Will Chrysler's Revived Wagoneer Be A New Woody?

Jonathan Berr

Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) is bringing back the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, one of the first luxury SUVs, in 2018 after a two-decade absence. And that's leading to speculation that the automaker will also resurrect the vehicle's iconic (though fake) wood panel design known as a "woodie," or in the Wagoneer's case, "the Woody."

The automaker isn't commenting on a possible return of the Woody, but that hasn't stopped media speculation from reaching a fever pitch. Ad Week, for instance, noted that fans of the vehicle are "freaking out about its possible return." Automotive News has discussed it as has Car and Driver. A column on Bloomberg recently urged people to buy Jeep Grand Wagoneers made between 1984 and 1991 ahead of the expected rollout of the new iteration.

"They weren't without their flaws," said Chip Miller, who runs Wagonmaster, a Texas business in Kerrville, Texas, that restores and sells the vehicles, in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch. "They are a vehicle some people love and some people love to hate."

Kaiser Jeep first introduced the Wagoneer in 1963, with faux-wood trim a few years later. The vehicles soon became part of popular culture, thanks to the iconic 80s' TV show "Magnum PI." Nostalgia for the Woody seems to be strong among people who grew up with them.

Data from classic vehicle insurance expert Hagerty cited by Bloomberg shows that average prices for the vehicles have surged more than 35 percent in the last five years. Some higher-end examples fetch prices of about $70,000. Dealers don't expect the newer Grand Wagoneers to depress the demand for the classic ones and note fans are awaiting their return.

"They have got a beautiful, timeless look," Jeff Kobs, who owns a Richardson, Texas, dealership that restores Grand Wagoneers, told CBS MoneyWatch, adding that many buyers have "memories associated" with Woodys. "They feel like there's cookie-cutter vehicles on the road today, and they want something that's a little bit different, something that's unique."

Fiat Chrysler has brought back legacy brands in recent years such as the Barracuda, Charger and Dart along with the Hemi engines, which makes car experts think that the automaker will do the same with the Woody. Resurrecting the brand also makes sense given Jeep's current market position. According to the automaker, Jeep sales surged 18 percent in August, the most of any of the company's brands.

CBS Money Watch