Starter Rigs: Editors Sound Off About Their First Trucks
Motor Trend Group’s “Truck Guys” sound off about the first trucks they ever owned.
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There's no doubt about it, owning your first truck—we'll position it as ownership, because not everyone buys the first rig that he or she calls "all mine"—is special. And for most of us, our first rigs figuratively stay with us forever, long after they've left the driveway. As sentiments go, those first rigs have a permanent spot in our hearts and bring big smiles to our faces whenever we think about them.
Editors and writers of the Four Wheeler and Truck Trend networks are collectively referred to as the MotorTrend Group's resident "truck guys." Given the many years of experience that each staff member has with Jeeps, pickup trucks and SUVs, we thought it would be fun to share details about our first trucks.
For the most part, our group cut their truck-guy teeth on four-wheel-drive rigs, while doing wild things off road. Diesel Power editor KJ Jones is the outsider, as his first rig was on-road only, and it was a lot more non-traditional than the first "truck" that most enthusiasts have.
Sean P. Holman's First Truck: 1994 Ford Ranger Splash
My first truck and first 4x4 was this 1994 Ford Ranger Splash SuperCab with the 4.0L OHV V-6 and A4LD four-speed automatic transmission with push button four-wheel drive. It even had the cool sport bucket seats. I bought it off a Ford dealership's used car lot with low miles, and it was well taken care of. Over time, I added a small lift, larger tires, CB radio, and tonneau cover, and I wheeled it all over the Southern California desert in search of mines and ghost towns. I will always have a soft spot for TTB Rangers because of this truck. It proved itself to be capable and reliable, and it got me into the hobby of off-roading. Lots of fun adventures and camping trips came from owning the step-side Splash, but it unfortunately met its demise at the hands of a T-boning by a minivan; otherwise, I might still have it today.
KJ Jones' First Truck: 1989 Chevrolet G30 Cargo Van
Yes, my "first truck" actually was a van. Not a pimped-out, plush conversion van. Mine was a hard-working cargo unit (like the one pictured) that included two high-back bucket seats and plenty of empty space behind them—straight-up "utilitarian."
I bought the van from a high-school classmate in 1993 for $900 (and actually made payments on it because I was poor). It was fairly straight, relatively clean, had a 5.7L V-8 engine, 700r4 four-speed automatic transmission, and was an 8-lug, three-quarter-ton, heavy-duty rig that was perfect for towing my race car on an open trailer.
Three of the cool things about the van were its dual exhaust, sliding side door, and that it came with a 3/4-inch-thick plywood deck that covered the floor from front—just behind the seats—to back. It was even contoured around the rear wheel wells for a perfect fit. The wood made the van perfect for hauling pretty much anything. I added a leaf to each rear spring pack and upgraded the front coil springs, installed an onboard air compressor, mounted a tool box, and it became my daily driver, race-support rig, and "hustle machine," used for moving jobs, parts (and I'm talking engines, rearends, transmissions, etc. ), motorcycle transporting, and anything else that would earn an honest (cash) dollar. Needless to say, that van paid for itself in spades during the time that I owned it.
We parted ways in 1998, a year after safely transporting me and all of my worldly possessions across country from New York to Southern California. The trip was hard on the high-mileage small block and transmission; the headwinds on I-40 in West Texas and New Mexico were relentless. New friends that I made at the dealership I worked at opened my eyes to how badass Ford dualies and 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel engines were. All of those guys had F-350s, and they would leave me in the dust on Friday nights when we left the track after a night of drag racing.
I had to have one of those trucks that I could call "my own." The van was donated to charity in 1998, running but with a slipping transmission. I eventually got an F-350 dualie with a Power Stroke. It's known around Diesel Power as "Big White," and I still drive her every day.
Ken Brubaker's First Truck: 1976 Chevrolet Blazer
My first 4x4 was this 1976 Chevy K5 Blazer. I acquired it from a gentleman who said it handled poorly and he was tired of it. He wanted my '79 Mercury Capri that didn't handle poorly, so we traded. It turns out, the K5 handled badly due to a front tire that had low air pressure.
I aired the tire up and the Blazer handled great. When I got the K5, it was shod with a set of basic white wagon wheels and some mud-terrain tires. The tires and wheels pictured here I bought used. I had a blast with the Blazer. During the summer, I removed the fiberglass top, and in the winter it was a great snow machine.
With a few hundred acres of family farmland surrounding my house, I spent a lot of time in the Blazer exploring fields and pastures, honing my off-road driving skills.
Christian Hazel's First Truck: 1985 Dodge Ramcharger
After spending my high school years in Massachusetts piloting a 1969 Olds Cutlass with a dual-quad 455, TH-400, and '68 GTO 12-bolt rearend with 3.23 gears, I needed a commuter for getting to Northeastern University in downtown Boston every day, so I bought a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle in the spring of 1991. The VW was a complete pile of junk and barely lasted past Halloween. I was watching TV one day in early November 1991, and an ad for a local car dealership had a big maroon Ramcharger on a revolving table in front of a talking salesman with "$3,999" in huge yellow numbers on the windshield. I had a buddy drive me down that day, and we took a test drive in the 1985 Dodge. I signed my life away with a little dealership payment book of something exorbitant like $120 per month and drove it home.
The Ramcharger served me so well I can't describe it. For the first couple of years that I owned it, I didn't touch the two-barrel 318ci V-8, factory NP435 four-speed manual transmission, NP208 transfer case, or 3.23-geared Dana 44 and Chrysler 9.25 axles. When I was a working musician in Boston, it fit all my amps and guitars, plus those of the other guitarist and bass player. The drummer transported his kit in his little Mitsubishi Montero. It was a blast in winter plowing through snowy roads and with fuel back then at $1.01 per gallon, who cared if it only got 13 mpg on the freeway. I drove it to Florida a few times, up to Maine, and all over the east coast. In 1994, I moved out west and started really off-roading in the deserts of San Diego.
Eventually, I swapped on a junkyard Edelbrock manifold and ordered a Carter ABF carburetor from Summit Racing. I wanted taller gears and a limited-slip differential, so I pulled a Dana 60 HD with a Trac-Loc diff from the junkyard and bought a 3/4-ton Dana 44 from the Auto Trader Parts magazine for $300. Swapping in the bigger axles was cheaper than paying to re-gear the factory diffs.
Having returned to college during this time, I spent part of my student loan money on new 16x7 white spoke wheels and 255/75R16 BFG M-T tires at the 4-Wheel Parts in El Cajon, California, and I ordered a Skyjacker adjustable drag link from the company over the phone with my bank ATM card. I drove the truck like that until I finally landed a job at Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road, using it to commute 126 miles each way from my home in Rancho Bernardo, California, to the office on Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills. I did that for two years while constantly upgrading and modifying the truck into its final form.
At 4WOR, I went a bit wild with the Ramcharger. I added a 6-inch Skyjacker lift, put a spool in the rear Dana 60 and hogged the spindles to fit 35-spline axle shafts. I ultimately installed a Dynatrac Dana 60 front axle, a Klune V underdrive with a modified NP205 transfer case that I converted to full 32-spline output shafts, and eventually cut the top off it, added 42-inch Interco Swamper TSLs on modified HUMVEE wheels, and wheeled it hard on all sorts of trails across the country.
After the third Ultimate Adventure in 2002, the stock 318 finally developed a cracked head from detonation caused by a bad ignition lead that I didn't diagnose on the trail. I installed a Cadillac 500, followed by a Mopar 360 (300hp) Magnum crate engine. I eventually sold the truck to a guy, who sold it to a guy, who parted it out for all the good aftermarket parts and crushed the rest. Rest in peace, Ramcharger. I still miss you.
Jason Gonderman's First Truck: 1999 Ford Ranger
My first truck was a 1999 Ford Ranger that I bought used when I was a senior in high school in 2002. The truck was an XLT four-wheel-drive extended cab, the kind with four doors (Ford offered two, three, and four-door variants of the Ranger extended cab). Under the hood was the bombproof 4.0L OHV V-6 engine, which was backed with an automatic transmission.
The truck was kind of an oddball, as the original owner ordered the truck with every option an XLT can get, except he wanted manual door locks and window cranks. The truck had 79,000 miles on the odometer when I got it because the first owner commuted 100-plus miles a day with the truck, and in the 18 years I've owned it I've put on about the same amount.
Over the years I've worked on the truck, adding bigger tires, better shocks, and every odd doodad (billet grille, clear lights, etc.) that I could get my hands on. Eventually, I swapped the suspension for a long-travel kit, built a roll cage in the interior, ditched the rear leaf springs for a four-link setup, and logged thousands of off-road miles.
I still own the truck today; however, it's sitting in the garage in the middle of a never ending 5.0L (well, stroked to 331ci) engine swap. Hopefully it'll return to the dirt soon bigger, better, and faster than ever.
Jeremy Cook's First Truck: 1971 Chevrolet Blazer
When I was 17 years old, I had already bought and sold four Volkswagens. I rear-ended a UPS truck with my 1955 Oval and decided that I needed something a little safer. I traded the sort-of-fixed VW for a sort-of-running 1971 Blazer. I say sort-of because the dude kept it on a trailer, and when he'd get in a fight with his wife, he would grab a buddy and an ice chest and head to the desert.
Some horror stories that don't need repeating came with the truck. My dad and I spent a couple of weeks fixing linkage, wiring, and replacing bearings, then I ditched the fiberglass buckets for Celica GT seats and added a nice stereo. I definitely kept the full cage, trussed axles, ratchet shifter, and tube bumper. For a few years, this truck took me up and down the coast and all through the desert. It was launched in many a parking lot around town. The photo is from a surf trip down south in San Onofre, California. I miss this truck more than anything I have ever owned.
Verne Simons' First Truck: 1994.5 Toyota Tacoma SR5
I'm a serial offender when it comes to owning vehicles. I've had many. More than I can remember. My first real pickup truck with a separate cab and a bed was a 1994.5 Toyota Tacoma SR5 4x4. Before that, I'd had a 1983 Jeep CJ-7 and a 1985 Toyota 4Runner—both of which I would consider trucks—and at least one car, a 1967 Mustang. The Tacoma was blue—a blue that truly bordered on being purple—and a color that I both liked and then hated when it was pointed out to me that it was basically purple.
I got the truck used. It was from Florida, and I lived in Durham, North Carolina at the time. The truck was the nicest vehicle I'd ever owned up to that time. It had a 3.4L V-6 engine, a five-speed manual transmission, and four-wheel drive. I was disappointed that it didn't have the factory TRD locker, and I wished it had manual-locking front hubs, but even without those things it was still fun and capable enough for what I was getting into off-road.
I was either still in college or just recently graduated—probably the latter given the lack of hair in the photo. The picture is from a summer trip (maybe 1998 or 1999) to Wyoming where I did field work with my dad, a paleontologist who studied fossil mammals. Also in the picture are my old Cannon AE-1 camera and some Teva sandals. Yes, I wore sandals before I'd ever met Rick Pewe and before I started my career in the magazine and off-road worlds.
I sold the truck to get a 1997 Jeep Cherokee, which I had when I got my first real job working at Jp Magazine, then owned by Petersen's Publishing or Emap USA. Memory fades, but the rest is history.
Jered Korfhage's First Truck: 2002 Jeep Wrangler
Let's start by making the off-road community uncomfortable. Before the age of 21, I bashed more mud and rocks with my 1997 Honda Civic and 2009 Toyota Matrix than most of the actual trucks in my high school parking lot would ever see.
Over the next handful of years, I quickly made up for that sin with the stone-stock, barn-kept 2002 Jeep Wrangler. For northern Ohio, the TJ hadn't a freckle of rust nor a scratch in its red paint and bore only a cigarette burn in its passenger seat as a tribute to its first owner. I stepped the tires up to 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTracs, trimmed the fenders—that might have been motivated, in part, by a meet-and-greet with a frustratingly immobile Maple tree—and tied a bargain-basement LED bar to the front bumper.
The 4.0L engine ticked away happily on one cross-country trip after another, from Midwest slime to southwest slickrock, again and again, until it was bludgeoned in its rear passenger corner by a drunk driver.
If anyone's read this far, a mildly unmolested and rust-free—but not lacking dents—red TJ tub might still be in a scrapyard off I-10 as one travels toward El Paso, Texas.