The Beater Files
Every few years, we take stock and develop a list containing our nominations for the best 4x4s available in the used marketplace. This time around, we decided to tighten our belts a bit and cover only those that can be readily found for under $1,000. We know what you're thinking. What good is a worn-out bucket of rust that carries an asking price of $1,000 or less? The answers may surprise you. In terms of trail potential, many thousand-dollar beaters can out-crawl, out-haul, and out-maneuver a handful of present-day showroom challengers with much bigger price tags. And because perceived value is always dependent on what you use a vehicle for, we tried to include a wide assortment of vehicle types in our selection. Finally, if you don't see your favorite beater on our list, drop us an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Agree or disagree, either way we'd love to hear what you have to say.
Ford F-150 ('73-'91)
If your next wheeling excursion includes any form of camping, you'll probably spend a good deal of time trying to find the space to pack essential items such as coolers, tents, firewood and sleeping bags. But when your truck is equipped with an eight-foot-long cargo box, loading up such accoutrements is a much less daunting task. Nothing beats the function and utility of a pickup truck, and when the price tag is under $1,000, the situation is a win-win. F-150s have enjoyed a solid reputation for dependability and overall toughness, and perhaps that is what makes them attractive as trail machines. Referred to as a "heavy half-tons" by many, the F-150 has enjoyed a longstanding success as the best-selling pickup in America. Equipped with I-6 and V-8 engines ranging in displacement anywhere from 240 to 351 cubic inches, there is a perfect drivetrain combination for everybody. At $1,000 or less, the most likely variant you will find is the one we prefer most: Those offered with the Twin Traction Beam front suspension. Offered between 1980 and '96, the TTB arrangement was a game-changer in a segment comprised entirely of solid front-axle vehicles. We can't tell you that the TTB setup is particularly strong for say, rock crawling, but it holds up well in the wide-open desert environments. If you consider the value of functional TTB to those who prefer it to a solid front axle, it actually adds value to your build strategy. You see, the parts that make up the TTB front suspension, in all their oddity, still command good money from truck builders in the go-fast desert crowd. We've seen complete factory TTB setups sell for more than $500 (used) online, making it that much easier to justify the expense of a 1-ton solid front axle swap for more serious trail work. Out of the box, the F-150 came ready for abuse, with underpinnings that scream "heavy duty" and square body proportions that offer a good balance of function and form.
International Scout II ('74-'80)
For some strange reason, International Scouts have always seemed to attract a very specific enthusiast type. The Scout fan typically looks at the world from a little different perspective. We're not sure why, but we think it is due to the scarcity of style within the International brand. Developed as an answer to Jeep's popular CJ platform, the Scout II ushered in the era of the SUV. With go-anywhere utility offered in part by a pair of Dana 44 axles, Scout IIs were the icon of ruggedness to those who looked past the antiquated exterior. The Scout II's appearance was bland, with unusually flat sides and low-hanging rocker panels. Today, Scouts still maintain a love-hate relationship with the four-wheeling mainstream. Options such as a removable soft or hardtop gave the 100-inch wheelbase a Jeep-like passenger experience. Builders favor Scouts because of stout boxed frames and a literal smorgasbord of engine, transmission and transfer case options. If we could have it our way, our Scout II would have the 345 V-8, manual 4-speed transmission and a Dana 300 transfer case. Finding a rust-free Scout II is virtually impossible, though much of the affected areas are easy to repair or replace. In general, Scouts were never well known for corrosion resistance.