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Rant Editorial - Old & New Trail Rigs

Posted in Features on March 1, 2013
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I realized the other day that my favorite off-road vehicle is almost 40 years old! While that raised some questions on what happened to the last 18 years of my life (it was only 20 years old when I started), it also made me think about the fact that the fullsize trucks many of us use to off-road with are the same ones we were using two decades ago.

And almost 20 years later, I still prefer to use the same K5 Blazer model for a carcass to start with. Sure, my current one may have more new parts on it than a truck built in 2000, but it’s still a ’74 K5 frame and body that my off-road ride is based off of. I have built newer trucks, but when it comes to what is easiest to build, what has a bounty of available parts, and what works the way I want it to … well, it’s just hard to beat old iron.

Sure, new 4x4s are built by enthusiasts all the time because they’re new and exciting and people have money for the newest thing while it’s still reliable. But what about when that vehicle is used and has 10 or 15 years of wear and tear on it? Are the vehicles built today going to last the test of time like their older brethren? Will we be building early 2000s trucks and 4x4s in the 2020s and 2030s, or will the majority of hardcore off-roaders still opt for vehicles made in the 1970s and 1980s?

If money weren’t an object, what would you build? Would you start with a truck from the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s, or would you start with something brand new? New vehicles certainly have their upsides. Besides the obvious fact of being new, new trucks and 4x4s have larger frames, stronger axles, and more powerful drivetrains. On top of that, they’re generally more comfortable with cushier interiors. But they also have lots of more sensitive electronics, worse blind spots (thank the safety boards for that), and more regulations to meet. Older trucks can be built every bit as strong and as comfortable as a new truck, though there is a lot more custom work to be done to be comparable. But you have more freedom to do whatever you want with an older vehicle. The buy-in is a lot cheaper, too. And while it’s just a matter of opinion, who is going to argue the timeless looks and unmistakable beauty of an older truck?

Maybe the newer generations will disagree. Perhaps evolution will continue and enthusiasts of the future will all stare at electronic fuel injections and CAN-bus systems like we all stare at carbureted engines and one-wire alternators now. Building IFS suspensions might one day be as easy as swapping solid live axles on a leaf-sprung suspension, and we’ll all have remote controls for our cars via our smart phones.

But maybe not. Maybe these newer electronic systems in today’s cars will prove too costly to maintain for emissions standards and vehicles built post-2000 will start to be scrapped in record numbers. If that were the case, then old iron would not just continue to be popular, it would become a precious commodity.

So maybe I’ll hang onto that extra K5 I just bought. At least I have a good argument to give my girlfriend when I bring home another piece of junk now. …

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