For the rural citizens of the UK in the early 60s, the choice of vehicles available that were fit for purpose was limited.
For any off-roading, or travel that required four-wheel drive and a maximum of three passengers, country buyers could have a Land Rover or, for those with a passion for complex maintenance, the Austin Gipsy. If more passengers were needed the Land Rover Station Wagon was the only answer and these top-of-the-line models could be purchased with an inline six-cylinder petrol engine, servo-assisted brake and a basic heater. Luxurious road cars, they were not.
For those in a similar situation in North America, life was entirely different, however. Those who liked the simple life could indeed import a Land Rover, but for most country folk that wanted the ability to go off road but without having to forego comfort, the vehicle of choice was the Wagoneer.
Launched a full seven years before the Range Rover, the Wagoneer was based on the underpinnings of a pick-up truck and was powered by a smooth six-cylinder engine. What set it apart from other vehicles at the time was that, in a bid to give it the good road manners and handling of a car, the Wagoneer had independent front suspension and could be ordered with a choice of either manual or automatic transmissions and a choice of rear-wheel drive or switchable four-wheel drive for when the going got rough.
An instant sales success, the Wagoneer soon had more options available including air conditioning and a far more powerful V8 engine. By 1966, the ‘Kaiser Jeep Corporation’ behind the SUV clearly sensed that the market wanted even more luxury and so launched the Super Wagoneer which, with power steering, power brakes, a powered tailgate, adjustable seating and steering wheel, can legitimately claim to be the world’s first luxury SUV.
The bar had been set, and from 1966 onwards the Wagoneer continued to evolve into an ever more luxurious vehicle with go-anywhere ability. By the 1980s it was specified and priced to rival a Cadillac, and with the Range Rover only just having begun to appear in the USA in two-door form and other US-based rivals such as the Bronco not offering either the options or the cachet, the Wagoneer continued to rule as king of the country club car park. It was in a league of its own.
Do you own one of these wooden clad beauties? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.