80s excess packaged in a 4x4
The 1980s were a wild time. The Berlin Wall came down, personal wealth went up, and acid washed jeans were a thing. There was also another fad from that decade that makes us 4x4 guys really miss 80s excess, and that was the epic, SUVs of the day.
They might not have been safe, but they were wild, and some had removable tops to take in the summer air. Others had wood panelling, and most had amazingly ridiculous graphics on the side. Take a look at these unreal SUVs from the 80s as you start to realize just how lame your AWD, car-based crossover really is.
It would eventually be discontinued by Ford not long after the infamous O.J. Simpson freeway car chase, but there was a time when the Bronco was the ultimate expression of capability and luxury. The Eddie Bauer edition was like a camping trip in a box, and the top came off to boot.
Chevy K5 Blazer
Like the Bronco, the Blazer was an open-top SUV with full-size pickup roots, but the K-5 just seemed to have the heart of a workhorse. To this day, you see K-5s and their newer 2-door Tahoe brethren with blow harnesses on the front. Truly work and play in one vehicle.
If the most work you had to do was make the commute, the 4Runner was the way to go. The top came off, and with the second-row roll-bar, there was at least the perception of safety. Manual models had a long-stick shifter, and SR5 models even had an altimeter and tip-o-meter. The really cool feature was the rear window, which retracted into the tailgate…if you ever got it to work.
We featured this vehicle earlier in the week, but it warrants more time in the spotlight. The BRAT was the 1980s in vehicle form. Rearward facing jump seats, awesome side decals, and even a pop out step so you could tie your wind surfer to the roof. This thing should have come with its own overboard.
With the Blazer and Bronco here, it would seem rude to omit Dodge’s entry into the full-size, camping-with-the-boys vehicle market. It had been around since 1974, but in 1981, the removable top became fixed, and the options went upmarket to reflect buyers’ tastes. Like a true hunting vehicle, the front center console had a cooler. 1985 and newer models had a 4-wheel drive system that could shift in and out of 4x4 at speeds up to 55 mph!
Jeep Grand Wagoneer
Two words: Wood Panelling. Two more words: John Lithgow. Really though, for a generation of kids raised in the 1980s, this vehicle is synonymous with “Harry and the Hendersons.” Movie-correlation aside, it is a full-size SUV with wood on the side, and in many ways was something of a living fossil. It lived on spiritually unchanged since back in the 1960s. Any Jeep from the 80s could qualify on this list (including the Scrambler in the lead image), but we'll never see an SUV like the Grand Wagoneer again.
Saving the littlest 80s SUV for last. (The Samurai in this shot is technically a 1990 model, but it was too good not to share!) This tiny 4x4 has the dimensions of a smaller Jeep Wrangler, but with the squared off flair of an 80s-era Toyota Land Cruiser. It’s small footprint makes it a favorite among the off-road community. If you go to a big rock-crawling meet, you are sure to find Samurai–albeit heavily lifted and modified!