Editor Rick had each of us write a couple pages about our favorite 4x4s ever. Staff youngster Jerrod Jones went first (June '06, pg. 112) and made a case for Rangers, Frontiers, and Troopers (Troopers?).
Last month Fred Williams conjured up his personal contraptions modified for turning heads (and maybe a few stomachs). Since we haven't grown a David Kennedy clone to hire yet, it's my turn this month. I admit it, I'm one of the two staff old guys.
Come to think of it, I was out wheeling an original Land Cruiser (the FJ40 kind) while Jerrod and Fred were still crying for their binkies. But remember the Mark Twain quote: "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." Yet I'm still considered a youngster by my dad, and you young guys out there are already old fogies to my soon-to-be-driving son. (Of course, he thinks I'm ancient!)
Age does give you different perspectives however. With the number of winters I've weathered, I now realize there aren't any 4x4s that I'd call favorites-no special makes or models. Any and all can be built to perform well. To me the question becomes, how much freakin' work and expense do I want to endure? My back and patience both withstand a lot less pounding than when I was 30-something. And, lest I forget, I've got kids that would like real seats instead of being lashed to the luggage rack. So I'm approaching editor Rick's assignment like this: What are the best ever 4x4s I'd like to own that don't require me to auction off a child or spend years in the garage-or in traction?!
The Holy Military Trinity
With a little less emphasis on family, who wouldn't want one of these three big dogs? Even though an MB or GPW (or any flatfender) is too small for my family, the original little off-roaders, who proved so much during WWII (especially to our enemies), are just too cool to pass up on a list of best 4x4s ever. The military Dodge M37s (or civvy Power Wagons) and M715 Jeeps (from the Vietnam era) give you a bit more room and really only need some powerplant pumping up to take on most trails since these things came built super-beefy for duty in harm's way.
I'll leave the H1 Hummers to the men and women of today's conflicts. They need 'em more than we do.
The Wagon Queen Family Tricksters
What Jeep started with the Wagoneer in the early '60s (and even earlier with its first wagons in the '40s) and are now called SUVs are exactly what most wheeling families need. They offer plenty of rugrat room and wheelbase for hillclimbing without scaring the missus. Fullsize Cherokee, Bronco, Blazer, or Ramcharger doesn't matter, just take your pick. I'd look for a model from the '70s so it would have a solid axle and a decent transfer case, could be lifted easily, and would be inexpensive to own. These trucks are just that, trucks! They come with fullsize truck dimensions, frames, and features. Gas prices be damned! They're not cute carlike crossovers or skier-shuttling transports with stuck-on AWD badges and toothpick axleshafts.
Modern-day versions such as XJ Cherokees or Grand Cherokees (ZJs and WJs) are quickly replacing the older fullsize SUVs. Just remember that, although they have solid axles and two-speed transfer cases, they are unibody (no separate frame) and are built with much lighter-duty components. Still, they can wheel the family in comfort and make excellent dual-purpose vehicles.
The Young Guns
Just so you don't think I'm an old guy who's blind to the newer 4x4s, my favorite late-model trucks are the new Dodge Ram Power Wagon and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (including what I've seen of the '07 model). Note that even though they're new, they still have strong solid axles, true low-range gearing, lockers, and plenty of ground clearance for 98 percent of the trails out there.
Although they may be pricier to obtain at first, think of the fact that these two 4x4s come so well equipped they almost don't need any modifications. My back and my family are telling me I need one...now. I guess these two trucks make my list agree, at least partially, with Jerrod's. See, old or young, age doesn't matter. Let's all just have fun doing what we have in common: Get outside and go wheeling!