Native Hauler

T oday, a manufacturer needs a four-door SUV if it wants to turn good numbers in the sales race. Even the beloved Jeep Wrangler is now available as a four-door.

    However, about three decades ago, two-doors were the hot setup. Though far from inventing the body style, the 1969 Chevrolet K-5 Blazer lit up the market and brought eventual competition from the GMC Jimmy, Chrysler Corp. (Plymouth Trail Duster, Dodge Ramcharger) and Ford Motor Co. (1978 Ford Bronco).

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Early Jeep Cherokees used the same grille as the pickup truck, panel delivery side sheet metal and a Wagoneer driveline to gain popularity in the two-door SUV field. This is a 1976 model.

    It also probably had something to do with the introduction of the 1974 Jeep Cherokee from American Motors Corp.

    While the “Big Three” had to do some major retooling of their full-size pickup packages to make a short-wheelbase two-door SUV, Jeep went back to the storage room and reactivated an older design; it had been there before.

    When the all-new Jeep Wagoneer came out in 1962, it was available in both two- and four-door wagon versions. It also could be had as a panel delivery. Neither the two-door wagon nor the panel were popular and both were dropped in 1967.

    That was the same year the Jeepster arrived, a larger version of the CJ-5 Universal that revived the old Jeepster name from the 1948-’51 roadsters Willys sold. The new Jeepster was available in convertible, hardtop or pickup form and attracted moderate attention and sales.

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Jeep used an old body style to make a new SUV for 1974, the Cherokee. It used a combination of panel delivery side stampings and Wagoneer tailgate to attract new customers to the growing two-door SUV market.

    American Motors bought Jeep from Kaiser Industries in 1970 and did good and bad things with the brand. AMC engines were generally among the good, while redesigning the Jeepster into the Commando for 1972 with a blocky front clip fell into the latter category.

    Commando production ended after the 1973 models and a two-door replacement/Blazer competitor was needed. A new design was not possible, so a revival of the Wagoneer two-doors seemed the best route.

    The new model picked up the Cherokee name and was a combination of Wagoneer, panel delivery and pickup truck parts. Rear side windows were fitted into the panel’s sheet metal stamping. The tailgate was off the Wagoneer, as panels had double rear doors standard. A grille from the pickup truck was utilized. At first, there were two versions: base and S. All were four-wheel drive.

    Power came from the standard 258-cid six, or three V-8s, which came in two 360-cid versions (two- and four-barrel carburetors) and the much-respected 401 cid.

    Among the driveline choices was full-time Quadra-Trac, which was not loved by off-roaders.

    The Cherokee’s wheelbase was 109 inches, same as the Wagoneer, but a few inches longer than the closest competition. While GM and Chrysler SUVs had bolt-on roofs at the time, the Cherokee’s was part of the body. Not as sporty as the open versions, but more secure for year-round use.

    Like anything successful, the manufacturer sought to make even better Cherokees. In January 1975, the Cherokee Chief was added, which featured a wider track, fender flares, bigger wheels, special striping and trim. For 1977, a four-door Cherokee bowed. It was more basic than the Wagoneer, which was on its way up market.

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Introduced in January 1975, the Jeep Cherokee Chief expanded on the basic two-door theme with wider tread, bigger wheels and special trim, to expand Jeep’s presence in the SUV market. This 1976 version shows the special ID striping.

    Cherokee would remain in production through the 1983 models before it was replaced by a downsized version for 1984. That, too, would come in two- and four-door models and was credited with helping explode the market for smaller SUVs.

    The Wagoneer became the Grand Wagoneer and stayed in production into 1991, the latter years under new ownership by Chrysler Corp., which swallowed American Motors in 1987. The basic style, which debuted in 1962, was produced by Kaiser, AMC and Chrysler for quite a run.

    Two-door 1974-’83 Cherokees are finding their way into the collector and restorer market, but the later ones are still rather new for collector status. They are also still to be found off-roading in stock and modified forms.

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