Home » Kansas Farmer’s Son Saves Rare 322,000 Mile ‘Holy Grail’ Jeep Grand Cherokee From Junkyard, Instantly Becomes My Hero

Kansas Farmer’s Son Saves Rare 322,000 Mile ‘Holy Grail’ Jeep Grand Cherokee From Junkyard, Instantly Becomes My Hero

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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).

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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!

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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:

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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:

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And here are some shots of the exterior:

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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.

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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

 

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
9 months ago

Hell yeah, this is so awesome…some people see junk, when it’s actually GOLD

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
9 months ago

Heh, gotta love the “EAT BEEF” plate on a Kansas Jeep.

Everything about this is wonderful. I wish junkyards here would let you salvage whole cars like that.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
9 months ago

Now I want to see that Comanche and 240Z too.

Mike B
Mike B
9 months ago

This is great! I have a soft spot for ZJ’s, I had a 97 TSi 4.0 from 2001 – 2012. It was pretty reliable other than nickel and dime stuff, though I had to put two waterpumps in it during that time. I sold it at 165k and the transmission shifted like new, so *shrug* about the trans being a weak spot.

I had a 3″ lift and 31’s on it, it was probably more capable offroad than my 2013 4Runner. OTOH, my 4Runner is approaching the mileage I sold the ZJ at and is still on its original water pump. And cv axles…and wheel bearing…and suspension, etc.

ZJ parts were CHEEEAP though.

Good on Logan for saving this from the boneyard and bringing it bag to life.

L to the OG
Dude be the OG
A-N he playin’

Col Hathi
Col Hathi
9 months ago

There came from Kansas a youth,
Who loved his Jeeps long in the tooth.
He found a rusty old steed
Rocking a legendary 5-speed
And fixed it of being uncouth.

Now, he drives it many miles
But measures his hard work in smiles,
Wrenchers, ain’t that the truth.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago

19 year old pulling a transmission like it’s notbing and I struggle with an oil filter. Amazing.

Logan Diekmann
Logan Diekmann
9 months ago

The real hero of this story is my neighbor who lets me borrow his transmission jack.

Scott Finkeldei
Scott Finkeldei
9 months ago
Reply to  Logan Diekmann

K-State and Salina area representing! Lots of wrenching and car culture in the Salina Kansas area.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
9 months ago
Reply to  Logan Diekmann

Gosh, those are clutch. One of the cases where “just buy the right tool” really, really applies.

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
9 months ago

Saving cars from the junkyard is the holiest and honorable of actions one can take in Greater Autopia.

Huge Logan Diekmann fan over here; I dig your style, bud!

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
9 months ago

“..Well, he’s just going to cruise in it…”

This is the most pleasing part of the whole story.

PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
9 months ago

Wow!! Excellent save, Logan!

DDayJ
DDayJ
9 months ago

EAT BEEF, nice front plate. But seriously well done, I love ZJs. Interesting this one had the Laredo leather low back seats and the overhead consol. Every manual ZJ I’ve seen was pretty low spec.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
9 months ago

Oh, our guy upgraded to the Limited seats! Clearly an eye for style!

Logan Diekmann
Logan Diekmann
9 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

It was either a set of the Limited leather or the standard cloth ones. The cloths were comfortable, but the pillow tops blow the cloths out of the water, even if they’re not the same color.

Logan Diekmann
Logan Diekmann
9 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

It was either the pillow tops or the standard Laredo cloth buckets. And while normally I’m a fan of cloth, (and did like the cloth seats) they got absolutely blown out of the water by the pillow tops. Easily one of the most comfortable car seats I’ve ever done sat in.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
9 months ago

Is getting teenagers hooked on Jeeps a crime? Because it should be. If science has proven one thing, if you find one Holy Grail Jeep. You find 9 more. Then you get ran out of a suburban Detroit because your yard legally qualifies as a scrap yard. So out of luck, you have to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as background actor in procedural dramas. Right as both the writers and actors go on strike. Is this the future you want young man. Crying in i3 outside of Barrie truck because some dude in Riverside wants a grand for half a door! Once you go Jeep, you go off the deep end!

Parsko
Parsko
9 months ago

Congrats Logan!!

David has now added you to his Trapper Keeper for Holy Grails. Just hand over whatever info he asks for, or else. Or else what? You’ll just have to wait and see, but it’s certainly not a ziplock bag of rust.

Scaled29
Scaled29
9 months ago

I’m curious, are all manual Grand Cherokees of this generation Holy Grails? Because there are two of them on Marketplace here. (Europe, if that has something to say)

Scaled29
Scaled29
9 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Yes. One says 2.5 l diesel, the other just says diesel.

Brynjaminjones
Brynjaminjones
9 months ago
Reply to  Scaled29

It’s the manual with the 4.0 specifically that’s classed as the “Holy Grail”. The 2.5 diesel is much less robust, and was only available with a manual.

Scaled29
Scaled29
9 months ago
Reply to  Brynjaminjones

Yes, I guess that makes sense. I was hoping that it was a Holy Grail, but the chance that one would end up here is small. Well well

Elhigh
Elhigh
9 months ago

That’s a hell of a find. I have huge respect for the straight six in those things, it’s far more durable than some other Chrysler-related products would lead you to expect.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

I’ll bet his didn’t come with cats.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Probably raccoons or beavers from the looks of it.

Chronometric
Chronometric
9 months ago

Of Holy Grails
There is but one
Oh yes they’re tales
Of others, son.
But know what’s true
And that is just
Jeeps are not rare
Even though they rust.

Erik Hancock
Erik Hancock
9 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

In fairness, I’m sure Jesus drank out of a whole bunch of different cups over the course of his life, so that makes for a lot of lesser “holy” grails if you think about it.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
9 months ago
Reply to  Erik Hancock

Some are merely grail-shaped.
(Naughty, bad Zoot…)

Ben
Ben
9 months ago

Little did Indy know there were 1400 wise choices.

I assume David will not get this reference, even though it’s somewhat timely right now. 😉

Maymar
Maymar
9 months ago
Reply to  Ben

At least a 30 year old Grand Cherokee isn’t absurd for the vehicle of a carpenter, so I don’t think we have to worry about David going all crypt keeper before turning to dust, but maybe the grail should be a pickup or van (perhaps an ’87 Ram Van with the slant six and manual)?

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
9 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (which as we see wasn’t his last haha)

There is a Night who is guarding it and says “Choose, but choose wisely”

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago
Reply to  Nycbjr

Knight

Gubbin
Gubbin
9 months ago

That dude deserves a crowdfunded AAA RV+ membership and maybe a MAC Tools sponsorship deal.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

He’ll fix the stranded jeep on the shoulder with dental floss and a swiss-army spork while waiting for AAA to deny him a tow because of a 364-day waiting period and preexisting condition of being a jeep.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
9 months ago

David, I’m constantly amazed at how many of these “1400” grails seem to pop up lol. So glad they exist tho!

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
9 months ago
Reply to  Nycbjr

At some point, these manual ZJs are going to reach Ferrari 250 GTO levels of ubiquity. Only 36 were ever built by Ferrari, but there are about 100 on the road today.

10001010
10001010
9 months ago

when he headed to a Salina, Kansas junkyard

I have family in Eastern KS so I know that it’s pronounce Salina and not Salina, like everybody thinks.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore
9 months ago
Reply to  10001010

I hate that I read Salina both right and wrong in that sentence

A. Barth
A. Barth
9 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Rhymes with saliva but not with sativa.

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