THE 10 WORST 4X4s OF ALL TIME
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Ian Glover has been around the 4X4 industry longer than some of the people reading this have been alive. On that merit, we decided to let him loose and get his opinion on the
worst four-wheel drives of all time – even if we disagree with him on some of them.
The word that springs to mind when driving a Blazer was “nervous”. With a width over two metres, it took up an entire lane from white line to white line – piloting one in traffic was like ferrying a barge through a series of locks in flood. It didn’t get any better in the rough. This was not a vehicle you’d take along tight bush tracks unless you didn’t like the colour and knew a spray painter who’d give you mate’s rates. Foot-operated park brake, steering wheel that looked like it had been lifted from a ’57 Cusso, bench seat so long you needed a telephone to talk to the passenger – sheer Americana in the worst sense of the word. But the real reason I didn’t like the Blazer was that it was so damn big it made me look like a 13 year old who’d stolen it.
‘Mild and Wild’ was the advertising slogan for Feroza when it appeared. If you say it in Jinglish, it’s ‘Mired and Wired’, or should that be ‘Mired and Weird’? This was either a 4X4 with pretensions to being a car or vice-versa. As was the rage then, it had three-stage shock absorbers – Soft, Medium and Hard (they didn’t even have the nous to call the last setting ‘Sport’). It’s academic anyway, because changing the settings made absolutely no difference to ride quality at all – obviously it was just something to play with in Tokyo gridlocks (mobile phones weren’t invented then.) The Japanese rarely made mistakes in the old days, but this was one of them.
Another one of those American monsters that was so big you could rent space in it for a couple of families to set up house and still have enough room to sleep in it yourself. “Yee-hah Billy Lee, gimme m’goddamn Smith & Wesson – I feel like shootin’ sump’n.” While the Bronco may have been fine barrelling along the interstate blasting groundhogs into vaporised fur, it didn’t cut the mustard on steep firetrails. No air rushing past the brakes to cool them, see. They heated up and pulled the damn wheel cylinder halfway into the axle housing. Had to urinate on the wheel all the time to cool things down while I was getting it out to an abandon-for-tow point. “Hello, Ford? I need to give you some map coordinates. You’ll need a 4X4 flatbed…”
“It’s just like a mini Range Rover,” said the Holden PR. I needed about five minutes in the first generation Jackaroo to realise that about the only thing they had in common was ‘a’, ‘r’ and ‘o’ in the names. All this plastic! Where was the burred walnut? Unforgiving suspension, lack of power and torque… Later iteration Jackaroos improved greatly, being the best bar none to punt along loose dirt roads, steering on the throttle, wonderfully controllable, like a rally car, but the original was about as much fun as a Celine Dion concert, and bore about as much resemblance to the then on-road/off-road king as, well, a Holden Jackaroo.
I first drove a CR-V in New Zealand’s South Island, the only place in the world that never emerged from the last great Ice Age. Gawd, it was cold, and the mountain roads treacherously slippery with snow and ice, as you’d expect when the temperature soared to three degrees in the middle of the day. The Honda worked magnificently, keeping us on course at all times. Good heating system too, so that I could sit in the cabin, warm and dry while the photographer stumbled and slithered about outside, flirting with death by hypothermia. This was an impressive vehicle – hardly a proper 4X4, but for the SUV market, practically perfect.
On return to Sydney, I took one to the beach. No way I could make any progress; the front wheels bogging down before the 4X4 system could sense that it was needed. What? No beetling off to favourite surfing spots, no picking oysters off the rocks, no beach camping? I felt as you do when a love affair goes sour and it’s not your fault. A plague on your house, CR-V!
The current Cherokee is a magnificent package, but back in the early ‘80s, it was a different story. The steering was horribly light and overly reactive to inputs, the fuses kept blowing, necessitating silver paper substitutes from the ciggie packet of whoever happened to be a smoker at the time, and on dirt roads, the Cherokee obviously preferred to reverse, because at the first hint of slip, the back would snap out so you were facing 90° to the intended direction of travel, staring pop-eyed into the oncoming shrubbery. They also leaked fluids from the engine, transmission and transfer case… and you thought that was purely a Land Rover problem!
Jeep CJ8 (Overlander)
Once upon a time there was a bloke who really loved his 60 Series Cruiser, but was given a Jeep CJ8 (known here as the Overlander) as a company car. ‘No point in having two great big 4X4s cluttering up the driveway’, he thought, and reluctantly – no, tearfully – sold the Cruiser. Mistake. Where his 60 could get up to the family farm near Gulgong and back to Sydney on one tank of diesel, the CJ8 required one fill going up, and another on the return trip. Obviously those long remote area trips were now out of the question. A series of niggling mechanical problems ensued – nothing major, but enough to put the thought in his mind that any mildly adventurous four-wheel driving might entail taking a mobile workshop along. It was when the chassis decided to pursue some genetic memory of being a banana that it was time to part ways. Definitely one of the worst.
This was a truly awful vehicle. Even new, rattles galore and more squeaks than a mouse plague, a high-revving, screaming engine, skinny little tyres, little four-wheel drive ability… I have a theory that having lost the Cold War, the USSR decided to unleash the Niva onto the world. “We’ll fix those capitalist bastards – export as many as you can.” The most useful aspect of Niva ownership was shown to me in one of the Wynns Safaris I participated in, when the Russian team mechanics simply pushed the Ladas onto their sides to work on underbody components – something they did every night, from memory. Of course, Ladas had their fanatic devotees who would speak/hear no evil of their purchases, no doubt frantically trying to justify the biggest purchasing mistakes of their lives. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The basis of optimism is sheer terror”.
No, no, not the current one; three locking diffs, great engine, scratch resistant paint – a complete weapon on-road and off. It’s the 460 I’m talking about. No one doubted its credentials in the rough – it’d scale the outside wall of Australia Square if asked nicely – brilliant torque! On the road, however, was a different story. It was so damn slow, with gearing and an engine designed for military use rather than civilian. And the interior was rather spartan, the cabin ergonomics not good, so long trips – like down to the shops – weren’t exactly a pleasurable experience. If you lived on the side of Mount Terrible and grew your own vegies, bred your own meat and dairy and brewed your own beer, but needed a 4X4 to go up the hill to check on your tobacco crop, this was the vehicle for you.
What? A ’Cruiser in the black book? ‘Fraid so. The Bundera, which quickly became known as the ‘Blundera’ was a disgrace to the ‘Cruiser name. The problem was an incredibly harsh suspension that would cause it to leap sideways at even the sight of a bump. It could change lanes before you’d even thought about it – usually when you didn’t want to. The Bundera didn’t last long in Australia. I heard rumours that when all the stocktake sales, executive car clear-outs and massive discounting still saw paddocks of stock waiting to be sold, holidays to destinations like Hong Kong and Singapore were being thrown into the deal as sweeteners. Toyota made very few mistakes in those days, but this was a monumental (and expensive) one.
‘Where’s the Mahindra?’ I hear you ask. The Mahindra wasn’t a bad thing … as a farm implement. It was cheap to run and most importantly, had something other manufacturers had long decided was redundant – a PTO (power take-off), meaning you could run a sprayer, broadcaster, plough, harrow – any of those things that farmers use to keep their paddocks in shape. Also of appeal to farmers was that the vehicle was dirt cheap. The advice sought and given by the local marketing ‘expert’ (yours truly) – to sell into the rural market – was ignored by the importers, who thought they could take on the likes of Toyota and Nissan head-on in the recreational 4X4 sector with an underpowered vehicle where the doors often flew open, had frequent minor mechanical problems that could be fixed by a farmer with a pair of pliers and some fencing wire (but not by mum taking the kids to school), complete lack of creature comforts; it was a self-delusive dream.
Words by Ian Glover