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Most Missed Vehicles

MotorTrend Group’s “truck guys” sound off about the most missed vehicles they ever owned.

Jul 2, 2020
As true vehicle enthusiasts, or, using "car guys," the all-encompassing moniker that includes truck fans, members of the Truck Trend and Four Wheeler staffs collectively have owned an impressive number of rides since the moment they took ownership of the first whip they called their own.
While enthusiasts still possessing their Number One vehicle is not common (yes, there are instances, but it's not the norm), many of us would love to still have those first cars or trucks, or at least be in a position to try and get them back. As we noted in our report on staff members' first trucks, the sentiment we all typically have for the first one never goes away.
This report looks at a different type of favorite vehicle: a car, truck, or motorcycle that isn't necessarily the first one we owned, but in the spirit of possibly wanting a ride back, editors weigh in on the vehicles that they wish were still in their fleets.
Our long-lost vehicles have left us by way of being sold or traded, stolen and never found, or wrecked in accidents, dismantled and sold for their parts, abandoned (yes, actually popping VIN tags, parking in a suspect area and walking away ), or delivered to junkyards for proper disposal.
Of course, while hardcore car guys would love to be able to keep every single ride we purchase, it's a notion that makes us feel good but ultimately won't happen for most of us. Here are the ones that got away from members of MotorTrend's truck and off-road groups. Cars and trucks that we're really sorry we no longer own.

KJ Jones' Most Missed Vehicle: 1984 Mustang GT

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My most missed vehicle is my 1984 Mustang GT, aka "The Gray Car." I bought it sometime in the early 1990s. It was bone stock, and it literally is the car that launched what has become my long career of working on and being involved with 5.0L Mustangs and late-model Fords, and the high-performance/motorsports industries as a whole.
It's the car I basically learned on: installing performance parts and transforming the car from mild to wild, becoming proficient in using nitrous oxide for performance gains, understanding suspension dynamics, figuring out what works and doesn't work, and cutting my teeth on the dragstrip. Ironically, the Gray Car appeared in four popular Mustang-enthusiast magazines—including 5.0 Mustang and Super Fords—long before I thought that I would ever wind up being a staff member at any car magazine—for a day, let alone almost two decades.
After blowing the engine at an NMRA event in 2001, I parked the Gray Car and instead of building a new engine, I set out to build an entirely different and better Mustang. The Gray Car's chassis was sold to someone who responded to an ad in the local Recycler newspaper, and I haven't seen or heard anything about the car since the buyer took it away.

Ken Brubaker's Most Missed Vehicle(s): 1977 International Scout II and Pontiac Trans Am

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For me, this is a two-part question. The 4x4 I wish I hadn't sold was my 1977 International Scout II. I owned the truck for quite a while, and it was my daily driver. I had many off-road adventures in the rig including in the Wisconsin Northwoods, high country of Colorado, the Badlands of South Dakota, and many other places.
It had the 345ci engine, which was notably reliable. I installed a new body tub and fiberglass fenders in 1989 if I remember correctly. Two of my three kids were brought home from the hospital in that Scout following their birth. I'd like to have the Scout back as shown here with the second body tub (1979) before its rocker panels rusted out and the doors sagged (again).
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The car I wish I hadn't sold is this 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. This car had the 6.6L engine mated to a four-speed manual transmission. It was a stripper car with no air conditioning or power windows. To get this car I sold an almost identical-looking Trans Am, but it was an automatic transmission car with power everything. Being a person who likes vehicles with very few options, the manual, stripper T/A was right up my alley.
Sure, it wasn't so fun on hot days with no A/C, but keeping speed up kept the breeze blowing in the windows. The manual transmission went out, and when I replaced it I installed a short throw shifter, which made a heck of an improvement.

Christian Hazel's Most Missed Vehicle(s): There's a Bunch of 'Em

In all honestly, out of the dozens of vehicles I've owned, I've only really been glad to see one or two of them go, namely my 1948 Willys CJ-2A and my 1973 C-104 Jeepster Commando. On the other hand, my 1985 Ramcharger had deep sentimental value, I dumped an insane amount of work and money into my 1968 M-715 to make it almost perfect (at least for me), and my 2007 Ram 2500 Megacab was the ultimate family rig for me, seating six and having most of the Ram bugs worked out thanks to a Dynatrac FreeSpin kit for the front AAM axle, a 52-gallon Titan XXL tank, FASS pump, and more.
But adult responsibility and home repair bills dictated the need to sell the off-road toys and the Ram's questionable 6.7L Cummins emissions equipment (the DPF cracked with only 67,000 miles on it), and some other build-quality issues with the body and interior gave me pause in trusting that rig once it was out of 70,000-mile warranty.
But the one vehicle that probably hurt the most seeing it drive off into the sunset atop the back of a vehicle transport was my 1971 CJ-6, dubbed Project Hatari! I built that vehicle from an $800 non-running basket case into a super cool Jeep that was my daily driver and off-road fun machine. I got the Buick 225 running like a sewing machine, swapped in an NV3550 transmission for carlike shifting in traffic, built a rollcage, added a pneumatic rear locker, onboard welder, and most of all resisted the urge to go "full magazine build" on it.
Hatari! was the first project rig in recent memory where I've show some restraint and known when to step away from the canvas. Without big 1-ton axles and 40-inch tires, it highlighted how capable a mostly stock Jeep could be and was a super comfy cruiser and fun family runabout rig. I wish I still owned it.

Jason Gonderman's Most Missed Vehicle: 1998 Mercury Mountaineer

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I'm in what's probably a pretty unique position within our group of automotive enthusiasts. That is, I haven't sold very many of the vehicles that I've owned. I still have my first car, a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback. And I still have my most missed vehicle, a 1999 Ford Ranger. In fact, of all the vehicles I've had, I've only disposed of three.
A few years ago I bought a 1985 Ford Ranger with the stock 2.3L turbodiesel engine (sight unseen) and drove it on an epic road trip from Kansas to California. That truck was dangerously underpowered, and I sold it for way more money than should have been legal or moral. I loved that truck, but I sure don't miss it. Rather, the one I wish I still had was one that I never even registered in my name, a 1998 Mercury Mountaineer.
I bought this Mountaineer off of Craigslist for just $900. The seller claimed that "something" was wrong in the drivetrain, and it was not drivable. No biggie, I only wanted the 5.0L V-8 engine and 4R70W transmission. So, I loaded up a borrowed Ram 2500 and flatbed trailer and whisked north on an 8-hour drive from Los Angeles to the San Francisco bay area.
Upon returning, I quickly pulled the front driveshaft out and discovered the "something" that was broken in the drivetrain was actually a clutch pack in the all-wheel-drive transfer case (and I then proceeded to do hot laps and burnouts around the neighborhood). It was a blast to drive, mostly because it was $900 and I didn't care for it one bit. After harvesting the parts I wanted, I hauled the corpse off to the recycling yard where they paid me $90 for the pleasure of forklifting it into their junk heap.
In hindsight, I should have kept the Mountaineer and built it into the off-roader I'm dreaming of now. Oh well, I'm sure there's another $900 Mountaineer just waiting for me to bring it home. My trailer is ready and waiting.

Verne Simons' Most Missed Vehicle: 1983 Jeep CJ-7

I am a serial offender when it comes to buying and selling 4x4s. Maybe it's the manifestation of my undiagnosed, and unmedicated (other than self-medicating with beer), adult attention deficit disorder. This means that the truth is there are more than just a few vehicles that I've sold that I wish I hadn't. In fact, it might be easier to list the vehicles I've owned that I don't regret selling.
Still, the regrets may be stronger with a select few vehicles. Probably the one with the strongest level of regret is the 1983 CJ-7 that I got from my sister. She is two years older than me, and she passed this Jeep on to me after driving it for a few years. This was an incredibly kind gesture on her part, and one that I may not be able to ever repay. Before her, my father owned the Jeep, which may explain the main reason that I eventually sold it.
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My dad was an amazing man. He was very accomplished professional, and was a kind and loving father, but he had no regard for vehicular maintenance or upkeep. It's not that he didn't want to take care of his vehicles, it's more that he was too distracted with his busy life to follow through with basic maintenance or worrying about the pegged temp gauge. As a result, by the time I got this particular 1983 CJ-7 it wasn't terribly reliable, and I wasn't the mechanic and fabricator that I am today. In hindsight I'm pretty sure it had a warped head and intake manifold on the carbureted 258 I-6. Sadly at the time, I needed a vehicle that worked and required much less time and money than the CJ-7 needed. So one day, I traded it in on a 1990 5.0L Ford Mustang notchback with a five-speed.
The Mustang was fun, and fast, but I grew tired of it fairly quickly and wished I had the Jeep back. (I regret selling that Mustang, too.) I saw the Jeep a few times in and around my hometown but never got to ask the owner if they would let me know if they wanted to sell it. A few years back, I tracked the Jeep down. It seems it made its way to Texas (I grew up in North Carolina). I reached out to the current owners who said they loved the Jeep and were still enjoying it. I said that's great, but let me know if you ever want to sell it.
At the end of the day, it would be pretty easy to re-create that particular Jeep with another CJ-7. There wasn't anything special about it, other than the memories that it helped create, and those are stored in my family's brains. The worst part is now knowing that the present Verne could get the old Jeep running despite any issues the very same issues that caused me to want to sell it to begin with.

Jered Korfhage's Most Missed Vehicle: 2002 Jeep Wrangler

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Confession time. I bought my first Jeep, a red 2002 Wrangler X, after my 22nd birthday. It was the first vehicle I ever purchased, my first 4x4, and it was taken from me one night when I was hit by a drunk driver. I was taxied home from that wreck (unharmed), not by an ambulance but by the local sheriff, and woke up the next morning on a mission to buy my second Jeep.
The 2017 two-door Wrangler JK still sits on the curb (and sometimes in the garage) when it's not out thumping the dirt. There might come a day when I sell my third-ever bought-and-paid-for vehicle, a 2002 Honda Civic, to finance the next 4x4 project, but that day has not yet come.