Vintage 4x4s That Are Cooler Than Modern SUVs
Practically everyone these days owns a crossover or an SUV-that doesn't necessarily make them uncool, just very common. Want to stand out from the crowd? Go for a classic 4x4 from a time when most Americans were driving cars, not trucks and SUVs. These vintage off-roaders hail from eras when something tall and wagon shaped was expected to have actual four-wheel-drive capability, not merely an adventurous image.
There's rich variety available, too. We gathered this list of some old-style 4WD vehicles that are tough enough to get dirty and also offer the just-right spike of nostalgia that makes every mundane trip to the corner grocery store fun in a way modern SUVs just can't match.
1992–2006 AM General Hummer H1
The original Hummer was completely impractical on the street. Ridiculously wide and painfully slow, it handled about as well as a medium-duty dump truck. But for off-road excursions, the H1 had the hardware to perform. AM General engineered it for the military, so the Hummer’s drivetrain and four-wheel independent suspension provided an incredible 16 inches of ground clearance. And unlike other production four-wheel-drive vehicles, the Hummer could raise or lower air pressure in the tires right from the cab, which allowed this massive four-ton monster to float across deep sand and snow.
Military versions all used an underpowered 6.2-liter V-8, as did early civilian H1s. In 1996, H1s received stronger engines-either a 5.7-liter V-8, a normally aspirated 6.5-liter diesel, or a 6.5-liter turbo-diesel with 195 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque.
The H1 was available as a four-door convertible, hardtop wagon, cool Slantback wagon or a very rare pickup called the Recruit. But the best models were the 2006 Alphas. These used the much more potent 6.6-liter Duramax diesel with 520 lb-ft of torque backed by a five-speed Allison automatic transmission. This was basically the same powertrain you’d find in a heavy-duty pickup truck. AM General gave the Alpha larger brakes, a larger fuel tank for increased range, and outfitted the interior with much better materials. The downside of the Alpha was that it cost around $150,0000.
The Hummer H1 was one of the few vehicles here that can be astonishingly capable off-road just as the factory built it. And yet aftermarket retailers like Hummer Parts Club offer a wide range of racks, guards and gear to make them even more useful. Civilian Hummer H1s were rare and expensive vehicles when new. In the last few years of the vehicle’s life, they sold for exotic-car money. And this, along with the H1’s wild personality has made them collectible. The Alphas are of course the most desirable and valuable. But it’s hard to find any civilian models under $50,000.
1969–1991 Chevrolet Blazer
The original Chevy Blazer looks so chiseled and brawny that it seems completely natural parked next to a 1960s muscle car. But unlike the original Blazer's contemporary arch-rival, the Ford Bronco, the Chevy is based on a full-size pickup truck. Those dimensions were big back in the early 1960s, but today the early Blazers almost feel mid-size. The trucky roots means there are no weak spots in the drivetrain. The best ones use a big 350 cubic-inch V-8 bolted to either a three-speed automatic or a four-speed manual with an incredibly low 6.55:1 first gear. And many use the nearly bulletproof cast-iron NP 205-a 4WD transfer case so strong it was used in crew-cab one-ton pickups with big-block V-8s until the 1990s.
First-generation Blazers had fully removable fiberglass roofs, making them fun recreational vehicles in warm climates. And because they were basically short pickups, there’s room to pack lots of gear for an extended getaway.
In 1973, GM moved the Blazer to the new square-body design-a look it kept for another 18 years. The wheelbase grew slightly, and engineers carved out a roomier, more modern interior, but the trucks still used a full convertible roof until it was shortened to cover just the rear passengers and the cargo hold in 1976. One of our favorite models is the exceedingly rare 1976–1977 Chalet model. It's a factory camper that slept up to four in pure 1970s style. Through the second- generation's lifespan GM shoved everything under the hood from an inline-six to an optional 400-cubic-inch V-8, even a 6.2-liter diesel V-8-an engine used in M1009 military Blazers.
1973–1991 Chevrolet Suburban
Strongest of the breed are the three-quarter-ton 20-series trucks (later known as 2500 series), using beefier transmissions, axles and a stiffer suspension to handle heavy trailers. Two-wheel-drive Suburbans were sold in large numbers for their towing capability. The venerable big-block 454-cubic-inch engine was only available in 2500-series Suburbans with rear-wheel-drive; these beasts could tow 10,000 pounds. Suburbans gained refinement in the late 1980s with the addition of four-speed overdrive automatics and electronic fuel injection arriving in 1987 and ABS landing on 1988 trucks.
Owning a vintage Suburban brings so much versatility, it’s surprising that these trucks aren't more valuable. The earlier ones look particularly cool today with their dog-dish hubcaps and optional woodgrain side paneling. But most Suburbans (of every year) were used like beasts of burden, and few survive in nice condition. Later ones from the 1980s are more plentiful and retain most of the old-school style of the early ones. And every Suburban benefits from sharing a platform with the C/K pickups and the Blazer because parts are everywhere. Hagerty says a mid-1970s Suburban K20 has an average value of just under $10,000, with fully restored models bringing just under $30,000. The average value for a late 1980s Suburban 2500 with 4WD is $8300, with top trucks bringing just over $20,000.
1963–1991 Jeep Wagoneer
Legendary industrial designer Brooks Stevens penned the Jeep Wagoneer in the early 1960s; it became so popular that the truck remained in production virtually unchanged for nearly 30 years. It wasn't the first SUV, but the Wagoneer was more carlike, comfortable and plush than the competition. Most Wagoneers have four doors, although some two-door and even two-door panel models were built in the early years. During 1965–1969, the rare Super Wagoneer was the most luxurious vehicle Jeep produced. Passengers were treated to a leather interior, eight-track stereo, and a powerful 327-cubic-inch V-8 paired to a console-shifted automatic.
The Wagoneer’s chassis used traditional live axles and leaf springs, but it sat lower than any other 4WD vehicle and rode more smoothly, too. Jeep even developed a short-lived (and very rare) independent front suspension (combined with 4WD) as an option decades ahead of anyone else. Early trucks had an overhead cam inline six-cylinder, but V-8s were most popular. Since the Jeep brand was owned by a variety of automakers (Willys/Kaiser, then AMC, then Chrysler), it got V-8s from Buick, AMC and Chrysler. In 1974, Jeep introduced its smart Quadra-Trac all-wheel-drive system that allowed the driver to avoid shifting in and out of 4WD when driving on varied surfaces. Wagoneer’s popularity peaked in 1978 when it sold for around $20,000-Cadillac money back then.
In the 1980s, the Wagoneer became even more luxurious with woodgrain-everywhere. In terms of prestige, these Grand Wagoneers were rivaled only by the Range Rover Classic of the time.
Older Wagoneers have become hard to find, probably because so many saw hard use as family haulers or by four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. Since they were in production so long, though, the supply of replacement and aftermarket upgrade parts runs deep. One draw of the original Wagoneer was its low-slung chassis, but serious off-road adventurers created a market for suspension lifts to allow the fitment of bigger tires.