30 Years Of 4x4 Greatness
It's a topic of hot debate anytime a group with a shared interest gets together: What's the best (fill in the blank) ever? It doesn't matter if you're talking quarterbacks, film noir movies, Kentucky Derby winners, or World War II fighter planes. If you put a bunch of buffs together, they'll eventually discuss-or, more likely, argue over-their favorites.
Off-roaders are no different, including those of us who are also magazine editors. While researching other 30th anniversary articles, I ran across story after story about what were purportedly the "best ever" 4x4s. In the process I wondered if there was any common ground in the opinions of three decades' worth of staffers. Was it possible that there was one "all-time best" 4x4 that every generation of 4-Wheel & Off-Road editors could agree on?
To find out, I compiled every "best ever," OE-vehicle-related story I could find and tallied the results. The articles stretched as far back as October 1984 and were as recent as September 2006.
In the first "best" story in 1984, then-Editor Michael Coates summed up the staff's (and some special guest voter's) opinions. Some stories had each staffer choose a vehicle and explain why it was best. In July 1997, then-Editor David Freiburger and then-Feature Editor Rick Pw chose 10 best 4x4s in several categories, including mud runners, rockcrawlers, tough-truck racers, and "just plain coolest." (For scoring purposes, each vehicle in that story received one vote even if it was mentioned in more than one category. One of their categories, tow vehicles, was left out of the final tally because of its pavement orientation.)
The staff took the grand-theft-auto approach in June 2001 by naming the "10 4x4s We'd Steal to 'Wheel." And in 2006, we ran four stories in successive months to give each editor (and Art Director Alan Huber) an entire article to voice his opinion.
And now, the winners, in ascending order.
Not all the Jeeps on this list are Pw's choices, but a lot of them are. Just three of the top 4x4s chosen by Coates in '84 made the bottom of the list. The rest scored higher. Does that mean Coates and company were extra sharp, or that most of the best 4x4s had already been built by 1984?
* '60-'63 AM General M-422 Mighty Mite (July '97)
* AM General Hummer H1 Alpha (June '06)
* '62-'66 Chevrolet Carryall (July '97)
* '73-'87 Chevrolet K10/20 (July '97)
* '83-'84 Chevrolet S-Blazer/GMC Jimmy (Oct. '84)
* '91 Chevrolet Crew Cab Camper Special (Sept. '06)
* Dodge M37 (Aug. '06)
* '72-'93 Dodge truck (July '97)
* '80-'84 Ford F-150/Bronco (Oct. '84)
* '99-and-up Ford Super Duty (June '01)
* '03 Ford Ranger FX4 (June '06)
* Hummer H3 (June '06)
* '53-'68 International fullsize (July '97)
* '98 Isuzu Trooper (June '06)
* '55-'81 Jeep CJ-5 (July '97)
* '57-'65 Jeep FC-150 (July '97)
* '82-'85 Jeep CJ-10 (July '97)
* '84 Jeep Cherokee (Oct. '84)
* '87-'95 Jeep Wrangler (July '97)
* '67-'71 Kaiser Jeepster Commando (July '97)
* '93 Land Rover Defender 110 (Dec. '92)
* '95-and-up Nissan Frontier Nismo (June '06)
* '86-'93 Toyota pickup (July '97)
* '97 Toyota FJ-80 Land Cruiser (June '06)
There are just two imports on this list. Most everything else is old-school and fullsize. Is a pattern emerging?
* '69-'72 Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy (Oct. '84, Dec. '92)
* '73-'91 Chevrolet Blazer (July '97, June '01)
* '77-'87 Chevrolet K30 (July '97, June '01)
* '74-'91 Dodge Ramcharger (Oct. '84, July '97)
* '73-'77 Ford F-250/Highboy (Oct. '84, July '97)
* '78-'79 Ford Bronco (July '97, June '01)
* '78-'79 Ford F-350 (July '97, Sept. '06)
* Jeep Wagoneer (Aug. '06, Sept. '06)
* '76-'86 Jeep CJ-7 (Oct. '84, July '97)
* '94, '97 Land Rover Defender 90 (June '01, June '06)
* '79-'85 Toyota pickup (Oct. '84, July '97)