These Classic Off-Road SUVs Deserve a Resurrection
The Ford Bronco and Land Rover Defender have returned—but there are more to resurrect.
The Land Rover Defender and the Ford Bronco having been reanimated for release into the American automotive population (plus the ongoing popularity of the Jeep Wrangler) serves as proof that public interest in capable 4x4s hasn't been dampened by the swarm of pavement-oriented crossovers that currently dominate automotive sales charts. To mark this off-road reawakening, we decided to put together our own list of 4x4 nameplates that deserve a similar resurrection in the States. These venerable classics have been left out in the cold for far too long, and are primed for a comeback of their own on both street and trail. Which would you bring back first?
It could be argued that the Isuzu Trooper has already had its nine lives, given that over its first two generations it was rebadged as an Acura (SLX), Subaru (Bighorn), Chevrolet (uh, Trooper), Opel (Monterey), Honda (Horizon), Holden (Jackaroo/Monterey), and of course SsangYong (Korando Family).
But what's one more go 'round between friends? Especially given that the '80s/'90s Trooper was one of the most solid SUVs of its era, delivering low-range four-wheel drive, a choice between four- and six-cylinder power, and both two-door and four-door body styles. It was Japan's affordable Swiss Army knife sport-utility, which explains in part why it was such a popular choice for automakers seeking a pinch hitter for their own showrooms.
Isuzu's out of the American passenger vehicle market today, but given the Trooper's penchant for cross-pollination there's no reason it couldn't reemerge under any number of brands today. In fact, combined with rustic upright styling, it would be a perfect foil for import badges seeking a competitor to the Bronco.
The Ramcharger name was found on a number of different models in Dodge's history, but the most compelling and longest-lived was the SUV offered between 1974 and 1993 (limited production carried on in Mexico for a few more years). The Ramcharger—and its Plymouth twin, the Trailduster—was a direct answer to the success of the Chevrolet Blazer, meaning it, too, was based on the brand's full-size pickup chassis and offered a removable fiberglass shell over the rear riders. The two-door truck was found exclusively with V-8 power, and while it lost its convertible cred in the '80s, the Ramcharger is sought after today due to its lower production numbers compared to the Chevy and its later full-size Bronco contemporaries.
Dodge currently lacks a four-seat SUV (with the Durango featuring three rows of accommodations), and it certainly doesn't have anything like a sporty two-door 4x4 in its lineup. Launching a more street-friendly version of the Ramcharger based on the Wrangler platform would attract more than a little attention from the crowd.
International Harvester Scout
The Scout and the Scout II were prototypical SUVs from Fort Wayne, Indiana, that helped set the tone for much of what was to come later from Detroit. Early models provided a strong focus on balancing utility with price, but by the end of the '60s the Scout had evolved into a reasonably powerful, V-8-powered trail rig with a fold-flat windshield and a removable top of its own.
The Scout II would debut for a 10-year run in 1970 and add a modest amount of refinement to the original concept, improving engine choices while maintaining the truck's classic styling. It was even available in a 'Soft Safari' model that featured a full fabric top with fiberglass half-doors in a bid to compete against the open-air Jeeps and Broncos of the time.
Although the Scout offered a driving experience that could occasionally be defined as agricultural, its off-road acumen was never questioned, nor was its strong durability. With aftermarket outfitters like Icon increasingly making an impact on the SUV scene, the Scout would seem to present an alluring opportunity to do something different in the six-figure restomod space.
The Jeep Wagoneer and its various offshoots such as the Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer played a huge role in introducing America to the idea of a family vehicle that could also tackle whatever obstacles Mother Nature might throw in its way. Designed in the early '60s but in production all the way to the beginning of the '90s, the Wagoneer—especially the later Grand Wagoneer model—broke new ground in terms of proving markets truly did exist for luxury SUVs.
If you've been craving Grand Wagoneer 2.0 you're in luck, because Jeep is developing a modern version of this hauler for the 2022 model year. Intended to serve as a three-row rig capable of legitimate off-roading, it seems certain that the upcoming Wagoneer will carry forward the past version's impressive capability and comfort, if not the wood paneling available off and throughout its history.
Nowadays 4x4s have to be big, brutish, and buff to attract attention, but there was once a time when the pint-sized Suzuki Samurai was doing big business in a small package. Although still available today in other markets as the Jimny, the Samurai's American glory days were from the 1986 to 1995, when it would enjoy status some years as the bestselling convertible in the country.
Ignoring the Suzuki's propensity to roll over when driven without care (thanks to its ultrashort wheelbase), there was a lot to like about the Samurai. With a small footprint it could access trails verboten to larger trucks, and its affordable price made it popular with DIY outfitters seeking to customize on a budget.
There's absolutely no doubt that the Jimny would be a runaway success were it offered once again in the United States. After nuking its U.S. sales nearly a decade ago, however, Suzuki would have to get creative in partnering up with an existing brand.
The Isuzu Rodeo is another well-traveled 4x4 platform that did service for Acura, Chevrolet, Honda, and Opel from 1989 to 2005. The Rodeo was the name given to the four-door model (MU Wizard in Japan), with the two-door (just plain MU) also offered in America under the Amigo and later Rodeo Sport nameplates.
Like the Trooper, the Rodeo was a body-on-frame, traditional 4x4 motivated by a similar mix of frugal four-cylinder motors and torquey V-6s. Unlike the Trooper, the soft-top model was fairly popular and enjoyed a longer run in dealerships as a result. It was among the last Japanese SUVs to offer once-ubiquitous legitimate off-road capability before most such vehicles were replaced by cute utes and crossovers.
"Rodeo" is just too good of a name not to use on a modern 4x4, but like the Trooper, there would have to be some corporate synergy to resurrect the moniker. We'd point to Toyota as a likely candidate, given its propensity for partnering up with third-party constructors, but it's unlikely it would challenge the popularity of the 4Runner with an in-house rival.
In any eerie presaging of what the passenger vehicle market would eventually look like, the AMC Eagle—whether in coupe, sedan, or wagon body styles—provided early-'80s freethinkers with the 4x4 not-quite-a-truck-or-SUV conveyance they had long been looking for. Absolutely everything about the Eagle, save perhaps its wood veneer body panels, was ahead of its time. Not only could it dispatch moderate off-road trails with ease, it was the first four-wheel-drive car to be sold in the United States, beating Audi and Subaru to the punch in a package they would each come to imitate.
With the age of crossovers upon us, it's so very clear that the Eagle's moment to shine has finally arrived. Is the world ready for a Chrysler Eagle Hybrid Utility Wagon? Only FCA's brand strategists know for sure.