Willys Executive Vice President...
Willys Executive Vice President Cruse Moss (right) led the development of the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer.
If you think about it, most of the basic design elements that make up today's modern sport utility vehicles have been around for a long time: things like automatic transmission with four-wheel drive, four doors, fancy interior, power everything, and lots of optional equipment. But to place an exact date on it, they came together for the first time in one vehicle in the fall of 1962 when the all-new Jeep Wagoneer debuted.
Wagoneer is probably the most influential four-wheel-drive vehicle in history after the original military Jeep MB. It didn't just change the way people looked at utility wagons: Wagoneer revolutionized the four-wheel-drive industry by effectively creating today's SUV market. It introduced new concepts and features years ahead of the competition. In its time, Wagoneer was known as the best luxury SUV, period. Today it's recognized as the first modern sport utility vehicle, blazing a trail that others followed.
Although it's true that four-wheel-drive wagons had been on the market for years, in 1963 most people still considered them utilitarian work trucks. Wagoneer, though, was viewed as a different, almost revolutionary vehicle.
Cruse Moss, former executive vice president at Willys Motors says, "It was really the first sports utility wagon. The Willys wagon had been the first station wagon with four-wheel drive, but Wagoneer was the first true sports utility wagon. No other company had any product that even approached it."
The 1963 Wagoneer was roomy...
The 1963 Wagoneer was roomy on the inside but trim and compact on the outside.
Wagoneer came in response to growing competition in the four-wheel-drive market. Up to 1960, Willys had the light-duty four-wheel-drive market pretty much to itself. Then in 1961, International Harvester (known today as Navistar) introduced its new line of Scout sport utility vehicles. The Scouts looked a lot more modern than the Willys wagon, which dated back to 1946, and the public really liked them. Willys realized that to remain competitive it had to develop a replacement for the venerable Jeep wagons. With Jeep's future riding on the success of the new vehicle, the company knew it had to be spectacular. It was.
Cruse Moss remembers: "We developed the Wagoneer in Detroit. Three of us handled it: Engineering VP Dan Hammond, Styling Director Jim Anger, and myself in charge. We had a dozen or so guys working on it, and we did the whole thing there in our facility on Cass Avenue."
That contradicts traditional histories, which claim that independent designer Brooks Stevens designed the first Wagoneer. We asked Moss about that.
"Stevens was brought in late in the game as a consultant," he says. "He argued strongly for a more distinctive, vertical grille design, and we adopted his recommendation."
Another man who worked in the Willys styling department in 1963, Jack Wildman, recalls, "The Wagoneer was designed in Detroit by a team led by Jim Anger, director of styling. Willys Styling had space in the Blake Business Machines building on the corner of Cass and Canfield. We were on the second floor: a heck of a place for styling studios when you consider that some of the clay models we worked on weighed anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 pounds."