Can you fall in love with a 4x4? Yes, and sometimes it's a real love at first sight. It happened to me at the Rebelle Rally during the day of the technical checks. Wrangler JK or impressive pickups passed, like the Ford Raptor, but my attention was attracted by a 1969 Jeep Wagoneer.
Pictures and text Paolo Baraldi
The Wagoneer was the first luxury 4x4 produced by Jeep and dominated the market from 1963 to 1993. Surely my interest was recalled by the charm of this old school 4x4 that has distracted me from everything else and made me approach to watch it better. Immediately I realize that it is not really standard and that it had undergone very special changes. I open the bonnet to watch the engine, I lower myself, I look at the suspensions and tac ... the spark that makes me fall in love with this Wagoneer. Cabbage! This is just one of those preparations that I like the most: an old 4x4 with important technical updates but without upsetting its essence and its distinctive lines. As you know, only female crews participate in the Rebelle Rally. I ask to the owner Courtney Latter some more information and who is the author of the work. Courtney, she smiles at me and replies: "I was helped by my copilot Martha Tansy, I found this Wagoneer abandoned on a ranch and I thought that a car like that could not end in this way. I take the Wagoneer to my workshop, the Trail Tested Manufacturing located at Atascadero in California in the county of San Luis Obispo, to bring it back to a new life ".
Courtney Latter grew up on a ranch in Half Moon Bay; during the years of college she became passionate about offroad and enrolled in the Cal Poly club. Since then the offroad is her life; becomes co-owner of the Trail Tested and spend her free time wandering through the Johnson Valley trails and volunteering for the King of the Hammers. Returning to Wagoneer, Courtney shows me a video that describes the various stages of work; It is impressive how much was done under the bodywork, with what expertise and precision.
The original engine, a Buick 350 V8 was removed and in its place was installed a 6.0 liter V8 Vortec L96 Small Block from General Motors from a Suburban with a power of 352Hp at 5400rpm and a torque of 518 Nm at 4200rpm. The automatic gearbox is a 6L90E with Atlas 2-Speed transfer case from Advanced Adapters has been paired. The frame was removed and replaced with a new one specially made for this vehicle. The standard axles, Dana 44 and Dana 30, were scrapped and replaced with reinforced one-ton axles. In '69, leaf springs were a standard for all vehicles, from station wagons to racing cars. The same was true of most 4x4s, including the Jeep Wagoneer. With the new axles and the new chassis, the most logical thing to do was to eliminate the leaf springs and create a new suspension geometry. And here is a front 3-link with Fox coilover mounted in traditional style. For the rear 4-link, the idea is more brilliant because it was not possible to install the shock absorbers in the classic position on the Wagoneer without entering in the cabin with the upper fixing points. The solution consists in using a custom-built "cantilever" system with cantilevered arms connected to the axle, which act on a pivot to allow the coilovers to be fixed in a horizontal position and to function at their best. Congratulations for a unique and well done solution! The tires chosen are Nitto Trail Grapplers 35x12.50R17 installed on Raceline wheels with Beadlock. The interior of this Wagoneer is mostly intact, with the standard dashboard and old seats.
The most interesting aspect of all this makeover is definitely the choice to keep the bodywork as it was with that vintage patina left by the years spent in the ranch.