The Staff Picks Their Top 5 Dream 4x4s
Have you ever wanted to build a classic 4x4? We certainly have. As a matter of fact, we spend a lot of time daydreaming about it when we should be working.
First, let’s define a classic 4x4, or old iron, or vintage, or whatever you want to call ’em. Most U.S. states consider a vehicle to be a classic when it is over 20 years old. Since we’re knee-deep in 2013, this means a vehicle manufactured in 1993 or prior qualifies.
In this story the Four Wheeler staff weighs in with our top five choices (in order) of classic rigs we’d like to build. Some are no surprise, but some are relatively obscure. Some are large, and some are small. Some are weird (like us), and some are not. Some we’d almost totally rebuild, while others we’d leave almost stock.
So, read on and learn which classic rigs we’d like to build. Hopefully, this info will inspire you to build up your own classic 4x4.
John Cappa, Editor
5. ’67-’72 GM Truck/’69-’72 K5 Blazer/Jimmy
I like the body lines of the early round-fendered GM trucks. There is nothing wrong with the later square-fendered trucks, in fact I own one, and they make better projects because they have more desirable and more common parts on them. It’s just that the round-fendered versions stand out, so much so that these 4x4s fetch a premium today. Personally, I’d look for a shortbed pickup truck or the Blazer/Jimmy. The longbeds are still cool, but they just don’t have the same appealing dimensions to me. Since these trucks enjoy the early GM drivetrain parts that virtually snap together like Legos, pretty much any V-8 and transmission combo is a winner, or can be changed around to be one very easily.
4. ’73-’79 Ford F-series/’78-’79 Bronco
I wanted a version of this series of Ford truck to be my first vehicle. I still think they are great looking trucks with fantastic drivetrain parts. I have had my eye on a white ’78 or possibly a ’79 stepside 4x4 that has been sitting in a guy’s yard for about 15 years. I pass by it nearly every time I go to the desert. It hasn’t moved but once or twice in that time (that I know of), and it has had a “For Sale” sign on it for as long as I can remember. I really need to stop and check it out more closely. Unlike many of my other selections, these trucks are pretty much turnkey with decent engines, great transmissions, great transfer cases, and great axles. Plenty of easy bolt-on upgrades, suspension lift kits, and more are available for these trucks.
3. ’47-’53 Chevy Truck
You have to be a pretty handy welder and fabricator to make use of one of these trucks. They were never offered as a production 4x4, but who cares! The original drivetrain and suspension are pretty much worthless anyway, and in reality so is the frame, but I really like the older rounded and swoopy truck designs. The cab is much smaller than today’s fullsize trucks so you can fit on some pretty tight trails yet still have a roof and steel doors. The huge front fenders and stepside beds lend a hand when fender trimming to keep the truck low and fit big tires. I saw one of these trucks rockcrawling in Arizona in the late ’90s, when everyone else had CJs and YJs. It looked so cool, unusual, and original that I vowed to someday build one for wheeling. I almost always stop and drool when I see a clapped-out version for sale on the side of the road, which is pretty common in the Southwestern states. Hide a fuel-injected small-block V-8, or even a modern LS powerplant under the patina hood along with all of the other common trail-worthy drivetrain accoutrements, and you’ll have a sweet 4x4 that stands out from the sea of overly modified ’07-present Wranglers.
2. ’55-’59 Studebaker E Series Truck
I like them for the same reasons I like the ’47-’53 Chevy truck. They are slightly less common, but basket cases usually congregate in a collector’s yard. All you have to do is talk the guy out of one of them. None of the drivetrain or suspension is useful for trail work, and it’s likely that the frame is worthless too, unless you are willing to reinforce it with a full bumper-to-bumper custom cage or other method. Be prepared to weld and fabricate pretty much everything when you convert it to 4x4 because few were offered with a T-case and driving front axle.
1. ’42-’53 Flatfender Jeep
What can I say—I’m a sucker for early CJs. Not so much in the stock form (although they can be fun), but I really like to see well thought-out, low-slung versions that have not been molested with butch modifications like comp-cut fenders, stereos, and hood scoops. I like to see the factory body lines hiding in clever workmanship that allows the small tub to fit bigger tires and wheels, a modern fuel-injected V-6, a granny-geared manual transmission, and heftier axles, among other things. You can almost build one from scratch using aftermarket parts, so anything from grilles to body tubs and taillights to transmissions are still available. Another plus is that they don’t take up a lot of space and are super easy to work on, so they make great father-son/daughter projects, even in a single-car garage or carport!