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1977-2007 Anniversary 1994-Present - Our First Three Decades

Posted in Features on June 1, 2007
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In our April issue we kicked off a series of articles celebrating the 30-year history of Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine. We'll be covering all sorts of topics during the course of this retrospective, but we figured the best place to start was by interviewing the magazine's editors. In this third installment, we bring the editor's story up to the present by talking to the men who undertook a major change in the magazine's direction.

May 1994-January 1998
"I'm most proud of the fact that we shifted the emphasis of the magazine from show trucks to real-world trucks that really performed. We probably put total beaters on the cover a bit too often, but at the time it really worked. Also, I'll go ahead and pat myself on the back for identifying the tube-chassis-buggy trend and amplifying its benefits, which I think led to its growth. Probably the seminal moment for those rigs was when we put Soni's Scorpion on the cover [Aug. '97] and asked if it was the world's most capable 4x4.

"We also saw trail riding booming and getting more and more serious. Years earlier, Moses Ludel at Off Road magazine had tried and failed to launch a 4x4 Trials competition. I thought of that when I kept getting calls from the promoters of the 4x4 Triathlon events. I was convinced the readers did not care about swimming, rowing, or shooting, so instead I wrote an outline of a trail competition that I would agree to cover if the promoter, Bob Hazel, credited us with it. I left the magazine soon thereafter and the next editor was not interested in the competition, but the promoter did it anyway. And competitive rockcrawling was born.

"Which is all ironic, as today I feel that tube buggies and rock racing have gotten out of control. It's time to just go trail riding again.

"The best project truck we had was the first Jeep TJ, the green one we called Elvis after a CD of the King's greatest hits got stuck in the player. We built a neat little rig with 33s, 4.10s, lockers, and a 4:1 transfer case. When the Wrangler won the 4x4 of the Year competition that year, I gave a speech to the Jeep people about the mods we'd made. I was thronged by engineers who later asked us to deliver the TJ back to the Chelsea proving grounds. Last time we saw it there, they were calling it Elvis and the CD was still stuck. While Jp magazine recently reported that our claim is untrue, Pw and I know that Elvis was the inspiration for the Wrangler Rubicon.

"When I started at the magazine, Tech Editor Tom Bezzi was quite sick from complications of AIDS. Near the end, I asked him to write his own farewell column where my editorial normally appeared. While I had some concern about the backlash from the readership, I was shocked at how much positive mail we got from Tom's revelations about his illness."

Freiburger is the only former editor who's still employed at the company. He's editor-in-chief of Hot Rod magazine and Editorial Director of Car Craft, Popular Hot Rodding, Chevy High Performance, 5.0 Mustang, Musclecar Review, and Engine Masters.

February 1998-November 2000
"During my time as editor, the Jeep Wrangler had just returned to round headlamps, gasoline was about $1.30 a gallon, Chrysler and Daimler merged, Ford bought Land Rover, and solid-axle Chevy trucks and Jeeps still ruled the enthusiast marketplace. Tire sizes on modified 4x4s went from 33s as the norm to 35s and 37s, and much, much more aggressive tread patterns became available. The walls of fabrication indifference and intimidation came down, leading to a lot more innovative, home-grown modifications, including custom-fabricated mutlilink suspension systems.

"In that vein, my favorite project truck was Project 4xQuad. It marked a departure in project vehicles. We went from asking 'What's available for this truck?' to 'What should this type of truck be like?' There were no kits for stuffing a Mopar Hemi into a brand-new Dakota, or a lift kit to install 39s. It took a lot of custom fabrication work by Off-Road Unlimited to take what we sketched and make it functional. All of the project vehicles we built after this one followed the same format-dream big and create a vision of what the vehicle should be, rather than drive it through Pep Boys to see what fit.

"Ultimate Adventure is what I'm proudest of. This event is the best combination of hard-core trails with pavement in between that either keeps the vehicles sane or proves their owners insane. It forced us to rethink how we built our 4x4s-they had to perform extremely well off-road, but be durable enough to drive for eight hours a day on the highway.

"My favorite Ultimate Adventure took us from Cedar City, Utah, to Canon City, Colorado. We descended down a 900-foot cliff on switchbacks in the middle of the desert north of Lake Powell, crossed the Continual Divide on dirt at Old Monarch Pass (11,312 feet), and drove across the world's highest suspension bridge (1,053 feet). There's just no better way to take this in than in a vehicle with no top and no doors."

After two years as Editor, Quinnell was promoted to Editorial Director. He later left the company and went to work for DaimlerChrysler doing public relations for Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles.

December 2000-present
Editor Pw had the least to say about his stint at the magazine, despite the fact that he's been editor longer than any of the rest of us. Maybe it was because we didn't have enough Coronas around to loosen his tongue. More likely it was because he's still in the Editor's chair keeping his staff busy (or at least trying to keep his staff at all; there's been a bit of turnover), buying and building Jeeps and coping with freelancers who can't meet their deadlines.

Your most memorable experience as editor? "Running the Ultimate Adventure series, any year. Even prerunning with Trent McGee."

Favorite story or project truck? "Any Dirt Every Day story. The best project was my M38A1 used on the Ultimate Adventure. My favorite event was driving in Gravelrama over the Big Elim."

What are you proudest of? "Getting people to get out and wheel instead of polishing their chrome."

May 1994
Freiburger's first 4xForward: "We'll have an added emphasis on hooking you up with more hard-core, real-world tech. And, along with the full-zoot dream parts, you'll find plenty of low-buck repairs, modifications, and building tricks.... We're talking duct-tape-and-bailing-wire, down-and-dirty cheap. Hands-on tips for the average dude or dudette."

June 1994
Drew Hardin's parting gift to Freiburger: American Gladiator story runs.

September 1994
Current Art Director Alan Huber joins staff, starting what would become the longest tenure of anyone now with the magazine.

February 1995
Tom Bezzi writes guest editorial about leaving the magazine after 10 years to go on medical disability due to AIDS (and passes away in March); Dodge Ram 2500 V-10 wins 4x4 of the Year, beating Chevrolet S-10 ZR2 and Blazer, and Ford Explorer and F-250 Power Stroke.

April 1995
First coverage of a double-low transfer case, the Marlin Crawler, for Toyota; also first mention of installing Dana 60 axles at both ends of the truck.

May 1995
First "wild action" cover featuring Moab trail carnage.

June 1995
Freiburger and staffer Brent Ross "got drunk to prove a point" for the story "Under the Influence"; Craig Johnson, the magazine's current managing editor, is hired.

November 1995
Pw is hired as a feature editor; Drivelines runs spy photo of the Jeep TJ.

February 1996
Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo V-8 wins biggest 4x4 of the Year shootout ever against Chevy K1500 and Tahoe, Nissan Pathfinder, Isuzu Rodeo, Range Rover, Toyota Tacoma and T100, and Suzuki X-90; Drivelines reports the passing of Bill Stroppe.

July 1996
First test of Jeep TJ: "In a nutshell, we dig it."

September 1996
Pw's flatfender rolled-on purpose-for "Whoops!" cover.

October 1996
First appearance of Elvis, the project TJ, in "Instant Hero" story about practical add-ons for '97 Wranglers: Mickey Thompson tires, sway-bar disconnect, Warn x8000i winch, Detroit SofLocker, 4.10s.

December 1996
Final appearance of company founder Robert E. Petersen on the corporate masthead as CEO of Petersen Publishing Company; his title changes to Chairman Emeritus in January as new corporate management team takes over.

February 1997
Jeep Wrangler wins 4x4 of the Year against Chevy Blazer ZR2; Dodge Dakota; Ford Expedition, Explorer and F-250; Mazda B4000; and Toyota 4Runner.

August 1997
Soni Honegger's Scorpion MK 1 appears on the cover as the "Most Capable 4x4 Ever"; Drivelines reports Elvis has "left the building": "Engineers were so impressed with how we'd tailor-made the Jeep for no-sweat extreme four-wheeling that they wanted it for their very own to study."

January 1998
Freiburger leaves for Car Craft; Quinnell takes the editor's chair in February.

February 1998
Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited wins 4x4 of the Year against Dodge Durango, GMC Yukon, Isuzu Rodeo, Mazda B3000, Mercedes ML320, and Montero Sport.

March 1998
Magazine celebrates 20th anniversary issue; in his 4xForward column, Quinnell writes, "You've seen your last chromed shock in 4-Wheel & Off-Road."

November 1998
First photos of Toyota Tundra; Pw leaves to helm Jp magazine...

December 1998
...and immediately gets a feature story on his flatfender.

February 1999
Jeep Grand Cherokee wins 4x4 of the Year against a field that includes Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram Quad Cab, Ford F-150 and F-350 (V-10), Isuzu Amigo, Kia Sportage, Lexus LX470, Mercedes Benz ML430, Nissan Frontier, Suzuki Grand Vitara, and Toyota Land Cruiser; Lloyd Novak passes away.

May 1999
Corporate ownership changes are reflected in the masthead: Petersen Companies changes to emap Petersen Inc.

December 1999
Quinnell writes about the first Ultimate Adventure in 4xForward; current copy editor John Patton is hired.

January 2000
"Building Trends for the new Millennium": "Rock Buggies: Only a few of these have been spotted romping around the trails. However, now that a few companies are starting to produce turnkey versions for fairly cheap, we wonder if they will be the hot new thing."

February 2000
Coverage of first Ultimate Adventure in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado; Toyota Tundra wins 4x4 of the Year against Chevy Suburban and Tahoe, Dodge Dakota Quad Cab and Ram 1500, Ford Excursion, Isuzu VehiCROSS, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, and Nissan Frontier crew cab and Xterra; first coverage of a rockcrawl competition, the Goodyear Extreme Rock Crawling Championships in Farmington, New Mexico.

May 2000
Petersen name removed from corporate masthead as emap Petersen becomes emap USA

October 2000
Current Feature Editor Jerrod Jones first shows up on magazine masthead as "intern"; Drivelines "Hot rumor of the month: '04 Jeep Grand Cherokee will have a sport package featuring the new 5.7L Hemi V-8. A Hemi!"; first story about online auto buying.

December 2000
Quinnell becomes editorial director; Pw in as editor.

February 2001
Grand Cherokee wins 4x4 of the Year against Chevy Silverado 2500 HD diesel, Ford F-150 SuperCrew and Explorer SportTrac, GMC Sierra 2500 HD, Mitsubishi Montero, and Nissan Frontier.

April 2001
Quinnell's "dead Chevy" used for endo cover shot and rollover sequence inside.

October 2001
Pw in 4xForward: "Last week, emap sold us to Primedia, a major American publishing firm." Coverage of Ultimate Adventure in California, Washington, and British Columbia.

January 2002
"We will prevail."-Pw in 4xForward regarding 9/11 attacks.

February 2002
20th 4x4 of the Year test: Jeep Grand Cherokee beats Chevrolet Avalanche, Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab, Ford Explorer XLT, Isuzi Axiom, Jeep Liberty, Nissan Frontier crew cab and Xterra XE, and Suzuki XL-7; Pw offers "exclusive" first look at Wrangler Rubicon, calls it "the hottest factory-production 4x4 ever built."

November 2002
Coverage of Ultimate Adventure, Utah to Colorado.

December 2002
Pw covers 50th Jeepers Jamboree driving bone-stock '43 Ford GPW. "That's how the Jamboree got started..."; Jerrod Jones back on masthead as feature editor; 4xForward announces his hire and Fred Williams', though Williams is not on the masthead yet.

February 2003
16 trucks in biggest 4x4 of the Year ever: Lexus GX 470 beats Chevy Silverado 1500; Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500; Ford Excursion, Expedition, Explorer, F-150, F-250 Super Duty, and Ranger; GMC Yukon 1500 and 2500 XL; Hummer H2; Jeep Wrangler Rubicon; Kia Sorento; and Toyota 4Runner.

March 2003
Pw introduces Dirt Every Day trips in 4xForward, stating they started in May of 1998.

May 2003
Readers lambaste us for choosing Lexus as 4x4 of the Year.

June 2003
Current Editorial Director Douglas McColloch is hired.

November 2003
Ultimate Adventure in North Carolina and Arkansas; Vic Hickey passes away.

February 2004
Pw nearly loses right hand to infection; Drivelines: Jeep announces Trail Rated badges; VW Touareg wins 4x4 of the Year against Chevy Colorado, Dodge Durango, Ford F-150, Isuzu Ascender and Axiom, Lexus GX 470, Nissan Pathfinder Armada and Titan, and Toyota Tundra double-cab.

July 2004
Cheap Truck Challenge begins with Williams' Suzuki.

Nov-Dec 2004
The first two-issue coverage of Ultimate Adventure in Illinois and Minnesota.

January 2005
Drivelines headline: "Jeep Unveils Rubicon Unlimited"; "Staff Garage" feature begins running.

February 2005
Seven-time 4x4 of the Year winner Jeep Grand Cherokee beats Dodge Dakota and Power Wagon, Liberty CRD and Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, Land Rover LR3, Nissan Frontier and Pathfinder, and Toyota Tacoma double-cab.

May 2005
Jeep unveils Hurricane concept at Detroit auto show-arguably the coolest concept vehicle of the decade. Any decade.

Nov-Dec 2005
Ultimate Adventure in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma.

February 2006
Dodge Ram wins 4x4 of the Year against Hummer H3, Jeep Commander, Nissan Xterra, and Suzuki Grand Vitara; Pw announces staffer David Kennedy is leaving for Diesel Power; his position will remain open until the addition of Ali Mansour in early 2007.

August 2006
First-ever trailside toilet review.

Nov-Dec 2006
Ultimate Adventure Idaho and Nevada.

February 2007
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon wins 4x4 of the Year, beating Chevy Avalanche, Silverado, and Tahoe; GMC Sierra; Hummer H3; Kia Sorento; and Toyota FJ Cruiser.

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