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Top 10 Classic 4x4 Trucks - 10 Best Classic 4x4s Revealed

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2002 Comment (0)
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Top 10 Classic 4x4 Trucks - 10 Best Classic 4x4s Revealed

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?

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Seventh through Ninth Place (Three-Way Tie)
Jeep CJ-7
Early Land Rover
Scout

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.

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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
Rick Aneiros
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
5. Unimog

Ray Currie
Currie Enterprises
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

Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Place (Three-Way Tie)
Jeep flatfender
Jeep CJ-5
Toyota solid axle pickup

The top-ranked Jeeps in the survey were the true classics. As Ray Currie of Currie Enterprises put it, these are "the Jeeps that created the entire Jeeping hobby. Most of us learned in a CJ."

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The flatties were a sentimental favorite, getting comments like this one from Thompson: "Drove them on the farm as a kid. Too dumb then to know how lucky I was." Long-time off-road racer Rod Hall had fond memories of two CJ-5s in particular. "My 1955 four-cylinder CJ-5 taught me how to be a Jeep mechanic and made me realize how much could be done with a four-wheel-drive and how much fun it was. I bought a six-cylinder CJ-5 new in 1967 for the inaugural Baja 1000, then called the Mexican 1000, and won the race with it. A great vehicle." Even Sickles had a compliment for the flatfenders and four-cylinder CJs, though it was sort of a backhanded one: "They had no creature comforts but were compact for tight off-road travel. And they didn't have enough horsepower to destroy the drivetrain or pulverize the suspension."

As you would imagine, Sickles had better things to say about the '79-'85 Toyota pickups. "These were the sons of the tank-like FJ-40 with even tougher shafts, bearings, and knuckles than the Land Cruiser. Add a 4.3L V-6 and, wow!" The early Toys were one of only two vehicles that the Four Wheeler staffers unanimously chose for their lists. "I almost don't want to tell people about these little guys as the prices will go up even more," admitted Features Editor Craig Perronne. "Stout and reliable, they can be built into killer trail rigs. And with a ton of companies making great parts for them, there is absolutely no excuse for not building one." Brubaker has a brother-in-law who owned an '85 Toyota pickup, so he knows from experience that "these solid-axle wonders could be brutally abused and neglected, and still offer amazingly dependable service."

Our Experts And Their Lists
Rod Hall
Rod Hall International
There are few people in the off-road racing community with more experience than Rodney Hall. He has remained competitive for nearly 40 years. Hall won the first Baja 1000 in 1967, he's raced in every 1000 since then, and he's the only driver in the record books to have won that race overall in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Hall now campaigns a team of race-prepped Hummer H1s with his son Chad. Hall's company sells Hummers in northern Nevada, builds racing vehicles, designs Hummer modifications for commercial and military use, and instructs members of the military in advanced off-road driving techniques. Note that with the exception of the first CJ-5, the Hummer H2, and GMC Envoy, all of the vehicles on Hall's list are race trucks, past and present.

1. '55 Jeep CJ-5
2. '67 Jeep CJ-5
3. '69 Stroppe-prepared Ford Bronco
4. '75 Dodge W-150 pickup
5. '80 Dodge Ramcharger
6. '93 Hummer
7. '96 Hummer
8. Tatra (Paris/Dakar 4x4s and 6x6s)
9. Hummer H2
10. '02 GMC Envoy

Second And Third Place (Two-Way Tie)
Jeep TJ
Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-40

A mix of the old and new tied for Second place in our list. Now, before you ask why a current production vehicle is on this list of "classic" 4x4s, understand that we asked our experts for their picks of the best 4x4s of all time. Most responded with vintage rigs, but a few pushed the envelope a bit to include the TJ, which Smith called "undoubtedly the best four-wheel-drive vehicle today."

"This vehicle raised the bar to a much higher level, and did so the day it came out," said Currie of the TJ. Perronne praised it for making so much off-roading ability available to so many buyers: "No more figuring out how to swap stuff. Just go max out your plastic by getting a flexy suspension, custom Dana 60s front and rear, and an Atlas. You'll have one bombproof Jeep that will go anywhere."

Several of our voters were looking forward to being able to buy awesome 4x4 capability right off the showroom floor in the form of the upcoming Wrangler Rubicon. Brubaker put it at the top of his list. "By adding Dana 44 axles, air lockers, and a 4:1 transfer case to the proven TJ, Jeep has created what is quite possibly one of the most capable production 4x4s of all time, and I need one. Of each color."

Now, the Land Cruiser didn't score this highly just because of sentimental votes, as was the case with the vintage Jeeps. Like the TJ, ability was the key. "Put a Chevy V-8 into this Army tank and go!" said Sickles, who put the FJ-40 at the top of his list. "There's nothing make-pretend here. The hot-riveted frame flexes for years and still stays tight. It has massive axles, bearings, and gears, plus thick, tough-body construction." Sickles isn't blind to the FJ-40's faults, noting the poor fuel economy and power-to-weight ratio you get with the stock six-cylinder. But the ease of swapping a V-8 into this puppy is part of what makes it so popular.

Smith and Thompson put the FJ-40 on their lists because of the fun they had in them on the Rubicon. "This was the first machine I ever drove over the Rubicon," said Thompson. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

Our Experts And Their Lists
Jim Sickles
Downey Off Road
Jim Sickles' love affair with Toyotas dates back to 1970, when he became a Land Cruiser enthusiast and began selling Land Cruiser parts and accessories out of the parts department of Downey Toyota, a Southern California Toyota dealership. Sickles acquired the accessory business from the dealer in the mid-'70s and changed the company's name to Downey Off Road Manufacturing. As Toyota's success with 4x4 models grew, so did Sickles' business. He became a parts manufacturer as well as retailer, adding modern CAD-CAM designing systems and full in-house CNC computerized machining facilities to the company.

1. Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-40
2. '79-'85 Toyota four-wheel-drive pickup
3. Jeep Wrangler TJ
4. Early Scout
5. Early Land Rover
6. Jeep CJ family
7. Ford Ranger pickup
8. Early Ford Bronco
9. Late-model Land Rover
10. Early Chevrolet Blazer

First Place
'66-'77 Ford Bronco

That there isn't a Jeep at the top of this list surprised us at first, but it probably shouldn't have. The classic Ford 4x4 was a clear favorite among three-fourths of our voters, and it was the second vehicle (of only two, remember) that our staff picked unanimously.

The reasons why the first-generation Broncos topped our list were pretty well summed up by Currie: "They're very capable, very reliable, and V-8 powered." Added Brubaker, "These cool trucks sported V-8 engines, a Dana 44 front axle, 9-inch rear axle, and front disc brakes. Their value is increasing day by day, and I wish I had a garage full of 'em so I could retire."

What also helped bump the early Bronco ahead of the Second-place Land Cruiser and TJ were the votes received for the Baja Bronco, the Bill Stroppe-built desert-race replica that Currie called "the ultimate hot-off-the-lot 4x4 of the '70s." Hall voted for a very special Stroppe Bronco, one nicknamed "Hall's Ass," that helped inspire Ford to market the poppy red, white, and blue Baja Broncos. "I won the 1969 Baja 1000 overall in a 1969 Stroppe-prepared Ford Bronco, the only four-wheel-drive to ever win the Baja 1000 overall," he told us. Today, this vehicle is restored and on display at Pike's Mobil in Baker, California.

Our Experts And Their Lists
Mark A. Smith
Jeep Jamboree USA
Where would four-wheeling be without Mark Smith? Back in 1952, he and a bunch of fellow Rotarians staged the first annual Jeep trek over the Rubicon Trail, with the aim of boosting the local economy. They did that and more-50 years later that small trip has grown into a four-wheeling icon that now encompasses more than 30 Jeep Jamborees across the country. Mark now acts as a consultant to the Jeep Division of DaimlerChrysler, conducts driver training for the U.S. Army Special Forces and other military agencies, and operates Jeep Jamboree USA with his daughter Jill and son Greg.

1. '78 CJ-7
2. '03 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee
4. Jeep flatfender
5. Early Toyota Land Cruiser
6. Early Land Rover


The Staff Weighs In
Jon Thompson
Editor
1. '78 Land Cruiser FJ-40
2. '47 Jeep CJ-2A
3. '81 Jeep CJ-7
4. '82 Jeep CJ-8
5. '77 Ford Bronco
6. Any Dodge Power Wagon
7. '74 Jeep Cherokee
8. '78 Chevy Suburban
9. '80 Scout diesel
10. '79 Toyota 4x4 pickup

Craig Perronne
Features Editor
1. '73-'87 Chevy trucks
2. '66-'77 Ford Bronco
3. '78-'79 Ford Bronco
4. Any Jeep Wrangler TJ
5. Any Ford Super Duty
6. '84-'85 Toyota pickup
7. Any '73-'87 Chevy 1-ton pickup
8. Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-40
9. '94-'01 Dodge Ram 1/2-ton
10. '73-'91 Chevy Suburban

Ken Brubaker
Features Editor
1. '03 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2. '85 Toyota pickup
3. '77 International Scout
4. '76-'77 Ford Bronco
5. '71 Chevrolet Blaze
6. '68 Land Rover Series IIA
7. '02 Jeep Liberty
8. Any Suzuki Samurai
9. Ford Excursion
10. '94-'01 Dodge Ram pickup

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