Home » The 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited Was The Trackhawk Before It Was A Thing: Holy Grails

The 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited Was The Trackhawk Before It Was A Thing: Holy Grails


One of the greatest things to happen for car enthusiasts in recent years is the spread of relatively inexpensive power. The minivans of today can beat the supercars of old and you can buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee punching 707 horses out to all four wheels. In the 1990s, Jeep had a different super SUV that sold for just a single year. In 1998, you could drive home in the predecessor to Trackhawk and even the SRT8. The 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited was the quickest vehicle that Jeep had ever built at the time and the fastest SUV on the road.

Last week, I wrote another unofficial Holy Grails entry with the Ford Focus Kona Mountain Bike Edition. While not the fastest or most sporty version of the Focus, the Kona Mountain Bike Edition is rare and obscure. It’s a Focus ZX3 hatch in a special “dirt” color with a Kona mountain bike on its roof, removable seat covers, and its own trim. This car has the distinction of being perhaps the only car where owners got recall letters that had nothing to do with the car itself. After I wrote that article, a Kona Mountain Bike Edition owner reached out to me with pictures showing a perfect time capsule. I love that every car out there has someone who loves it. I bet there are even diehard Chevy Aveo lovers somewhere in the universe!

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1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 59 02

This week, we’re returning to our regular Holy Grails format where you, the readers, suggest the coolest versions of perhaps otherwise mundane cars. Today’s entry is something that would normally be up David Tracy’s alley. After all, he’s owned more Jeeps than I’ve owned Smarts! This is neither a Ford, a Mazda, or a Volkswagen AG product, but a Jeep. For just a single year, you could buy a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited, a V8-powered super SUV that was not just the fastest vehicle ever produced by Jeep (at the time), but the fastest SUV on the market tested by magazines at the time.

Initially The Replacement For The Cherokee XJ

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As MotorTrend writes, the vehicle that became the Grand Cherokee was originally supposed to be the successor to the XJ Cherokee. In 1985, the American Motors Corporation brought on three designers under contract to make a clay model for the XJC. Larry Shinoda, Adam Clenet, and ItalDesign’s Giorgetto Giugiaro were chosen. As Wards Auto writes, the designers were given the task to create four versions of the XJC: a four-door, a two-door, and two pickups. The winning designer was reportedly set to get a huge payout.

During this time, AMC was figuring out how to speed up development to be more competitive with its bigger Detroit competition. To do this, designers and engineers would develop the XJC using computer-aided design and all drawings and documents were stored in a central database. This allowed faster work as drawings were able to be done on computers rather than on drafting tables. And since everything was accessible through a central system, problems were able to be quickly resolved. When Chrysler purchased AMC in 1987, this system-today known as product lifecycle management was further implemented in the company.


The Grand Cherokee would see a delay before it made its debut in 1992 for the 1993 model year.

Jeep Grand Cherokee 1993 Images 1

But when it did, the new Jeep smashed onto the scene, literally. Chrysler president Bob Lutz drove one through a window at the 1992 Detroit auto show. Shinoda went to the show and it was there he reportedly learned that Chrysler had gone with his design and didn’t uphold its end of the contract.

Here’s his telling of it from Wards Auto:

Two high-ranking AMC product-development executives “went into my studio in my absence,” Mr. Shinoda declared. “I was asked to depart because they did not want any complications.

“I was called on a Friday night and told my design was ‘terrible, brutal,'” Mr. Shinoda said. “I was ordered to stop all work and return AMC’s wheels and tires, and dispose of the clay model.”

Mr. Shinoda said he entered the studio the next day, Saturday, and found an AMC crew on the premises. “The walls were stripped of all my drawings, and they had all the wood templates used to build the clays, which were being digitized so they could make a copy,” he complained.

“Two people AMC hired and who worked with me called and told me that the company was doing my model,” Mr. Shinoda said. “I didn’t want to make a fuss because under the terms of my contract, I couldn’t say anything for five years, or until 1990.

“I still did not comment until 1992 when I saw the Grand Cherokee at the Auto Show. My contract called for $354,000 but all I got was $135,000. They still owed me $177,000.”

The Grand Cherokee went onto to be a hit out of the park, and Shinoda sued for a part of the profits to over a million Grand Cherokees sold. The case raged on for five years before it settled for an undisclosed amount right before his death in November 1997.

Luxury 4×4

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 59 05

As for the Cherokee itself, there are a number of reasons behind its popularity. The unibody SUV was stiff competition for the Ford Explorer and came with standard features like a driver airbag and an Electronic Vehicle Information Center computer that monitored the SUV’s systems. That EVIC system had a screen that gave the driver information like the date and time or the service interval of their vehicle. Of course, if you’ve driven one of these you’ve probably noticed the trip computer giving you information like your compass heading, outside temperature, or fuel range remaining. Other available features included keyless entry and a glowing ring around the ignition cylinder for nighttime ease.


Many of those features weren’t exclusive to the Grand Cherokee. As a kid, I remember watching the green glow of that trip computer but in a Dodge Caravan. As an adult, I bought a second-generation Dodge Grand Caravan that had that same system.

In terms of power, the Grand Cherokee offered as small as the 4.0-liter AMC straight-six making 190 HP and 225 lb-ft torque. And for most of the ZJ’s run, the biggest engine was a 5.2-liter Magnum V8 making 225 HP and 300 lb-ft torque.

The Grail

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 59 04

For the ZJ’s final year in 1998, you could get your Grand Cherokee with a 5.9-liter V8 making 245 HP and 345 lb-ft torque. Reader and Vinyl member Factoryhack says this is the one to get:

1998 ZJ Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited.

The last model year of the first generation Grand Cherokee (ZJ) in 1998 was most definitely a good one. At the top of the ZJ line-up were trims like Limited, Orvis, and Grand Wagoner, (with excellent fake woodgrain) which were all pretty awesome in their own way.

And yet, the big dog of them all was the 5.9 Limited. They only made 15,000 of them out of a 250,000 production run for that one year only.

Keep in mind this was back when Chrysler was still feeling pretty cocky and had developed some crazy stuff like the Viper and Prowler just prior to the era when those bastards at Daimler had time to ruin the party for good.

The 5.9 Limited was essentially a regular Limited except they dropped in the 5.9 Magnum engine and 46RE transmission from the 1500 truck.

245 HP and 345 lb. ft. of torque was heady stuff in an SUV back then. Both Motor Trend and Road and Track tests showed a 6.8 second 0-60 time for this beast. The Quadra-Trac AWD with a 3.73 Trac-loc made it super easy to launch and surprise a lot of people at stop lights who had no idea what was next to them, unless they were very sharp and noticed the heat extractors on the hood.

It was the fastest SUV in the market that year, which supposedly wasn’t surpassed until the SRT-8 Grand Cherokee came out 10 years later, if you believe Google.

I worked for DaimlerChrysler back then and somehow talked our field car guy into letting me order a 5.9 Limited for my company shooter. It was a blast. Mine was white and had the standard puffy light gray calf leather seats along with Infinity sound and all the luxurious options you could get which were pretty much standard. I drove it for something like 6 months until it was time to turn it in for auction. I still miss that thing.

I haven’t seen one in the wild for at least 10 years as most of them are probably rusted out or worn out.

A Holy Grail indeed.

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited 494ce842 D8e8 4eb2 B788 885f48997c9a Dtn2rg Scaled
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Sure enough, this SUV dazzled the automotive press. In a retrospective, MotorTrend, marvels at how the Grand Cherokee wasn’t like the Grand Cherokee SRT of today with its independent suspension. No, this SUV had a pair of solid axles and a low-range operated with a lever. This was a posh SUV with a lot of firepower for its day, but it was still a competent off-roader at heart. It raced to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and completed the quarter in 15.2 seconds at 88.7 mph.

Today, those numbers aren’t hugely impressive; a 2022 Honda Odyssey LX makes 280 horses from a 3.5-liter V6 and hits 60 mph in a faster 6.5 seconds.

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Bring a Trailer Seller

However, back then? The Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited was the fastest SUV tested by Motor Trend that year and it still maintained the off-road prowess that Jeep is known for. Road & Track says that it was the fastest SUV on the market in 1998. It should be noted, however, that the GMC Typhoon is more than a second faster to 60 mph.

In a comparison test against a GMC Yukon SLT, Dodge Durango SLT Plus, Mercedes- Benz ML320, Isuzu Rodeo S, Mazda B3000 SE and Mitsubishi Montero Sport LS, Petersen’s 4Wheel & Off-Road nominated the Jeep its 4×4 of the Year. And it wasn’t just the Jeep’s brute force that had it taking the crown.

Petersen’s 4Wheel & Off-Road

The magazine said that despite its road-oriented rubber and suspension, it still wheeled better than the rest of the pack in sand, rocks, and dirt. 4Wheel & Off-Road even said that the Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited made the competition “seem painstakingly carlike.” Oof. Perhaps the best (or worst, depending on who you are) part about the SUV is that aside from hood louvers and subtle badging, it looked like every other Jeep Cherokee. That made it a sleeper.

My favorite part is how the magazine ended the review by saying that the Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited is perhaps the best ZJ ever, but the testers were sure that Jeep would come up with something even better. Of course, in the years since, Jeep has created crazy sequels like the 420 HP Grand Cherokee SRT8, the 475 HP SRT, and the 707 HP Trackhawk. According to MotorTrend, it took Jeep until 2006 to get back into the groove of making a fast version of the Grand Cherokee again.

2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee Srt8 Front View


So, by all means, this seems like the perfect 1990s SUV for the kind of person who wants power and luxury while not sacrificing off-road capability. Unfortunately, if you want one, finding a good one may take some time. Just 14,000 of these were ever produced, representing about one percent of all ZJ production. A quick search of my local classifieds on Facebook shows a bunch of them for sale, but only one is in what appears to be really good condition.

With that said, these do appear to be pretty obscure, and even nice ones go for cheap. That nice one in my area is just $5,750! Perhaps a part of that is related to what Motor Trend found during its testing. Apparently, nobody noticed the Jeep, likely thanks to its stealthy design. I see that as a good thing, as you can own a relatively rare sleeper SUV for what appears to be beater money.

(Note: A reader has pointed out that despite some period reviews saying that the hood louvers aren’t functional, they actually are. I found some for sale and sure enough, they are functional.)

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 59 01

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Davey Boy
Davey Boy
1 year ago

Bought 1 brand new in Febr. ’98 & Dlrship trucked it to our mountain log home in ski county USA – CO! Replaced our hi-mileage 1 I bought her for X-Mas in Dec. ’92. It had
the 5.2 V8 which is still in my opinion the better motor + it runs on Reg. gas.

We just celebrated its 25-yr. anniversary & it only has 59k 1-owner original babied garaged its whole life miles. Absolutely pristine – probably ’cause my wife hardly
ever lets me drive it. Will still eat most everything on & off-road ( though, its never
been!). Seen a beater @ 5-yrs back in Char-Black. Dummy was @ gas station putting in
low-octane 85 regular so that engines toast! Big reason ‘why’ not many has survived.
All it takes is one bad owner.

100% stock – all we’ve done is a new battery, new shocks & new tires. That’s it. Pleasure
to drive in the snow but we seldom did & now in an arid climate it sees no snow or
rain & is garaged 10-months out of the year as it is a GAS HOG & on Premium with thanks to Sleepy Joe is @ $5/Gallon. She now drives a rice-burner & happy to just walk
by it in the garage & detail it 1x/yr – although it doesn’t need it.

I rem. we paid full MSRP sticker + a luxury tax. It’s getting no use & I’m eyeing selling
it so I can put towards a new PU Truck – but I won’t consider < $50 grand for it. Heard
the Japs & Euros are big into them & willing to pay big bucks? Guess I'll find out but it'd
be a shame to sell to some Gen Z gear-hear & off-road it in the outback of neighboring
Moab. I also bought the last year of the good Wrangler B4 Jeep starting their abortions – see Gladiator. It was the Dlx '06 Rubicon Unltd. I never took it off road.

1 year ago

Hey, I just got back from a week in Morocco and just saw you guys picked my 5.9 Grand Cherokee Holy Grail idea. This is so cool. Very nice write-up, Mercedes!

Now, after spending a week in a former French colony, I’m newly obsessed with all the amazing Peugeot, DS, Citroen, Renault, and Dacia vehicles that we don’t get in North America. They’re all Holy Grails to us, I suppose.

We need some French cars on this side of the pond, damn it. Might be an interesting idea for y’all to do a French themed Holy Grail write-up.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
1 year ago

I was waiting for this one to show up. Nice work, Mercy!

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