4WD DRIVING THEN AND NOW
As a child born in the sixties, Some of my earliest memories are of my father going out in his 4WD on outback trips with his friend. It wasn’t until I adopted the sport myself in the late seventies and early eighties that I realised how ahead of his time he had been. In the sixties, there was almost nothing in the way of an off-roading community in Australia. By the time I got involved in the sport there were a handful of enthusiasts in Logan Village, and the sport was rapidly expanding across the country.
THE EARLY DAYS
The early 4WDs were generally part-time four-wheel drive vehicles. I vividly remember my first Land Rover having different coloured sticks signifying 4WD engagement, low range and the gearstick.
I remember a twinge of jealousy when my friend got a Land Cruiser which had done away with one of the sticks, and the low and high ranges could be engaged with the use of one single lever. I also remember the hassle involved in engaging low range because the only way to disengage it was by putting the vehicle into reverse.
For us early pioneers of the sport, 4WD off-roading wasn’t just a test of our vehicle, it was pretty testing for us. Comfort was an afterthought in all 4WD models. Air conditioning was rare, and if it was included in a 4WD vehicle, it was always manually operated. The suspension was built for longevity, not for a smooth ride. Diesel vehicles were the order of the day. They were generally more reliable in water and the engine offered more braking than the petrol counterparts.
Driving required serious skill. You had to pick the right range to tackle inclines and obstacles. The car did the mechanical grunt work, the driver did the thinking. There was no traction control, you had to give it the right amount of throttle to encourage traction.
I remember driving from Logan Village to Sydney in what must have been the mid-eighties. The flat cushions spread over metal-based seats battered my backside for the whole 560 miles. The roar of the engine muted any conversation, and forget mobile phones, any breakdown was a test of the occupants 4WD skills and knowledge. In an absolute life or death situation, you could dust off the RFDS radio, find somewhere elevated to throw the aerial, and begin the laborious search for a frequency.
BUT IT WAS PURE FUN
4WD driving was a challenge and test of both vehicle and driver. There was no power steering, no comfort in the seats, only one AM radio station, and no fridge full of beers. The lights were measured in candlepower in the days before the aftermarket lighting from rally vehicles were widely available.
But it was fun. There were no distractions. Camping meant warm beer, tinned food, good conversations with friends, and beautiful sunsets. Roughing it, still meant roughing it with no internet, no electricity, and no running water. They joy was in the small details, and the satisfaction of skillful driving. I am not saying life was better then, but 4WD driving was a different beast. A “sport” in every sense of the word.
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