START YOUR ENGINES

HOW THE MAG WENT FROM GO-TO-WHOA!

SIMON HAMMOND 4X4 EDITOR 1984 - 1986

ITíS 2017 and Iím being thrown around a highly modified ĎNissan Patrol Super Jeepí as we traverse ice-covered rivers and deep snow at the base of Icelandís notorious EyjafjallajŲkull glacier/volcano. This was the very same volcano that stopped the world back in 2010, disrupting Northern Hemisphere air traffic for weeks.

Despite the spectacular scenery of glaciers, deep snow and volcanoes, my mind wanders. Firstly to how the hell anyone can advertise a Nissan Patrol Super Jeep. Itís either a Nissan or a Jeep! Then to the countless other jawdropping places Iíve been 4WDing since the first edition of the monthly 4x4 magazine hit newsagents way back in the early 80s.

I recall the top secret SAS training track at Land Roverís Solihul headquarters, where a handful of Australian writers previewed the breakthrough Range Rover Vogue turbo-diesel in 1985. Itís the most unforgiving track Iíve ever driven.

I remember the Toyota test track way up on the slopes of Japanís sacred Mount Fuji in 1985. We were driving the amazing new direct-injection turbo-diesel Land Cruiser 60 Series through deep snow, before hopping on a plane and flying to Cairns to trial it in the steaming tropics in the same 24 hours...

FROM THE DAY THE MAG LAUNCHED IT PUSHED US ALL TO EXCEED LIMITS Ė OF US AND THE VEHICLES

...Unfortunately I also recall the face of the Japanese Toyota engineer, waiting in anticipation on the opposite side of a swollen Daintree River as I drove his beloved car into the water a little too fast.

I remember the unforgiving beaches of Robe in South Australia, the numerous east-west crossings of the Simpson Desert, the first drive of Nissanís Navara through Mexico, the quicksand of Tasmaniaís west coast, and the 1985 season of the National Off-Road Racing Championships where I convinced Lada to launch its Niva 4x4 as an entry into class 8 with rally champion Geoff Portman at the wheel and me in the navigatorís seat. We ended up winning the title.

Thatís the thing about this magazine. From the day we launched, it pushed us all to exceed limits Ė of us and the vehicles. It was the beginning of the 4WD recreational explosion of the early 80s, and as a magazine we became the catalyst for people to take these machines to the country for which they were designed.

I was just 21 when we launched and I had been filling in for a derailed trucking writer on a national newspaper. I was an investigative news reporter, but was asked to write the column until they found a new expert. Knowing nothing about trucks I expanded it to light commercial vehicles and added a few 4WDs.

My friends and I thought weíd found Shangri-La as we explored the Vic High Country with the latest in 4WDs, tents, swags, fridges, snatch straps and winches. It was Christmas every week as we drove hard all day and settled beside blazing campfires at night.

Then, when I heard Newspress (later Syme Magazines and then Bauer) was looking for a new editor to start a monthly recreational 4WD magazine, I dispatched a letter from the post office in Mansfield and much to my surprise a seasoned motoring writer by the name of Tim Britten saw something in me and gave me the job. To his credit, Doug Hicks had built a good quarterly mag called Off Road Action and Newspress Managing Editor Len Shaw thought it was time to cash in on the 80s boom with a monthly mag about the lifestyle and the vehicles.

I had to learn layouts, editing, photography, managing finances, marketing and distribution, and also manage a bunch of columnists.

In my youthful zeal I felt we had no boundaries, blending a mixture of centre-spread trek notes for weekend warriors and support for growing clubs.