Our editor Rick Pw told us to think about what trucks have stood out in our minds over the years. The ones that come to mind when we think "badass truck, numero uno, the stinkiest cheese, the ones we'd trade our little brothers for." He was giving us the duty of choosing what our magazine would call the best 4x4s ever built. Holy crap, responsibility! Who were we to pick what has been the best of the best to ever grace the pages of a rag? Tech Editor David Kennedy is just some techy guy who will probably run GM someday and knows more about OEM vehicle builds than the manufacturers do. He's much too wrapped up in constantly reading new information or any auto magazine that hits the newsstands to know what's cool or what's not. OK, maybe he's not such a bad choice.
But Fred Williams and I? No way. Fred grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, thinks that Cab-Forward Jeeps are cool, and milked cows 'til he moved and almost became a hippie in Oregon. He owns 10 trucks that barely or don't run, and he eats, sleeps, drives, and thinks 4x4s. Fred would be happy with an acre-big warehouse, no TV, Pabst Blue-Ribbon, and a bunch of half-dead 4x4s, as long as he had more running ones than Pw. How could he possibly represent our readership?
And Jerrod Jones? I still laugh to myself that they actually gave me a job here and haven't yet figured out that I should be certified. When I started here, my goal was to drive anything and everything faster and harder than anyone else, which should have been reason enough to can my ass, not to mention that I have enough energy to power a small house and an attention span equal to a hamster's. If it's not cool, incredible, revolutionary, or just plain sick, I'm not gonna remember it. OK, so maybe I can figure out what to pick, since I can only remember the coolest $#!t anyway.
And though tons of options filled our domes, Fred, Dave, and I had to give this one a lot of thought. To narrow our choices down to elect only four trucks each would be a challenge. I mean, have you been reading the same magazines that we have since before you could drive? Do you think you could possibly count how many awesome trucks you've seen over the years? Think about it: The ones that changed the industry, the revolutionary builds that amalgamated from earlier creations, the ones that did things you never thought possible, and the ones that you just plain wanted, no matter what the cost.
To pick only four each was almost torture, but it did give a us a great chance to go through archives of old issues and remember our roots and what brought us from stiff-as-a-board U-shaped leaf-spring suspensions with chrome shocks and hot-pink wire looms to the flat-black painted half-truck/half-buggy machines that'll do 100+ mph through the desert, 0-60 better than most cars, climb over a 5-foot ledge, and roll over four times and drive down to the mini-mart for sodas a half-hour later.
We've come a long way. Now let's remember some of the trucks that helped get us here.
The Quad CabOf all magazine project trucks that have been built over the years, none have been as badass as a truck that we don't even know the whereabouts of nowadays: Project 4xQuad, or "The Quad Cab" as it's also known, was the sickest last-minute scramble-and-construct job that former Feature Editor Craig Peronne ever put together.
I wanted this truck from the second I saw it-everything from the 500+hp 500ci engine to the Bilstein coilovers sitting under a killer Dodge-designed body and attached to some axles that to this day are still considered top of the line. The way that the four-links came up to the chassis, the custom tube work that Off Road Unlimited constructed, the flashy red paint, the ginormous (in 2000) 39-inch Boggers under a midsized truck body...I wanted it all. In fact, everything I've done to my red Dodge, Jinxy, has been based off a prior yearning to duplicate the Quad Cab's exact build.
In 2000, Cole Quinnell, at the time editor of 4-Wheel & Off-Road, gave me a taste of work at 4-Wheel & Off-Road. He told me to meet him at an address that I would later find out was Off Road Unlimited's doorstep. As I turned the corner I saw the Quad Cab sitting in ORU's lot, its ominous front end burning an image onto my retina ever since. I don't think I blinked for about two minutes. At the time I had no idea that Peronne had scrambled and worked day and night with Off-Road Unlimited, nor did I realize that this was to be only a show truck to be put on a circuit, not to be used like our current project vehicles that get lots of loving abuse dealt to them. All I could think about is how someday someone might be crazy enough to give me the keys to trucks like this, and the havoc I would wreak on the dirt.
Mini Mega MonsterOK, who doesn't want to drive a monster truck? Stupid question, right? All of us would trade a week's salary to get the chance to air one of those 1,000hp puppies out. And if we could own something like that...watch out!
Well, some do have the means, like Matt Heady whose '97 F-350 was featured in this magazine's March 2000 issue and in Off-Road (Sept. '01). And this truck basically was a monster truck with small tires on it. Combs Nitrogen bypass shocks suspended the truck with the help of front and rear four-links holding dual Dana 70s under a fiberglass body. Unique on this truck was the centered front differential, since its height allowed the owner to run a centered diff and equal-length inner axleshafts to handle the extreme power put out by a seriously built 514ci motor and through a C6 to a centered transfer case (to run equal-length driveshafts as well). Top-of-the-line Wilwood brakes at each corner helped slow inertia in those big (but small for a monster truck) 44-inch Boggers on bead-locked Weld Racing wheels.
If I could have anything I wanted as a daily driver for my commute on the 405 freeway, it would be this. But then there'd be a good chance of me getting locked up...and a television news scene like when that tank rolled through San Diego a few years ago. Maybe I'll just stick to cutting lanes on my motorcycle.
Dream TruckI questioned myself as to how I could pick a stock truck as one of the coolest rides of all time. Well, not exactly OEM stock, more like OEM concept. But the Power Wagon concept built for Chrysler by Metalcrafters was a work of art, more than worthy to follow the design of the '94-'01 Dodge Ram trucks that changed the entire industry with their revolutionary styling and heavy-duty capabilities.
Under the hood rested a 7.2L, almost 800 lb-ft of torque, designer fuel-burning Caterpillar diesel engine that put power to axles linked via front and rear coilovers and four-link suspensions. The interior was a beautiful mix of luxurious saddle leather with black and aluminum accents. It had a built-in winch, stock 35-inch tires, and looks that came straight out of a '40s comic book.
I know concept vehicles are done over the top, and what you might actually buy years later would be a tuned-down version of whatever was first seen, but why DaimlerChrysler decided against building its current Rams with this body style, I'll never know. Traces and hints of it can be found in the current cab design, and the winch is available on the new Power Wagon models, but where are the 13-inch-wide projected fenders, the stock 35-inch tires, the 800 lb-ft of diesel torque that got 20 mpg?
This is arguably one of the most impressive retro concept vehicles ever built and certainly one that I'd trade my entire fleet for, just in case anyone knows the guy that has this concept in his garage and he by chance is looking to trade a half-million dollar machine for a bunch of half-working 4x4s.
Dave Goodwin's '74 K5The first time I saw this truck in Four Wheeler, I was in possession of a '74 Blazer, and this thing made me almost giddy. My love for K5s had started early, as it was my first 4x4 and the one that I learned the basics on. It was my favorite 4x4 ever at the time, and is still one of my favorites to this day, only to be bested by the '94-'01 Dodge Rams. I really wanted to pick a prerunner as my last choice, since my roots are in the sand and I love high speed, but I guess there's not too many prerunners or trophy trucks that stand out in my head. If it's a badass desert truck, then I want it, but the best of the best are built very similar, since big desert play is a rich man's hobby and the big boy's trucks are built with the best of the best parts. So to say that one desert truck in particular, even one of the 4WD ones, stands out in my mind would be a lie.
Don't get me wrong, desert is still number one fun for me, but I think I'm gonna have to make my final choice be Dave Goodwin's '74 K5. By today's standards it's nothing ultra-special, but in 1996 when it debuted in Four Wheeler, it was before its time. Dave's K5 had full hydraulic steering, a 454ci engine, 1-ton axles, big Boggers, and fenders chopped to the hilt so he could keep it low with only around 7 inches of lift offered by a custom leaf-spring suspension. It was built with the same time-tested parts as other trucks of its day, but Dave gave it a little different style than everyone else did, and it worked better than other trucks built with the same parts. Would I still take Dave's truck today to follow even the best of what the present has to offer? Definitely.