The Experts Pick The Ultimate 4WDS
In our 40th anniversary issue (June '02), writer Jim Allen took a year-by-year look at the best 4x4s built during the four decades we've been publishing this magazine. If you're like us, you probably agreed with some of his picks and wondered just what the heck he was thinking with others.
The discussion on this topic has raged through the Four Wheeler offices, so we thought we'd revisit it. But we wanted to go in a different direction this time. What if we posed the 10 best questions to outside experts in the 4x4 field? These are people you've heard of-heck, you probably buy their products-but you might not run into them on the trail or at your pub every day. How different would a 4x4 professional's list be, or an off-road racer's, than your own?
Naturally, we first polled the Four Wheeler editorial staff experts to get their expert views. They didn't agree on much (as you'll see), but just as with our outside experts, their lists included some popular favorites as well as, uh, frankly, odd choices.
Once the lists came in, we tallied the votes. Out of nearly 40 4x4s chosen, no one vehicle was on everyone's list. The winner received mention from six out of our eight voters, two were on five lists, the next three appeared on four lists, and three others got three mentions. After that a bunch got one or two votes. So the top nine classic 4x4s emerged pretty clearly. What about number 10? Pick your own fave, write or email us with your choice, and consider yourself one of our expert panelists. Generous, aren't we?
Seventh through Ninth Place (Three-Way Tie)
Early Land Rover
While other CJ variants scored higher on this list than the CJ-7, it landed here because of very memorable experiences by some of our voters. Editor Jon Thompson bought an '81 CJ-7 new, "built it, loved it, sold it. Wonder who owns it now?" Mark Smith, the granddaddy of the Jeep Jamborees, put one of his '78 CJ-7s at the top of his list because he undertook the 21,000-mile Darien Gap trek in it. "The Darien could be described as 10 times longer and 10 times tougher than the Rubicon," Smith said. "Yet we did the trip in factory vehicles that had been modified only with 15x10.50 Goodyear tires, Ramsey winches and, of course, skidplates." Feeling it had earned its place in history, Smith donated the CJ to the Jeep museum in Toledo.
The early Land Rover scored well ahead of its contemporary siblings for its rough-and-tumble "Daktari-esque" character, as Features Editor Ken Brubaker put it. "I fell in love with a '68 Series IIA, one of these underpowered, boxy, unreliable machines in Idaho, and almost brought this ray of sunshine home to share with my wife." Brubaker didn't, he says, "thus I'm still married." Jim Sickles, Toyota specialist and founder of Downey Off-Road Manufacturing, was somewhat kinder, praising the Rover's "tough, corrosion-resistant, lightweight aluminum body." He went on to fault the Brit ute for its "frail drivetrain" but noted that its "four-cylinder wasn't abusive to the drivetrain." How could it have been?
The Scout also received its share of good news/bad news comments. Brubaker, for example, curses his '77 "daily for its runaway rust, but the bulletproof 345ci engine that sports heavy-duty factory stuff like a gear-drive Dana 20 transfer case and Dana 44 differentials make it extremely durable." Sickles saw the corn binder a little differently. "It's more comfortable and roomier than a CJ, but still compact for tight spots. Its all-wheel-drive is a big plus, and the four-cylinder is fairly impressive during normal four-wheeling, yet it's not mean enough to tear up the drivetrain (which was not overly stout)."
Our Experts And Their Lists
V.P., Jeep/Truck, Color & Trim Design, DaimlerChrysler
Ricardo (Rick) Aneiros has over three decades of experience as a stylist and designer with Chrysler. You may not recognize his name, but you're certainly familiar with the vehicles he's influenced. His current responsibilities include managing and directing interior and exterior design for all Jeep, Dodge SUV, and truck product design concepts. He also served as Director of Truck Exterior and Interior Design in the late '90s, Chief Designer of the department before that, and Chief Designer of the Jeep/Truck Exterior and Interior Design Department in the early to mid-'90s.
1. Dodge Power Wagon/Dodge Power Box concept vehicles (pickup and SUV)
2. '84 Jeep Cherokee
3. Range Rover
4. Mini Moke
Ray Currie's father, Frank, founded the family business in 1959 by rebuilding Ford 9-inch rearends for golf carts and other "electric industrial vehicles," as the official bio calls them. Now the company builds high-performance rearends of all kinds, plus other accessories, for race cars, hot rods, and 4x4s. Four-wheeling has provided a real-world proving ground for Currie's products for years, and the Curries have become heavily involved in rockcrawling. They've built and campaigned a number of crawlers, from the stock-looking Little Red Jeep to the radical Fire Ant.
1. Jeep TJ
2. Jeep CJ family
3. Ford/Stroppe Baja Bronco
4. Jeep YJ
5. Early Ford Bronco
6. Toyota Land Cruiser
7. Jeep XJ
8. Toyota 4Runner
9. Suzuki Samurai
10. Dodge Power Wagon