The Arrival of the Jeep Wagoneer

The arrival of the Jeep Wagoneer in the fall of 1962 was tremendously important for Jeep. While Willys Motors dominated the market for four-wheel-drive vehicles, there was little need to update its 1940s-vintage Jeep Station Wagon. But when industry rivals began entering the field in the late 1950s, a modern replacement became imperative.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

The 1963 Jeep Wagoneer came in a choice of two- or four-wheel drive, with two or four doors.
Some 1963 Jeep Wagoneer options were two- or four-wheel
 drive, base or Deluxe trim, and two or four doors. See more
pictures of classic cars.

Indeed, the development of the Wagoneer was an essential, defining event for an entire class of vehicles that would spring up over the next 40 years, bringing together four-wheel drive, ample passenger and cargo room, and ever-greater levels of luxury.

Willys Motors, since 1953 a division of Kaiser Industries, had the market for light-duty four-wheel-drive vehicles nearly all to itself for years. It began producing the CJ-2A -- the civilian version of the already-famous wartime "jeep" -- in mid 1945, then introduced four-wheel-drive trucks in 1947.

Although the four-wheel-drive market wasn't large in the immediate post-World War II years, Willys dominated it. But for 1961, there appeared a new contender. International Harvester introduced its Scout line of modern four-wheel-drive vehicles. The Scout's target was the Jeep CJ, but with more room and comfort. Suddenly, Jeep was facing serious competition.

Willys management sprang into action. In early 1961, funding was approved for a new-product program that would include an entirely new range of Jeep vehicles and a new engine.

Chief engineer A.C. Sampietro would handle the nuts and bolts, while the styling job was assigned to Brooks Stevens, the talented independent designer Willys had on retainer, and the tiny in-house Jeep styling staff under Jim Angers.

When Stevens was asked to come up with an all-new lineup of Jeep station wagons, pickups, and panel trucks, the project probably seemed a little bit like déjà vu.

A similar request during the mid-1940s was how Stevens began his affiliation with Willys. Back then, he labored on a series of postwar designs that resulted in the Jeep Station Wagon in 1946. In 1949, a four-wheel-drive version made its debut; it was the very first sport-utility vehicle.

But that was then and this was now. Willys no longer owned the four-wheel-drive market as it had a decade before. In the late 1950s, International, Dodge, Chevrolet, General Motors, Ford, and Studebaker all began offering factory-built 4×4 versions of their conventional light-duty trucks.

Then came the Scout, and if it succeeded, would others follow? Stevens was going to have to come up with something really spectacular to compete with them all.

He did.

What Stevens developed, after a series of clay studies and endless sketches, was an attractive station wagon with fashionable, almost elegant lines. Introduced in November 1962, Willys called it the Jeep Wagoneer. It was larger than the old Jeep wagons and capable of carrying six passengers comfortably.

Glass areas were unusually large, endowing the interior with an airy, open feel quite unlike any previous utility wagon. The slab-sided body had a masculine handsomeness.

Front-end styling was especially distinctive: a keystone grille flanked by large round vents almost as large as the headlamps. The hood was low, the flanks spare of unnecessary ornamentation.

It was a simple, honest look without gimmicks. This was not the sort of styling usually associated with trucks, yet it was much more rugged looking than an ordinary car. The overall style perfectly reflected Wagoneer's personality.

Family wagon features abounded, with roll-down windows at each door, a tailgate with retractable window, and a stylish instrument panel. Engineers integrated the various four-wheel-drive components into the chassis design so that although the body sat low to the road, ground clearance remained excellent.

The step-in height was almost like that of an ordinary car. The company boasted that "The Wagoneer ... is the first station wagon to offer complete passenger car styling in combination with the advantages of four-wheel-drive traction."

Wagoneer's 110-inch wheelbase was almost half a foot longer than the previous Jeep wagon, and its 183.6-inch overall length was more than seven inches greater. These were the largest, roomiest wagons Jeep had ever built.

Car Life noted "overall dimensions are almost identical to those of the Chevy II .... But Wagoneer looks a lot bigger than it really is -- for reasons we cannot fully explain."

Yet, despite its size, Wagoneer seemed lithe and nimble compared to an Inter­national Travelall or Chevrolet Suburban. That perceived difference was crucial to the Wagoneer's acceptance. In the public mind, the International and Chevrolet wagons were trucks; the Wagoneer seemed more like a family car substitute.

Even more important to its success was this: Wagoneer was a rolling laboratory of new ideas. It simply bristled with innovations. Wagoneers offered not one but two body styles; a conventional two-door utility wagon and a new four-door wagon that greatly expanded its appeal to families.

Wagoneer was also the first four-wheel-drive vehicle to offer an automatic transmission -- by any estimate, the single most-desired feature among car buyers. The optional column-shifted Borg-Warner automatic earned Wagoneer a place on the shopping lists of thousands of new-car prospects.

Wagoneer also was the first four-wheel-drive wagon to offer an optional independent front suspension, utilizing long torsion bars in place of the standard front leaf springs for a smoother, carlike ride. This setup also reduced the turning radius by 16 inches.

Four-wheel drive was operated by a floor-mounted lever. The transfer case included four-wheel high and low ranges, plus regular two-wheel drive, though apparently Wagoneers with automatic transmission didn't come with a low range. Indicator lights told drivers at a glance in which drive range the vehicle was engaged.

There was innovation under the hood as well, where the new "Tornado OHC" six-cylinder overhead-camshaft engine nestled comfortably in the large engine bay.

Although it first appeared late in the 1962 model year as an option on Jeep utility wagons, pickups, and panel trucks, the engine was developed especially for the new Jeep line.

Then the only ohc engine from a U.S. producer, its power output was exceptional: 230 cid generated 140 bhp at 4,000 rpm and 210 pound-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm, 35 horsepower and 20 pound-feet more than Willys's old Super Hurricane 226-cid L-head six.

Willys claimed it offered "the lowest specific fuel consumption of all production gasoline engines." The Tor­nado was the only engine offered in Wagoneers; Willys had no V-8. Standard transmission was a three-speed manual with a column-mounted shifter. Over­drive could be ordered on two-wheel-drive models only.

Designated series J-100, at announcement Wagoneer offered two trim grades. Base-level Wagoneers came with plain upholstery and rubber floor mats, while flossier Deluxe models offered full carpeting plus fancier upholstery and door trim. Later in the year, the Custom series replaced the Deluxe, apparently without any change in equipment.

The two-door Wagoneer was the price leader, especially in two-wheel-drive form, with a base price of $2,546. A four-door, four-wheel-drive Wagoneer was priced at $3,332. Like most American vehicles back then, the base price was merely a starting point.

Wagoneer offered a broad list of optional equipment. Beside the autobox, buyers could order power steering, power brakes, push­button AM radio, electric clock, back-up lights, seat belts, electrically operated tailgate window, chrome wheel covers, and more.

A dash-mounted compass was standard on four-wheel-drive models, optional for two-wheelers. There were work options too, including snowplows, winches -- even a rotary broom.

Automotive magazines loved the new Willys. Four-Wheeler called Wagoneer "a striking and remarkable styling change" and spoke of "important advancements for four-wheelers."

Car Life
said the OHC six was "commendably smooth and quiet." Its testers recorded a 0-60-mph time of 15.9 seconds with automatic and 17 mpg on a 60-mph highway trip. City mileage was 14.5 mpg, which Car Life said "certainly demonstrates the remarkable efficiency of the OHC engine."

Continue on to the next page to see more reactions to the new Jeep Wagoneer.

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The Reaction to the Jeep Wagoneer

The reaction to the Jeep Wagoneer was unprecedented. The public flocked to Jeep dealers to see the new Wagoneer. Although Willys had anticipated increased sales, it was unable to keep up with the tremendous demand.

With the exception of adding air conditioning as an option, the 1964 Jeep Wagoneer mostly stood pat.
With the exception of optional air conditioning,
the 1964 Jeep Wagoneer mostly stood pat.

During 1963, Wagoneer helped set a retail sales record for Jeep in the U.S. as sales rose 42 percent to $220,799,000 and an operating profit of $9,357,000 was recorded. New dealers flocked to the Willys standard, and by year's end, the sales force numbered 1,600 franchised dealers, the highest number in years.

One historically regrettable event occurred in March 1963: Kaiser Indus­tries vice president Steve Girard an­nounced that the company was dropping the Willys Motors name.

From that point, the division would be known as Kaiser Jeep Corporation. The reason was a desire "to properly identify the Toledo company as one of the growing Kaiser family of industries." The Willys name would continue in some overseas markets, though.

Although there were no significant appearance changes for 1964, Wagoneers offered a new feature especially appreciated by families -- air conditioning. Although the feature wasn't as popular then as it is today, it was important for Wagoneer to offer the full range of passenger-car comforts, which enhanced Jeep's reputation for pioneering new ideas.

In response to complaints of engine knock in high-altitude areas, a lower-compression 133-bhp version of the Tornado OHC was made available.

Sales continued at a good pace and Kaiser Jeep reported an operating profit of $11.1 million for 1964 on record sales of $255,582,000. The sales network grew to 2,150 dealers and production of Wagoneers was begun at several overseas affiliates.

To follow the Wagoneer story into 1965, continue on to the next page.

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1965 Jeep Wagoneer

The following year saw the first significant changes with the 1965 Jeep Wagoneer. At introduction, nothing seemed different on the surface.

The 1965 Jeep Wagoneer boasted improved safety and performance features.
The 1965 Jeep Wagoneer boasted improved
safety and performance features.

But the optional Jeep Vigilante engine arrived and that was welcome news. The new engine was the two-barrel-carburetor version of the American Motors 327-cid V-8 that made 250 bhp. Along with the V-8 came a new optional automatic transmission, General Motors's ex­cellent Turbo Hydra-Matic.

Motor Trend's test of a V-8/automatic Wagoneer yielded a 14.5-second run to 60 mph. Fuel economy ranged from 11.5 to 15.2 mpg. "These added horses let the Wag­oneer cruise quietly and effortlessly at 75 mph, give it bags of low-speed torque (340 pounds-feet as compared to 210 for the Six), enable it to crawl up any hill it can get traction on," wrote Motor Trend's Bob McVay.

The Tornado OHC re­mained the standard engine. Both engines came with a three-speed stick as standard. Overdrive was offered with either engine, though again only on two-wheel-drive models. Wagoneers equip­ped with the six continued to offer an automatic, though not the new General Motors unit.

Later that same year, Wagoneer was given a handsome new full-width grille. At the same time, the Tornado OHC was replaced by AMC's more powerful 232-cid, 145-bhp seven-main-bearing ohv engine, which Jeep dubbed the Hi-Torque Six.

A new standard safety package included padded sun visors and dash, seat belts front and rear, two-speed electric wipers with washers, back-up lights, chrome outside mirror, safety-glass windshield, and dual-circuit self-adjusting brakes.

For the first time, a low range was offered for four-wheelers ordered with the automatic transmission.

To learn about the 1966 Jeep Wagoneer, continue on to the next page.

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1966 Jeep Wagoneer

The 1966 Jeep Wagoneer was a model that years later would be recognized as a landmark vehicle. The Super Wagoneer was a new idea, a luxury four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The interior of the Jeep Wagoneer was attractive, masculine, and functional.
The interior of the Jeep Wagoneer was attractive,
masculine, and functional.

Included in its $5,943 base price (which was $2,163 higher than a four-door Custom with four-wheel drive) were air conditioning, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, electric tailgate window, radio, and a tilt steering wheel.

The exterior included such luxury touches as a vinyl-covered roof, standard roof rack, mag-style wheel covers, whitewall tires, and unique fender ornaments. Antique Gold trim panels ran along the sides, with a matching trim panel on the tailgate.

Inside, Super Wagoneers featured fancy bucket seats, a console, and thick carpeting. The standard engine was a potent 270-bhp four-barrel version of the Vigilante V-8.

The Super Wagoneer, which lasted through 1968, was the plushest, most luxurious four-wheel-drive wagon the world had seen at that point, a pioneer that blazed a trail for today's luxury SUVs.

To follow the development of the Jeep Wagoneer from 1967-1977, continue on to the next page.

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1967-1977 Jeep Wagoneer

Over the next decade, the 1967-1977 Jeep Wagoneer underwent many changes. Two-wheel-drive models put in their final appearance in 1967. The two-door Wagoneer, never a big seller, was discontinued after the following season.

The 1972 Jeep Wagoner Custom had an impressive options package.
The 1972 Jeep Wagoner Custom had an impressive
options­ package.

But bigger changes began after American Motors bought Kaiser Jeep Corporation in 1970. American Motors Chairman Roy D. Chapin, Jr., saw great opportunities in the sport-utility market and ordered his engineers to upgrade and refine the Jeep line.

By the 1970 model year, the Buick 350-cid V-8 had replaced the Vigilante, but during 1971, AMC's own 304- and 360-cid engines were installed as the Wagoneer's optional V-8s.

The base six, meanwhile, became the corporate 258-cid, 150-bhp unit. In mid-1970, an electric sliding steel sunroof became an option, possibly the first offered on an SUV. Interiors were upgraded, and AMC engineers made special efforts to solve noise and vibration problems.

One important result of the AMC buyout was the merging of the Jeep dealer group into AMC's larger sales network. Many more dealers were now retailing Wagoneers. As a result, sales increased at a steady pace throughout the Seventies.

Innovations kept on coming, too. In 1973, Wagoneer got the new Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system. It eliminated the need to shift in and out of four-wheel drive, endearing it to drivers intimidated by the shift levers of conventional 4×4s. Not that Quadra-Trac was only for suburbanites.

After testing a Quadra-Trac-equipped Wagoneer, Pick-up Van & 4WD declared it "the best 4WD vehicle in the world." Quadra-Trac started a trend. Today, all premium SUVs offer full-time four-wheel drive.

The following year, a 175-bhp, 360-cube V-8 became the standard Wagoneer engine, with a 235-horse 401-cid powerplant ushered in as the step-up option. Quadra-Trac joined the standard-equipment list in 1975.

To compete with the new breed of truck-based SUVs like the Chevy Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger, Jeep brought out the Cherokee -- a virtual revival of the two-door Wagoneer -- in 1974.

When a four-door Cherokee was added in 1977, the Wagoneer was reduced to a single model with appointments roughly equivalent to those of the former Custom version. That isolation wouldn't last long, though.

Continue on to the next page to read about the 1978-1979 Jeep Wagoneer Limited.

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1978-1979 Jeep Wagoneer Limited

The introduction of the 1978-1979 Jeep Wagoneer Limited set the sport-utility market on its ear. A spiritual successor to the old Super Wagoneer, the Limited was the most luxurious four-wheeler anyone had ever seen.

The list of standard equipment included in its $10,500 base price would have done a Cadillac proud, including as it did whitewall radial tires; air conditioning; tilt steering wheel; cruise control; AM/FM stereo with a choice of citizen's-band radio or tape player; 360 V-8; automatic transmission; Quadra-Trac; power-operated seats, windows, and locks; and leather trim for the steering wheel, bucket seats, rear seat, console, and door panels -- the first use of leather upholstery in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Exterior features included wood-grain side- and rear-trim panels, styled aluminum wheels, wood-grain-trimmed roof rack, and more. "Now with Wagoneer Limited, you have a Jeep vehicle of unprecedented luxury and distinction," general marketing manager R.J. Gilchrist wrote to dealers several months before Limiteds hit their showrooms.

Early advertising was placed in magazines with affluent readerships. Automotive writers were duly impressed with the Limited; Road & Track called it "The Champagne of 4-wheel-drives." Buyers flocked to it like bees to a flower and there soon was a waiting list.

These were golden years for Jeep, with the factory operating at capacity, waiting lists of buyers, and fat profit margins. (Annual Wagoneer production was in the 20,000-29,000 range from 1976 to 1979.) Then, in 1979, a fuel shortage hit Amer­ica.

This was actually the second oil-producer embargo of the decade; the first came in late 1973 and lasted until the following spring. Although sales of the Cherokee dropped like a stone, Wagoneer sales held up fairly well. Still, no one knew how long this new crisis would last, so the factory began to make changes to improve Wagoneer fuel economy.

To follow the Jeep Wagoneer story through the 1980s, continue to the next page.

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1980-1989 Jeep Wagoneer

The 1980-1989 Jeep Wagoneer developed and improved through the decade. New models were developed, and the old ones evolved to provide more desirable function and amenities.

The 1985 Grand Wagoneer incorporated improvements to its suspension and Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive system.
The 1985 Grand Wagoneer featured improvements
to its suspension and Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive.

One step Jeep took in 1980 was to reinstate the 258-cid six with part-time four-wheel drive and a choice of automatic or four-speed manual transmission as an alternative to the standard powertrain of 360 V-8, automatic, and Quadra-Trac. (The optional four-barrel-carb 360- and 401-cid V-8s had already been dropped after 1978.) With the six, the Wagoneer turned in a very respectable 15 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway.

In 1981, a new Wagoneer Brougham joined the line, slotted in between the base model and the Limited. Brougham included upgraded interior trim, extra insulation, power tailgate window, roof rack, and a host of extra features.

The six-cylinder engine became standard again, with the 175-bhp, 360-cid V-8 optional for all models. The four-speed manual transmission came standard on base Wag­oneers and Broughams, but automatic transmission with full- or part-time four-wheel drive was optional. Quadra-Trac and the automatic were standard on the Limited.

For 1982, a five-speed manual transmission was available, and a new Selec-Trac system replaced Quadra-Trac in April. When road conditions permitted, Selec-Trac allowed for more fuel-efficient rear-drive-only operation at the flick of a switch on the dashboard.

The base Wagoneer was dropped for 1983, leaving a choice of Brougham or Limited models. Manual transmissions were also discontinued. An automatic transmission with Selec-Trac became standard. With the standard six-cylinder engine, the Wagoneer was rated at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway -- outstanding for a full-size SUV.

The big news at American Motors for 1984 was the introduction of smaller and more fuel-efficient Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer XJ models. But their introduction didn't mean the end of the old Wagoneer.

Like all Wagoneers, the 1989 Jeep Wagoneer could tow trailers that weighed up to 5,000 pounds.
Like all Wagoneers, the 1989 Jeep Wagoneer could
tow trailers that weighed up to 5,000 pounds.

The former Wagoneer Limited returned to showrooms as the Grand Wagoneer. AMC called it the "Big Daddy" of Jeep vehicles. Appearance-­wise it was nearly identical to the old Limited, though new vertical taillamps replaced the horizontal wraparound lamps that been around since the beginning, and the woodgrain side decal was somewhat revised.

The six continued as standard, but the two-barrel 360 V-8 was a very popular option. With standard equipment that included Selec-Trac; automatic; power steering, brakes, windows, and door locks; six-way power seats; dual electric outside mirrors; halogen fog lamps; air conditioning; leather; tilt wheel; quartz digital clock; aluminum wheels; roof rack; and AM/FM stereo with tape player, Grand Wagoneer remained the gold standard of the SUV market.

A full-sized Wagoneer Custom with a shorter list of standard equipment that included air, automatic transmission, AM/FM radio, part-time four-wheel drive, wheel covers, bucket seats, and full carpeting was offered briefly in 1984.

How­­ever, even at a price of only $15,995 -- some $3,300 less than the Grand -- it didn't interest many buyers. Grand Wagoneer was what people were looking for in a full-sized SUV.

To follow the development of Jeep in the early 1990s, see the next page.

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Jeep in the Early Nineties

In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Jeep's big Wagoneer would continue with incremental advances, such as an improved suspension and "shift-on-the-fly" Selec-Trac (1985), a new instrument panel (1986), a return to standard V-8 power (1987), and added convenience features.

Though it was near the end of the line, the 1990 Jeep Wagoneer continued to impress.
Though it was near the end of the line, the 1990
Jeep Wagoneer continued to impress.

Despite advancing age -- by 1987 it had been on the market for 25 years -- it continued to thrill buyers and road testers.

That year, Road & Track called Grand Wagoneer "one of the most capable off-roaders going," said interior appointments "are truly grand," and summed it up as "a first-rate off-roader and incle­ment weather vehicle AMC has honed close to perfection." How many other 25-year-old designs could have earned such praise?

Wagoneer officially reached the end of the road in 1991. Having crawled back up a bit in the early Eighties after the 1979 gas crisis, sales had fallen off gradually over the next few years. Chrysler Corp­­­oration -- Jeep's parent since its purchase of AMC in mid 1987 -- planned to end Grand Wagoneer production at the end of the model year.

How­ever, some things are hard to let go of, and it seems that a small number of 1992 Grand Wag­oneers were built. One enthusiast claims to have documented four 1992s, and reports that perhaps as many as 300 were built.

Why the factory would build such a small run is a challenging question. It may have been that some last-minute orders needed to be filled, or perhaps it was an effort to use up leftover parts -- or maybe it was a combination of those things.

There was a sort of Grand Wagoneer revival in 1993, a loaded, wood-grained version of the all-new Grand Cherokee, but it didn't sell very well. After all, over the prior three decades, veteran Wag­oneer owners had become accustomed to having nothing but the best. How could they settle for an imitation?

Want to learn more about the classic Jeep Wagoneer? See the next page to find selected mechanical, vehicle, and engine specifications for the 1965 Jeep Wagoneer 4×4.

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1965 Jeep Wagoneer 4x4: Selected Specifications

Jeep vehicles catered to a gradually growing market for four-wheel-drive models after World War II. When competitive pressures finally convinced Willys to modernize its family size Jeep Station Wagon, the result was the Wag­oneer, which was introduced for 1963.

Its mix of four-wheel capability with carlike style and comfort placed it in a unique niche, and its success continued for 25 years. Below are selected specifications for the 1965 Jeep Wagoneer 4×4:

Jeep Wagoneers held 91 cubic feet of cargo, plus had an optional roof rack to carry more.
Jeep Wagoneers held 91 cubic feet of cargo, plus
had an optional roof rack to carry more.

1965 Jeep Wagoneer 4×4 Vehicle Specifications

Vehicle Specifications

Wheelbase, inches
110.0
Length, inches
183.66
Height, inches 64.2
Width, inches
75.6
Tread, inches
front: 57.0 rear: 57.0
Ground clearance, inches 7.75
Cargo volume, cubic feet 78.5

Construction
Layout front-engine, four-wheel drive
Type body on frame
Frame ladder-type with steel channel side members, five cross members
Body material steel
Body style station wagon, 2 or 4 doors

1965 Jeep Wagoneer 4×4 Engine Specifications

Type standard inline ohc 6-cylinder optional 90-degree ohv V-8
Material
cast-iron block and head(s) cast-iron block and head(s)
Bore x stroke, inches 3.34 × 4.38 4.00 × 3.25
Displacement, cubic inches 230 327
Horsepower @ rpm 140 @ 4000* 250 @ 4700
Torque @ rpm, pound-foot 210 @ 1750* 340 @ 2600
Carburetor 2-bbl Carter downdraft 2-bbl Carter downdraft
Horsepower @ rpm 300 @ 5000 350 @ 5800
Torque @ rpm, pound-foot 360 @ 3200 360 @ 3600

*Net.

1965 Jeep Wagoneer 4×4 Mechanical Specifications

Compression ratio
standard8.5:1
optional8.7:1

Main Bearings

standard4
optional5

Valve Lifters

standardmechanical
optionalhydraulic

Electrical System

standard12-volt Driveline
optional12-volt Driveline

Transmission
standard3-speed manual, synchromesh, column-mounted shifter
optional3-speed automatic with torque converter, column-mounted shifter

Clutch

standardsingle dry plate
optionalsingle dry plate

Differentials
front hypoidfull-floating
rear hypoidsemifloating

Transfer case

standard2-speed
optional2-speed

Suspension
frontstandard: solid I-beam axle, 4-leaf semielliptic springs, tubular shock absorbers; optional: independent, single-pivot swing axles with torsion bars, tubular shock absorbers
rearsolid axle, 6-leaf semielliptic springs, tubular shock absorbers

Steering and Brakes

Steering typerecirculating ball, worm and roller
Turning circle, feet44
Turns, lock to lock4.0
Brake type4-wheel hydraulic internal-expanding, cast-iron drums
Drum diameter, inches11
Effective lining area, square inches161.6

Tires and Wheels

Tire size8.15 × 15
Tire typetubeless, 4-ply rated
Wheels5-lug steel disc

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