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April 1980: The Hunt For Better 4x4 Fuel Economy - Trail's End

Posted in News on October 25, 2013 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Archives

Fuel prices are skyrocketing and we need 4x4s that get good fuel mileage.

This sounds like something you’d hear uttered in 2013, but we were saying it in the April 1980 issue of Four Wheeler. As a matter of fact, we dedicated a large chunk of the magazine to the topic.

Editor Dennis Adler kicked off the issue by noting in an editorial that fuel was selling for an obviously painful $1.20 per gallon. He went on to note that expensive, fuel-thirsty domestic trucks “sit on the sales floor,” while “people wait months” for less expensive, fuel-efficient import trucks. Fuel efficiency was on everyone’s mind it seemed. The April issue included an ad from Subaru touting its four-wheel-drive hatchback that got 33 mpg on the highway; Advanced 4 WD was advertising its Jeep and Toyota overdrive units that increased fuel mileage by 25 and 15 percent, respectively; All-Tran Transmission Parts was touting its part-time four-wheel-drive conversion that was said to provide up to 30-percent better fuel mileage; Hooker Headers noted in its ad that “Reductions in fuel consumption of 10-25% are not uncommon,” when headers are installed; and Jeep noted that the all-new drivetrain in the ’80 Cherokee Chief was “designed to give you high efficiency without sacrificing exceptional performance.”

The crux of Adler’s editorial was that the domestic automakers were in fact answering the call for fuel efficiency, and he pointed to two American vehicles spotlighted in the April issue that were proof of this.

The first was the ’80 Jeep CJ-7, fitted with the then-new 82hp 151ci OHV I-4. Also available in the CJ-5, Editorial Director Bill Sanders noted that it was the first time in nearly a decade that a Jeep had been produced domestically for civilian use with that size engine. The only axle ratio was 3.54:1, locking hubs were standard, and our tester had a four-speed manual transmission. Sanders went on to note that downshifting to Third gear on freeway grades was needed to hold speed, but off-road in 4-Lo “the four-banger Jeep is one tough machine.” He wrote that the I-4 returned 20.08 mpg on the highway and 16.44 off-road.

“Editor Dennis Adler kicked off the issue by noting in an editorial that fuel was selling for a painful $1.20 per gallon.”

The other vehicle we spotlighted was the ’80 International Scout II turbodiesel. “The 1980 diesel still debouches clouds of grey-black smoke, and rattles like a tractor, but from there on the similarity between the old diesel and the new, ends,” Adler noted. What he was referring to was the addition of a turbo to the optional Nissan-built I-6 diesel, known as the 6-33T. Fitted with an Air Research T0-3 turbo, horsepower was increased to 101, a nearly 20 percent improvement over its predecessor. When we tested a non-turbo ’78 Scout, we found the highway performance “nothing short of embarrassing,” as the speed of the Scout dropped from 55 mph to 25 mph on a steep grade. With the addition of the turbo we reported that the Scout held a steady 55 mph on the same grade. On-road, the turbodiesel Scout returned a best tank of 22.64 mpg and 18 mpg off-road.

Today’s fuel prices have eclipsed those in 1980. However, great strides have been, and continue to be, made in regards to improving fuel economy in 4x4 vehicles. More than ever before, manufacturers are building four-wheel drives that return good fuel economy without sacrificing performance. It’s still OK to gripe about high fuel prices, though.

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