Back-road buggies

Just about anyone who travels the big woods back country has a different idea about what is the perfect four-wheel drive, back-road vehicle.

The city slickers from Madison Avenue, many of whom have never driven “off-road” in their lives, dream up television commercials for folks like us who want a tough truck for the back roads. These TV ads, in an attempt to sell us a truck, depict the most jaw-dropping, teeth-jarring rides up steep rock ledges and washed-out roads that most sportsmen would never attempt.

They all do it, Chevy, Ford, Dodge, GMC, you name it. The newest TV spot pictures a 2022 Nissan Frontier joyriding up the middle of what surely looks like a wilderness trout stream! In fact, Chris Wood, the CEO of Trout Unlimited, has drafted a complaint letter to his counterpart at Nissan for portraying or glamorizing this sort of “destructive and irresponsible behavior.” Wood has a point. Trout Unlimited has devoted itself to protection and preservation of these precious riverine trout fisheries. Driving a four-wheel vehicle up a trout stream, whatever its make, is just dumb. In fact, the act itself probably would negate the vehicle’s warranty.

Nothing is sacred when it comes to selling vehicles.

All of this got me to thinking for the first time in many years about my first four-wheel drive vehicle. One day in 1974, after getting a good pay raise, I made an impulse purchase with no wifely approval. It was on the lot just waiting for me to come along. A seductive forest green F4J Toyota Landcruiser captured my heart at first glance. It was a sportsman’s dream, with high clearance, big knobby tires, four on the floor and a transmission whine that bespoke backwoods reliability in dicey places. Wife loved it immediately. Kids loved it, especially the side-sitting jump seats in the rear.

We forged more than one road, inundated with beaver dam floods, as the water crested over the F4J’s bow and the exhaust gurgled underwater like an old lobster boat.

For years, it transported our young family to hard-to-get-to places where only die-hard trout fanatics would dare to tread. Never once did it let us down. Selling it for a larger Land Cruiser was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.

As with so many other well-made products, Toyota just stopped making the F4J. You can still buy one, though, all restored, complete with original engine and a power winch up front. The best ones start about $50,000 and peak about $100,000. Yes, if we F4J fans had only been able to look ahead.

Maybe I will pick one up. And next May, when the beavers flood one of those old roads near the Chase Ponds, we’ll invite one of those TV ad writers to join us for some Maine trout fishing.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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