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May 2011 Trail's End

Posted in Features on May 1, 2011
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How do you define "classic 4x4?" What constitutes a "collectible 4x4?" Those questions are often answered in the eye of the beholder, but may also come down to consensus. We each may have a particular favorite, in some cases being a consensus of one, but when enough people agree on the status of a vehicle, it becomes a generally acknowledged classic. Along the way, it usually becomes more valuable, though interestingly, popularity has more to do with value than rarity. You might pay more for a decked-out Scout II than one of the last two 1937 Marmon-Herrington LD1-4 trucks in existence. By asking, "What the heck is an LD1-4?" you just answered your own question about how that works.

The historical side also comes into play. People are nuts about history in all forms. Motor vehicles are a study in themselves, but often they play a part in a larger history. A vehicle can be a "time machine" to those thrilling days of yesteryear (it doesn't have to be a DeLorean), and one particular brand or model may do that especially well. The World War II jeep is an example, as well as a coral (don't call me pink) '50s Cadillac convertible.

Car collecting and restoration in general has been a hobby since the first car got old or well-loved enough to be called "classic," but it got more serious and organized right after World War II. By then, wartime scrap drives had reduced the population of famous and memorable early cars enough to make the survivors more sought-after. The organizations that came added to the hoopla, and often the enjoyment, but it came with costs counted in gavel-pounding, politics, and rising costs to play the "game."

For many years, truck, 4x4 or commercial vehicle collectors were the red-headed stepchildren of the collector's world. At best, a big show would have a far-off corner devoted to such "pedestrian" pursuits. Now these categories have grown and moved upmarket. Perhaps to the chagrin of some, you now see Jeeps, Series Land Rovers, and Power Wagons at classic car shows-and placing well! The collecting of military vehicles has long been popular, though it's generally been pretty separate from the other genres. HMVs (Historic Military Vehicles) are now "invading" (pun intended) the mainstream, both in the truck/4x4/commercial areas and car collecting in general.

Money is good, but it also seems to be the root of many evils in the collecting world. Once people get involved in the buying and selling of classic vehicles for profit, a certain amount of the joy goes out of the game. It certainly weeds out many of us who can afford neither the vehicles nor the parts. It leads to artificially inflated prices and unscrupulous sellers. It's a source of great upset for a guy like me, who lives to write about 4x4 history, to see that the stories I do are sometimes adding fuel to fire this part of the collector's nether regions.

Another conundrum in the wheeling world is the schism between the "build it" and the "restore it" groups. One guy will take a perfect, low-mileage early Bronco, gut it, cut the rear fenders, toss out most of the original parts to build a trail rig, and not give it a thought. Another would rather be gutted himself than see an original, classic Bronco so evilly treated. He prefers to use every NOS part he can scare up for his restoration and will spend a year just researching the correct crayon marks on the chassis. The gap between those two guys is a mile wide. Fortunately, they can both agree on their love of early Broncos and, most often, can appreciate each other's work-though perhaps hiding their tightly clenched teeth behind a stiff smile.

Between the two extremes is the resto-mod mob. They "restify" their rigs, keeping most of the original flavor but adding tasteful upgrades and useful modifications. They're generally a pretty easy-going group.

Obviously, this is America, and whoever holds title to a vehicle has the right to do whatever he chooses. Me, I'm like the indecisive guy in the two-holer outhouse who will likely soil himself before making the decision about which one to choose. I have feet in both camps . . . which means I've been verbally abused by both sides . . . and doing that split all these years really hurts! So, where do you fit? In my perfect dream world, the rare, historical, and perfect classics would find homes with those who appreciate them. The less rare, or the rough examples, would go off to be gutted or modernized. Seems fair, but it doesn't always work that way.
-Jim Allen

About Jim Allen
Jim Allen is trying to keep the good old days of four-wheeling alive. He lives on a farm in Northwest Ohio.

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