Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like

They are in every yard, they have flooded cities and villages, and they are preferred to the once popular C-segment sedans…

The market was indeed filled up with SUVs of all colors and sizes: every self-respecting car manufacturer has not just an SUV in its line-up but also a representative model in almost every car segment. Everyone, who knows the difference between a bicycle and a car, knows their names. But we bet that most of you will see these 12 SUVs for the first time.

AMC Eagle

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 2

Many people consider this AWD station wagon with off-road capability to be the ancestor of the SUV, though this is not the case. The first line in our article was given to the car due to the alphabetical order.

So, the Eagle. AMC-Jeep was in a fever after the second energy crisis because demand for its voracious SUV line-up had plummeted. The car market urgently needed something between the cheap Subaru and the big Jeep Wagoneer.

An incredible and beautiful solution was found quite quickly. In 1979, the Eagle entered the market: the fusion between the affordable AMC Concord and the AWD Jeep platform. The car had a monocoque body, a three-speed automatic transmission (there were also 4- and 5-speed manual transmissions), an interaxle viscous coupling, IFS and six body types to choose from (from a station wagon to a coupe and even a convertible). The model literally blew up the market. Despite the fact that the car had full-fledged off-road capabilities, it did not look like an SUV. In addition, running smoothness and overall comfort were at the highest level. The Eagle was equipped with various engines, e.g. a 2.5-liter L4 engine and a pair of V6s with 3.6 and 4.2-liter volumes.

Citroen 2CV Sahara

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 3

The Citroen 2CV (French: «deux chevaux-vapeur», lit. «two steam horses») was good in every aspect: the true national model was in high demand in France and used in different ways. The ultra-affordable 2CV replaced the farmer's horse and cart, and the citizen's bicycle and cab. And everything about it was fine, even the ground clearance was suitable for off-road but there was no AWD version.

In 1960, the all-wheel drive Citroen 2CV finally appeared: it was quite a serious and all-wheel drive car of the C-segment. Citroen’s engineers had to work hard: the poor 2-cylinder engine barely coped with the front axle, plus the all-wheel drive transmission was out of the question. The AWD drivetrain would have increased the car’s price and have made it significantly heavier. Citroen came out of the situation, as always, gracefully, having installed a second such engine with its own transmission in a small trunk! The two four-speed manual transmissions were combined into a connected system and controlled by a single swinging arm. By the way, the AWD 2CV could operate in a front-wheel drive mode, using only the front engine to save fuel. The AWD model could develop an incredible power of 50 hp and accelerate to staggering 100 km/h. As a result of the improvements, the French police and army received their own, excuse me, SUV.

Fiat Panda 4x4

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 4

Do you think this is a common monstrosity of the late twentieth century? Giorgetto Giugiaro himself designed the classic Panda, and visitors of the 1980 Turin Auto Show gasped and clicked their tongues for a long time, viewing a new interpretation of the national car from Fiat.

But three years later, the small Panda was not enough for the market, and Steyr-Daimler-Puch’s engineers, who were death on the production of AWD transmissions, decided to expand the line-up with a 4x4 model. The already brilliant car became a real bestseller: it was sold out in huge numbers by Italian countrymen, where the Panda 4x4 easily gave a head start to such a regular off-road car as the Land Rover Defender. The Panda was equipped with an upgraded 903-сс petrol engine from the Fiat 127. The engine’s lightweight, minimal overhangs and a short base allowed the Panda to drive very confidently along the Alpine gullies.

By the way, the guys from ItalDesign did not turn their back the Panda 4x4. No sooner had the car appeared on the market, as ItalDesign released a sand-colored beach version: the doors and roof were replaced by removable tarpaulin, the windscreen was hinged, and the bumper was refreshed (in the photo). What a beauty!

Ford LD2−4

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 5

Marmon-Herrington, a small design company, has been producing SUVs for the US military since 1931. The company did not have enough production capacity to develop its own car but it is unlikely that its founders, Walter Marmon and Arthur Herrington, were worried about it, because even then the market was full of cars that could be taken as a basis, e.g. Fords. Marmon and Herrington eventually teamed up with Ford: old Henry Ford himself gave the go-ahead to convert his «cans» into all-wheel drive models. As a result, they designed a military AWD car on the one hand and an SUV for general use on the other hand. And this is way back in the ‘30s!

The Ford received a V8 engine of its own design and an original front rigid axle. The rear axle was standard but modified. The leaf springs were changed from transverse to longitudinal — and voila! The SUV of the second third of the last century is ready. Moreover, it should be understood that Marmon-Herrington did not produce trucks or utility vehicles, despite its serious production capacities. They manufactured relatively comfortable AWD cars with off-road capabilities. Farmers and other outdoor enthusiasts were very happy, even though such a car cost twice as much as usual.

Jeep Wagoneer

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 6

This is the first official SUV de jure. Yes, it was the Wagoneer that first received this honorary title. Jeep wanted to create a separate car segment that had not yet been mastered by anyone — a segment of luxury all-wheel drive utility vehicles.

The Wagoneer had a really cool set of options for the ‘60s, like steering and brake boosters, radio, air conditioning, and even a height-adjustable steering column. Unlike its AWD utility rivals, the Wagoneer looked like something supernatural with austere interior and minimal amenities. Imagine what happened to the public when Jeep introduced the even more sophisticated Grand Wagoneer in 1984!

Besides, no one reinvented the wheel: the pompous Wagoneer was based on the SJ platform used in the Jeep Gladiator. A large body was just mounted on the frame «cart». The body was offered in three-and five-door versions. There was also a rare body type — a 3-door van with solid rear panels. The differences between the Wagoneer and Gladiator were the following: the Wagoneer had an independent front suspension but it was still the same Gladiator under the hood. It was equipped with a 3.8- or 4.2-liter I6 petrol engine. There was also an option to choose between more powerful V8s of 5.4, 5.7, 5.9 and even 6.6 liters. All this was worked together with three-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Lada 4x4

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 7

Hardly had it appeared in 1977, Niva literally tore the Western automobile market to shreds. No wonder: the car had a simple and, importantly, lightweight suspension design, a huge clearance, a well-tried engine, a short body with minimal overhangs and a nice-looking interior. Customers living from Canada to Australia wanted to get that car because of the features it could offer. However, the Lada went up like a rocket and came down like a stick. The car's good off-road capability and other features were not enough for the spoiled Western buyer. And here, both small and large tuning specialists pulled themselves up. They released a convertible, a pickup, a landaulet, a Niva in the Dakar Rally style, a Niva in the glamorous style of St-Tropez, Astro-Taiga, Deauville, iKRA, Denim, Kodiak… In order to list only the official versions, we will run out of all fingers and toes. And not to mention dealers’ modifications! The tuning level was completely different: from purely decorative thingies to fully modified bodies and units. Do you think the demand for the Lada 4x4 has subsided in Europe these days? Hell no. It still sells well, especially in Spain, Germany and France. And this is despite the fact that the Soviet SUV has survived without major changes.

Lamborghini LM002

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 8

No need for indignant screams. They say that the LM002 is not an SUV. Our selection is conditional; the main criteria are comfort, versatility and historical value. Therefore, the LM002 has the right to be listed here.

The most unexpected and scandalous, as befits a thoroughbred Italian, Lamborghini LM002 is not just a beautiful toy. Initially, this SUV was designed for military purposes as part of the HMMWV program to supply the American Army. In the mid-1970s, USA-based Mobility Technology International came to Lamborghini, saying, help us develop a car for American soldiers. The Italians helped design the car and made the same one to participate in the HMMWV program. After the scandal, Lamborghini certainly lost the competition, and the contract was eventually given to Hummer. However, the Italians continued working on the project, refocusing on the Middle East. But even here they failed: even after a number of upgrades, the car was too difficult to be driven by soldiers. Suddenly, a very well-to-do audience became interested in it: oil magnates, movie stars, athletes.

The ornate «Lambo» had a spatial frame, an independent suspension for each wheel, and the Lamborghini Countach’s V12. This 5.2-liter unit developed 426 hp, which, despite being all-wheel drive and weighing 3 tons, allowed the LM002 to accelerate to 100 km/h in 8 seconds. The interior was of the first class: leather, electric drive everything, climate control, premium audio system, and so on.

Matra Rancho

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 9

What can an aerospace company produce in its spare time? Of course SUVs! It is true at least for France-based Simca, which main business activity was the production of aerospace equipment, but that did not stop the company to release its own SUV in 1977.

There were only three modifications, which were based on the frame from the ugly Simca 1100 hatchback. The basic version was called the AS and was distinguished by an AWD drivetrain and a three-door fiberglass utility vehicle body. The car was equipped with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine with 80 hp. There was an expedition version called the Grand Raid. It was already fitted with a differential lock on the front axle, a winch on the front bumper and a spare tire on the roof. The top-end Rancho X featured alloy wheels, metallic color and improved interior upholstery.

Mitsubishi PX33

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 10

Today, Mitsubishi has long been synonymous with the AWD drivetrain, although it failed to enter the 4x4 segment in triumph and take rightful place there on the first try. In 1934, the Japanese company designed a passenger SUV with the index PX33. It seems like this idea was not the worst. Even then many companies successfully implemented this. But Mitsubishi's first fry was bound to be a flop: the car designed for the Kwantung army came out more difficult both in maneuvering and in terms of maintenance.

The Mitsubishi PX33 was equipped with an inline six-cylinder diesel engine from the truck (the first Japanese diesel, by the way) with a volume of 6.7 liters and a power output of only 70 hp. However, the thrust of the heavy engine was enough to crawl off-road without using a downshift. Anyway, four PX33s were released in total, after which the Japanese project was discontinued as impractical. Nevertheless, the lightweight passenger SUV was the starting point that determined the vector of development of Mitsubishi's automotive division for many years to come.

Renault Colorale Prairie 4x4

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 11

The undeservedly forgotten and very brilliant 1951 French car never set the Thames on fire but quietly performed its utility function. In the post-war years, French farmers needed just such a vehicle: simple, all-wheel drive, reliable and, of course, comfortable. Unlike most SUVs of those years, the Colorale Prairie 4x4 had an enclosed body that could comfortably accommodate up to eight passengers.

Renault did not even bother and went along the well-trodden path: they made an inelaborate full-metal body, mounted it on the frame and equipped the car with rigid axles. It turned out cheap and cheerful. A leaf spring design of dependent suspensions, a three-speed manual transmission with a two-stage splitter, a pair of simple engines to choose from (2.0 and 2.4 liters) and a clearance of 220 mm were the perfect set for the unpretentious buyer. All this could drive on low gear at a speed of 11 km/h; the maximum speed was 90 km/h.

Skoda 110 VO and Trekka

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 12

The Skoda 110 VO was released in 1948 and based on the 1101 Tudor. It was used for the needs of the army and police. The car was equipped with a 1.1-liter engine with a power output of 32 HP and a four-speed transmission. The non-AWD military car, though with a large ground clearance, can hardly be considered an SUV in all respects: wherever the army was located, the 110 VO served with dignity everywhere.

According to Skoda, this is their other SUV – the Trekka (in the picture). The company considers this funny box their car. Although the model belonged to New Zealand-based Motor Lines, it was based on Skoda’s technologies. A funny body in the style of the Land Rover Defender was mounted on the 1960 Octavia Combi’s chassis. A 1.2-liter engine with 44 hp and a four-speed manual transmission were concealed under the manually hammered steel panels. It was rear-wheel drive only.

Volkswagen KDF Type 82

Off-road Pioneers: What the First SUVs Look Like photo 13

VW’s business has always been going pretty well. The company’s first SUV was not only based on the Kafer but also had an AWD drivetrain in addition to its two-wheel drive version. The Type 82 featured a special lightweight open body with for doors, flat panels, stiffeners, a differential lock, a ground clearance increased to 290 mm, and 16-inch wheels shod in saw-tooth tires. The windshield and tarpaulin roof could fold up. A 1-liter air-cooled engine (20 hp) was installed in the rear bodywork. Later, a 1.1-liter engine (25 hp) was used.

As soon as the Wehrmacht did not use the Type 82, it carried ammunition and personnel, evacuated the wounded, used as a mobile workshop, and God knows how else. In total, there were about 30 modifications of the WWII car. There was even a military version for the Waffen SS with the KdF-38’s enclosed body.

Related News

Sign up or log in to post a comment