America’s passion for vintage automobiles continues to evolve. One of the strongest trends over the past decade or two has been a shift by restoration enthusiasts toward classic SUVs. Among the most cherished is the first-generation Jeep Wagoneer SJ. Production started during the Kennedy Administration and ran for almost 30 years. One of the very first SUVs, this is the vehicle that a lot of today’s vintage vehicle buffs grew up riding in.
Today, a fully-restored Jeep Wagoneer can easily fetch the high five-figures. On the day we wrote this story, Hemmings had a half-dozen for sale in the $90Ks, and one for sale listed at $119,000.
Car Talk connected with Wagoneer fan, owner, and restoration expert, Jason Jolicoeur to learn more about the part he plays in this growing segment of the vintage car world. Jason is the creative mind behind the unique crafting company, Grand Wagoneering.
Car Talk: Jason, tell us how your childhood pointed you in the direction of the Grand Wagoneer restoration world.
Jason: I grew up the son of a vintage car collector. My father was one of the founding members of the Studebaker Drivers Club. Which explains how, at age 12, I bought my first car, a 1953 Studebaker Starliner.
I knew I wanted to be a designer since I was 8 years old. I did my first oral report in 5th grade on the French-American industrial designer, Raymond Loewy. Eventually, I studied Industrial Design at Arizona State University. During my time there I interned with Converse and the company was nice enough to employ me when I graduated. I worked at Adidas and eventually became the Vice President of Design for Clarks Athleisure division. When Clarks laid off nearly a thousand of its employees I knew that after three decades in design I was due for a sabbatical.
Car Talk: How did you first become interested in the Grand Wagoneer?
Jason: I’m blessed with four sons and after many happy years in our Dodge Durango SRT, I wanted to return to the simpler vehicle designs of my youth. I traded “up” from the modern Durango to the classic Grand Wagoneer in 2018.
Jason: I’m not alone in my love for vintage SUVs. After I got into the hobby, I realized there were many others that had similar experiences to myself. They had been driving modern vehicles with modern conveniences and had switched to something simpler. Something that they could wrench on during the weekend, that wasn’t overwhelmingly technical. Something they could still load the family in and head on a vacation in comfort and style.
Car Talk: Tell us about your business as a specialty components supplier for the SJ Wagoneer.
Jason: It wasn’t long before I discovered what many in the Wagoneer community know. We all love the simplicity of the classic Wagoneer’s interior. However, where do I put my drink or my phone? I wanted to design something that would accommodate these items, but still look period correct. Something that would play off the iconic faux wood cladding. Practical, but complementary to the Wagoneer’s unique vibe.
So I designed and built a center console for my own Wagoneer. I had the support and encouragement of Mike Amster of Hyannis Vintage Auto, who had been working on my Wagoneer and has worked on many Wagoneers on Cape Cod and the islands.
Building one for myself led quickly to building a few for fellow enthusiasts. Frankly, I was surprised by the responses I was getting from my fellow owners.
Car Talk: Can you share some insights with us about these fellow owners?
Jason: There is a large active group of owners who have had full-size jeeps for years and had jeeps in need of fixing and restoring. There is another group of owners who spend big money for these vehicles restored to perfection by places like Jeep Heritage and Wagonmasters. These are folks who might be driving a Mercedes or BMW during the week and take their Wagoneer out on the weekends.
The original interior of the classic Wagoneer has elements akin to a Gremlin with leather seats. Although we all love and appreciate the classic appeal of the simple interior, there is an opportunity to upgrade the interior trim. Real wood and leather compliment the interior nicely while still staying true to the vehicle's roots.
Car Talk: How did your involvement with the consoles evolve?
Jason: I quickly learned there was a market for modern niceties after I showed my work on Facebook and at some Wagoneer clubs. My original template served me well and many folks reached out asking me to do a console for their Wagoneer. I was nervous as I had to charge a lot of money for them due to the time it takes me to make them and the ever-increasing cost of the fine wood and leather they are built from. Since the spring of 2021, I made about 60 consoles that have shipped all over the country and one to Germany.
Car Talk: The quality of your work is evident in the images, but what makes your console so special to these owners?
Jason: Each console is handcrafted and made to order. They are assembled, stained, polyurethaned all by me in my shop. The design perfectly fits the unusual asymmetrical shape of the transmission tunnel and fits securely under the dash. Stainless steel screws recessed into the bottom grab into the carpet to reduce sliding.
Jason: Several hours of work go into finishing them. They have stainless steel cup holders, stainless steel vents for heat to escape from the Wagoneers only heat source – under the dash.
Jason: They have a felt-lined storage compartment with soft close hinges. I’ve upgraded some upon request to have USB ports.
Car Talk: What is the future of your business?
Jason: I have two new console prototypes completed. My goal is to build upon the success of the consoles to develop additional interior upgrades. To augment the consoles I began making supporting products that I designed myself – Tumblers, stickers, shirts, and my first annual limited edition Grand Wagoneering Christmas shirt.
Car Talk would like to thank Jason for sharing his story with us. If you’d like to see more of Jason’s work or reach out to him about commissioning a project, check out these two links: