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Trail’s End: December 1989, Accomplishments Of The ’80s

Posted in Features on May 15, 2017
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Staff

As the ’80s drew to a close, we cast an over-the-shoulder glance at the decade from a four-wheelers point of view and published a story in the Dec. ’89 issue of Four Wheeler about how much had changed during that timeframe.

Early in the story we pointed out that the term “SUV” was invented during the decade. Also, mini-trucks came onto the scene as fuel prices rose. Tires also went through a metamorphosis, as diameters grew and radials became accepted and widely used. Computers and digital components replaced their mechanical/analog counterparts in the engine management department to provide cleaner burning, more effective powerplants. We also noted the growth of stadium racing and monster trucks, both of which grew by leaps and bounds (no pun intended) during the ’80s.

The meat of the story included, in no apparent order, what we considered the most significant, positive advances of the decade in regards to four-wheeling. Leading off was the S-10/S-15 Blazer/Jimmy, which we said combined sleek styling with a new, smaller format to “usher in a whole new era.” Up next was the ARB Air Locker, intro’d in 1988. We wrote, “Having the option of daily commuting and general on-road driving with an open differential and then, by pushing a button, having a locked diff for the trails is what many four-wheelers have wished for years.” The ARB was followed by “working suspensions.” “Spring rates exceeding 1,000 pounds per inch have been, in some cases, reduced by as much as one half. The resulting smoother ride not only offers passenger comfort and much improved ability to keep all four wheels on the ground but also, by better soaking up bumps, affords our vehicles far less abuse when the suspension works, making a better ride last longer,” we wrote. Increased engine power was up next. We noted that in the early ’80s the “performance picture” looked dull but by the end of the decade, larger displacements and more horsepower were on tap. And along the same vein, we gave a nod to EFI, which came on strong during the decade. “Whether it delivers fuel through one or eight squirters, EFI’s precise and well-timed injections of fuel are a major boon to four-wheelers…” we wrote.

We also gave props to stadium racing (“How many people were bitten by the off-road bug while watching close-up racing while enjoying the comforts of a stadium we’ll never know.”); the United Four Wheel Drive Association (“The organizations efforts are to every four wheeler’s benefit, and we can only hope that you support UFWDA in its work—for you.”); the Chevy K-truck (we felt the completely redesigned ’88 model year truck would influence truck designs of the ’90s.); radial tires (“The last few years in particular have brought us radials for just about any purpose, including very aggressive mud treads, and larger sizes as well.”); and synthetic lubes (“Adaptable to much wider temperature ranges than regular lubes, synthetics created firm believers from Alaska to Arizona…”).

Reading this story got us thinking about all the changes to four-wheeling that have taken place since the ’80s. What do you think is the most noteworthy accomplishment—or accomplishments—of the last few decades in regards to four-wheeling? Is it the larger sizes and improvements in tire technology? The availability of selectable lockers on both new vehicles and in the aftermarket? The increased power of modern engines? Synthetic winch rope? LED lighting?

Let us know what you think by emailing We’d love to write a story about the accomplishments of the last few decades and value your opinion!

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