Modified Grand Wagoneer reliability?

#1
I have a 1990 Jeep Grand Wagoneer that I'm considering selling for a more reliable vehicle, currently looking at a higher mileage GX470 or 4th gen 4runner.

It's a really clean example of a Wagoneer - only surface rust on frame and body, 1990 model so wiring and components aren't ancient, and seems to be well taken care of by the previous owners. My original plan was to put a Holley Sniper EFI kit on the AMC 360 along with Holley's Hyperspark distributor. This gets rid of the original Jeep ignition box, changes the vacuum advance for timing to electronic, and also updates the fuel pump.

Wagoneer's have never been the most reliable vehicles, even off the factory floor. My question is, will these changes eliminate or fix most of the major problems? I'm okay to keep working on more minor issues like windows not going up/down, a suspension refresh or headliners falling, but I want reliable.

I really enjoy this car, but my wife and I are at a point where we need something that just works, even if its not as cool... And some pictures just for reference.

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#2
I'd take that before even considering some newer loaded down with all kinds of electronic crap that you can't fix in the back woods.
 
#3
I'd take that before even considering some newer loaded down with all kinds of electronic crap that you can't fix in the back woods.
That definitely is part of it. I was looking at newer vehicles with electrical 4wd sensors and actuators breaking, and having to "trick" sensors for lifting. Solid axles and leaf springs are easy and strong.
 
#4
I had a low-mileage rust free 1985 Grand Wagoneer about 10 years ago. We took it back and forth from Wisconsin to southern New Mexico for a couple years to escape northern winters. The first year was with the original carb, even with the high-altitude version, we experienced vapor lock driving to our home at 7200 feet. The following year, I cobbled up from junkyard parts, a GM TBI setup. No more vapor lock. However, the 10mpg with the carb still was 10mpg with the TBI. Heavy Jeep, heavy foot! Wished I still had it. I never doubted the rest of the drive-train, and other than maintenance items, that was it.
 
#5
Having an older vehicle means taking more time to work on it to keep it as reliable as a brand new vehicle, but if you can put in the time and effort than it can be reliable. I've got a '97 GC and I fight the same mental battle all the time. A couple weeks ago I got frustrated and test drove a '15 FX4 F150. It was better at everything than the GC except possibly fitting down tight trails but I'm in the Southeast so that's not big requirement. More comfortable, better mileage, better towing....

Sure, lifting it would be expensive but it would likely go anywhere I need to go without a lift, so it's kind of a moot point. If you really want something that "just works" then leaving it stock is part of what makes it reliable. But you need to throw down some cash to buy new or nearly new. In the end I decided I was willing to spend some of my valuable time instead of spending on a car payment. For now.

I think the worst case is where you buy something that is old enough to have a lot of miles on it but it's still new enough to have expensive parts. I've looked at late 2000s land cruisers and stuff. The purchase price is better but now you have all the same maintenance and reliability problems, they just cost more to fix. Seems like reliability and serviceability bottomed out sometime in the early-mid 2000s depending on platform, and has actually been getting better. My 2005 Mustang is probably the easiest car to repair I've ever worked on, and it has been dead reliable, but it was ahead of the curve a little.

I hear the "new cars have all these electrical/tech problems" line every time but it's crap. New vehicles aren't built with home soldering irons and Heath kit circuit boards like my '97 is. Talk about your problem children, it has most of the luxury features of the new vehicles but it's done with stacks of electrical components instead of simple, sealed solid state components. And remember, not all failures are strictly mileage based. A lot of electrical stuff conks out because it ages out no matter how many miles the rig actually covered. If the ignition module in an old GM goes out in the woods, you aren't fixing it either unless you are carrying a spare one. Just like the newer stuff.

So if you want to keep the Waggy, do it. Take part of what you'd be spending on payments and make a slush fun for repairs. Start with basic maintenance - fluids, wear items, etc.) Then move to replacing the basics in engine control and ignition and always use real OEM parts if you have to replace any control electronics (and you can still get them.) If you have replaced the basic maintenance stuff and the drivetrain control stuff, you've prevented 90% of reliability problems. After that do the things that make it easier to drive day to day, things like phone connections, better lighting, better HVAC, etc.

But the bottom line is you either have to spend the money to fix stuff right, or just spend the money on a very new vehicle.
 
#6
Great responses - I really appreciate it!

I guess there will always be frustrating days where a new car is very attractive...

4th gen 4runners around here are usually around $10k with 125-150k miles, and the Wagon currently has 142k. I'm only in about $8-9k, but I did think I'd be farther with that amount. As far as the AMC 360 goes, are they pretty good motors? The only issue I know about is the low oil pressure, but I'll probably put a midplate in soon just in case. I have 210k on the 4.0 in my TJ and it has been bulletproof, just oil changes and starters. I'm hoping with a modern ignition and regular maintenance, the 360 can be bulletproof too.

The wagon definitely has character, but with life getting crazy, character doesn't always seem worth the price of admission...
 
#7
Beautiful rig! I have an '81 Wagoneer that I purchased with a 258 under the hood and a three speed behind that. We drove it from California to Central America and back last year like that, but I knew it wasn't the best setup. I also had low oil pressure and ended the trip with some major blow by. When I got back I swapped in a 4.0 from a '98 Jeep with a four speed auto (I really wanted a stick, but didn't want to take the time to fabricate the pedal linkage - I wanted to make it an easy swap). It only took me a few days (and I've never done anything like that before) and cost me about $1500 total (I purchased a tested & warrantied engine & transmission).

The new setup is so much better than the stock 258 and the extra gear is great on the road that I wish I did it on my first day. It's been dependable since the swap and still get decent mileage (about 18-19 mpg) and much more power than the original setup. I only bring this up as an option instead of modifying the 360 (or course the 4.0 fits on the the old 258 mounts, where the 360 doesn't) because at the end of the day you'll still have an old setup. I'm also not a purist at all, so if I had the cash I would have gone straight for a GM powerplant.

Other important note: I have another car to drive when I need to. So if my Wagoner were to have a problem, I still have a way to get around.
 
#8
Beautiful rig! I have an '81 Wagoneer that I purchased with a 258 under the hood and a three speed behind that. We drove it from California to Central America and back last year like that, but I knew it wasn't the best setup. I also had low oil pressure and ended the trip with some major blow by. When I got back I swapped in a 4.0 from a '98 Jeep with a four speed auto (I really wanted a stick, but didn't want to take the time to fabricate the pedal linkage - I wanted to make it an easy swap). It only took me a few days (and I've never done anything like that before) and cost me about $1500 total (I purchased a tested & warrantied engine & transmission).

The new setup is so much better than the stock 258 and the extra gear is great on the road that I wish I did it on my first day. It's been dependable since the swap and still get decent mileage (about 18-19 mpg) and much more power than the original setup. I only bring this up as an option instead of modifying the 360 (or course the 4.0 fits on the the old 258 mounts, where the 360 doesn't) because at the end of the day you'll still have an old setup. I'm also not a purist at all, so if I had the cash I would have gone straight for a GM powerplant.

Other important note: I have another car to drive when I need to. So if my Wagoner were to have a problem, I still have a way to get around.
Wow! Great response, thank you!

Any more details on that swap? I did a little research on a 4.0 swap awhile ago and didn't find anything. I really like that engine in my TJ, and like you, would love to do an LS, but the cost is prohibitive. What transfer case did you use? And how was the wiring? Did you have to fab a new transmission crossmember?
That is a really interesting option, as it would be around $2k for the EFI and electronic distributor, so if i can get a more dependable engine and a trans with another speed for similar price (honestly I would probably do it for double), then I'm in!
 
#10
Wow! Great response, thank you!

Any more details on that swap? I did a little research on a 4.0 swap awhile ago and didn't find anything. I really like that engine in my TJ, and like you, would love to do an LS, but the cost is prohibitive. What transfer case did you use? And how was the wiring? Did you have to fab a new transmission crossmember?
That is a really interesting option, as it would be around $2k for the EFI and electronic distributor, so if i can get a more dependable engine and a trans with another speed for similar price (honestly I would probably do it for double), then I'm in!
Thanks! I felt the same way (I've had a TJ before and loved the engine). Unfortunately I didn't do a write up because I was interested in completing the swap as soon as I could ;) Given that the 258 was supposed to put out around 110hp when new (almost 40 years ago) swapping to the 4.0 with 180+hp is a totally different setup. I'm still running the factory gears in the axles, but with the new transmission (and overdrive) I have plenty of room for new gears in the axles.

My Wagoneer started with a 258 / 727 / NP208 and a spare fuel tank where the factory spare was (more on this in a bit). As I said earlier, engine mounts for the 258 & 4.0 are the same, coming from the 360 you'll have to weld in new mounts to your frame. This will probably be the hardest part if you don't have access to a welder. After that, I dropped in the 4.0 already bolted up to the aw4. I did have to put in a 3/4" clocking ring between the aw4 and the np208 (used only as a spacer) because the output shaft of the aw4 is longer than the 727. I used the factory transmission crossmember (with a transmission mount for the aw4), but I did have to put a few new holes in the frame to mount it. I'm not sure how the radiator is setup on the 360 but if you can plumb it up to the 4.0 (are the inlet and outlets in the same place?) it will work. Along those lines, I already had an electric fan on mine, so I didn't have to worry about that.

Wiring was surprisingly easy, the hardest part was identifying everything in the new donor harness. There are only about 5 wires that I had to splice into the wagoneer bulkhead harness (power, ground, start, run, and something else that I've forgotten). If you do the swap, contact me at this point and I can help more.

The little complications were (everything else basically bolted in):

(1) Shifter linkage had to be lengthened between the bottom of the steering column and the transmission.

(2) Transfercase linkage was the same, with the same fix.

(3) The factory brake booster has to go. It's too large and hits the intake manifold of the 4.0. I put in a hydroboost from BJ's wish I had done it sooner. It's a massive upgrade, so consider it as a double upgrade. I also mounted the hydroboost upside down for extra clearance.

(4) With the added length of the aw4 and the spacer ring for the np208, the transfercase bumps into the factory fuel tank. I just got rid of the factory tank and now use the 25 gallon aux tank where the factory spare is. I've heard of other people using 40 gallon Suburban tanks...

(5) I had to switch to a new electric fuel pump, mounted on the frame rails near the transfercase.

(6) I sent out the driveshafts to be lengthened / shortened.

(7) I replaced the factory fuel lines with nylon (actually I did this earlier, but you'll probably need to relocate things).

(8) I also replaced the transmission cooler lines because the factory ones didn't line up.

(9) Drill new holes for the transmission crossmember.

(10) Reroute exhaust.


All told, it took me about five days to remove the old drivetrain and replace it. I used an extra set of hands for helping with lining up the engine on the mounts, but otherwise it was all me. One of the things that I thought about doing was stroking the 4.0 for extra power, but I didn't have the time - maybe that will happen in the future. Also note that because of the length of the aw4 it does create some issues for the fuel tank, linkage, etc. As I said earlier, I wanted to swap in a manual which would have prevented these issues. Of you could keep your transmission if you want (I think Hesco makes a bolt on adapter for the CPS). Final important note: where I live I do not have to smog my vehicle, so I did not deal with any of that.
 
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#11
That’s not really a thing, you know that right?
LOL.... Once upon a time...... This guy his wife and kids , were out on a sunny day cruising the country side. They came to a low water crossing and since they had a fancy new truck with 4 wheel drive, they thought it would be a good place to try it. He reached up and turned the knob to 4Hi and away they went. The water was about a foot deep so they had no trouble crossing, however upon reaching the other side it would not shift back to 2 wheel drive. It wouldn't shift to anything, the T-case stuck in neutral, because of a short caused by water getting in though the wiring harness. Poor family had to be towed about 8 miles by a Jeep, so a wrecker could hook them up. Just a reminder that all of that fancy creature comfort stuff is nice, right up to the point it quits.
 
#12
LOL.... Once upon a time...... This guy his wife and kids , were out on a sunny day cruising the country side. They came to a low water crossing and since they had a fancy new truck with 4 wheel drive, they thought it would be a good place to try it. He reached up and turned the knob to 4Hi and away they went. The water was about a foot deep so they had no trouble crossing, however upon reaching the other side it would not shift back to 2 wheel drive. It wouldn't shift to anything, the T-case stuck in neutral, because of a short caused by water getting in though the wiring harness. Poor family had to be towed about 8 miles by a Jeep, so a wrecker could hook them up. Just a reminder that all of that fancy creature comfort stuff is nice, right up to the point it quits.
Wait, if it wouldn't shift, how did it get from 4hi to neutral? And a foot of water, why even put it in 4wd? Was it, lowered? A foot of water shouldn't even touch the axle housings, let alone the transfer case wiring.
 
#13
My typing skills are crap. It went into neutral and stuck / stayed there. As for why? I guess he just wanted to, I wouldn't even consider it unless the water was knee deep and a muddy sandy bottom.
 
#14
I guess it all depends upon what you want to do with the ride. As you know, I have mine and sure, I do get a little anxious about any long trips in it, but part of that is the fun for me. Taking something out that most would not. What's the worst that can happen? I need to be towed home? But I also know that almost every auto parts store will carry pretty much anything I might need to fix it, or at least band-aid it until I can get the right part. And everything is pretty simple with the 360 as well. Mine is still carbed, and while it of course takes a couple pumps of the accelerator if it has been a couple days since I started it, it always fires right off and runs just fine.

But yes, if you want some reliability a 4th gen 4runner is definitely in that camp reliable, but I am more partial to the 3rd gens. But finding one under 200k miles might be tough. I think I would opt for the 4runner as opposed to the GX470. But that is just me, less fancy, less electronics.

But for me, I enjoy learning as I go with a platform that I feel fairly confident in repairing along the way. Most of the time diagnosis is pretty easy as well. Fuel, Air, Spark. Electronics are pretty minimal, and not much in the way of fancy plugs etc for them. So the 360 fits that bill for me now.

You could always consider a swap to a 5.3 in the wagoneer, but it would be better if you are pretty handy yourself and can do most of that work. But the 360 is a pretty basic and fairly reliable motor. Just not great on power or mpgs, lol.
 

Dr. Marneaus

Station Wagoneer
#15
Youll have to weigh whats more important to you. Supposed "peace of mind" or supposed "unreliability".

I say supposed peace of mind because new cars fail, just like old ones. If it does fail, you're still stuck. I say supposed unreliability because, well, your jeep is still on the road after nearly 30 years. Sounds reliable to me?

I'm running EFI, with timing control, and an updated pump. IT absolutely still has quirks because all I did was slap a modern efi system on a 50 year old engine design, but it works. If I had to, I'd hop in mine tomorrow and drive to the east coast. But, I have put nearly 30,000 painstaking miles on mine and know it pretty much inside and out.

A buddy of mine was just driving from Reno area down to Phoenix area for this thanksgiving in his 1977 J10 that he daily drives. He was in Blythe, CA, 650 miles from home, and over 150 miles from his destination, and he blew his engine. Him and his dogs stuck in a truck that wouldnt run over 600 miles from home. Guess what he did? He called AAA, leap frogged as far as he could 100 miles at a time on their tow trucks, and then called a friend who had a trailer, and less than 24 hours later he was back home with his truck.

The point I'm making here is that even if your truck, new or old, does fail, its not likely to be fatal. You just deal with it. I have the peace of mind knowing that short of catastrphic engine or transmission failure, I can probably fix my crap on the side of the road or the trail.

Also, last thing to consider is cost. Whats that supposed peace of mind worth to you? Given your nice newer wagoneer I'd say you're in a different fianacial situation than me, but getting my jeep recovered from a trail or the side of the highway is a heck of a lot more doable cost wise than buying a new lexus.


That all being said, yes, you should sell your wagoneer and buy the lexus. Its pretty dumb keeping these old, unreliable, inefficient vehicles on the road. Lord knows the as soon as I have the cash to buy a new 4runner or whatever, I'll be getting rid of mine.
 
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