Hooniverse Weekend Edition – A Jeep Wagoneer 4X4 With Independent Front Suspension

Welcome to the Sunday Edition of Hooniverse Weekend. Kaiser introduced the world to the Wagoneer way back in 1963, designed by the renowned designer Brooks Stevens. This was a large wagon that seemed to live on forever as a Kaiser, as an AMC, and as a Chrysler. Almost every one of these Jeeps were sold with 4WD capability, with a solid front axle and leaf springs. However, there was a unique and short lived option available on the Wagoneer and the companion Gladiator pickup; 4WD AND an independent front suspension….

We only became aware of this unusual feature after stumbling across John Meister’s photos of Bruce Rice’s Washington-based 1963 Wagoneer. Now, you know how we love Wagons on this site, and to have an original Wagoneer survivor, with not only the IFS set up, but the original “Tornado 230” single overhead cam 230 CID inline six cylinder engine under the hood, we knew we had to feature it.

According to a vintage article in Motor Trend, the IFS was:

the most significant engineering advancement on the test car was the independent front suspension layout. In a way, it resembles the famous Mercedes unit. Basically, it’s a single pivot swing axle. but where Mercedes uses a pivot point several inches below the axle’s longitudinal axis, Willys’ pivots it right on the center line. Mercedes uses the low pivot to keep camber changes at the wheel to a minimum. Because the Willys unit is used at the front, it naturally contains steering knuckles at each end and in normal operation there are no camber changes at the wheel. So in effect, while it’s basically a swing axle, the steering knuckles allow it to operate just like a full independent system. The axle is the lower control arm and works with a shorter upper control arm, which is tied into a torsion bar at its inner pivot point.

The optional cost of this unique setup in 1963 was approximately $160, which wasn’t exactly chump change back then. Speaking of costs, when Motor Trend tested the 1963 Wagoneer, that base price for a stripped 2WD example was $3,525. The one they tested with 4WD, Automatic, the IFS, Power Steering, Power Brakes (all drums by the way!), radio, heater, and Electric Windshield Wipers (Yes, this was an option) was $4,479.

Take a look at Bruce Rice’s Wagoneer here, and view the original Motor Trend article here. Do you have a better way to waste a Sunday? I didn’t think so.
Image Sources: Color: John Meister; Black & White: Motor Trend

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  1. Joe Btfsplk Avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    Obviously, the additional cost was not justified by additional benefits. Solid axle vehicles offer simplicity and fewer parts to break. Also, repairs are cheaper and easier. Rubber boot covered CV joints have no place on off road vehicles.

    1. ptschett Avatar

      No CV joints here, the rubber boot is there to keep dirt out of the knuckle and keep the lubricant (80w-90) in. Per a former Chrysler suspension engineer, this suspension had more travel than the CJ3.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    Never knew such an animal existed. I bet parts for the suspension would be fun to hunt down. Another thing I didn't know for a long time was that the original "tombstone" grille front sheetmetal lived intact behind the facade of every Wagoneer and Gladiator made right up to the end in 1991.

    1. LTDScott Avatar

      I knew that, only because "Trucks" or some similar show on Spike removed the square light grille to reveal the original sheet metal underneath, and installed the old grille/light set up.

    2. SeanKHotay Avatar

      It's also (moreso?) called the rhino grille now-a-days…

  3. fede6882 Avatar

    is the differential part of the right axle? never seen that before (it's not like i have seen many ifs setups, but anyway, it looks kind of strange to me).

    1. P161911 Avatar

      1987 to 1996 or so 4WD Ford F-150s had something similar.

      1. GTXEliminator Avatar

        1980 to 1997 to be exact.

      2. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

        Rangers, too.

    2. Thrashy Avatar

      Looks like it to me. I was trying to figure out what kind of wonky handling characteristics that asymmetric swing arms might induce until you pointed it out.

  4. dwegmull Avatar

    Neat find! What kind of springs and dampers does it use? I can't tell from the pictures…

    1. SeanKHotay Avatar

      Wow, good question. It's not the normal axle-over-leaf spring set up for FSJs…
      It appears to be a torsion bar set up, as mentioned at the end of the M/T text above.
      In Meister's pics of the trailing arm, you see an atypical (for FSJs) S-shaped curved cast arm going from the top of the hub, sweeping under the frame. I'm guessing that's the torsion bar set up, likely one per side.
      Even as a FSJ aficionado, I don't recall ever having come across the IFS option before. Leave it to Meister, a real FSJ expert, in one of the gravity centers of FSJs (Snohomish, WA) to sniff this one out…

      1. SeanKHotay Avatar

        Actually, you can see it, err, them (the S-shaped torsion 'cams') better in this front pic, just over the steering rods: http://wagoneers.com/FSJ/rigs/63_ifs_rice/P114029

        1. dwegmull Avatar

          Thank you for the explaination. With it, those pictures are a lot clearer.