When there’s a “best of” collection, it’s typically always followed by a “you guys are dead wrong” collection of reader letters and comments. Allow us to then start this by saying this and other “Best of” stories in this issue are some of our favorite—and reader favorite—vehicles and travels, as well as other gems, from Four Wheeler’s 50-plus years of existence and represent what was extraordinary in that year or decade; what people couldn’t stop talking about; what was super innovative, very unique, and technologically broke the mold or was flat-out strange; and what changed how we four-wheel and build trucks. Of course, we think everything that has appeared in the magazine is the best or it wouldn’t have found a spotlight to begin with. So remember that when you tell us how we’re dead wrong and, in the meantime, enjoy the flashback.
“Mestizo,” Mar. ’62
This Jeep makes history as Four Wheeler’s first feature vehicle. Owner Clyde Simpson named it for the Spanish word for half-breed or hybrid. It was stealth and there was “very little to reveal the many modifications Clyde has put in to change his stock ‘Jeep’ into a bomb that takes hills, rocks or any bad trail with power to spare.” It had a 283ci Chevy V-8, reworked air cleaner, limited slips, 4.27:1 axle ratios, reinforced frame, sway bars front and rear, dual shocks, electric compressor, and custom top.
“Mother Goose,” July ’66
Called “last of the big benders,” Lee A. Sturtevant wanted a “high-power truck that would go anywhere he wished with little or no trouble. The Dodge, in stock form, would do all that with the four-wheel drive. So why the change?” Because, Lee needed to carry tools, have a hauler for his trailer, and go to shows. 1966 to 2016: Some things never change.
“Glenn Ford, Four Wheeler,” Apr. ’72
The Jeep was the real star of Cade’s County, and we got a behind-the-scenes look at the stunt action, such as how “there were few problems with the Jeeps, and that the stunts usually fell right in line with [stunt coordinator Bill Hart’s) previous experiences.” OK, may not sound like much of a page-turner now, but the story did delve in some details about an action scene that required rolling a Jeep, plus how can you not read something referencing Glenn Ford not spraining a finger?
“Liveable Land Cruiser,” Jan. ’79
Hans Knopp wrote in to say he had converted his Land Cruiser into a “mini-mini” camper—he added a shell, Berens-Hone overdrive, headers, water vapor injection, heavy-duty shocks, and a winch. Therefore, we featured it.
“The Beastie Boys,” June ‘87
William Townes hybrid’d a 1973 Chevy Blazer and M-4 18-ton Army tank in order to “build the first strictly experimental ‘monster tank.’” At 22,000 pounds, it ran a blown 454ci Chevy V-8 with 900 horses, nitrous oxide, and a custom TH400, and it “performed triple-stack car crushes and bus crushes.” He then cloned it using a 1978 Blazer body.
“Billboard,” Jan. ’94
This one is a “best of” because it represents a time when paint mattered on these pages. Richard Grandowicz’s 1989 Ford F-350 Crew Cab had a 7.3L Navistar diesel, C6 trans, Dana 60 front, but “Richard spent most of his time and energy on the paint.” Yeah, back then we called the wraparound mural an “impressive wilderness scene” that also extended to the hood. We commended him on “making the most out of great paint.”
“A Blown Chevy Toy,” July ’94
You might ask yourself, why didn’t Michael Pazienza get a Chevy to begin with? Nevertheless, part of what makes Four Wheeler feature vehicles great isn’t the why but the why not. Michael took a brand-new Toyota 4x4, got rid of everything but the body and used a shortened 1972 Chevy Suburban chassis, Chevy 350ci engine, Dana 44 front/Dana 60, and 10-inch springs. Because why not?
“Breaking All the Rules,” July ’95
This 1983 Chevy K-30 was bought used to run a mud bog. Owner Steve Swarts built it in his garage, adding a 10-inch suspension lift and 39-inch Boggers. He then mated the setup to the Dana 60/GM 14-bolt combo.
"Adventurer," Dec. ’95
To answer rumors of a Ram-based SUV, Sheik Hamad Bin Hamdan Al-Nahyan, a royal family member in the United Arab Emirates, built a custom one—a 1995 3/4-ton V-10 4x4 Ram. A limo company did the doors and rear hatch assembly, which came from a Suburban. It maintained the stock 488ci engine, got a 3-inch lift in front, and sported a Dana 60 and Dana 80 in front and rear, respectively. On his desert adventures, Hamad “has a matching stakebed version of this truck always following him with four spares, welder, emergency equipment, and almost every spare part imaginable.”
“Black Beauty Revisited,” Mar. ’99
“Ever wonder what happens to the rigs that make the cover of Four Wheeler?” This was one of our few redos of a popular rig, and spoiler alert: The original Feb. ’76 cover star became a family heirloom.
“Crawling Cummins,” Apr. ’99
Owner Mark Kincart did Hummer buildups for a living, so it was interesting to see how that translated to the buildup of his 1998 Dodge 2500. For example, the custom bobbed-corner bed, long-travel suspension, and leaves sans overload springs, which were removed for “lighter weight and greater articulation.”
“Cyber Swap,” Apr. ’00
We got into the sci-fi of Kyle Allison’s build of a 1994 Chevy K1500 Z/71. He worked with CAD (computer aided design) programs for the truck’s stock IFS in order to design a solid-axle leaf-spring suspension, “instead of finding used parts in junkyards that might work but compromise strength.” Kyle designed this setup—Dana 60, 8-inch springs, rear custom mounts, 5 1/2-inch packs, and 44-inch Boggers—to fit “completely from scratch.”
“Art Attack,” Aug. ’00
This one-of-a-kind creation caused quite a commotion back in the day. Kendall Banton’s 1957 was a V-8 Deluxe Cab longbed, yet he tweaked the cab until it was 12 inches longer than stock, when then shortened the bed. The Chevy 350ci V-8 made 300-plus horses and was hooked to a 700-R4 and 1984 Chevy NP208, and Kendall also added a 2-inch body lift and 2-inch add-a-leaves. We said then, “Creativity and vision have transformed this vintage rig into a unique four-wheeler,” and we still say it now.
“Real Truck Challenge 2003,” Mar. ’04
This event pretty much came and went. It was an alternative to Top Truck Challenge and a competition for “real” trucks. Our first-ever winner was Kevin Walden with his Scout 800 that sported (among other what-made-a-winner items) 2 1/2-ton axles and 44-inch Boggers.
“Desert Storm Veteran Turned RV,” May ’05
Soni Honegger was a bit of a celebrity on the pages of Four Wheeler, thanks to his novel creations, like his Top Truck Challenge entry and this Army surplus 1980s AM General 8x6 M-920. The tow rig had a 99,730-pound towing capacity and Rockwell steer axle, and “Soni doesn’t really need the lift axle and simply uses it as a convenient place to carry two spares.” The vehicle had a Cummins engine, Caterpillar 16-speed automatic, and Oshkosh single-speed T-case.
“Frequent Flyer,” Aug. ’06
We liked Bob Becker’s 2002 Chevy Suburban because he had built it so solid that he had no trouble jumping it and then driving it away without a single injury to the mechanicals. We’ve seen a lot of jumping trucks in our history, so when we call attention to one that didn’t break from a jump, you know it was in beast mode even before beast mode existed. An Off Road Unlimited solid-axle conversion, custom leaves, airbags, Boggers, and a Dana 60 front helped.
“In Control Blazer,” June ’07
And sometimes it’s as simple as we just dig a truck like Daniel Palm’s 1990 Chevy K5 Blazer, with its Dana 60 front, 5 1/2-inch leaf springs in front and 4-inchers in back, 350ci V-8 with 3-inch exhaust, Super Swampers, 14-bolt rear, custom inboard shock relocation crossmember, NP241, and 700-R4.
“Eyes of the Beholder,” Mar. ’09
Notoriety is what brings Mike McCormack’s 1954 Chevy 6400 to this in memorandum. Four Wheeler held the Ugliest 4x4 competition, and this was our Grand Prize winner. The former town plow was referred to as Bug 2 after Bug 1 “tumbled down” a side-cut road. Post-incident, it got the new name, as well as a 12-point rollcage, and Mike took to “beatin’ most of the twisted parts back into usable.” It also sported a 236ci six-cylinder engine, “hellacious heavy suspension” and Coleman Conversion 4WD combined with the stock four-speed trans with PTO, you know, to make it uglier.
“Anatomy of a Monster Truck/Bigfoot 18,” Feb. ’13
Four Wheeler liked the monster trucks and liked the Bigfoot, and that’s why Bigfoot 18 got our attention. It was an all-new Bigfoot, born with a 1,580-horse big-block, long-travel suspension made for jumps and landings, and a fiberglass Trophy Truck body. About those jumps and landings, Bigfoot 18 set a Guinness World Record for longest monster truck long jump at 214 feet, 8 inches long.
“Something Different,” Mar. ’13
Jason Smith had us at, he wanted to build something different from a Jeep. His 2005 Dodge Power Wagon got his goals done and sported the big-name parts like Dynatrac, Flowmaster, B&M, ARB, and King. He also had it shortened, gave it a custom bed, added custom tube doors, and put a wheel/tire combo and Power Tank in the cargo area.
“Serious 4Runner,” Mar. ’15
We mean, come on! Why are 4Runners still not a common sight on the trail? But then that explains why they are even less common in Four Wheeler. Dave Crosby’s was a 2006 model that got things like a modified aftermarket bumper, 37-inch tires, and wider axles.
“Droolworthy,” June ’15
The Ford Raptor: Out of the box, it’s pretty awesome. But this owner—who only wanted to be known as Anonymous—put this 2013 through a six-month redo that focused on the suspension, chassis, and interior. Currie, Detroit Locker, and JD Fabrication were among the name drops. The bed even got a hidden air compressor, two spares, and fiberglass bedsides, plus tranny coolers. It was all done for Dubai sand dunes.