I bought my 1995 Jeep Wrangler (YJ) brand new, while still dating my wife-to-be. I quickly got bitten by the 4-wheeling bug, and started building my YJ up as a trail rig. While it still worked well as a daily driver, it wasn't all that great on the highway. We figured a tow rig would be really handy, allowing us to travel in comparative comfort on the off-roading trips that tended to make up our vacations. We were also expecting our first child, so the extra interior room would be nice. My wife's Honda Accord didn't make much of a tow rig, so after a little research, I decided to get a full-size Jeep (FSJ) to fill that role.
1977 Wagoneer in a local newspaper classified ad, and on 30 October 1999, I paid $1800 for our new family truckster. This truck was born to tow. It had a 401 V8 (the largest ever offered by Jeep), 3.54 axle gears, a Mile Marker part-time conversion on the Quadra-Trac t-case (including a 16% overdrive and Warn locking hubs), a 2" lift kit, and the beefiest 2" receiver hitch I've ever seen. It was a little rough, cosmetically, with rusty rocker panels, some minor wrinkles in the sheet metal, and very worn carpet.
A month or so after buying it, I ran a title search through the Nebraska DMV and found that this truck had changed hands 8 times in the last 4 years (I lost the trail when it was purchased from Colorado in 1995). If I'd run that search before buying, I'd have run away. Too late now, though. Sure enough, within the first year or so of buying it, I had to have the TH400 transmission professionally rebuilt. A couple months after that, I found that the engine was a basket case that also needed a complete rebuild. The initial symptom was horribly low oil pressure at hot idle, but I uncovered all sorts of problems during the process. Not wanting to flush the $3000 that I'd already invested in the Wag, I chose to rebuild the engine myself. Besides, I'd always wanted to do that, and I figured this would be as good a test bed as any.
|Painting the engine bay in POR-15|
|Dropping in the fresh 401 V8|
The Wag and I were over the hump, but not nearly out of the woods yet. Constant problems and my own inexperience continued to plague us, so in January 2004, I finally resigned that the Wag would never be a nice enough platform to act as my wife & family's daily driver. We bought a 2001 Chevy Tahoe to serve in that role. Stacy still drives that Tahoe ten years later, and we haven't regretted that decision one bit.
|Delivering an old, dry Christmas tree to the recycler|
Somewhere along the way, I acquired two FSJ parts trucks. In 2002, I bought a '78 Wagoneer from a junk yard for $350 because it had a 401 V8 and I'd already been to the yard twice to strip parts from it. In 2003, a friend and I shared an '87 Grand Wagoneer that we picked up for free in Kansas after it had been abandoned on the road side. I stripped off many of their parts, used some of them on my '77, sold some others, and in 2009, finally sold both of the carcasses to a friend for $250. For those not keeping score at home, this means that at one point, I owned four Jeeps, plus the Tahoe.
During the mid-to-late 2000's, I found that I mostly just drove the Wag once every couple weeks to keep things lubricated so the hoses wouldn't dry rot. After racking up only 1000 miles on the Wag in four years and putting nearly that many miles on my dad's borrowed pickup, I finally decided in 2010 that I really ought to replace the Wag with either a pickup or a hefty trailer. With great reservation, I put it up for sale with an asking price of $3500 (less than half of the $7000-8000 that I've probably invested in the Jeep). I wrote up a detailed "for sale" web page and posted it to various local and international Jeep forums, but I never went so far as to take out an ad in the newspaper or even Craig's List. I got some interest, but no buyers. In 2011, I created some window signs with a QR code for the web site. Those generated a steady stream of tire kickers, but most of them saw the body rust and were just looking for a cheap beater. My $3000 price tag scared them all off.
|Final drive to school, three across in the front seats|
|His first drive was our last in the Wagoneer.|
This is the same boy riding the Power Wheels Jeep
in the lead-off photo.
|Traveling in style to her new home in Chicago|
|The old girl's old (right) and new (left) owners|
|All that's left is the oil spot on the driveway|
So now I'm down to just one Jeep (from a peak of four from 2003-2009). I'd still love to get another FSJ someday. I've kept my factory service manual, just in case. Until then, I'll just have to look at pictures and remember the good times I had with my '77 Wagoneer.
What was your favorite vehicle of those you've owned? I'd love to hear your story in the comments below.