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March 2011: Wheelin' In The Years

Posted in Features on March 1, 2011
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Photographers: The Four Wheeler Archives

"When the staff first saw the new mini-four wheeler, the feeling was almost unanimous: 'That's it,' was the thought. As other beautifully designed four wheelers came under our scrutiny, we were swayed by many excellent new features. Yet as a completely new vehicle in every respect, from smooth grille and square headlights to gently sloping tailgate, we were constantly drawn back to the Blazer."

So we psychoanalyzed, in March 1983, our 1983 Four Wheeler of the Year selection-the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer. Chevy's brand-new midsize 4x4, introduced as a replacement for the Isuzu-sourced LUV mini-truck, earned high marks for its "transfer case that allows you to shift between 4-Hi and 2-Hi and back again at speeds up to 55 mph" and "the neat lighted display that exact mode of drive you are in at any time." Nowadays we remember that vacuum-actuated four-wheel drive system as "Insta-Trac," and that lighted drive mode indicator was an industry-first for any production 4x4. Another unusual feature of the S-Blazer was that its independent front suspension componentry was actually shared with GM's Gen-4 midsize "A"-car line (Malibu, El Camino, Cutlass, et al). We didn't know this at the time, but we thought the Blazer's "ride and handling are superb, but when you get this rig off-road, you know you feel by the seat of your pants that this is one very tough truck." (Who knew that those old Malibus could be so cool in the dirt?)

Nowadays, we have specific requirements for eligibility to compete in our Truck of The Year tests (two-speed transfer case, new engine or suspension, etc.), but in the old days, we tended to be a bit more lofty in our aspirations, reserving our award to the "vehicle embodying the most technical, mechanical, and styling advances for the model year." (Glad we settled that.) Perhaps that helps explain why one of the Blazer's head-on competitors for '83 was a Toyota Tercel 4x4 Wagon (?), along with the Dodge Power Ram 50 and an all-new midsize Ford pickup called the Ranger. Either way, the GM brain trust was delighted to receive our award, and chief engineer Charles Simmons, truck division engineer Earle Steppe, and sales manager Michael Erdman happily posed for the winning photo that graced our March cover.

And in case you were wondering, we'll be announcing our 2011 Four Wheeler of the Year winner . . . in next month's issue.

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