Best Off-Road Truck Buys
Wheelin' Rigs for Your Money
By Jay Kopycinski, Photography by Jay Kopycinski
1980-to-1996 4WD Ford Bronco
The Ford Bronco has a celebrated history, and the first generation versions are classics. However, they can be quite pricey. The second generation started a move to a bigger body. Those and later versions can fit the bill as a best buy given the choice of healthy engines, TTB front suspension, and overall SUV function.
Over the years, Ford used everything from the stout 300ci inline-six to 302/351/400ci models of the Ford V-8. Fuel injection was introduced on the 302 in 1985. Borg-Warner T-18 and NP435 four-speed manuals were used in the earlier years, followed by the M5OD-R2 5-speed beginning in 1987. Early models had the reliable C6 three-speed auto, but overdrive versions (especially the E4OD) in the later years meant better highway manners.
As with the mid ’90s Ranger, these Broncos used the TTB front suspension using a Dana 44 center chunk. The TTB typically offers ride and handling benefits over the solid front axle, but can be difficult to keep well aligned when lifted. Early year models used the Ford 9-inch rear axle, but later models used the Ford 8.8 axle. Wheelbase is 104 to 105 inches.
This version of the Ford Bronco can be built into many things from rock crawler to fast dirt runner to weekend camp rig. Overall aftermarket support is excellent and it shares many parts with other Ford trucks of the period.
1973 to 1991 Chevy K5 Blazer
This model of Chevy 4WD SUV that spanned nearly two decades is an iconic off-road rig and has always been a favorite. With V-8 power and a solid drivetrain, the short wheelbase 4WD makes for a fun all-around rig. Aftermarket support is substantial and the Blazer shares many of the same performance parts as Chevy trucks of similar years.
Engine choices ranged from a 250ci I6 to a 400ci V-8. There was also the 6.2L diesel engine which performed poorly. Performance and reliability took a jump in 1987 with the upgrade to throttle body fuel injection (TBI). The system is fairly simple and has proven itself to be very reliable.
The venerable SM465 tranny was the four-speed manual offering, while TH-350, TH-400, and 700-R4 autos made their way under the floorboard over the years. There was a wide range of transfer cases such as the heavy-duty gear driven NP205, or NP203, NP208 and NP241 versions of chain driven cases. Straight axles were found on both ends of the Blazer up until 1992, when IFS was introduced. Axle packages were Dana 44s and 12-Bolts (until 1980 or 1981) and then paired GM 10-Bolts (post 1980 or 1981 until 1991).
The 106.5-inch wheelbase works well all around, providing a good turning radius as well as long enough wheelbase to provide decent stability. Part of what adds to the Blazer appeal is the fact that they have a removable convertible top (until 1975) or half-cab with removable back shell (1976 to 1991).
By Jay Kopycinski
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