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May 2012 Firing Order Editorial

Posted in Features on May 1, 2012 Comment (0)
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I literally laughed at my dad when he told me there were no new SUVs available with a tailgate. He’s in the market for a new 4x4, and he typically does quite a bit of research when it comes to 4x4 systems and the features that are important to him. He’s a retired engineer, so as I’m sure you can imagine, he likes to get all geeked out on that kind of technical stuff. He’s extremely thorough, so I know he would rarely make that kind of mistake. Because he’s such a planner it’s actually pretty awesome to go on vacation with him. He has everything written out, and I don’t have to lift a finger. I hate having to plan, and he always makes sure we see the best sights. It’s a pretty good gig if you can convince him to take you on vacation with him.

Anyway, he upgrades to a new 4x4 every few years and he’s about due. However, one of his SUVs has hung around a lot longer than any of his previous vehicles. He owns perhaps the best-maintained, relatively low-mileage, ’95 Bronco in existence. He’s very particular and predictable about things like oil changes and maintenance intervals.

It’s actually the second Bronco he’s owned. The first one he bought used when I was much younger. It lasted a long time until he sold it off to my sister for a song. Once she got her hands on it, that was the end. The interior was treated to spilled paint, hay bales, greasy car parts, firewood, multiple cats, large dogs, and roadkill turkeys among other things.

I remember the day my dad bought the ’95 Bronco—I was in love with it from the start. It was in early 1996, so he got a smoking deal because it had been sitting on the dealer lot for some time. It’s a fully outfitted Eddie Bauer Edition with a 351ci V-8. I’ve had my eye on it for years and I constantly make him low-ball offers on the truck, yet he still insists it’s worth more than my $500 offering price. I’m sure it is too, but I’m cheap and I don’t wanna pay full-pop, even if he is my dad.

It’s a third vehicle for him, so he doesn’t really need it. He keeps this Bronco around because it’s treated him well, it serves a purpose around his property, and in all honesty, it’s really not worth enough to sell. Unlike his newer vehicles, he doesn’t mind driving the Bronco into the field or tossing sacks of trash in the back for a dump run (of course the trash is likely triple-bagged and he has an old blanket laid down to protect the carpet). He also insists on using the tailgate as ladder and workbench. Regardless of how my father uses tailgates, I still like them too. They are perfect to sit on and they make an awesome makeshift table when camping. Roof access is also made easier with a true truck-style tailgate. I even wish the current Wrangler had a truck-style tailgate. I’d sacrifice cargo access for the addition of a real tailgate—it would be way more useful than a swing-out tailgate. Swag Offroad (www.swagoffroad.com) even offers aftermarket conversions kits to do this to Jeeps.

Dad was just about ready to get rid of the Bronco (although not at my original offering price), until he found out that no SUVs came with a tailgate. So after telling him he was nuts, I went to work looking for a tailgated SUV that would replace his Bronco and get me closer to its driver seat. Guess what? Pops did his research, and he was right. There are almost no currently manufactured SUVs available in the U.S. that have a fold-down tailgate. SUV tailgates have been almost entirely replaced with liftgates. What the hell happened! How did I sleep through this! Even Jeep hasn’t offered a true tailgate on its SUVs since 1991 (the last year of the fullsize Wagoneer). Come to think of it, I sure hope the manufacturers aren’t considering the elimination of the pickup truck tailgate. The beds on some of these trucks are getting short enough that I suspect it’s been considered.

I am assuming this change was made to ease cargo area access. What I found was that only a handful of SUVs still kind of have tailgates. These include the ’12 Toyota Land Cruiser, ’12 Land Rover Range Rover, and ’12 Land Rover LR4. I use the term tailgate loosely with these vehicles because all of them are goofy in some way. Long gone are the windows that roll down into the tailgate. These SUVs have mini-liftgates and mini-tailgates. Sure, you can still drop the tailgate and then fold down the mini liftgate, but it won’t lock in place and it’s still in the way. However, none of these vehicles fits my father’s needs. The Land Cruiser is too expensive, and the nearest Land Rover dealer is over 50 miles away and would require a ride on a ferry across the water.

For a short time he even considered switching to a four-door pickup, just to get a real tailgate. But it turned out that even the current mini-trucks would be too long for his garage. Plus he didn’t like the idea of having an empty truck bed when driving on slick icy roads in the winter.

So my dad’s plan to purchase a new SUV has been scrapped and my dreams of owning a fairly pristine ’95 Ford Eddie Bauer Edition Bronco have been all but shattered. Unless the auto manufacturers change their ways soon and bring back the SUV tailgate, I suspect Pops will drive the Bronco into the ground before he’ll actually sell it to me for $500. At that point, I’ll probably need a tow truck to pick it up and I won’t want it anymore anyway.

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