Even if you’re a full time city dweller, there are moments when you want to feel like an off-roading, rugged badass. That’s where the SUV comes in. But not the modern, plush SUVs designed by former Spice Girls – the real sport utility vehicles from the golden age of off-roading.
These barebones, classic four-wheel drives are simple, honest, tough and totally cool. See for yourself.
1990 Mercedes G-Class
“Mercedes” and “macho” aren’t normally words you put together, but the G-Class changed that in 1979. If a mad scientist developed a way to transform testosterone into a car, it would be this. Built to take over small countries, the über-cool G-wagen (short for “Geländewagen”) is known for its boxy styling and body-on-frame construction. The second Geländewagen appeared in 1990 with a slightly revamped look, new safety features, a revised four-wheel drive system and a more luxurious interior. The G-Class is still in production and is one of the longest produced Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Daimler’s history.
1970 Range Rover
Now in its fourth generation, the original Range Rover made its debut in 1970. The Rover Company had been experimenting with a larger model than the Land Rover Series as far back as 1951, but the first Range Rover prototype wasn’t built until 1967. Unlike other 4x4s at the time, the original Range Rover was not designed as a luxury vehicle (think vinyl seats and plastic dashboards that were meant to be washed down with a hose). Despite its lack of glamour, the Musée du Louvre in Paris exhibited a Range Rover as an “exemplary work of industrial design” in the early 1970s.
1986 Jeep CJ7 Laredo
The Willys CJ (later the Jeep CJ or “Civilian Jeep”) is a public version of the famous Willys Military Jeep from World War II. The first CJ prototype (the Willys CJ-2) was introduced in 1944. By 1986, Jeep was up to the CJ7, which featured an optional new automatic all-wheel drive system called Quadra-Trac, an optional moulded hardtop and steel doors. The upgraded Laredo model featured highback leather bucket seats, a tilting steering wheel and an elaborate chrome package that included the bumpers, front grille, and mirrors.
1965 International Harvester Scout
The Scout by International Harvester was a pioneering American off-road vehicle manufactured from 1961 to 1980 as a competitor to the Jeep. The original Scout 80s were built between 1960 and 1965 with removable sliding side windows, a fold-down windshield, vacuum windshield wipers mounted to the top of the windshield and an IH logo in the centre of the grille. The Scout 800 replaced the Scout 80 in 1965 with updates like bucket seats, better instrumentation and heating systems, an updated dashboard and optional rear seats. Early Scouts are primitive, but there’s an elegance to their simplicity.
1970 Suzuki LJ10
The LJ10 has its roots in a small car company called the Hope Motor Company. Before being purchased by Suzuki in 1968, Hope produced a small number of 4×4 “kei” cars (which receive certain tax privileges and other benefits in Japan) known as the ON360s.
When Suzuki took over, they gave the ON360 a makeover with their own two stroke, two cylinder, 25-horsepower air cooled engine and the LJ10 was born. It was the first four-wheel drive kei car to enter series production and became Suzuki’s first global success, lending it name recognition and a foothold in markets worldwide.
Toyota Land Cruiser FJ55
The Land Cruiser series is the longest running in Toyota history. Production of the first generation Land Cruiser began in 1951 as Toyota’s take on the Jeep. The Land Cruiser’s reliability and longevity have made it especially popular in Australia, where it’s the best-selling body-on-frame, four-wheel drive vehicle. Production of the FJ55, a 4-door station wagon version intended for sale in North America and Australia, began in 1967. It was colloquially known as the “Moose.” It has also been referred to as a “pig” or an “iron pig.” Why? We’re not exactly sure, but undoubtedly it had something to do with its much lauded off-road abilities.
1971 Ford Baja Bronco
After convincing Ford representatives to start a West Coast racing operation in 1950, Bill Stroppe elected to go off-road racing using Ford’s Bronco in the late ‘60s. By 1971, Stroppe Broncos had won both the Baja 500 and 1000, and Ford saw an opportunity to create a special Bronco for off-road enthusiasts. Ford announced the release of the Baja Bronco in January of 1971, a “limited production duplicate” of Stroppe’s team cars. The most interesting upgrades to the Baja models were the automatic transmission and the power steering, neither of which were yet available on the regular Bronco.
1980 Land Rover Defender
The original Land Rover Series 1 was created in 1948 to serve the same general purpose as the U.S. Army’s Jeep. By the mid-80s, the utilitarian off-road SUV was known as the Defender Ninety or Defender One Ten, with the numbers respectively representing the two- and four-door models’ wheelbases (rounded to the nearest 10). Land Rover announced in October 2013 that production of the Defender would end in December 2015 after a continuous run of 67 years, so if you plan to start your own UN peacekeeping mission sometime in the near future, better get your hands on one now.
1986 Lamborghini LM002
Yes, believe it or not, Lamborghini has its very own 4WD SUV. The “Rambo Lambo” was the civilian version of a military vehicle and the first four-wheel drive model manufactured by Lamborghini. The car’s famous owners include H.R.H. King Hassan of Morocco, Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner and Van Halen. Quite a few infamous names also appear on the Lamborghini LM002 owners list, including Mike Tyson, Pablo Escobar, Muumar Qadaffi and Uday Hussein, whose LM002 was blown up by the U.S. military in 2004 during a “test” to simulate the effects of a car bomb.
1974 Fiat Campagnola
The 1974 model of the Campagnola represents the second generation of the light off-road vehicle produced by Fiat. Production began on the first edition in 1951 to compete against Land Rovers, Land Cruisers and Jeep CJs, but it never caught on outside its home country of Italy. The 1974 redesign of the Fiat Campagnola saw the introduction of an enlarged engine and six MacPherson struts. Since 1975 it has been delivered to every Italian armed service in many versions. One was even used as the Popemobile, though the Pope was never actually transported in it.
Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution
You could argue that a 4WD from 1997 isn’t exactly a “classic”…and we’d counter that with “stop being in denial about getting old – it crosses the 20 year mark, it’s a classic”. The Pajero Evolution is a Frankenstein of sorts, born from the homologation rules of the gruelling Dakar Rally race of 1997 – 1999.
It did so as a means of entering the Dakar Rally’s production-based T2 class, and luckily they did because it all paid off. The Pajero Evolution decimated its competition by winning their class and the entire race altogether, beating out much quicker opponents in the T3 class. By the end the car would eventually cover 10,000km over 18 days whilst finishing five hours ahead of its closest competitor.
In the road car world, only 2,500 examples of the PajEvo were released worldwide in order to meet the stock car class of the race. The rare as nuts 4WD boasted revised suspension, differentials, skidplates, Recaro seats, a wild widebody kit and a variable-valve timing 3.5-litre V6 pumping out 206kW of power and 350Nm of torque (underrated as per the Japanese ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ at the time).