When a rare automotive gem goes to a junkyard, 99.9 percent of the time, it’s gone forever, and car culture becomes that much worse. But when 19 year-old Logan Diekmann — a Kansas State University student who grew up on a farm and is a bit of a wrenching beast — spotted a “Holy Grail” Jeep Grand Cherokee on Death Row, he sprung into action. Here’s how he narrowly saved this beloved machine from a junkyard-turned-swamp.
The “Holy Grail” Jeep Grand Cherokee is, in my book, one of the greatest Jeeps ever built. It takes the greatest Jeep engine of all time (the 4.0-liter straight six) and pairs it with Jeep’s greatest suspension of all time (the five-link front and rear “Quadra Coil” setup) as well as one of Jeep’s best transmissions of all time (the Aisin AX-15 five-speed). It’s practical, off-road capable, comfortable, and just a downright Renaissance Jeep; that’s why it’s too bad that only 1,400 (or so) ever made it to existence. Yes, aside from a few with a good AW4 automatic, 99.9 percent of the 1993 to 1998 “first gen” Jeep Grand Cherokees were saddled with failure-prone Chrysler-built automatic transmissions, and only 1,400 came with the stick. Frustratingly, Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJs were just one component away from being unkillable off-road legends, so if you can find the few that actually deserve that distinction, you should hold onto them for dear life (like I have with my base-model example).
Diekmann understands this, so when he headed to a Salina, Kansas junkyard in September of 2022 for a set of vent windows for his 1989 Jeep Comanche and spotted this green five-speed Holy Grail ZJ, he knew it was time to act. A Jeep fan, Diekmann checked out the ZJ at the edge of the junkyard “for shits ‘n grins.” When he saw the stick, he told me, he “knew it was special from [my] articles but also from a thing I read about the AX-15 that mentioned it as being optional in the ZJ. I knew it was uncommon at the time but not nearly as rare as it actually was.”
Hot damn; reading my articles led Diekmann to understand the Glory Of The Grail, and thus saved one from oblivion!? This is why I do this job, folks!
Dieckmann, whom I learned about via his post above on the Facebook page “Underappreciated Survivors (1973-2004),” told me about how he ended up with the machine.
“I just asked for a price and a title and he said $600 and yes and I bought it right there,” the teenage wrenching machine told me. “Hardest part was the fact we got somewhere within the area of 6-7 [inches] of rain in the day of and the day after so it led it to be surrounded by a moat of water for like 3 weeks.”
Here’s a look at the situation:
“I had already bought it at that point so he was not going to sell parts off it [while the water subsided], but it’s an honors system so someone definitely could have just got parts off of it if they wanted to,” he told me over Facebook Messenger. “But it also was completely surrounded by water so you’d have to be committed. I had to wade through about 2’ deep water just to get those pictures.”
Unsurprisingly, the junkyard Jeep — which had 322,000 miles on it at the time and now has 331,000 — was in far from optimal condition, with the prospective commercial pilot describing its state to me, saying:
It didn’t [run]. Fuel pump was dead.
Throttle body, drivers door cladding, and the drivers window was missing, with the latter broken out.[…]
Rust is ok, you can’t see any under the cladding but the rockers are Swiss cheese…Tiny bit of frame rust in the front drivers “body mount” corner, but it’s only like 1/2” by 1” and it’s still solid everywhere else so I’m not too worried.
Diekmann, though, was ready for this project thanks to his upbringing on a farm. “My family has been farmers ever since they came from Germany. I think I’m the 5th or 6th generation,” he told me before getting into his wrenching background:
I live on a farm and have all my life, which is right outside a little town named Woodbine. I got into Jeeps after seeing a Comanche on the side of the road, but mainly after I accidentally found and bought my Comanche and fixed it, and there’s a long story with that one too if you’d be interested.
I started with lawn mowers in middle school and it grew from there, when I was a freshman I got a 72’ 240z which helped a lot, as well as working on that Comanche to get it back on the road.
Getting the Jeep back on the road wasn’t a big deal for a teen with such wrenching skill, but the vehicle definitely made his job harder than he’d have liked:
I got [The Jeep] roadworthy in about 2 weeks (would have taken shorter but I had a ps line burst and so I had to wait a week for it to come in) then when I drove it to school for the first time the radiator literally blew out and when I want to a separate parts yard the clutch broke sitting at a stoplight and I almost rear ended some lady in an Infinity. Got it home and fixed the clutch but it hadn’t been working perfectly since so about a month ago I pulled the transmission back out and replaced it all again. It works like a dream no
Luckily, the problem with the transmission was isolated to the throwout bearing, which basically disintegrated into the pressure plate fingers, but in short order the 19 year-old took care of that. He also installed a new window, new seats, a new carpet, and new intake parts. Here’s how the Jeep looks today:
And here are some shots of the exterior:
It’s obviously not perfect, and the five-speed is a bit notchy (it was filled with water when Diekmann first bought it), but doesn’t grind except when cold in first and second gears. Otherwise the Jeep drives great, with the mighty 4.0-liter straight six making a very healthy 140 psi of compression in each cylinder. I suspect the vehicle was in the junkyard due to the fuel pump failure — a $100 fix to a handy wrencher.
So what are Diekmann’s plans for the beautiful Hunter Green Jeep — originally sold in Lansing, Kansas (a short walk from my hometown of Leavenworth) and outfitted with coveted factory-original mud guards? Well, he’s just going to cruise in it. “As of right now, [I’m] just drive it,” he told me. “Now that it’s finally fixed and it’s fun to drive and comfy it’s like the perfect daily driver.”
Damn straight it is. It is a Holy Grail, after all.
All images: Logan Diekmann