This summer, I spent some time camping, climbing, and hiking in and around Ouray, Colorado. Nestled deep within the San Juan Mountains, the town is known colloquially as the "Switzerland of America" given that the steep mountains that border it on all sides share a striking resemblance with the Alps. Given the huge network of high-elevation 4×4 trails in the San Juan Mountains, Ouray is also a hotbed for obscure, off-the-wall adventure vehicles, and while I was there, I took a little time to document some of my favorites that I encountered around town. I also made a video, which is linked above.
The first weird vehicle that piqued my interest was this Jeep TJ Wrangler that had been converted into a 4-door pickup. Or in other words, a glimpse at what the Gladiator might’ve looked like if Jeep had introduced it back in the 2000s.
Obviously, given that not even a 4-door TJ Wrangler was offered, everything aft of the B-pillars in this thing was entirely custom, with a pair of bucket seats and a metal center console bolted into the elongated second row. Clearly, there’s some kind of roll-cage under that hardtop, but it’s hard to tell what exactly the design was. The same goes for inside the bed. I’d have loved to see this thing with the whole canvas removed.
Suffice to say, the new JL Wrangler-based Gladiator has a less-awkward side-profile, a more usable bed, and better proportions overall.
Pictured here is a 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V. The Scirocco was sold in the U.S. over two generations: first-gen examples were offered from 1975 to 1980, while the second-gen was sold here from 1981 to 1988 before being replaced by the Corrado, which was pretty much just a third-gen Scirocco with a different name. The 16-valve was the top-of-the-line second-gen Scirocco, offered from just the 1986.5 to 1988 model years, and estimates are that roughly 10,000 made their way to the U.S.
With 123 horsepower and 120 lb-ft of torque coming from its 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder, the Scirocco 16V was the fastest and most powerful VW to be sold in the U.S. at the time, and could outpace a Porsche 944, while costing only half as much. The 16V also came with a unique body kit, serving to further differentiate it from lesser Sciroccos that preceded it. Everything looks great on this one except for those U.S.-spec bumpers — they’re like park benches.
This one hides an interesting quirk when it comes to product lifecycle management. It’s an early 1970s Jeep J-Series Pickup. The original Jeep truck was first known as the Gladiator and started production as a Willys product in 1962 before Willys Motors changed its name to the Kaiser Jeep Corporation in early 1963. Production carried on largely unchanged until American Motors bought Kaiser Jeep in 1970. The Gladiator name was dropped in favor of the "J-Series" moniker after 1971.
Here’s where the quirk comes in. As it did with the Wagoneer, AMC opted to face-lift the truck in 1970, and they did so in a way that was rather unconventional. Rather than alter the basic structure of the truck’s front end, which incorporated the original pentagonal grille and round headlight surrounds, AMC opted to just attach the new grille over this old one, and if you look closely at the front of any Jeep Truck from 1970 or later, you can still see the old "Rhino"-style grille underneath. It’s particularly easy to see on this example — while the "new" grille is chrome, the old front end is red, and is visible between the grille slats, as you can see in the photo above.
There were even a few modern sports cars in Ouray — here’s a 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10. I know it’s a 2006 model because the Colorado license plate read "2K6VIPR," and just to be sure, I ran it through the My Carfax app and sure enough, the app returned 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10. I run into very few Vipers on the road, so this was quite the sight, especially in a town of only about 1,000 people. That said, the incredible driving roads in the area do make for some great canyon-carving opportunities. There happened to also be a Chevrolet Corvette cruise passing through town as well.
It’s nearly impossible to venture into a North American mountain town without encountering an old VW van. This one was actually a rare Type 2 Doka. "Type 2" was the original model name for the Volkswagen bus (The Type 1 was the Beetle). "T2" refers to the second-generation Type 2, which was also known as the "bay window" bus. The second-generation Type 2 was sold from roughly 1967 to 1979. You can tell that this is likely a 1973-or-newer example given that its turn signals are located above the headlights rather than below them. The term "Doka" comes from the German word "Doppelkabine," or "double cab." Instead of being a full-blown van, the Doka has a truck bed over the rear engine compartment with sides that fold down to make a flatbed. There’s a second-row bench seat, accessible only via a door on the passenger side. There’s no driver-side back door. I can’t find any record of these being formally sold in the U.S., although gray market import would’ve been possible at the time these were new. The fact that the speedometer was in kilometers tells me this one likely came from Europe, although Canada or Mexico is a possibility, as well.
Finally, there was this first-generation Pinzgauer. A military 4×4 originally conceived and built by Austrian manufacturing conglomerate Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the Pinzgauer first rolled off the assembly line in 1971 and production lasted through the year 2000, with a second-generation model being introduced in 1986. The Pinzgauer has seen military use by countries all over the world, including the United States, and 4×4 and 6×6 variants both exist. Like the Humvee, the Pinzgauer uses a fully-independent suspension and portal axles for added ground clearance. Production took place at the same plant in Graz, Austria that currently builds the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
Other vehicles out there that share the Pinzgauer’s basic form include the Mercedes-Benz Unimog, Haflinger, Volvo C303, and Land Rover 101 Forward Control. The most well-known of these vehicles here in the U.S. is probably the Unimog, although it differs significantly from the Pinzgauer in that it uses solid axles front and rear instead of IFS.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.