We are now 3 weeks into the NFL season, and that can mean only one thing: Tom Brady and the Patriots are in first place. All seriousness aside, it is once again that special time of year when America turns its attention to the champions of the gridiron. Here in Pats Country (as in every other corner of this great, football-loving nation), that means breaking out the grills and coolers and setting up a tailgate outside your favorite team’s stadium.
While there are a multitude of vehicles capable of helping you entertain thousands of your closest friends, we wanted to find out which are the best. After all, what fun is tailgating in the shadows of the Lombardi Trophy (sorry, Buffalo fans) if that involves strapping a grill to your roof, only to get to the stadium and have to stand and cook in the rain, all while being forced to listen to cracked and broken rock music blasting from the 20-year-old boombox the guy parked next to you brought along.
10. For anyone looking for a practical solution to their tailgating needs, there probably isn’t a better answer than the Dodge Grand Caravan. Fully capable of toting the kids to and from soccer practice, the Grand Caravan also makes for a great option when it comes to football. After using the versatile 7-seat minivan all week to run errands, simply make use of Dodge’s Stow ‘n Go feature to sink the middle seats into the floor, freeing up plenty of room for coolers, grills and games. Once you’ve loaded up the van and parked at the field, you can open the rear tailgate and flip the third seat over, creating a rear-facing third-row seat that will allow you to grill and socialize from the comfort of your car.
9. Claiming the next spot on our list is a Japanese import that packs a wallop on game day: the Mitsubishi Outlander. Now entering its 12th year in the American market, the Outlander has made a name for itself in the crossover market. With great off-road capabilities and a solid level of comfort, the Outlander will get you and the whole family wherever you need to go in style, especially if that’s a stadium parking lot. With an optional Rockford Fosgate stereo, the Outlander keeps the party rocking until kickoff, especially with the car’s full-size fold-down tailgate—the only one in its class.
8. Moving up the list we come to a car that was practically born for tailgating: the Ford E-150. With plenty of room inside for all your friends and gear, the E-150 will get you and your whole crew to the game in comfort. However, if you put a little time into customizing your van, you can arrive at the stadium like no other, as some West Virginia fans do in Morgantown. With the addition of a little team-colored paint, a 22-inch screen with DirecTV and Polk Audio speakers, anyone can turn a good tailgating car into a tailgating legend. Simply drive up, set up your grills and watch all the other action in the country before cheering on the most important team of them all.
7. In the next spot is a truck that many love to hate, but plenty of others simply love: the Honda Ridgeline. Say what you will about its looks or unibody construction, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Ridgeline is a tailgating master. Able to carry 5 passengers up front and plenty of tables and grills in the bed, no one will feel cramped in this truck on game day. Best of all, you don’t even have to bring coolers with you. Swing the truck’s tailgate out (it opens both horizontally and vertically), open the trunk lid (yes, the Ridgeline has a trunk under the bed) and you’ll find a built-in cooler. Simply fill it with ice and your favorite beverages, and you’re good to go!
6. Like the Ridgeline, you’ll probably either love or hate the next car on our list: the Ford Flex. While its styling may not be to everyone’s liking, one thing we can all agree on is how awesome the Flex’s built-in refrigerator is. That’s right, the Flex can fit 7 people plus all of your gear, and it keeps your favorite refreshments ice cold while getting you to the game. Oh, and when you do get to the game, the third-row seat flips with the push of a button, giving you and your buddies a front-row seat to all the tailgating action.
5. In at number five is the Toyota 4Runner. The last of a dying breed (truck-based SUVs), the 4Runner is an exceptionally capable SUV that has had the tailgating goodies piled on in recent years. Available with a JBL sound system with “party mode” setting, the 4Runner will send your music out the back when you’re at the stadium, with the rear door-mounted speakers working to spread your tunes all over when the tailgate’s up. Add to that the 4Runner’s impressive cargo space, and you have an exceptionally off-road-capable tailgating beast, able to get you and your stuff to the most remote of stadiums.
4. Moving up to number four we reach the Chevrolet Chevy Van. Built from 1964–1996, the Chevy Van was Chevy’s answer to Ford’s Econoline. Like the Econoline, the Chevy Van meets the basic requirements for tailgating, yet owner creativity is what allows it to place so high on our list. Our favorite example is this 1994 Chevy Van short bus, made to celebrate the 3-time Super-Bowl-champion Patriots. Building on the bus’ already spacious floor plan, the owners added plush seating, racks for coolers and gear and a premium stereo system (complete with external speakers hidden where the school bus lights once were). Combine that with a superb Patriot-themed paint job, and even Bill Belichick would be hard-pressed not to crack a smile at one of this Chevy Van’s tailgates.
3. We’re just going to go ahead and say it: The Pontiac Aztek is our third-favorite tailgating vehicle. Go ahead, mock our choice—it’s not like the Aztek hasn’t been lambasted before. The simple fact is, the Aztek is an innovative car and a great option for tailgating, even though its looks may be lacking. Revolutionary in its time, the Aztek was available with a built-in (but removable) cooler and had a Pioneer sound system with controls in the back, specifically designed for tailgating. Add to that the fact that the tailgate was designed to be enjoyed (with cupholders and a contoured seating area), and there is no doubt in our minds that the Aztek was (and still is) a tailgate party disguised as an SUV.
2. Our runner-up is far and away our favorite modern tailgater: the Ram 1500. It seems like Ram’s engineers designed this truck specifically for Sunday. The first feature that has football fans cheering is Ram’s RamBox Cargo Management System, which adds a pair of storage spaces to your truck along either side of the bed. Like the trunk in the Ridgeline, you can fill these compartments up with ice and drinks (up to 240 12-ounce cans), leaving more room in your bed for grills, games and other necessities. Also a great tailgating feature on the Ram is Chrysler’s Uconnect wi-fi system, which creates a wireless network for you and your friends within about 150 feet of the truck. As any fan can attest, this feature eliminates the problem of trying to check how other teams in the division are doing while the 80,000 people around you eat up the local 3G signal uploading pictures to Facebook. Consider the Ram’s day-to-day utility and sky-high owner satisfaction, and it is without a doubt the best new vehicle out there for tailgaters.
1. Our number one car brings us back to the days when college national championships still came to Cambridge: the Ford Model T. While the Model T may not have come with an onboard refrigerator or premium sound system, it did come with two options none of the other cars on our list can claim: a grill (3 of them, actually) and a cooker. In the early 1920s, Henry Ford visited a Model T plant and was upset to see how much scrap wood resulted from Model T production. Ford decided to turn the excess wood into charcoal and sell it, first under the Ford name and later as Kingsford. To promote this, Ford made 3 types of grills and gave them to customers free of charge when they purchased a Model T.
In addition to the grills, a Model T Cooker was available, which hung from the exhaust manifold and could (slowly) cook food while the engine was running. There’s even a (very short) cookbook for manifold cooking. While it’s unclear whether any Model T-owning football fans ever cooked ribs on their way to Harvard Stadium, the fact that the Model T facilitated the founding of Kingsford (a staple of modern-day tailgating), came with the most important piece of tailgating gear standard and allowed you to arrive at the stadium with hot, freshly-cooked burgers makes it our favorite car for tailgating.
What are your favorite cars for tailgating?