extensive list of design credits to his name, most notably the original Grand Cherokee design and the Jeep ZJ exterior theme in 1990. He also held patents for the design of Chrysler’s RAM and Dakota Truck.

Anyway, while it’s generally agreed upon that Larry Shinoda came up with the ZJ Grand Cherokee’s design theme, it’s clear that Papai played a significant role, and his sketches are mind-boggling, making you realize just how different this vehicle could have looked had things gone a bit differently.

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In addition to the sketches, the seller at the swap meet offered these giant prints of the prototype ZJs from the late 1980s. You can see that the pillars are thinner than the 1993 production model’s, the door handles are totally different, the wheels are unique, the fuel door is on a different side, the rocker panels look different, and on and on.

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These prints and the sketches cost me about $300, but I’m thrilled to have them. The Jeep Grand Cherokee played an influential role in my life, inspiring me to study engineering and to work for Chrysler in Auburn Hills. Now to own the best variant of it — a base-model with a manual and rare accessories that I’d been searching for for yearsand to have these historic drawings, well, I’m geeking out over here!

 

 

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Flyingtoothpick71
Flyingtoothpick71
4 months ago

now I want a zj just to make and put that amber over front end on. I’ve wanted a zj for a longtime, but i dont have the space or money for a 6th vehicle, nor the energy for another vehicle with transmission problems (I have a late 90s explorer as a daily, the 4l v6 is great(in my experience), the transmission is junk)

Ron888
Ron888
4 months ago

Exceptionally cool!

Gubbin
Gubbin
4 months ago

Love the Dodge Caravan style vertical door handles, which look like AMC door handles rotated 90°

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
4 months ago

Dude $300 for all that art + history is nothing. You did well. Great article.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
4 months ago

This is a super cool story all around. Except for the guy profiting from a gift. Lol

Oldskool
Oldskool
4 months ago

That $300 bought you a piece of history that you’ll probably never find anywhere else.

I prefer the XJ for its simplicity, and my dad had an XJ when I was a kid. Later on, when the oil burning carbed 2.5 was on its last leg, he traded it for a 96 ZJ black on black gold package, a couple years old. To this day, he’s driven ZJs exclusively, and being a traveling salesman he puts 200-300k on them, before seeking out another one. His favorite is the early 2000s era.

In the late 90s attended a winter hill climb race at a local ski hill. The stock ZJs would just scream up the hill. And had the perfect balance and traction to not get stuck. It could have been a commercial for Grand Cherokees.

Last edited 4 months ago by Oldskool
Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
4 months ago

It might be wrong, (flame suit time) but I kinda like the dodge version.

Not saying that they should have made it dodge-only… but there probably was room for both.

I also like the vertical door handles, they look a bit odd at first glance (because they never made it). However… these might have been a little bit better for families.

I can’t be the only one who remembers being a little kid and couldn’t quite reach or have the force to be able to push in the buttons on car handles like that. Granted this was on a square body suburban that was higher up and a million years old.

Overall, they ended up with a great looking product, so it all worked out.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
4 months ago

I had two ZJs back in the nineties and loved them both dearly. This is indeed a treasure trove and a fascinating piece of automotive history.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
4 months ago

More proof we need an Autopian Detroit Correspondent

74cam
74cam
4 months ago
Reply to  Scott Ross

I volunteer!

CSRoad
CSRoad
4 months ago

What a find, for a great price.
They need properly preserving in the Autopian Museum.

Usernametaken
Usernametaken
4 months ago

Sam Elliott Voice:

“What is a hero?”

Last edited 4 months ago by Usernametaken
Lardo
Lardo
4 months ago

had an ZJ with the v8. the alignment of the steering wheel to the position of the driver was so off. it was to the right of the driver.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
4 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

I’ve seen the same thing in other cars. of the same general age. I suppose it has to do with the then-new trend for the front ends of cars to narrow considerably for better aerodynamics. But then there had to be enough room on the firewall for the brake booster and master cylinder, the McPherson strut towers intruding, and still some place to thread the steering column through on a couple of u-joints and manage to get the wheel in front of the driver without it being angled two inches closer to the driver’s right hand than their left. So a little off to the right, but presented closer to square-on. But not necessarily ideal for airbag deployment angles.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

GM’s 1975-79 X-bodies were notorious for that, they took the front subframe from the 1970-81 F-body and mated it to the existing 1968-74 X-body shell, wasn’t a perfect match dimensionally, so the steering column ended up slightly off center.

MrLM002
MrLM002
4 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

I hate that sort of thing!

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
4 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

The first ZJ I encountered had that steering wheel location issue.

Once I noticed that, I never even considered owning one again until reading David Tracy’s enthusiasm for them. It made me wonder what other parts of the rig were engineered half-assed.

I still don’t think I can accept that.

Lardo
Lardo
4 months ago

I liked everything about it except that. Felt like I was crabbing down the road.

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
4 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

GM trucks were like this for quite a while. I believe it went from the GMT400s through the -800 and lastly with the -900s, finally fixed with the 2014 -K2s.

The pedals and seat might line up (depending on if it were a bench or bucket), but the steering wheel is inboard of the driver’s position regardless. Drives my back crazy whenever I’m subjected to driving one.

World24
World24
4 months ago

Did that 1989 concept really rock P295/55/R17’s?
That sounds pretty big on the rubber side, at least to me.
I can’t even find tires like that!

Last edited 4 months ago by World24
niceladybadjeep
niceladybadjeep
4 months ago

The prototype photos force a subconscious head tilt to ‘fix’ those vertical door handles.

Elons Backdoor Musk
Elons Backdoor Musk
4 months ago

Is that a Dodge Shadow grill in the concept?

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago

The late ’80s ones at the bottom seem to have a lot of Renault styling DNA in them, which makes sense, as they would have been sharing showroom space with the Espace and a new small Renault-branded AWD people mover to replace the AMC Eagle had the sale to Chrysler not happened. You can also see some influence from the Grand Wagoneer’s giant plastichrome grille in some of the front end styling sketches

Ham On Five
Ham On Five
4 months ago

I see a lot of Gen 5 (1985) Mitsu/Dodge Colt in these – the top photo, two kitty-corner nearly grill-less sketches as well as the first and third prototype photos.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ham On Five
Angry Bob
Angry Bob
4 months ago

Great score! That’s a lot of history.

I wanted one of these since they came out. Fresh out of college in 2000, with my first grown-up salary, I bought a like-new 1996 ZJ Limited 5.2. Black with gold pinstriping. Tan leather heated seats. Fully loaded. It even had mirrors that auto-tinted. 40k miles. I’d never in my life driven anything with less than 100k miles, and it looked and drive like showroom new. It even smelled new!

I put an additional 100k miles on it over the next five years and I absolutely loved that Jeep. I waxed it and treated the leather every weekend. Basic maintenance (including band adjustments) and it never let me down. It was unstoppable in the snow. When I passed it onto a new owner, it still looked and drove perfect.

I checked the Carfax a few years later (I do that) and the next owner crashed it. 🙁

Later I bought a WJ 4.7 Limited and I just didn’t think it was as good a vehicle as the ZJ.

Not The Ford 289
Not The Ford 289
4 months ago

At first glance, a lot of the frontal sketches look like the 1st and 2nd gen Plymouth Voyager.

Last edited 4 months ago by Not The Ford 289
Data
Data
4 months ago

$300? That could have bought you an actual Jeep…. 🙂

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago

I’m wondering what The Bishop would do with these.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
4 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Criticize them with a dry humor and then fight with the other commenters?

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
4 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

I think you are confusing The Bishop with goth uncle Adrian.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
4 months ago

Ah, indeed I am!

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
4 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

I don’t fight with commenters. I merely point out where they’re wrong.

Data
Data
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Very clearly a cat person.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Which is most of the time. Except in this instance.

Gubbin
Gubbin
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

You, sir, are a treasure. (Also, I found you on BlueSky!)

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
4 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

I need to start using that more. Something else to keep on top of. Great.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

Given where he gets to with what actually exists, I’m thinking more of a Sunday afternoon somewhat inebriated brown study sort of thing

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
4 months ago

Congrats! That’s awesome a true fan has secured these. And good on the Autopian who pitched it to you and was willing to help out.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
4 months ago

This is amazing! I’m surprised by the K-car like grille concepts. While Jeep hadn’t settled on the seven-slot grille as a trademark yet, I would expect to see some Wagoneer-based looks.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
4 months ago

I think it’s hilarious that some of the front end studies were “hey what would this look like with a Ford explorer front end” and “hey what would this look like with a fullsize Chevy front end”

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
4 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Sometimes some bozo from outside the studio will say “we should do this because Ford/Chevy are doing it” and you know it’s going to look shit but you sketch it up anyway to prove it will look shit.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
4 months ago

What a neat find, and cool story. Boy I’m glad they refined that design a little. That dodge logo version will haunt my nightmares.

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