“Tolles Auto haben Sie,” I said to the random German man who had been following me in his 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 prior to serendipitously pulling into the same grocery store parking lot I just had. “Do you know this car?” he responded in German just a few feet from the entrance. “Of course!” I replied. “That’s the 5.9! The legend! The fastest SUV on earth in 1998! Yours looks good.” The man, beaming with pride and gratitude that someone actually knows about the car he loves so much, told me all about his Jeep and then invited me to the restaurant that he owns in the mountains. I swung by the next day. Here’s what I saw.
The power of car culture cannot be understated. It has put me in touch with people I’d likely never otherwise have spoken with. It’s a beautiful adhesive between folks in an increasingly divisive world. Car culture matters, now more than ever, and I’m reminded of its importance almost daily. Just last week I received a reminder in the form of an invitation from a severely-Bavarian man named Hubert.
Hubert was driving in a silver 5.9-liter with non-original wheels (he was quick to point that out; his originals are back at his restaurant). The Jeep, which he loves for its giant V8 engine (especially giant to Europeans used to little 1.0-liter diesels), has been great to him, he told me. This one is his around-town machine — his beater that he uses to tackle Garmisch’s deep snow, and to transport supplies to his rental-property business and restaurant.
Speaking of, before we parted ways after a short exchange and a few photos (I was on my way to hike up a mountain), Hubert gave me the name of a restaurant he owns. “I have a Gasthof in the mountains. Come by sometime and I’ll show you my other Jeep!” he said. So I took him up on that offer the following day.
Hubert’s restaurant, Berggasthof Wamberg, is rated 4.7 stars on Google, and is located in a seemingly utopian town called Wamberg. The road into the village reminds me of the movie Big Fish — it’s a single-lane that snakes through what looks like paradise: beautiful green fields, stunning mountain views, and ultimately a tiny and charming array of buildings called Wamberg.
The restaurant itself is classic alpine-Germany — lots of wood, huge balconies, and a rich history spanning well beyond a century. Back behind it, I parked my 1994, diesel, manual Chrysler Voyager in the lot, and then walked into the building asking for Hubert.
With a big smile, my fellow Jeep fan gestured me towards the parking lot I’d just parked in, then opened up a nearby garage door to reveal this:
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It’s a MINT, black 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 — stunning. With under 50,000 miles on the clock, gorgeous paint, not a spec of rust, and a perfect interior, this is by far the nicest 5.9 I’ve ever seen.
The 5.9 — also called the “niner” — was the ultimate hot-rod SUV in the late 1990s, usurping the 5.2-liter V8 ZJ models with six tenths of a liter of extra displacement in an era when there truly was no replacement for displacement. The Jeep could rip from zero to 60 mph in under seven seconds, and though that may not seem quick by today’s standards, back in 1998 it was a big deal. In fact, The Autopian once wrote the article “The 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited Was The Trackhawk Before It Was A Thing: Holy Grails.” You should check that out if you want to learn more about why this thing is so special.
Anyway, Hubert told me about how much he loves American cars, how he’s able to fairly easily find parts for these 5.9s online, and about how he does much of the repair work himself despite running a legitimately excellent restaurant. And I’m not just saying that to be nice! Berggasthof Wamberg is an A+ German-food establishment, and any German will agree. Look at this!:
Here’s Hubert pointing out the rare leather spare tire cover (with zipper-pouch built in!) that was only available on the 5.9:
And he showed me his old tractor:
It’s an old “Holder” with an articulating spine:
What a world we live in. I’m now friends with a man who owns an amazing restaurant in the German alps. And why? Because we both love Jeeps. That’s the power of car culture.