Dodge / Ram
by David Zatz
When Chrysler bought AMC in 1987, in a lengthy transaction which involved extensive dealings with Renault, many were afraid that the venerable AMC plants would be closed, and that Jeep would be bent out of recognition. Chrysler, though, seemed to know what they were doing, aside from the exceedingly regrettable demolition of a parts depot; they invested in existing Jeep plants, and didn’t immediately start replacing Jeeps with Dodges, or rebadging Dodges as Jeeps, or rebadging Jeeps as Dodges.
The slow-selling full-size Jeep pickups, J-10 and J-20, were also dropped, in favor of the better-selling (but still rather low in sales) Dodge. Even if the J-trucks were profitable, execs might have felt they took away from the few Dodge pickup sales out there. Ironically, the redesign that would make Dodge a big player in pickups again was partly a result of Iaccoca’s unhappiness with Dodge truck work: he transferred engineering responsibility for the new big Ram to the new Jeep/Truck Engineering division, which combined AMC people with the remains of the Dodge Truck engineering staff.
Most of the other Jeep changes involved the replacement of components that AMC had purchased from other makers, including the troublesome GM 2.8 liter V6 engine. That was replaced in the XJ series (Wagoneer, Cherokee, Comanche) by an AMC-designed four-liter engine – based on a very old block, but with improved heads, big ports, and other features that gave it surprisingly good power without taking a serious gas-mileage hit. The Renault-Bendix fuel injection and electronic ignition, first used on the 4.0, unfortunately, developed a reputation for not being especially reliable (perhaps partly because of the lack of fault codes to indicate where problems were). Still, as Stephen Spann wrote, “the Renix system allows for more radical modifications than the Chrysler systems (it has a wide range of parameters); and they seem to get better gas mileage.” It integrated a knock sensor and could retard timing when needed.
The excellent durability of the 4-liter straight six, especially when compared to the V6, must have made AMC engineers proud and Chrysler warranty adjusters happy. It was also the most powerful engine in the Jeep Cherokee’s class, with 177 horsepower and 224 lb-ft of torque. The AMC four cylinder pushed out 121 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque – far more than the Chrysler 2.5 liter engine that was to appear in 1989, with 100 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque! Both used single-point electronic fuel injection. The old Jeep 360, which would not be retained, didn’t produce much more horsepower than the four, and the torque wasn’t setting records.
Starting in 1988, components were slowly changed, in an effort to increase reliability; this process continued through to the 1994 model year, the first of the all-Chrysler interiors and components.
The base model Grand Wagoneer, which was not a big seller, was dropped, making the Grand Wagoneer more upscale and exclusive; the AMC 360 V8 was made the standard engine in 1989 for the Grand Wagoneer only, but in 1988, the 258 cid six was purchased only by 3% of Grand Wagoneer buyers.
Jeep Cherokee was available in a wide variety of configurations, with two or four doors, rear or four wheel drive, and, if you chose four wheel drive, either of two systems – both shift on the fly (the Wagoneer version was only available with four doors and an automatic). The standard engine was the old reliable AMC 2.5 liter four-cylinder, which provided more power than the identically sized Chrysler four; it included throttle-body fuel injection. The 4.0 was optional. Transmissions were a four or five speed manual, or a four speed automatic (this was, coincidentally, the first year of Chrysler’s own and very unfortunate four-speed automatic). Cherokee had 72 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded down, or room for five. Models were Base, Pioneer, Laredo, and Wagoneer (the latter was eventually replaced by the Limited and the Country).
The Grand Wagoneer was a completely different vehicle from the Wagoneer. It was larger, continuing a body style first launched in 1963; both had standard woodgrain sides (the Wagoneer had a delete option). Grand Wagoneer came with standard Selec-Trak four wheel drive, and room for six passengers, 74.5 cubic feet of cargo space (with rear seat folded). Standard engine for the Grand Wagoneer was now the AMC 360 V8 (confusingly the same size as a Chrysler V8, but this time making less power, with 144 hp).
The “non-Grand” Jeep Wagoneer was simply a well-optioned Cherokee, and looked it; the Wagoneer Limited had a standard four-liter six, with 5,000 pound towing capacity (same as the Grand Wagoneer), and the same internal dimensions as the Cherokee. A four-speed Borg-Warner automatic provided greater reliability than the Chrysler UltraDrive introduced on corporate minivans in 1989.
Sharing parts of the Cherokee/Wagoneer XJ body was the Jeep Comanche (MJ body), a light pickup with the optional Command-Trac four wheel drive system (base configurations were rear drive). It could shift on the fly from two to four wheel drive, at any speed. It had a standard six foot bed, with a seven foot long bed optional; towing capacity was raised in 1988 to 1,475 pounds. Early-model XJ and MJ models (mid-1980s) could have a Peugeot diesel (later a Renault diesel); a metric-ton (2,240 pound) payload package was available on the Comanche until 1990, with heavy duty U-joints and propshaft, Dana 44 rear axle, and heavy duty brakes. The Class 7 racing cars started out as metric-ton MJs.
The base engine on the Comanche was the four cylinder, more powerful than any other compact pickup engine; but the four liter six was also available (standard on Eliminator models), making the Comanche quick indeed. Four and five speed manual transmissions and a four speed automatic were available; the four speed was not shared by Chrysler. A variety of option discount packages were introduced, with built in savings of up to $1,200, a substantial amount at the time. Comanche models were Base, Pioneer, Eliminator, Chief, and Laredo.
The big news for 1987 was the launch of the first Jeep Wrangler; AMC took the old CJ and bound up the suspension to stop rollovers, which were becoming a real problem as more people bought CJs for sport, recreation, and day-to-day driving. The result hurt off-road performance somewhat and created a harsh ride, but neatly solved the problem of inexperienced buyers flipping their cars. The Wrangler also adopted square headlights, as round headlights were “so mid-1970s.”
For 1988, Wrangler continued, with standard part-time, shift-on-the-fly four wheel drive, a 2.5 liter four-cylinder, or an optional 4.2 liter six, putting out power through a five-speed manual transmission. Standard wheels were 15 inch by 7 inch. Soft and hard tops were available. The Sahara model was launched above the Laredo, with a khaki soft-top, bumper accessory package, dual outside mirrors, fog lamps, khaki spoker wheels, body striping, and spare tire cover. The main changes for 1989 included the world’s first light-truck four-wheel antilock brake system, made by Bendix; and a new Wrangler model, the Islander, which was not to live quite as long as the Sahara.
In 1976, readers may recall 96,000 Jeeps having been produced – pretty much the same models, with CJ instead of Wrangler. In 1988, 280,000 Jeeps were sold. The year after the year after, 1989, saw sales of nearly 250,000, as well. Jeep was clearly in the right place at the right time, as customers ran to bigger and taller vehicles – partly the result of Jeep’s trailblazing models of the past, which showed that you could have your ruggedness and comfort, too.
For more, see our trucks/Jeeps page and Jeep Wrangler • Jeep Cherokee • Jeep Wagoneer • Comanche Pickup • 4.0 engine
All Mopar Car and Truck News