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Off-Road Unloaded - Letters To The Editor - January 2011

Posted in Features on January 1, 2011
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New Vs Old
In the September 2010 issue of OFF-ROAD magazine, I posed the question "What would you rather drive-a 'brand new' old truck, or a new truck?" in my Rant. We got flooded with a number of emails and letters from readers telling us what they'd rather drive, and I got a bunch of great ideas on what we should start building next at the magazine. You can find all the letters online on the BLOGS at, and you can add your own thoughts, too.

Most letters held similar sentiments, and after reading every single letter and taking all the advice into account, I think we have a great plan that we'll start within the next few months.

Instead of building either a new truck or an old truck, we're going to build both. Both are going to be built to the same specifications, with the exception of a few electronic babysitters that would be unreasonable to add to an old truck. Both trucks will have solid axles, similar suspension, tires, seats, body configuration...everything. If that new truck has cruise control and GPS, so will the older truck. Over the course of a few issues, we'll build the trucks and run down the costs associated with both builds and add up how much it'll cost you to have either truck. Maybe it really is cheaper to start with an old cheap truck and add a bunch of updated parts to it. Or maybe it's more cost effective in the long run to just swap a solid axle onto a new truck. Whatever the case, we'll find out. Stay tuned.

Vote: Old School
Well to start, I've always had the truck bug. I was especially obsessed with firetrucks as a toddler. I, however, was given a nice car as a teenager, and was very thankful to have my own set of wheels, but felt like I was missing something. So I parked the car every chance I got, to instead drive an old farm truck my stepfather had. The motor had gotten old because it had sat for a while, so it had a built LS1 from my father's friend's drag Camaro. With its half-ton running gear on 33-inch tires, loose steering, and all its funny redneck sticks inside and out. It was great! It had to be the oldest, loudest, and craziest looking thing in the parking lot at school. That's when I fell in love with the old '70s body style. A couple teachers even liked the old truck.

A couple years later my parents decided they would get me a graduation present, and I got a truck of my own-an '04 Chevy 2500 with a 6.0L gas motor, 4L80E transmission, 14-Bolt rear axle, and lifted 9 inches with 20s and street tires. I had Weld Rims and Boggers put on after working at a tire shop where I live. I have so many fond memories of that truck riding around town like in the old farm truck. It's just great to think of how much fun it is to own a truck.

As you can see, I've had time to experience both sides of this issue. But as for a winner, I would have to say the older, the better! I would love to find a nice, well taken-care-of old Chevy pickup at a car lot than buy a brand new truck. More specifically, an '86 Chevy Custom Deluxe K30 4x4.

But my decision could just be because I'm only 20. I just know as long as it's a Chevy, you can't go wrong.
Dallas Hoop

Vote: Old iron
Well being that I'm a Chevy guy, there is no question that I would have to have an old truck in perfect condition, if for no other reason than I could have a solid front axle and a 205 transfer case. Trucks built in the '60s,'70s and early '80s were built with the purpose of using them as trucks. Even the SUVs (Blazers and Suburbans) were trucks. They were built to take on the off-road and still get you home. If you did break down, they were easy enough to fix or at least fix good enough to get some help. I, too, like the comforts of the newer trucks, not to mention the fuel mileage and reliability. But I think that sometimes it goes too far. I don't need an entertainment system in my truck. I would rather listen to the sounds of a healthy V-8, and have the wind in my hair-what's left of it! Although the seats and interior of the new trucks are very comfortable, I'm sure that a brand new '75 Blazer was very comfortable too. There is something to be said for less is more. Now I know "they" say that the newer vehicles are safer vehicles and I'm a believer in four wheel disc brakes, but I would rather be in my Blazer than in my Yukon in a crash. I think that best reason hands down for having an older SUV has to be that you could get a fullsize convertible. There is nothing like cruising on the street or on the trails with the top off. My dream truck is a'70-to-'72, or '73-to-'75 Blazer, fuel-injected big-block, 4L80 trans with a 205/203 doubler transfer case, Dana 60 front axle with crossover steering and hydraulic assist, 14-Bolt rear with disc brakes, coilover suspension in the front (I hear that Offroad Design makes a cool kit for this), full rollcage, and seating for four, along with 37-inch tires.

This is what I have forward to be working on when I get home from here, but if you need a project truck that's just down the street from you, I know where you can find one.
Very respectfully,
EO2 Sherman Ronald C USN

Vote: Both
When I first read the Rant and saw the question, I thought this is a no-brainer. Old-style all the way! The stronger boxed frame, lower gear ratios, solid axles, heavy thick skins that can handle trail wear and tear. Man, no way would I choose a new-style truck! Think about all the work and dollars that have to go into a newer truck just to make it half the truck that an old-style one is. The money would be better spent on an old truck, to make a great truck awesome.

But then I thought about some of the things you mentioned in the article and the items I would miss in my newer truck. This leads me to my dream truck-a combination of both the strong backbone and simplicity of repairs of the old-style truck, and the pretty face and reliability of the new truck. Not to mention adding things like lockers and on-demand tire airing.

If this sounds like the ramblings of a man who can't make up his mind, well that's exactly what it is. I love the strength of my '54 Jeep M-38A1 but wouldn't trade the comfort and reliability of my Toyota Tacoma.

Long live old iron.
Mike Lee
Norfolk, New York

Vote: New Truck
I will try to keep this as short as possible as there is obviously a lot that can be said.

The reliability of a new truck is too much to turn away from. There is nothing like getting in my truck, turning the key, regardless of weather conditions, and knowing it is going to start up. No pedal to pump, no choke to play with, no warm-up period.

Trucks from yesteryear had their selling points. Simplistic engines, cheap maintenance you could do yourself, solid front axles, none of the nanny features like automatic braking, reverse proximity warnings, and automatic parallel parking. But they had their drawbacks too. A carbureted engine, tuned to run at sea level, will run badly while driving over tall mountains. Besides, who amongst us doesn't love air conditioning?

I think of trucks like surround sound or high-speed Internet; once you have a certain feature, you can never go back. I love my power windows, power mirrors, dual climate zones, and push-button 4x4. If I am buying a new tow rig and it didn't come with all of this stuff, there's no way I would buy it.

To me, the only advantage of an older rig in comparison to a newer rig is the solid front axle with maintainable bearings-and the fact that trucks from 30 years ago were built to last. They were made beefy and not sold as throw-away vehicles. It is hard to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new truck knowing that it has a shorter shelf life.
Michael St. Clair
Silver Springs, NV

Vote: New 4x4s
Great question! I, like many of my fellow subscribers, have been through "resto of old" and purchase/upgrade of new: trucks, Jeeps, and other assorted of offshore brands (Lexus, Land Rover) SUVs - all with at least 4WD and low range.

My experience with off-roading began some 45 years ago with dune buggies in Southern California. Simple two-wheel-drive vehicles with everything removed that could be, while still maintaining some semblance of control and vehicle instrumentation for off-roading. No body-just seats, frame, running gear and dashboard. What windshield? Of course, the adults were all WWII vets, instructing us kids, "As slow as you can, as fast as you need to"...something that all my kids can chant today.

My personal experience goes back to WWII GPWs (Ford), a CJ2A, a '49 Jeep Wagoneer, '70s Chevy 1500s, '80s Ford 250HD and a fullsize Bronco, Jeeps (TJ, WJ, XJs-four or five of them), a Lexus, a Dodge 3500 diesel, and now a JK, WJ, Suburban 2500, and a Range Rover. The latest in the fleet is my son's four-door JK Rubicon.

I have come to a couple of conclusions:
1) New vehicles come with warranties. Unless you void the warranty, it is much less expensive to wheel with a warranteed vehicle. If it breaks, just take it to the dealer...forget junkyard diving! (I also have the usual "donor vehicles" to keep up my "oldies but goodies" moving).

2) Today's off-road vehicles are much less expensive to enhance and have much better creature comforts plus improvements in performance, mileage and emissions. Properly spec'd, some vehicles are much more "off-road ready" than any stock older vehicle. As for the towing/hauling capacity of a truck...just check out today's trucks' towing capabilities. I tow with my old '94 2500 Suburban and don't want to tell you what I have had to put into it to get the same towing capacity as a current truck. And it won't hold a candle to a new Suburban in fuel economy, comfort, features, or towing capacity.

3) I compare the price, and accouterments of my '97 TJ with a 5.9L Magnum V-8, 4.3:1 Atlas T-case, locked Dana 60s, 5.5-inch Rubicon Express long-arm kit, Fox shocks, 37-inch MTRs...versus my son's '08 JK Rubicon with just a 4-inch lift and stock tires...and, there is simply no justification (today) for not buying new. His JK is able to go everywhere my '97 TJ goes, including all the the toughest Moab trails. The performance of the new '08 JK is stunning, and at a quarter of the cost of my TJ. And forget about maintenance-his is under warranty!

No question-for the money spent, new is much better, less expensive, easier to maintain, and better for the environment. If the worst Moab can offer is any indication, there is no functional difference between my built '97 TJ and my son's '08 JK...and he gets twice the mileage!
Leigh Belden, Via email

Vote: New-Old Hybrid
In regards to September's Rant, I'd like to think it had my name all over it. Having owned both old and new (trucks), my heart belongs to the old school. I just feel that you can't beat those classic lines, the ease of maintenance, and the absence of gadgets that break. I wouldn't go out in a snowstorm with no top nor heater, but that's just me. I happen to own an '80 Toyota pickup with a 7-inch Superlift, 33s and an assortment of goodies. I built this truck in '83, but then children came and it went into hibernation. The kids are out of the house, and the truck is now back on the road with only 7,600 miles. It's like going back in time. I'm driving a truck that is just about showroom new-more than any other. It's a blast. So simple, so easy, so cheap to insure. And last but not least, no emissions requirements. So how about the old style with the necessary new technology? Why can't you have both in one package? I am 61 and still get worked up over the possibility. Thanks for a great magazine.
Richard Brandt
Litchfield, CT.

Letter of the month
This month, Tire Rack is stoking out our Letter of the Month writer with a $150 gift certificate to any future purchase at Tire Rack. This is like getting a free tire when you need to buy a new set! You can get your new tires at

Military Service Discounts?
The latest issue of OFF-ROAD really got me thinking about my XJ. I sat down and gave my rig a serious once over. I was disappointed to say the least. The last time I saw any trail time was last year. I love off-roading, mostly because of the comraderre, and I also see it as a family bonding event. I either have Jeep on the brain, Iraq, or family tragedy. 4x4s are my escape and something me and son both enjoy. The dream that I can load my family in my rig and go camping keeps me going in hard times. But I make around $13,000 a year, and this is making it all but impossible to get my rig safe and reliable for the trail.

I am not trying to spin a sob story for sympathy, just a little consideration, and I am wondering if you know any companies or manufacturers who have some type of military veteran and active serviceman discount program that would help me achieve my dreams. I do not want a handout, but maybe a discount could make the difference in me being bedridden or jeep riding. I am not begging and I hope you will understand. I offered my life for this country and all that I love, but I am still hesitant to ask for anything in return. I just happen to be at a loss. Thanks for any assistance and/or advice you can provide.
Chad Chase
Via email

Chad, that is a great question, and one I'd like to ask of any readers and/or company owners who are reading this right now. Who out there gives discounts for veterans and active duty service members? Email into to let me know what companies and we'll start a list on our BLOGS at Any company that does give military discounts will get listed, along with its contact info, in the April 2011's Unloaded section. Thanks!

By the way, Chad-to help you get started on fixing up your Cherokee, you're our letter writer of the month, and you'll be getting hooked up with a Tire Rack gift certificate in the mail.

Bolt-On or Weld-On?
I have a 1990 Ranger and am trying to design a bumper to fabricate for it, but don't know whether to do a bolt-on or weld-on bumper on the front of the frame. Is there any benefit to either way? I'm leaning more towards bolt-on-that way I can get rid of it if I go further with it. Changes to the engine, suspension, rollcage, etc. could necessitate removing it.
Would you be able to help me out?
Thomas Eaton
Moreno Valley, California

I think you've answered your own question, Thomas! We always prefer bolt-on bumpers if possible. Having a removable bumper allows you to work on your truck more easily, or replace the bumper if it gets mangled somehow. Race trucks are just about the only thing we can think of where it makes sense to weld a bumper on instead of bolting it on.

Dakota Lifting
Hi, my name is SPC Keegan Feichtenbiner. I am currently deployed to Iraq with the 1013th Sapper company doing route clearance. I have a 2000 Dodge Dakota crew cab 4x4 at home with an Airaid cold-air intake, a Poweraid throttle body spacer, and dual exhaust. I also put a Westin safari bar and KX 6-inch lights up front and a tonneau cover for the bed. I use the truck to haul a dirt bike and snowmobile around, and as an everyday driver. I want to find a lift big enough to put 33-inch tires under it. I have looked everywhere and the only one I found so far was a Rancho 2.5-inch lift for $1,500. I don't want to pay that much for only 2.5 inches of lift. I was wondering if you guys could help me out with this problem. Price really is not a big deal.
Thank you
SPC Keegan Feichtenbiner,
Appleton, Wisconsin

Keegan, we actually have this Rancho suspension on a daily-driven Durango that is in our fleet, running 33-inch tires. The Rancho kit is an actual suspension lift (not a leveling kit) and adds subframes and new knuckles. We've found that 33s fit with 3 inches of lift, but the kit can be easily and safely cranked up to 4 inches taller than stock in front, and I think it's exactly what you want. Truckin Suspension ( also has a taller suspension lift for the '00-to-'04 Dakota/Durango platform.

Editor's Note: If you want to say or ask something, email Unloaded at or write:

OFF-ROAD Magazine
1733 Alton Parkway Ste. 100
Irvine, CA 92606

Remember, we're giving away swag every month to the author of our favorite letter. Be sure to include your address, so we know where to send your goods. And because we lost our copyeditor, please know that we are not going to be copyediting your letter if you are going to be hating on us, so you better check it over well before sending it our way! Thanks!

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