Let me tell you about American ingenuity and engineering know-how and stick-to-itiveness.
Let me tell you about an automotive icon owned and loved by everyone from fashion magnate Ralph Lauren to humble Autoweek associate editors.
Let me tell you about the noblest use yet conceived for faux wood vinyl appliqués.
Let me tell you about the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, the greatest American vehicle ever built.
In the beginning…
Before there was a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, there was the Jeep Wagoneer. Grand in its own way, but suffering from a distinct lack of woodgrain-effect vinyl, it first appeared in 1962 as a 1963 model year vehicle.
Its Brooks Stevens-penned lines were clean and timeless; its purposeful powertrain could haul its rugged body and frame anywhere. And no matter which particular bin of parts its manufacturer was drawing from at any given moment (Willys, Kaiser, AMC and Chrysler were all responsible for its production at one point or another), it simply kept on rolling off Jeep's Toledo production line.
The Wagoneer got a slew of engine options over the decades: Willy's Tornado I6, AMC's I6, three AMC V8s (a 5.4-liter, a 5.9-liter and a 6.6-liter) and, for a brief period, a 5.7-liter Buick V8. Transmissions ranged from a three-speed Borg Warner manual unit to a handful of three-speed Chrysler and GM slushboxes. Grille designs changed to keep up with the times, even as the sheetmetal remained unmolested (the last Wagoneers ever made can still accommodate the narrow grilles and separate, round headlamps of the first Wagoneers, so far as we can tell).
Why it's simply the best
By 1984, the Wagoneer had been in production longer than most vehicles have ever been or will ever be. At that point, most automakers would have retired the platform in favor of something smaller and more efficient.
Not AMC. Though the independent did get a more up-to-date vehicle with the unibody Cherokee XJ, the 5.9-liter V8-powered Wagoneer kept on truckin' -- but not as an aging has-been.
No, in 1984 the Wagoneer evolved to the luxurious, faux-wood-paneled Grand Wagoneer. For a decades-old truck its sticker price was unbelievable (ranging from under $20,000 initially to $30,000 by the end of production), but the ballsy scheme to take the vehicle upmarket worked and AMC reportedly enjoyed profits of $5,000 to $6,000 on each unit sold.
Incredibly, the first of the luxury SUVs wasn't immediately shunned as a gauche toy for the Aspen set. The Grand Wagoneer was an instant classic, and production continued until the Final Edition was released in 1991. It was, and is, loved by pretty much everyone (except, perhaps, hard-core environmentalists).
It's not hard to see why. Can you think of another vehicle that unites East Coast prepsters and hard-core off-roaders? A truck that can launch out of a mud bog and onto the set of a Tommy Hilfiger ad campaign photo shoot? An SUV that can be driven by everyone from arch-Blue Stater Nancy Pelosi to arch-Red Stater Alan Jackson? This is America, where it shouldn't matter if the foot that presses the accelerator is clad in boat shoes or work boots.
If you're a Wagoneer owner, welcome to the club -- no, welcome to the lifestyle. If you're not, have a happy Independence Day anyway, but try not to think too much better your grillout could have been with a Wagoneer on tailgate duty. There's always next year.
Runners-up, in no particular order:
1935 Auburn 851 SC Speedster -- powerful, fast, gigantic. Seats two, no trunk (golf bag compartment, though). Because f*** your European notions of practicality.
Any hot rod -- American ingenuity meets American individualism.
SRT Viper -- The Feds can force us to include traction and stability control on our cars but they still can't keep us from selling a rocket that wraps itself -- with you inside -- around a lamppost at a moment's notice.
Anything by Crosley -- Because in America, you're free to succeed, but also to fail spectacularly.