The Eight-Passenger Australian Market Jeep CJ-8 Wagon Is The Perfect Family 4×4 You’ve Never Heard Of

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My lifelong hunt for the perfect Jeep has led me to declare both the manual Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ and the Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited “Holy Grails” of Jeeps, so I understand if I’m starting to look a bit like the boy who cried “wolf!” But hear me out just one more time, because I recently learned about something incredible while here in Australia: It turns out that, down under, Jeep Corporation sold a version of the Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler that fixed what I always considered the World War II Jeep and its successors’ biggest packaging flaw: the seating arrangement.

The World War II Jeep was an engineering triumph when it entered production in the early 1940s; it was small, could drive over any obstacle, tough, easily serviceable, and cheap and easy to build. You’ll never hear me decry that legendary machine, because it truly was revolutionary, setting the foundation for what would later become the most capable four-wheel drive vehicles to ever grace the earth — vehicles like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Series I, both of which were developed using the Jeep as the benchmark.

Here’s the thing about those Jeep-inspired off-road legends that has always puzzled me: For some reason, both Toyota and Land Rover understood that a single, cross-car-oriented rear bench was a packaging waste, so they fitted longitudinally-mounted benches on the wheel wells. The World War II Jeep, which I’ll note beautifully fulfilled the occupant/packaging requirements defined by the U.S. government as it set out to commission a nimble wartime runabout, featured storage bins in those squared-off wheel humps. Check them out:

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Image: Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden/Wiki Commons
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Image: Michael Tracy

But the civilian version of the World War II Jeep, the CJ-2A, deleted the bins to reduce cost, so the space above the wheels was essentially wasted, and overall occupancy was limited to four; this remains to this day, with every generation of CJ and two-door Wrangler featuring at most two horizontally-mounted benches.

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Okay, I will note that there’s lots of discussion on messaging boards about “Longitudinal Seats” being a factory option for CJ-5s and CJ-6s for some amount of time, though it’s not clear when, and it’s not clear how many actually made it to customers. They’re extremely rare; 99.9 percent of Jeep CJs and two-door Wranglers only had seating for four, or in some (also rare) cases, five thanks to a front bench:

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The Land Rover Series 1, on the other hand, could carry seven (a bench up front, two benches in the rear, each of which could carry two), and early Toyota Land Cruisers like the FJ were right up there with the Land Rover, utilizing the space above the rear wells as seats. This, to me, has always made perfect sense, even if it does require a bit of a raised rear roof.

Here’s a 1949 Land Rover Series 1:

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Image: Jaguar Land Rover Classic

And here’s a 1960s-era FJ:

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Image: Mecum Auctions

And yet, Jeep has never offered — in high volumes — a longitudinal seating configuration on a CJ or Wrangler model — or at least, so I thought. While browsing local Australian Jeep sale listings, I happened across the “Jeep CJ-8 Overlander,” a special version of the Australia-only CJ-8 Wagon, which shares the bones of the CJ-8 Scrambler pickup sold stateside between 1981 and 1986 (the CJ-8 was a CJ-7 with about two feet extra length — 10 inches in the wheelbase, the rest in the rear overhang). Here’s the two-seater Scrambler truck that you may be used to occasionally seeing in the U.S.:

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And here’s the Australian Jeep Overlander:

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How awesome is that? Australians could get the unkillable AMC inline-six bolted to a five-speed stick (a T5 if I had to guess), along with four-wheel drive and lots of space and seating. That “Overlander” name seems appropriate, because this thing seems like the ultimate long-distance off-road Jeep.

Don’t let the above brochure’s mention of just a single rear seat fool you; the Australian CJ-8 Wagon (the Overlander was a special version of the wagon) did indeed bring longitudinally-mounted benches to the rear cargo area. Look at the rear occupants in these photos:

[Editor’s Note: Also, look at that van version! – JT]

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The advertisement containing the photos above states: “Now look at the Jeep CJ-8 Wagon. Its 4-wheel drive ability lets it tackle driving and weather conditions that immobilize ordinary cars and trucks. Yet, it also accommodates eight adults comfortably with its available longitudinal seating.”

Eight adults! This thing is a certifiable troop-carrier!

To the Jeep-obsessed out there, the Australian CJ-8 Wagon’s roof may look familiar. It’s called the “World Cab,” and it could be found in some Alaskan mail carrier vehicles. From Curbside Classic’s article on the Jeep Scrambler:

CJ-8 bodied Jeeps were produced both in Australia (sold as the Overlander) and Venezuela – with both countries receiving a fixed hard top version dubbed the “World Cab” by Jeep. World Cab CJ-8s were never sold to the North American public, though the US Postal Service purchased 230 right-hand drive examples for rural Alaska mail delivery vehicles.

Every now and then one of those Alaskan mail carriers will pop up for sale, unsurprisingly oftentimes in rather rusty condition, like this eBay listing from earlier this year that Barnfinds wrote about:

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Image: eBay via Barnfinds
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Image: eBay via Barnfinds
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Image: eBay via Barnfinds

There were some military “Jeeps” over the years could seat lots of people, like the Kaiser M715, Willys FC-based troop carriers, and even the M-170, which really isn’t much different than the CJ-8 Wagon structurally, especially not aft of the A-pillars:

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Image via Jeep

But in the civilian world, it took Jeep until the 2006 model year to offer that kind of seating, and it was in the Jeep Commander — a vehicle could seat seven miserable people (the Commander is known for having been allegedly referred to as “unfit for human consumption” by the late FCA boss Sergio Marchionne). It wasn’t until the 2022 model year that Jeep offered a vehicle in the U.S. that could match the Cj-8 Wagon’s eight-person occupant capacity: the Wagoneer. But never has there been a truly off-road capable convertible civilian Jeep sold in high volumes that could seat more than five people comfortably, and I’ve always considered that a major oversight and an area where Land Rover and Toyota had an advantage. And you should realize how difficult it is for me to say that.

For the 2007 model year, Jeep debuted the four-door Wrangler, which brought convertible off-road capability to the masses. In many ways, the four-door JK and its successor, the current four-door JL, are known as the “family Jeeps,” though in my eyes, the ultimate family Jeep is Australia’s eight-passenger CJ-8 wagon. If somehow I end up with a bunch of kids, I’ll be looking for a CJ-8 wagon to join my diesel Chrysler Voyager minivan. Because rock crawling with eight people just sounds fun.

 

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34 Responses

  1. I truly fail to understand why when you go to another country all you can write about is all the American – US make vehicles that you can find there…

    You did it in Germany with the minivan and now in Australia.

    Australia has a huge and unique car market history of highly individual special-to-Australia car makes and brands, yet all you can seemingly talk about is whatever US-spec-but-OMG-it’s-ever-so-slightly-different- I-think-I’m-just-so-amazed! vehicle you happened to see that week.

    You may as well have stayed at home.

  2. Are we even sure the longitudinal seats were even offered in the North American market, even on a limited basis? I take as proof period marketing materials, dealer order sheets, or the presence of an intact, unmodified vehicle with an FMVSS compliance label. I wonder if the existence of the Australian market Overlander and the fact that the World Cab was built in limited quantities for the USPS got mixed together and created the rumors that an Overlander-style Jeep was available to the American public

    1. These predate FMVSS. Significantly. As to the legality of longitudinal seating itself, the Ford LTD County Squire had longitudinal seats as an option into the late 1970’s with lap belts.
      As to Jeeps?
      The Willys Jeep Station Wagon offered optional facing rear bench jumpseats. (And the first 4WD car with IFS.) Finding photos of them isn’t terribly hard either. The “CJ-8 Overland” appears to borrow heavily from that design on all fronts, so I would expect it’s setup exactly like this.

      https://i.pinimg.com/736x/ce/e3/20/cee320c5c44fb7c271fa46e2ea522779–jeep-seats-adventure.jpg

      1. No they don’t, the first version of FMVSS became effective January 1, 1968, every vehicle made for the US market since then has been required to have a compliance label. If American Motors actually offered a longitudinal seating option in the US at any point in the 1970s, those Jeeps would have an FMVSS tag on them

  3. My parents owned an Australian CJ-8 Overlander for about 20 years, they bought it brand new and it was our family car while I grew up. It was red with the overlander decal stripes down the side, 3 speed auto, white steelies, Hella lights, and nudge bar. Quite similar to the white one pictured in the ad.

    Our Overlander had a regular rear bench seat though, not the twin rear benches in 8-person “troopy” configuration. Maybe the twin rear bench setup was an option? Or just a different model year than ours?

    It was a sad day indeed when my folks traded it in for a Camry.

  4. Ok, serious question for someone who actually knows (ideally an owner or ex-owner): what exactly was so awful about the Jeep Commander? If it’s just “because ’00’s era Chrysler” then I don’t buy it. My ’05 Magnum is still reliably performing daily driver family hauler duty well past its 200,000th mile. With that experience in mind, sometimes I get tempted by a low cost, low mile, V8 Commander I see for sale, only to pass on them because ‘I heard they were bad’. What specifically?

    1. I feel as thought its a self-perpetuating meme at this point. Like the Aztec is ugly (nope, just ahead of the time like the AMC Eagle, sorry folks) and the Neon was unreliable. I’d owned a 2008 Commander Limited (gun metal blue and camel tan interior, very nice). I found its power, refinement, handling characteristics, capability, and overall quality equal to or, in many cases, superior to any WJ and WK I’d driven. The Quadra-Drive II 4×4 system never gave me a lick of trouble and it was absolutely sure as a mountain goat. I actively tried to make it lose any degree of control in snow and ice conditions in winter and it refused me. Nope, I have no idea what the talk is about. Jeep has done far, far worse than the XK.

    2. I think a lot of it has to do with the 3.7 and 4.7 with poor maintenance or timing chain tensioners or guides going out. If I was looking for one (and I have in the past) it would just need a Hemi. Of course those drink a fair amount of fuel so that could have something to do with the reputation too…

      I think they’ve aged just fine. No worse than anything else out there.

  5. The troop carrier layout with a front bench seat is the best seat layout. You can carry the most stuff, you can sleep 2 people in the back (if the troop carrier benches are long enough), and the footwell for the troop carrier seating layout can hold pretty massive cargo.

  6. Now maybe I’m biased (read: definitely) but there’s nothing wrong with “family Jeeps.” Because the best Jeep is the one that your wife lets you get. And that extra set of doors can as much be a deal maker as a deal breaker. I say this as a guy who’s tried to cart his kids around in a YJ. It’s definitely possible, but now that they’ve gained about 9 inches since then…um, yeah, nope.

  7. I would have thought the diesel, manual, 8 pass XJ sold in some Asia markets would have been your “holy grail”

    Can’t find a picture to link, but I know it existed as I sat in one as a kid during one of the open houses at CTC.

  8. There’s absolutely no reason why Jeep can’t offer a Wrangler panel van today…without hurting Ram’s feelings. We already know Ram’s upset over the Gladiator, because only Ram is supposed to offer pickups.

    While you’re still there, David, how about finding a VW Country Buggy?

  9. For a multi-passenger vehicle like the Jeep CJ-8 “Overlander” you could always pick up a Jeepney “https://theculturetrip.com/asia/philippines/articles/15-crazy-colourful-jeepney-designs-in-the-philippines/” they were originally converted from old military jeeps and now are rolling works of art.

  10. 22 MPG City/ 27 MPG Highway?????? Were the tests done going downhill with a tailwind and the engine off?

    I wonder how comfortable the ride on those bench seats with 4 people is. My guess is that it is hugely uncomfortable. Of course, I also want one of these more than anything because I am an idiot who loves Jeeps.

  11. Let me add some color as a CJ collector who has repatriated two Aussie CJ8 Overlanders to the US and spent too much of my time looking at other unique CJ models.

    CJ8 “Overlander” usually refers to just the Aussie version since they were a special package and decaled as the ad shows. The brochures advertised a T-5 coming soon, but I have never seen one of these. They seemed to have all come with the TF-999 auto 3-speed with a floor mount selector (same as Alaska postal CJ8s but different than column mount for domestic Jeeps) due to being right hand drive. The Overlanders only came with the standard front-facing rear seat for two and therefore only sat four. KrazyKommando knows!

    CJ8s with the World Cab were manufactured locally in Venezuela and were typically labeled as a CJ7 Limited down there. These did have the standard rear bench plus 2 side facing benches and could seat 8 but did not have a rollbar. They were left hand drive and had both manual and column-mounted automatic transmissions. Interesting fact, Venezuela continued to produce YJ Limiteds after the Jeep sunset the CJ. Very unique. I know of only one here in the US.

    I’m wondering what market the brochure with the red CJ8 came from? This version also made it to Europe and the near East, Turkey and Israel got some of these. I do not believe this version ever made it to Australia.

    1. Yep, our auto was a floor shift. Dad reckons there was definitely a manual available at the time, but doesn’t remember how many gears it had. Mum wanted to be able to drive it and thus an auto was demanded.

      I tend to agree that the red CJ8 ‘troopy’ and yellow van ad might well be from a different market. They don’t have the Hella lights, nudge bar, decals that most of the others I’ve seen have had (or a combination of), and appears to have a black painted front bumper. I also don’t recall ever having seen the ‘van’ version.

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