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February 1998 25 Years Ago

Posted in Features on February 1, 1998
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The Four Wheeler brain trust was in a celebratory mood in February 1973, and not only because we celebrated our 11th anniversary. "Four Wheeler Finishes the Mexican 1000!'' our cover proclaimed, and inside, readers were treated to Editor Bill Sanders' 11-page essay (not counting the additional four-page sidebar on "How to Work for a Baja Pit Crew'') detailing his exploits at Baja piloting a 304-powered CJ-5. While our race Jeep boasted a few mods-beefier shocks, requisite safety gear, and an auxiliary fuel cell-we kept the rest of it in basically stock trim, testing the hypothesis that "you could take a relatively stock CJ off the showroom floor . . . and be competitive in the 1000.''

We'd put a tiger in our tank before . . . but in February '73, we were treated to a Tiger on a Toyota: "Sugar,'' a 450-pound Bengal tigress who helped us test an FJ-60's structural integrity during a trip to a New Jersey wild animal park.

As it turned out, the CJ perhaps wasn't stock enough. "We hadn't actually put gas in (the auxiliary fuel cell) until race day,'' Sanders explained: "a big mistake.'' The fuel cell and the stock tank both sprang leaks, and Team Four Wheeler ran out of gas several times during the race. Eventually, Sanders managed to limp into La Paz in 40 hours, finishing 16th in Class 6 and 90th overall-"not bad when you consider only 40 percent of the starters finished,'' he noted

Readers were also treated to "The Terrifying Tiger and the Tough Toyota,'' reliving an "expedition'' to Jungle Habitat, a New Jersey wild animal park. We'd heard the park had "undeveloped stretches as dangerous as Baja,'' and to that end, we spent an afternoon 'wheeling the Habitat in an FJ-60 Land Cruiser, which "walked through rocky riverbeds and rutted roadways like a thirsty rhino headed for a water hole,'' we said. All went uneventfully . . . until we were introduced to "Sugar,'' a 450-pound "pet'' Bengal tiger, who was unleashed by his handler to test the FJ-60's sheetmetal and cargo capacity by crawling over, around, and into the vehicle. (Our correspondent was a safe distance away at the time, which still didn't "prevent my knees from banging together uncontrollably,'' he wrote.)

Finally, in "Four Wheelers See the Craziest Things!'' staffer Lee Oertle recalled a UFO sighting during a 1965 hunting trip to Utah. While photographing the local flora, Oertle noticed an "unusual vapor trail'' in his viewing lens, and snapped away. Later, the developed film revealed "what appeared to be radioactive 'burn' '' on one negative. After spending hours inspecting this camera gear and film for defects (and finding none), Oertle concluded that he'd captured a "definite image'' that "had to be traveling at fantastic speeds to cover the whole arc of sky in 1/250 second.'' Despite previous UFO reports in the area, Oertle was wary to proclaim a sighting: "I can't call it anything in particular,'' he wrote, "(but) I'm fascinated by the possibilities.''

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