Out With the Old, in With the New!
When you see someone broken down on the side of the road, are they usually driving a new vehicle? No, they are driving some clapped-out old deathtrap. In the rare instance they are driving a newer rig, typically they have the option to just take their 4WD to the nearest dealer and have it fixed under warranty. Try doing that with your ’79 Ford F-150.
Reliability isn’t the only reason to spend your money on a newer 4x4. There are plenty of other compelling factors.
Modern multiport fuel injection or even direct injection on engines like Ford’s EcoBoost offer benefits that a Holley Double Pumper could never dream of—better fuel mileage, more power, and improved drivability just to name a few. And while Fred is changing the jets in his carb when we go wheeling at high elevations in Colorado or sputtering through off-camber trails, EFI never skips a beat. Fouled plugs and setting points are great if you like to tinker with your vehicle in the middle of the trail, but I would rather be looking over the hood than under it.
Beyond the engine, modern vehicles have galvanized body panels and quiet, comfortable interiors so you can use your wheeling rig for your daily driver without arriving at work feeling like you just got punched in the kidneys by Mike Tyson or having to register, insure, and maintain multiple vehicles. Sure, you don’t need satellite radio, 12 cup holders, and well-padded and ergonomic seats, but they certainly don’t hurt anything.
You never hear of someone swapping drum brakes and an F-head engine into their wheeler. Chevy LS engines and disc brakes are just two examples of modern parts that nearly everyone covets for their 4WD. Who wants to mess with heavy, poor-performing drum brakes that clog up with mud and wheel cylinders that leak when you look at them funny? You can spend an arm and a leg on an “unmolested” early Bronco or FJ40 Land Cruiser and you will be so worn out you will need to take a nap after a drive across town thanks to the drum brakes, sloppy steering, and low horsepower. And that is assuming you actually make it to your destination!
Modern manufacturing practices have opened the way for hydro-formed frames that are stronger and stiffer than previous designs without adding any weight, fluid-filled body mounts to isolate noise, and compacted graphite iron engine blocks that are lighter and stronger than iron.
Crazy Uncle Freddy might try to convince you that older vehicles are more capable, but not everything manufactured these days is a crossover weenie-mobile. Have you driven a JK Rubicon, a Ram Power Wagon, or a Ford Raptor? They didn’t build anything in the ’70s or ’80s that can even come close to the capabilities of these modern vehicles. And the modern TJ and JK Wranglers have more aftermarket support than any other 4WD ever made, so the trail prowess from the factory is just the tip of the iceberg. —Harry Wagner
Beginning this month we’ll be running a recurring story called Bench Wheeling, where we pick a topic and debate the pros and cons like a couple old guys arguing in the local garage, diner, or front porch. Topics will run the full spectrum, and we chose new-versus-old 4x4s to start with.
Harry Wagner is a freelance writer who makes his living detecting unexploded ordnance in defunct bombing ranges. He has been into four-wheeling since crossing the Rubicon and other Sierra Nevada trails as a small boy in his father’s big-block–powered FJ40 Land Cruiser. Harry currently drives a Toyota rock-truck, a daily driver late-model 4Runner, and a big-block Chevy tow rig.
Fred Williams is the tech editor here. He eats, sleeps, and breathes 4x4s. In fact, he once lived in his truck for an extended period, before moving into a shop with his trucks, before moving out to the country with even more of his piles—er, trucks.