Four-wheel drive systems are almost as old as the car itself. In 1893, just seven years after Carl Benz debuted the first car, the English engineer Bramah Joseph Diplock patented a four-wheel drive system for a steam-powered vehicle, to allow enhanced offroad capability.
In response to a request from the US military, the Bantam Car company developed a four-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle. Designed by Karl Probst, the original prototype was produced in just two months and was the blueprint for what became commonly known as a General Purpose Vehicle- G.P.- and eventually the “jeep”.
Land Rover Naming
In 1947, Spencer Wilks, the MD of the Rover car company, was driving a Rover 12 with raised suspension on his Scottish estate. His thoughts turned to producing a dedicated off-road vehicle and his gamekeeper, Ian Fraser, suggested a name – if the new model was to be a Rover for the land, why not call it a Land Rover?
Land Rover Design
Legend has it that the design for the original Land Rover was drawn in 1947 on a beach in Angelsey, Wales, by Maurice Wilks, the chief designer of the Rover Company. The first prototype was based on the mechanicals of a wartime Jeep.
In July, 1950 Ben Carlin and his wife, Elinore, set off from Halifax, Canada to complete the first circumnavigation of the globe by an amphibious vehicle. Their epic trip included an unscheduled stop in Siberia and a thirty-one day crossing of the Atlantic, navigating only by the stars, while towing a bowser containing 7000 gallons of petrol.
Toyota ‘Jeep’ BJ
Japan’s answer to the Land Rover came in the form of the ‘Jeep’ BJ prototype, developed by Toyota. In July 1951, Toyota test driver Ichiro Taira drove to the sixth stage of Mount Fuji – the first time a vehicle had ever achieved this feat. It went into production in 1953 and in 1954 was renamed, ‘Land Cruiser’.
Porsche 597 Jagdwagen
In recent years, Porsche has achieved huge success with its luxury SUVs, but the company’s first 4×4 was much more utilitarian. The Jagdwagen or ‘hunting car’ was developed for the German military. It used a rear-mounted engine from the 356 sports car and hit 62mph, but proved too expensive compared with the rival DKW Munga and just 49 were built for civilian use.
The vehicle that arguably gave birth to the modern, luxury SUV first appeared in 1970. Billed as ‘A Car For All Reasons’, it combined the off-road prowess of the familiar Land Rover with a top speed of over 100mph. Originally launched as a two-door, the Range Rover had space for five.
There are currently three off-roaders on the moon. The Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions all left their Lunar Rover Vehicle behind when they returned to earth. Capable of 10-12km/h, they had four electric motors, one for each of the wheels.
First Paris-Dakar Rally
The first Paris-Dakar Rally ran from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal. Widely regarded as the world’s toughest off-road rally, it’s now known simply as the Dakar and is held in South America, the switch in venue occasioned by political problems in Africa.
Now renamed the G-Class, Mercedes’ off-roader has been in continuous production since 1979. Originally developed as a military vehicle for the Shah of Iran (then a Mercedes shareholder), it has developed a cult following with the birth of ever more powerful and luxurious versions.
Known as ‘the Olympics of 4×4’, the Camel Trophy adventure race ran from 1980-2000. Featuring some of the most extreme off-road driving ever seen in territories as far-flung as Borneo and Zaire, its first event was run with Jeeps but thereafter became synonymous with Land Rover vehicles.
Debuting in 1984, the Humvee was a response to a US military’s request for a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). It first saw combat in Operation Just Cause, the US invasion of Panama in 1989, but was made famous by its role in the Gulf War of 1991. Almost 300,000 have been built.
Launched in 1986, the Lamborghini LM002 remains one of the most eccentric and collectable off-roaders ever produced. It used a 5.2-litre V12 engine from the Lamborghini Countach supercar and just 328 were built.
The original Hummer was a civilian version of the M998 Humvee, built by the AM General Corporation. It was owned and popularised by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who fell in love with the concept after seeing a convoy of Humvees on a movie set.
In 2008, the UK’s Steve Burgess became the first person to cross the 89.6km (56 mile) Bering Strait in a land vehicle. Burgess used a Land Rover fitted with a propeller and a pair of gigantic floats, making the journey from Russia to Alaska in 18 hours and 50 minutes.
In January 2013, Corporal Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie became the first amputee ever to finish the infamous Dakar Rally, when his Bowler Wildcat crossed the finish line in Chile. Gillespie was the co-driver for Major Matthew O’Hare in the Race2Recovery team.
The final Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in Solihull on 29 th January, 2016. It was the 2,016,933th example to be built and was retained by Land Rover as part of its Heritage Collection.
INEOS Chairman Jim Ratcliffe announced his plans to build a brand new 4×4 vehicle – an “uncompromising off roader” – honouring the spirit of the discontinued Defender. The endeavour, nicknamed ‘“Projekt Grenadier’,” is incorporating German engineering into a new, reliable vehicle design compliant with modern driving regulations.