Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The King of Jeep Grand Wagoneers

 I wrote an article and took photos of Leon Miller aka "The Wagonmaster" back in 2000 for the Jeep News Magazine. He warmly greeted me at his Kerrville Texas home and wove a wonderful story of how his love of the classic "Woody" drew him out of retirement. The last Grand Wagoneer rolled off the assembly line in 1991 and there was no replacement on the horizon that had the same qualities as this full-size Jeep 4x4. Leon was encouraged by Brooks Stevens, the chief designer of the Jeep Wagoneer, to renew low mileage models and sell these rolling works of art to discriminating buyers. Low mileage Wagoneers have been harder and harder to find but Leon's business has been going strong for the past 13 years. A testimony to his strong research skills and loyal customers - especially in the New England area. He still tries to keep his vehicles to 70,000 miles or less which is pretty amazing considering many date back to the 1970s.
A pristine 1988 Grand Wagoneer that is currently for sale on Leon's site. It has under 54K and is selling for $41,000. 

Here is the reprint of the original article:

"It started out purely as a hobby," says former Texas cattleman, Leon Miller. "It was accidental; I had no desire or even dreamed about doing what I am doing today." What he's doing is buying high-quality pre-owned Jeep Grand Wagoneers, restoring them to near-mint condition, and selling them at the rate of 125-plus units a year. Miller has sold over 680 "Woodys" in a little over eight years from his business in Kerrville, Texas. In these parts, he is the Wagon Master. Even though Grand Wagoneers are getting harder and harder to find, Miller insists on only starting out with the best vehicles. All the vehicles on his lot have less than 70,000 miles, with no damage and absolutely no rust. After a thorough history check and vehicle inspection, Miller's four-man detail crew will spend 2-3 weeks "renewing" these classic 4x4s - at an average cost of $4,000 per vehicle - to get them up to his high standards. 

"Early on it was a Realtor wagon ... they loved the 360-degree vision all the way around," Miller said when asked for insights on Grand Wagoneer buyers. He also offered insights on the wood-looking vinyl siding that the Grand Wagoneer is known for. "It was really out of necessity for some major ranchers in south Texas," Miller said. "Supposedly, they wanted a close four-door (vehicle), done up nicely, with a tough vinyl siding to keep from destroying or damaging the paint." The Jeep brand responded to these requests and added the wood looking vinyl siding and trim which helped protect the side paneling from the sagebrush and prickly pear that dot the Texas landscape. 

Today, many of Miller's Grand Wagoneers are sold to architects and interior decorators who want a classic look that stands apart from the rest of the SUVs on the road. Much of that business begins at - Miller's Web site. About 80 percent of this vehicles are sold sight unseen, including many Grand Wagoneers that are shipped overseas to people who saw the vehicle in the movies or on television. Miller has also come to depend on his Web site for people looking to sell their precious older vehicles. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of his inventory comes from people who have visited his site on the Internet. 

Thanks in part to Jeep innovation, Miller isn't dabbling in a hobby any more. "They were so far ahead of the industry when they designed this vehicle," Miller said. "The Grand Wagoneer is without a doubt the most copied SUV in the industry, and rightly so. That is why I can do what I am doing, because this vehicle was so well done."