1977-2007 Timeline 4Wheel & Off-Road Magazine - Our First 3 Decades
Part 1: Beginnings
Looking back, 1977 was a year of milestones: Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit, ChiPs, and The Love Boat debuted that year, as did a specialty publicationunder the Hot Rod magazine unbrella called Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road. That first issue featured new-truck road tests, hands-on tech stories, and a tire buyer's guide. In many ways it was very much like the magazine you're holding now.
Then again, it wasn't. Dirt bikes and vans were tested alongside the CJ-7, F-250, and International Traveler featured in that issue. The tire guide contained some names you know-BFGoodrich, Mickey Thompson, Goodyear-and others you probably don't-Gillette Super Traction, Pro Trac Fat Herbies, Concorde Deserter. Back then, if you wanted a compact 4x4 pickup you had to buy a 2WD converted by the aftermarket or convert it yourself, and no one called the Blazer, Bronco, or Wagoneer a sport/utility.
But the powers that be at Petersen Publishing saw a trend emerging, and so fashioned what we in the biz call a "one-shot" with a cobbled-together title. Three more of those one-shots came out in 1977, and the magazine went monthly with the March 1978 issue.
We're going to spend much of our 30th anniversary year looking back at significant events, trends, vehicles, and people who left their mark not only on this magazine but on the 4WD industry in general. We start with a three-part look at the magazine's history, told by its editors past and present.
Issue No. 3 (1977) to November 1979
"The editor of the very first issue was Dave Hetzler, who came from Motorcyclist. He evidently shot skeet too well at a Petersen Ranch outing and was immediately sent to the Guns & Ammo group. I came on as editor of the last two bi-monthly issues and stayed when it went monthly in early 1978.
"How did the magazine get its descriptive name? Lee Kelley, director of the Hot Rod Group, under which the off-road magazine was created, was filling out the proforma paperwork to do a one-shot and didn't have a name yet. He just described it as 'a Petersen 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine' with a title to be suggested later. The legal folks ran with the proforma and trademarked the name. It was awkward, but descriptive, and so we were off.
"The big news in the 4WD industry at the time was the conversion of full-time 4WD back to part-time 4WD in an effort to increase fuel economy.
"My most memorable experience was starting the 4-Wheel & Off-Road Jamboree at the fairgrounds in Indiana. We expected about 5,000 participants and fans and ended up with more than 20,000 people. We ran out of food and restrooms.
"I am most proud of the fact that we went from the new kid on the block to number one in the field in just something like two years. What makes me cringe? The time the entire staff was in Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 off-road race and most of them decided to come to the Mint Hotel cocktail party dressed as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and his 300-pound Samoan attorney to reenact Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. K.J. Howe was still P.R. director of the Mint and remembered his experience with Dr. Thompson. He was not amused. I, however, thought it was funny."
Anson became publisher of the magazine with the December 1979 issue, and later served as editor of Motor Trend. After many years on television as one of the "Car Dudes," he went into automotive P.R. and now works for Suzuki as P.R. manager.
December 1979 to June 1983
"The truck, van, and 4WD industry was entering a pretty crappy period in the late '70s. A second major fuel crisis put a crimp on big truck and van sales, and the first 4x4 mini-trucks were just becoming available. (People followed me home when I had an early Toyota 4x4 pickup). It was a terrible time to be in the auto industry, unless you had mud, sand, hills, and a beat-up Jeep to play with. We did.
"We built an incredible staff. We were young and optimistic, and the magazine was small enough that nobody in the corporate offices paid us much attention. As such, we were able to try a number of new things: the first 4x4 of the Year award, the 4WOR Jamboree, theme issues like 'Jeep Thrills' and '4xFords,' Homegrown How-Tos, coverage of events like Gravelrama in Cleves, Ohio, and swamp buggy races, 4xFreaks (car-based 4WD conversions, including a '51 Hudson), and lots of other things.
"Beyond the first 4x4 of the Year test, where we were snowed-in at a cheap Flagstaff motel and spent the night playing a tequila-induced game of Truth or Dare, my favorite story was the 1979 Baja 1000 ('In Rosarito, No One Can Hear You Scream'). I covered the race from the navigator's seat of Ken Rice's Class 4 Bronco. I was in the car for 22 of the 31 hours it took for our entry to win the class. I threw up for the first three hours and dry-heaved for the next 19.
"Changes since then? I don't think we ever could have predicted the rise of SUVs and crossovers, especially as everyday family cars. Hummers still surprise me, as do full-blown luxury SUVs and luxury trucks."
Like Anson, Caldwell moved from 4WOR to another Petersen title, Sports Car Graphic, and then out of the company and into automotive public relations. For the past 10 years he's had his own agency in Southern California, working with Nissan and Infiniti.
July 1983 to July 1985"The big news during my tenure-that I now have mixed feelings about but sure had fun exploiting-was monster trucks. Bigfoot started it at the SEMA Show in 1978, but as we cruised into the '80s it became big time. During my tenure the magazine doubled in circulation with a heavy skew toward newsstand sales, and I could tell the difference when a monster truck was on the cover. So we kept feeding the beast, all the while keeping up on projects and tech articles as well as features that kept the readers hooked.
"The most significant event of my tenure was personal: On the 30th annual Jeepers Jamboree I met the woman who a couple years later would become my wife, Gail Pomerantz. She was doing P.R. for American Motors/Jeep and I was taking on the Rubicon for the first time. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history, although the road was not quite as rocky as that famous trail.
"Now I have my own public relations company combining a couple things I worked on back in my 4WOR days. I also edited a bi-monthly environmental magazine during that time. My P.R. company, Mightycomm, specializes in communications related to environmental automotive technologies: clean diesels, hybrids, fuel cells, CNG vehicles, and advanced gasoline technologies."
Before there was a 4-Wheel & Off-Road, Petersen Publishing put out two editions of a similarly themed one-shot called The Complete Book of Four-Wheel Drive in 1974 and 1976. Its road tests, vehicle buildups, and hands-on tech laid the foundation for the magazine to come. In fact, several of the road tests that appeared in the first 4-Wheel & Off-Road were lifted, then underwent some rewriting, directly from the second edition of this magazine.
Petersen produces four "bi-monthly" issues of 4WOR; calls 1978 "The Year of the 4x4"; first look at all-new Ford Bronco in Issue No. 3; Mike Anson listed as Senior Editor in No. 3.
First monthly issue; Editor Anson's column about land use, fuel economy regulations, "separating cars and trucks in the overall mpg figure." Annual subscription price is $9.
Price as tested of new Bronco, $9,782, includes C6 trans, A/C, AM/FM, cruise, big fuel tank, 10R-15LT BFGs, Western alloy wheels; Toyota Land Cruiser tested in same issue lists for $6,548.
First coverage of Tierra del Sol event.
First appearance of Nuts & Bolts tech column.
Cover blurb re new-for-1980 trucks: "Part Time Is Back"; first coverage of Mickey Thompson indoor off-road race at Los Angeles Coliseum; test of $5,995 Canadian Suzuki mini 4x4, called "The fuel-efficient off-road vehicle of the 80s."
Cover blurb: "Hydrogen: Future fuel?"
Mike Anson moves to publisher; Craig Caldwell named as Editor
Caldwell's story on the Baja 1000 is called "In Rosarito, No One Can Hear You Scream": "I had gone 22.1 miles before getting sick, short of my goal by a mere 608.6 miles. But at least I had something new to think about-why car-sick racers should wear full-face helmets."
"Jeep Thrills" is one of several long-lasting cover themes launched during Caldwell's tenure.
BFGoodrich Radial Mud-Terrain T/A first tested: It "bites like a pit-bull in minimal traction situations."
First Jeep Scrambler tested: "The Jeep version of a mini pickup."
First Chevy S-10: "The S-10 is an in-between size, smaller than the fullsize and larger than the mini-truck." First Ford Ranger follows two issues later.
Magazine runs two "Sneak Peek" sketches of '83 Jeep XJ; one looks just like the Cherokee, the other not so much.
Coverage of 30th Jeepers Jamboree; first coverage of Camel Trophy; Caldwell announces upcoming first-ever Indianapolis 4WOR Jamboree.
"Datsun is dead; long live Nissan" said the test of 83 1/2 pickup. Editors also took the annual 4xFreaks story to new levels with an entire "4-Wheel & Off the Wall" mini mag within the mag.
Caldwell's last issue as editor; in his column he also notes the passing of off-road product pioneer Dick Cepek. Michael Coates assumes editorship in July.
August, September 1983
Magazine bids farewell to the CJ-5 (August): "Look at what the CJ-5 has become in 1983 (at age 28): a confusing mix of macho off-roader and Blazer-style creature comforts. At least they haven't tried to drop rectangular headlights in a CJ-yet." A month later it welcomes the downscaled Cherokee (September), calling the XJ "a tough act to follow in the highly competitive compact utility class."
Jeep Cherokee wins the second 4x4 of the Year competition against the Ford Bronco II, Mitsubishi Montero, Nissan King Cab, and Toyota Xtracab. "Jeep not only wrote the book on 4WD but rewrote it as well."
Isuzu "Enters the Sport/Utility Race" with the Trooper II.
First look at new Toyota 4Runner.
Staff names the "Best 4x4s of all Time": '73-'75 Ford F-250, '84 Jeep Cherokee, '82 Jeep CJ-7 Limited, '81-'84 Dodge Ramcharger, '80-'84 Ford F-150/Bronco, '69-'72 Blazer/Jimmy, '77 Bronco, '45-'49 Jeep CJ-2A, '83-'84 GM S-Blazer/Jimmy, '79-'83 Toyota pickup.
Isuzu Trooper II wins 4x4 of the Year, beating a 4.3-powered Chevy K10 stepside, 351-powered Ford Bronco, turbodiesel Jeep Cherokee, and Toyota 4Runner 22R. "The dark horse had taken the title by a nose."
Michael Coates' last issue as editor. A couple months will pass with Anson filling in as editor before John Stewart takes the helm in the October issue.