If you put all the new rigs Four Wheeler has tried out over the past 40-plus years into one building, it would take one the size of the Las Vegas Convention Center to hold them all. When you go back and add it up, the numbers are staggering. If you figure that a rough average of two new vehicles were evaluated in each issue, that's 960 rigs over the past 40 years. If you add in the multi-rig Four Wheeler of the Year competitions since 1974, the Pickup Truck of the Year (since '89) and other multi-vehicle evaluations, that number could jump by several hundred. There are only a few magazines in the world that can match this record and level of vehicle testing experience. None of them are in the 4x4 realm.
That said, we thought you'd like to see a few of the vehicles that Four Wheeler testers looked at over the years. Many of them made history. Some faded into obscurity. Most are fondly remembered by at least a few people. In a few cases, the remaining Four Wheeler graybeards might mumble an unintelligible reply and change the subject when asked about a particular vehicle or test. The war stories could keep you chuckling for several days. We'll refrain from telling those stories, but we will outline 40 of Four Wheeler's favorites.
1962 Nissan Patrol
Category: Nearly Forgotten
The Patrol 4W-60 was highly regarded in its day, getting a thumbs-up from Four Wheeler the three times it was tested. Unfortunately, it was given short shrift by the Datsun marketing team here in the States. It was a solid rig and with its 125hp, 242ci inline six, only a handful of 4x4 rigs in the era were equals or betters in the power department. The only competition in that area was the Land Cruiser. The Jeeps, Scouts, and Land Rovers of the era, the only other short-wheelbase competition of the day, were all running four-bangers. The Patrol faded in the U.S. in 1969 with just 2,616 sold, but remained a powerful presence elsewhere in the world.
1963 Jeep Wagoneer
Category: Enduring Classic
The Wagoneer debuted in late 1962 to rave reviews. It was capable and practical and did much to enhance the fortunes of Jeep. Four Wheeler tested the Wagoneer the first time in December of '62, and 13 more times over the ensuing 28 years. The Wagoneer evolved into a favorite of people wanting comfort and convenience in a rugged package. The early models were powered by the Tornado OHC six and had an optional four-wheel-drive independent front suspension-yes, Jeep was building IFS way back then-an industry first for a mass-market civvy rig.
1964 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-40
Category: No Plaything
The Land Cruiser FJ-40 was an early Four Wheeler favorite. It was covered twice in the first year, and many times thereafter. It was one of the most powerful 4x4s sold in the USA, but like the Patrol, it was undermarketed. At the time, only the big pickups could match its 105 hp with their sixes and V-8s, but this was before pickups were in style as recreational 4x4s. The 'Cruiser and Patrol ruled the short-wheelbase realm. By 1964, Toyota's marketing teams saw potential and gave it some attention. That year, the numbers began a steady climb to a peak of 11,082 units for 1973. Four Wheeler watched the Land Cruiser evolve and expand beyond the Spartan bobtail and into the FJ-45 wagons and pickups, the FJ-55 wagon, and the FJ-60 and FJ-80 SUVs. Sadly, marketing enthusiasm waned, and the FJ-40 expired of neglect in 1983 and was no longer imported.
1965 Willys Utility Wagon
Category: Adios to an Old Buddy
The Willys truck and station wagon lines debuted back in the late '40s but were on borrowed time when the Jeep Wagoneer and Gladiator lines debuted in '62. There were no true '65s built; the last of the '64s were merely retitled and sold as '65s. Four Wheeler didn't spend much time with the old Willys rigs, conducting just a single test of the Tornado SOHC-powered variant in September of '62. These OHC six-powered units were the last of the breed and predated the Tornado-powered Wagoneers and Gladiators by just a few months. Like most gear grinders of the era, Four Wheeler grew a little nostalgic seeing the boxy old rigs go, but then, as now, the staff was primarily focused on the road ahead.
1966 Ford Bronco
Category: Trendsetting Classic
The Bronco broke a lot of new ground when it debuted in August of '65, and Four Wheeler was there with all the details. It was covered late in '65, twice in '66, and four more times after. The intro of V-8 power in March of '66 brought Four Wheeler staffers to their feet and ensuing tests proved the value of this industry first in a short-wheelbase rig. Everybody liked the supple front coil springs and dimensions that were compact enough for tight trails but with room for more than beef jerky, clean underwear, and a toothbrush.
1967 Chevy Trucks
Category: Future Classic
Pickup wars among the Big Three were flaring up when GM debuted a sleek new line of pickups this year. Truth be told, they didn't knock the world on its ear, but helped maintain GM's sales lead for a couple of more years. The sleek '67-'72 Chevy trucks didn't see much test time at Four Wheeler. That wasn't because they were inferior, but rather because pickups were not as popular as the bobtails in four-wheeling circles at that point. Then, as now, Four Wheeler followed the trends. This body style faded into relative obscurity after '72 but lately has become very popular with the retro crowd.
1968 WM-300 Dodge Power Wagon
Category: A Goodbye Salute
The Dodge Power Wagon had been a staple in the workin' 4x4 truck realm since its intro in 1946. Based on the legendary WWII military Dodges, the old-style Power Wagon hung in there long after its dated appearance should have sent it to oblivion. Four Wheeler tested the M-601 variant of the WM-300 in '63 and devoted a page to reminding folks that they were still available in June of '65. The '68 model-year was the last one in which John Q. Public could buy a Power Wagon like this, but they were built under limited commercial contracts and for export into the early '70s. It seems likely that Four Wheeler staffers were a little nostalgic over the old Power Wagon's passing and there have been plenty of stories on these highly collectable workhorse rigs since then.
1969 Chevy Blazer
Category: Big Bobtail
Back in the '60s, Four Wheeler staffers were definitely in the short-wheelbase bobtail camp. When the Blazer arrived, it raised some eyebrows because it was the biggest thing yet to stake a claim in bobtail territory. Both the Scout and the Bronco had expanded the dimensions of the term bobtail, but the Blazer stretched it well past the point established by those two stalwarts. The Blazer proved it could do nearly anything the traditional bobtail of the day could, but it had double the room and outstanding highway manners to boot. After some consideration, staffers decided it was still a bobtail, but they had to create for it a new big class of bobtail. After running a four-page spread to announce the rig in April of '69, they did a full test in the October issue. Before this body style was through, they also did a test on a '71.