If you’ve followed me for awhile, you might have realized that I am sort of a Cherokee aficionado. I got my first Cherokee in 2009 which I replaced in 2010 with a 5-speed. After The Little Red Jeep reached the end of its life with me, it was replaced by yet ANOTHER one. Plus, I have my sweet vintage Cherokee. If you hear me talk about my cars, however, you’ll mostly hear things like “XJ” or “FSJ” (or “SJ”). I’ve picked up the Jeep model parlance.
So what’s the deal with all of these different models? Where did they come from? The following is a description of SJ Cherokee trim packages from its inception in 1974 to the end of its run in 1983. Click to jump to a summary table.
Predecessors to the Jeep Cherokee
The Cherokee’s roots begin with the Willy’s Station Wagon produced from 1946 until 1965.
By the mid-1960s, however, Jeep decided to replace the Jeep Station Wagon with the Jeep Wagoneer on the “SJ” platform. This station wagon model was available in both two door and four door models and with or without four wheel drive. After 1967, two wheel drive was discontinued and after 1968 the two door model was also discontinued. The Wagoneer continued to evolve as a family vehicle and remained in production through 1991 as the Grand Wagoneer.
Introduction of the SJ Cherokee
In 1974, Jeep introduced the Jeep Cherokee using the SJ platform of the Wagoneer. The Cherokee was marketed as a “youthful and sporty” alternative to the family-focused Wagoneer and was meant to keep customers buying Jeeps instead of Ford Broncos or Chevrolet K5 Blazers.
The 1974 Jeep Cherokee came in two models. The base model had black window moldings and painted bumpers. The “S” model had chrome bumpers, Native American themed striping, aluminum wheels, a roof rack, and “bright” window moldings. Cherokees had drum brakes front and rear however front disk brakes were an option. In 1975, electronic ignition was added to Cherokees and The trim tape on “S” models was changed from the 1974 model year. This new trim was used again for the 1976 model year.
For the 1976 model year, in addition to the base and “S” models, the Cherokee Chief model was added with wider axles and fender flares, a low gloss black tape decal that showed “Cherokee Chief” in the body color.
In the 1977 model year, a 4-door Cherokee was introduced (this means that there were two SJ-platform four-door models as both the Cherokee and Wagoneer had four door variants). A wide track version of the Cherokee “S” was added in addition to the wide track Cherokee Chief. Four door models only came in narrow track versions. A new version of the “S” model trim tape was introduced and used for both 1977 and 1978.
For the 1978 model year few changes were made to the Cherokee line up. The following photo is from the 1978 Jeep sales brochure and it shows the differences between the different models. Clockwise from upper left is a 4-door Cherokee “S”, a wide track 2-door Cherokee “S”, a wide track Cherokee Chief, and a narrow track 2-door Cherokee “S”:
Front End Changes
In 1979, the Cherokee grill was revised with its most prominent change being to square headlights. The “S” model trim was revised again (for the 4th time) and used in 1979 and 1980. The “S” model continued to be available in 2-door narrow track and 4-door wide or narrow track models while the Cherokee Chief continued as a wide track only model.
A new trim package, the Golden Eagle, was also introduced. The Golden Eagle was a wide-track 2-door model with beige denim seats, a large eagle decal and tape striping on the hood, “Golden Eagle” lettering on the lower doors, “bronze tone” rear quarter windows, a brush guard. and painted gold wheels with a black stripe.
In 1980, Jeep added two trim packages to the lineup of “S” model, Golden Eagle, and Cherokee Chief: the Limited and the Laredo. The “S” continued to be the only model available with 4-doors and with a choice between wide track and narrow track versions. The Chief and Golden Eagle models were also unchanged from 1979.
The Laredo model was a two door wide track model with special striping (either silver and grey or gold and brown) and badging. It also featured extra sound deadening insulation, extra plush carpeting, a special seating package, and some interior striping to coordinate with the outside. The Limited model was also a two door wide track model that had gold and brown striping on the lower body and on the fender flare. The Limited also had a faux woodgrain finish on the dash, cruise control and other options—in many ways, the Limited resembled a two door version of its cousin the luxurious Wagoneer.
Top: Cherokee Laredo; Bottom: Cherokee Limited
For 1981, the Laredo package added a four door narrow track option in addition to the existing two door wide track model. The Cherokee Chief became the standard four door trim package while also adding a new body striping scheme option as well as an optional “blackout” grille. (I believe, but have not been able to confirm that the bolder of the two striping schemes was only available on the two-door model). The Limited and Golden Eagle were dropped for 1981. The “S” simply became an unbadged base model.
In 1982, the Cherokee was available as a base model 2-door, 2-door and 4-door Cherokee Chief, and 2-door and 4-door Laredo. All 2-door models were wide track while 4-door models were narrow track.
End of the SJ Cherokee:
The final year of the SJ Cherokee was 1983. The Pioneer model was added to the lineup in both two- and four-door models. It joined the Chief and Laredo that were each available in two- and four-door models. The base model Cherokee was only available in 2-door models but both wide and narrow track were available.
1983 Cherokee Pioneer: