My family got into the SUV craze back in 1991, when the iconic Ford Explorer hit the market in its inaugural year. My parents, embittered over two new Chrysler minivans in a row that were effectively lemons, decided to roll the dice on the newfangled Ford SUV.
It was a hit, and they loved it. They got an economical 5-speed, two-wheel-drive Explorer with grey cloth interior and a white exterior. It was simple, reliable, and had a distinctive transmission whine that I loved as a kid…I could hear my Mom coming to pick me up from a block away. When I was seventeen I got to drive that old Explorer for my final year of high school, and its increasing quirkiness only added to its appeal. Though little things kept occurring, the thing ran with ease.
It survived two teenagers and all their respective hijinks, an accident and a fender-bender, and all the assorted vehicular accoutrement that comes with the drive to 150,000 miles. My Dad traded it in a few years back for $100, and that was because it had new tires.
Within months he regretted it, wishing that we’d held onto the old beast.
But by then my personal fave was my new Explorer, a 2001 hand-me-down that had been purchased by my Mom as her replacement for the ’91 predecessor. I was going to college in Wyoming and needed something hardy and durable to handle Laramie winters. The ’01 Explorer, looking sleek with its metallic grey/green exterior, fit the bill.
Kept completely stock, the Explorer handled everything a Wyoming winter threw at it – snow, ice, bitter cold, goopy slush. In the summers, as a supervisor of backpacking guides in northeastern New Mexico, the Explorer handled brutal heat, bumpy roads, pervasive dust, and mudslides caused by epic thunderstorms. Whenever I felt worried that the thing might not start, it always started on the first crank of the ignition key. It survived numerous blizzard encounters and off-road excursions…all in two-wheel-drive. Not too shabby!
During boring, average summer days in the nice town of Laramie, the Explorer could handle the several moves I made from dorm to apartment to apartment – carrying lots of stuff with ease. I even wedged a sizeable mattress base into the back when the rear bench seat was folded down and the front seats were scooted slightly forward…anything smaller wouldn’t have been able to handle it! The vehicle was literally just big enough to let me move every piece of furniture I had, including my bed.
And the mileage wasn’t too terrible, I’m happy to say. The thing could get close to 25 MPG highway (though perhaps it was downhill with a tailwind) and still had plenty of horsepower, making Interstate driving a comfortable experience. If I had to pass someone I could do it without worrying about hanging out in the left lane too long and becoming a fender accessory for an oncoming 18-wheeler.
I’ve downsize since then and now drive a more economical Toyota Corolla, which is also grey. But my old ’01 Explorer still lives on, resting peacefully at my parents’ house a few cities over, amicably helping them fetch supplies and lumber for my father’s ongoing furniture projects. It’s probably got about 120,000 miles on the odometer and never gives any trouble – it still gets used occasionally to help friends and family with moves and chores.
While I’m rather disappointed that Ford totally redesigned the Explorer for the latest model year, I will always vouch for the 1991-2010 Explorers. If you need some good, reliable, mildly heavy-duty transportation for cheap, pick up a slightly-used model…you won’t regret it!