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Overlooked Off-Roaders: 10 Classic 4x4s That Deserve More Attention

These models deserve a greater share of the spotlight—and collector market.

While it might seem like every old truck and SUV is white-hot in terms of collectibility, not every classic 4x4 has been getting the same level of attention. The sheer number of sport-utilities and pickups out there means that more than a few rough-and-ready rides are going to be ignored. Whether it's because they've been lost to the mists of time, misunderstood in their respective eras, or simply never gathered the kind of pop culture cred to live on in the collective unconscious, these overlooked off-roaders deserve better. Check out our picks for classic 4x4s that should snag a bigger share of the spotlight:

Volkswagen T3 Syncro

The Volkswagen T3, which is also confusingly called the Type 2, enjoyed just over a full decade of production from 1979 to the early 1990s. During that period, it was offered in both van (Vanagon and Westfalia to Americans, Transporter almost everywhere else) and pickup forms, with the option of Syncro four-wheel drive being offered in the mid-'80s.

Unlike other editions of Volkswagen's Syncro system, the T3 was gifted with low-range gearing right from the start that gave examples so equipped respectable capability when dealing with the rough stuff. This was particularly true when paired with an aftermarket lift. Syncro-equipped Vanagons were rare on the ground in North America during the van's heyday, but gray-market imports have largely filled the gaps in the intervening years. The Westfalia camper configuration has also proved itself a popular choice for the #vanlife crowd looking to get off the beaten path and not get stuck in the process.

Isuzu VehiCROSS

When you're a small Japanese company looking to make a big splash in the U.S.,it makes sense to go for broke with styling that can't be ignored. The Isuzu VehiCROSS is perhaps the most unique modern classic 4x4 available, and not just because of its extroverted, front-fanged looks.

Based on the popular Trooper chassis, and featuring the same dependable 3.5-liter V-6, the VehiCROSS made use of a unique ceramic stamping dies for its two-door bodies, allow for the inexpensive production of its all-new look (but dooming it to just 5,000 examples before the tooling wore out). It also delivered a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system that offered useful, computer-controlled torque management that was uncommon during its 1999-2001 run. Despite being a largely ignored orphan today, it's easy to see see the rarity and unique design of the VehiCROSS turning it into a respected classic if only more folks would pay attention.

Mitsubishi Montero

You don't have to go 'full weird' if you're looking for a JDM classic 4x4 to call your own. The first two generations of the Mitsubishi Montero (née Pajero in its home country) provide the same straight up-and-down lines that would be so popular on the better-known Trooper that formed the basis for the VehiCROSS. Around the world it was available with a long list of diesel, V-6, and four-cylinder engines, but most Americans enjoyed six-cylinder editions during the nearly 20 years it was for sale stateside.

It's also worth noting that the Montero/Pajero absolutely dominated the international rally scene, winning Dakar five times in a row, with 12 wins total. The truck was born to take abuse, and aside from the tin worm that can spell doom for SUVs from the '80s, both early and later editions of the Montero are reliable enough—and fun enough—to be worth owning.

Ford Bronco

No, we're not talking about the original version of the Blue Oval's off-roader that has received major auction action for at least the last five years. We're referring more specifically to the generation that replaced that model: the 1978-79 'big' Bronco. This is the truck that introduced Bronco fans to the wacky rainbow sticker packages, giant suspension lifts, and big-block V-8 engines that were so popular on 1970s SUVs, giving Ford a late entry to the full-size market that had already been established by Jeep and General Motors. It's tempting to include the 1980-1996 Bronco on this list, too, but the limited two-year run of the first big Broncos should make them the true target for 4x4 collectors.

GMC Yukon GT

General Motors was initially reluctant to move away from the two-door, full-size SUV segment that had been so profitable for it over the years in the form of the Chevrolet Blazer and the GMC Jimmy. The popularity of the Ford Explorer's sub-Suburban four-door packaging, however, would sound a death knell for this class of vehicle, with the 1990s GMC Yukon serving as its last hurrah.

Based on the same platform that would underpin the phenomenally successful four-door Tahoe/Yukon twins, the Yukon GT was a twist on that twist, available with blacked-out trim and flashy red graphics. It could even be spec'd with a manual transmission and/or a turbodiesel V-8, depending on how well you knew your local dealer. Available during the 1993-97 model years, the sporty looks of the Yukon GT stood out against the stodgier and shorter-lived two-door Blazer, making it an appealing forgotten '90s 4x4.

Geo Tracker

Speaking of the 1990s, does it get anymore dayglo than the decal-heavy, often teal and pink color schemes available on GM's smallest SUV from that period? Available from 1989 to 1998, the Geo Tracker rebadged the Suzuki Sidekick, thus ensuring it complete and total invisibility from all but the most savvy of 4x4 enthusiasts.

Although a four-door model was available, it's the convertible fun of the surprisingly capable two-door model that resonates through the years. Outfitted with a remarkably competent four-wheel-drive system, a reasonable 80-hp four-cylinder (more than enough to deal with its ultralight platform), and a throwaway purchase price, the Tracker has been the budget-friendly point of entry into off-road antics for a generation of Craigslist browsers.

Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon

The third-generation Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon enjoyed only a brief window of American action in the 1980s (where it was known simply as the Wagon), but if you want a four-wheel-drive version of this cab-over hauler you'll have to snag a right-hand-drive model direct from Japan.

It's worth the effort, as the turbodiesel-powered 4x4 vans have developed a reputation for reliable all-terrain transport with enough room in the back for you and a companion to sleep out under the stars should you wish to extend your stay in the wilderness. Better yet? Much of the Delica's underpinnings are borrowed from its rugged sibling, the Pajero.

Daihatsu Rocky

Daihatsu (a subsidiary of Toyota) has almost no name recognition outside of Japan, due in large part to having only a short, four-year flirtation with the American market. Part of that presence was the Rocky, a Tracker-sized SUV that brought body-on-frame 4x4 fun to the tiny sliver of the population who knew it existed.

Although Daihatsu might have left the United States in 1991, the Rocky was offered for nearly another 10 years around the globe, which means parts aren't that hard to come by. Why choose the Rocky? Because you will legitimately be the only one on your block (or your county, or most likely, your state) to own one. That kind of exclusivity is itself rare at the budget end of the market.

Plymouth Trail Duster

If the Dodge Ramcharger played third fiddle to Detroit's Chevy Blazer/Ford Bronco hegemony its entire life, then the Plymouth Trailduster was off somewhere in the back row of the orchestra tapping on the tubular bells. A Ramcharger in all but name, the Trailduster was a barely rebadged version of Dodge's two-door SUV sold from 1974 to 1981.

A Plymouth truck of any description is clearly the contrarian's choice, but this 4x4 succeeds on its own merits thanks to its full-size pickup platform and available 440-cubic-inch big-block V-8. It also doesn't hurt that up until 1980, that fiberglass top over the rear passenger compartment could be easily lifted off, adding the exciting dimension of potential sunburn to your off-road adventures.

Dodge Power Wagon

The Dodge Power Wagon imported the brand's WWII truck platform and introduced civilians to the joys of four-wheel drive long before any other pickup manufacturer thought to make it standard equipment. For that reason alone, the Power Wagon is significant, but throw in its larger-than-life old-school looks and its sturdy, go-anywhere construction, and you're looking at a rare classic that doesn't need any modern assistance to hold its own on an off-road trail. Although restomod builders have started to turn to the Power Wagon as a canvas for outrageous luxury builds, there's an entire generation of enthusiasts that has yet to discover Dodge's groundbreaking 4x4.