Thursday, April 29, 2010

GM and FORD and TOYOTA: Where is that rough, tough and reasonably priced 4x4?

I've owned Fords (1) and Chevys (3) and Toyotas (3) and Hondas (3) and Jeep (1) and other cars over the years, and driven many other types of vehicles over the past years. In the GREAT days of the rough and reasonably priced 4x4's from Ford and Chevy and Toyota and Jeep, we had such classics as the Ford Bronco, the Chevy Blazer, the Toyota FJ-40 and FJ-60 Landcruiser and the Jeep J series full size truck. I omit an entry from International Harvester because they are long defunct, but the Scout and other 4x4's from IH were yet another excellent example of a serious off road vehicle that was reasonably priced.

One reason they were reasonably priced, other than inflation in the intervening years, is because they were pretty basic. The entry level models had no power doors or windows, and you were lucky if you had carpet in some models. A/C was one of the few options that were basically standard in those cars sold in Houston and Texas, as the legendary Texas heat and humidity require air conditioning for any sane or non-indigent Texas driver.

All of these vehicles were rocking 4x4 vehicles that could handle serious off roading but were reasonably priced. There were no leather seats or sunroofs (although several models of Scouts, Broncos and Blazers had convertible or removable tops/roofs) or fancy stuff that could be had as an option. Most of my friends who had Broncos or Blazers in the 70's had automatic transmission, air conditioning, carpet and usually some sort of aftermarket stereo system, often consisting of Pioneer Supertuners and some kind of Jenson Co-Axial 6x9's.

The point is, no one had made one of these great and legendary cars for years. Toyota recently came close with the FJ Cruiser, which can be had in a semi-low end trim level. And maybe the days of hand crank roll down windows are forever gone, but the price of the FJ Cruiser is way higher than it needs to be.

Where is the current model of that early- to mid-seventies Bronco 4x4, with a hot rod V8 engine, carpet, a convertible top, air conditioning and not much else in the way of options? I realize that automotive innovations have been made in the last 40 years since the glory days of the readily available "basic" 4x4.

Why isn't Ford giving something back to the working and sporting men, women and children of America by making a modernized version of the pre-77 Broncos. Load it up with a low end Mustang V8 engine, a nice transmisson and some serious four wheel drive running gear. Put a full frame mounted six point roll cage in it, along with some six point seatbelts in the front. Put a quasi-reasonable price on it, and sell a TON of them to guys and gals like me.

I don't wanna spend $40k on a nice SUV that can do weekend duty in the wilds of Matagorda Island or the wild beach of PINS or in the hills and trails of Central Texas and the Hill Country. I wanna spend half that, or more realistically, a little more than half that.



Same message that I just gave Ford. Both of you are crowing in ads and the media about how you just love America and want to earn our trust and business.

So where is that vehicle that will please the masses? A basic SUV, a medium sized vehicle with a moderately powerful V8 engine and some serious drive train and axle equipment. Build it on a short bed full size truck. We're not talking fancy here, we're talking the more or less mid-70's Blazer K5 with auto transmission, air, carpet and a radio. A big rear bench seat. A wide vehicle. 350 engine. Two front bucket seats. Some gauges.

Have whatever you want to have as dealer add-on options, but give the normal working joe and josephine the chance to catch the wave of your good fortune.

The Subaru Outback and the Honda Element were great attempts that fell way short of being a great and reasonably priced off road vehicle. The Element is rough and tough, and has an interesting design, but the AWD falls short of 4WD in the kind of places I want to go.

Make a profit, just don't make a HUGE profit for the first two years. See how many hundreds of thousands of this type vehicle will sell during those years. Give something back to America and Americans who love the American way of having fun fishing and hunting and being in the outdoors.

Think more like a Volkswagon Thing instead of the current Landcruiser. Think more like a Land Rover Defender in size and general body and interior configuration.

Basic. Basic. Basic.

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