Is this box-shaped domestic appliance destined to be outdated?
Boxy vehicles are considered retro icons due to their appearance in pop culture. Land Rover Defender and BMW E30 are two of the most popular boxy cars from decades past. Additionally, the Lancia Delta Integrale is also a very popular retro car. In the modern era, cars like the Kia Soul and Scion XB have pushed the boxy design away from style trends. They’ve changed the way designers interpret classic boxy designs, thanks to their off-road functionality and more exaggerated edges. However, one carmaker has kept the classic look while pushing it further than anyone else: Jeep Cherokee.
From rock climbing to the National Forest Service to every West Coast high school parking lot, the Cherokees of Generation XJ lived almost every possible life. Its 18 years of production ended in 2001, but the model doesn’t seem to have lost its popularity. The timeless shape paired with ample parts availability, general serviceability and a thriving community of enthusiasts means this model has every reason to remain American auto parts status. On an unusually warm day in San Francisco this August, we spotted a perfectly-looking 1986 Jeep Cherokee Pioneer AB Beige, an example of how timeless this box is.
The Cherokee offered a number of powerplants over its lifespan, and this particular model was powered by the least common crop. The 2.8-liter V6 LR2 carbureted engine borrowed from General Motors isn’t a powerplant, but 115 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque sent through two or all four wheels gets the job done. It was only used in early model years, before being replaced by the legendary AMC 4.0-liter inline-six, although a 2.5-liter inline-four was available from its introduction in 1984 until 1996. Turbo diesels are also sold in the United States. In short, the 85-horsepower, 135-pound-feet, 2.1-liter inline-four from the 1985 and 1986 model years. You can imagine why this powertrain isn’t particularly popular.
Both automatic and manual transmissions are available in three-, four- and five-speed configurations. Transmissions are supplied by a number of manufacturers, including BorgWarner, Aisin Warner, and even Peugeot. We would have liked to see this car with a manual transmission, but the elevation issues in San Francisco meant that the car came with a Chrysler A904 three-speed automatic.
The true heart of the Cherokee model is the transfer case and live axle, the mechanical components that propelled the Cherokee to decades of off-road glory. Of the four variants used, all transfer cases are chain-driven, aluminum-body, two-speed units with different gear ratios and engagement systems. The example we parked on the street proudly displayed its Command-Trac transfer case heritage with a trunk-mounted badge. The front and rear axle assemblies vary even more, with three Dana 30 axles up front and a set of Dana or Chrysler axles in the rear. Coil-spring front suspension combined with leaf-spring rear suspension provides basic on-road capability with typical off-road sustainability.
Granted, these cars aren’t all that much fun on the road. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a car to shake violently on the highway, although this driving characteristic can be hidden. But with the right tires and some heart, the Cherokee is nearly unstoppable on the track.
This example looks too clean to play in the mud, but we wouldn’t judge a car by its looks. We couldn’t find the owner of this new 1986 model, but it lacks rust, street Hankook tires and a weathered license plate cover that says “Menlo Park, CA,” leading us to believe it’s a California car. .The tan interior color may not be found on modern Jeeps, but it works on this 36-year-old station wagon. It’s all held together by a car-wide double pinstripe red that accentuates the tanned beige in a way that begs for a RADwood submission. We can’t blame the owner for keeping his Cherokee clean – he’s just so gorgeous.
Connor Mason is a passionate automotive journalist and the author behind the popular website motonews.info. With years of experience in the automotive industry, Connor is well-versed in all things related to cars and motorcycles.