I could fill this list with military surplus vehicles…quite easily. Or, I could fill it with cool old dirt bikes and ATVs. However, I think these are the best 4X4’s to own before you die. They have that free range spirit, but they make your neck snap when they go by.
- 1966-1977 Ford Bronco: I could have easily made a list of 4X4’s just in the vintage short wheelbase category. Chevy Blazers are amazing. International Scouts are awesome. Toyota Land Cruisers are a must-have. I think that the Bronco gets the nod. It has front coil suspension, optional V8, and sturdy axles. Plus, it has a lot of aftermarket support, and it is truly a great off-roader.
- 1981-1998 Suzuki Samurai: If you are afraid to dent your early Ford Bronco, which would devastate the resale value of it, then you should get a Suzuki Samurai. Granted, some of us might not be able to fit behind the wheel of one, but if you can, you owe it to yourself to bash it. They are very inexpensive, incredibly easy to modify, and far more capable than you would think. Plus, they provide many smiles per gallon.
- Deuce and a Half: No, this isn’t one and a half 1932 Fords. Rather, it’s a 2 1/2 ton military transport truck. It’s overbuilt and completely underpowered. It can also handle whatever you throw at it. The M35 Deuce and a Half is so big that it won’t fit in your driveway in the city!
- 12-Valve Dodge Ram: While modern diesel pickup trucks have a lot of power, and are relatively quiet, they don’t have the simplistic clatter of old diesels. The engine that started the modern diesel revolution is the Cummins 6BT. You can more than triple the power output without having to take the valve cover off! While the transmissions don’t like the sudden jump in power output, the rest of the drivetrain is stout.
- Mercedes-Benz Unimog: The Mercedes-Benz Unimog is one of the most capable vehicles ever to head out on any trail. Why? Because it has portal axles, which move the centerline of the axlehousing higher, and have reduction boxes at both ends for even more ground clearance. Plus, they come with crawl ratios that make Toyota pickups cringe with jealousy. Another neat feature is the factory selectable locking differentials.
- Toyota Land Cruiser FZJ80: It seems that overland travel is the hot new thing nowadays. Even though it appears that it’s just accessories bolted to your vehicle and going camping, that’s not quite it. A good expedition vehicle is comfortable enough for you to drive all day, and capable enough to get over any obstacle that comes your way. The coil suspension, ladder frame and solid axles make the Land Cruiser FZJ80 my choice. Like just about every Toyota off-roader, this rig is seriously overbuilt.
- Ford F-150 SVT Raptor: Most of us who want a truck would probably like it to be brand new. There’s something to be said about a truck that you can finance at the dealer, is covered under warranty, and can still hit most trails. The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is probably the best vehicle for dirt-roading, and some light trail crawling. It’s a truly incredible truck. It’s got a powerful V8, Fox bypass shocks, and 35-inch BFGoodrich all-terrain tires. There’s a thriving aftermarket for these trucks. It’s also docile enough to drive around town. It’ll be tricky in parking lots, as it’s almost as wide as a dually, but you can still park in an average parking spot. Backup cameras do wonders.
- Chevy K1500: Any Stepside pickup from the 1970s is cool. Chevy takes the cake, and eats it too, thanks to the legendary small-block V8, beefy transmission options, and the ability to bolt in K3500 parts. Just do me a favor, and avoid modern paint jobs and big wheels.
- Any Rock Buggy: I still haven’t driven a legitimate rock buggy, but I really want to! Many of these rock buggies are well-engineered vehicles that are years in the making. They can go over any terrain with ease.
- Baja Bug: While these little VW Beetles aren’t 4WD, they have cheap thrills. They rival the Suzuki Samurai in the smiles-per-gallon department. Despite the obvious lack of power to the Ford Raptor, they can keep up with Ford’s best in the desert. Plus, they are a fraction of the price. If you want more power, you can easily bolt on a turbocharger, fuel injection, or simply do a stroke kit.
- Land Rover Defender 110: This is proof that the grass is always greener on the other side. Make it diesel with an air of luxury, and a storied history,and we only want it more. This is why I would choose the long-wheelbase Land Rover Defender gets my nod over the Toyota Land Cruiser as a desirable import. It’s got a lot of space in it, great fuel economy, and the legendary British electrical reliability. To address that problem, you can go onto Ebay and buy a new electrical harness that simply bolts in.
- Jeep CJ: If you can only get one of the vehicles on this list, get a flatfender Jeep! In fact, you should buy as many as you can. That way, you can build them in every way possible. They are truly the blank canvas of the 4WD world. You can fully restore one, make it a rockcrawler, a sand drag racer, an ice racer, a hot rod, a road racer, or a rat rod. There are never too many ways to build one. Just be careful when you build one, as there are as many ways to build one wrong as there are to build one right!
That sums up my list of dream off-roaders. I think I should start a Kickstarter to buy all of my dream cars! What do you think Zayzee?