Why So Many Menswear Designers Want to Sell You a Vintage 4×4
The worlds of fashion collabs and restored SUVs have joined forces. Is anyone buying?
In early 2019, Virgil Abloh was asked if fashion had reached peak collab.
“I don’t understand how a peak could be reached,” he said. And who would know better? After all, Abloh created streetwear phenomenon Off-White, which has collaborated on product releases with companies from Nike to Evian, and is the men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton.
That said, Abloh only recently got into the vintage auto game, and probably isn’t paying as much attention to another men’s trend that’s been steadily gaining ground in the zeitguyst, that of the vintage SUV. But one year later, the worlds of menswear collaboration and 4×4 nostalgia have joined forces, leaving us to ask the question: Do we find ourselves in a new era of automotive excellence or, like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters, will this intersection mark the end of both?
The trend first came on our radar when Todd Snyder released a custom Toyota FJ43 Land Cruiser last summer with The FJ Company, whose restorations we’ve ogled many times before. But since then, more and more releases have taken up our daydreams and Instagram feeds, from the ‘95 Range Rover Classic Barbour and Orvis gave away to the one-offs Iron & Resin dreamt up with New Legend to, more recently, Ball and Buck’s Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler, which started taking orders in February.
These are unimpeachably beautiful vehicles. Full stop. They’re also somewhat impractical, presenting an idealized version of the past, where vehicles you coveted as a child or young man are restored and modernized to the stuff of dreams (I’m thinking of Marty McFly’s Toyota Hilux here), but priced — as you can imagine — quite steeply.
For context, Hagerty puts the average value of a 1983 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler at $14,500. Ball and Buck’s custom version costs anywhere between $65K and $105K, depending on your personal configuration. As for a 1978 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, Hagerty sets the average value at $24K. After Todd Snyder puts his stamp on one, you’re looking at $195K and up.
To be fair, putting those prices next to each other is a little misleading, as the tailored menswear models are not only restored to pristine condition, but pimped — Xzibit-style — with features and amenities you won’t find anywhere else. So to get a better feel for them, we dialed up Mark Bollman, founder and CEO of Ball and Buck, who explained that his Scrambler is a natural progression for the brand.
“We started with the New Balance shoe, then we went to Danner boots, then we went to the Allen Edmonds loafer, then we did a shotgun with Ruger, then we did some skis, so we’ve done a bunch of collaboration projects,” Bollman said. “What I really like about them is it gives us the ability to tell our brand story … but do it with a partner that ideally is a leader and the most iconic version of that category.”
Ball and Buck has built its reputation on clothes for the sartorially inclined sportsman, so the Scrambler was the ideal base model; as Bollman told InsideHook, it has a history with quail hunting, and they’re continuing that tradition by partnering with Georgia outfit Bird Buggy to make the vehicles. But there’s a personal element to it, too — he’s been driving one of the original Jeep pickups for five years.
If you’ve seen the King Ranch trucks and the Eddie Bauer edition Subarus and Jeeps, it’s that kind of build quality. It’s not a kit kind of feel. It’s very intentional.Mark Bollman, founder and CEO of Ball and Buck
Passion is also what drove Todd Snyder, though he hasn’t been putting around in a Land Cruiser for years.
“I’ve always loved the FJ Land Cruiser and I’ve dreamed about owning one for years, but I wanted something different and my own,” Snyder told InsideHook. “When I came across The FJ Company, I realized I could make my dream truck and customize it — from the Red Wing leather interior to installing air conditioning — and really make my dream truck from the ground up.”
That combination of ultra-luxe touches the average driver wouldn’t think possible and a respect for the rugged beginnings of the vehicles is a hallmark of all of these collaborations. They’re designed as much with off-road performance in mind (from new engines to suspension) as making sure you’ll truly stand out at your next cars-and-coffee meetup (Snyder’s four signature color options are all taken from his menswear collections, and Ball and Buck’s are all vintage Porsche 911 colors).
Whether or not you’re convinced to buy one yourself, you may be wondering if that’s even the point. At these prices, are these 4x4s more of a marketing stunt than an actual product? The Barbour and Orvis Range Rover most certainly is, since it’s a giveaway. But one particular test case proves that there really are men out there looking to take their brand loyalty to a new level — the Chevrolet Silverado Carhartt Special Edition. The two companies released a concept vehicle in 2016, but interest was so great that it’s getting a real release for 2021.
But there’s proof of interest in the even more niche offerings, too. Todd Snyder has sold two Land Cruisers so far, with “a mix of people” interested in purchasing. Ball and Buck has three Scramblers in the works, according to Bollman. They’re not merely brand superfans, either, but people looking for what everyone looks for in a new car: the perfect feeling.
“One of the guys, a real-estate guy, does a lot of land sales. So he’s taking customers to properties, and thinking about the ethos and the vibe of, ‘Hey, you’re living the city life. Get this piece of property. Let me take you back to a simpler time of the good old days.’ So he wants that Jeep to drive his customers out and get them into the vibe that way,” Bollman said.
Will we ever be able to buy ourselves back to the good old days, whether that’s through a rundown farmstead or a vintage 4×4? Of course not, because those good old days never really existed. But as these designers have shown, if they can make you feel like your ideal self in their clothes, maybe they can do that with your vehicle, too.