Historic Four-Wheel-Drive Wagons

by: Tim Weadock

December 11, 2012

‘Tis the season for loading the family into a mammoth SUV and traveling over the hills and through the woods to grandmother’s house. Modern 4x4s have come a long way since Ferdinard Porsche created the first working prototype in 1900. Check out the history of these favorite 4x4 family haulers from the last century.

Chevrolet/GMC Suburban

1936 Suburban

When it comes to family-hauling four-wheel drives, the Chevrolet Suburban is undeniably king. The longest-running nameplate of its kind, the Suburban was introduced in 1936 as part of the ½-ton FB Series. The Suburban Carryall was a two-door panel truck with the cargo area replaced by passenger seating. A 237-cid inline-six was tasked with powering the heavy beast.

Like its utility vehicle brethren, the Suburban served in WWII as a military transport vehicle. When post-war civilian production resumed, the Suburban was largely unchanged. The 1950s brought a series of innovative improvements: Hydra-Matic transmission (1953-54), V-8 power (1955) and four-wheel drive (1957), which was initially offered only on six-cylinder models.

1957 Suburban

The sixth generation Suburban received a restyled body featuring a third rear door, and C (2WD) and K (4WD) model designations were introduced.

General Motors overhauled the Suburban in 1973; the handsome exterior, improved accessibility and ease of use made the Suburban appealing to growing families. Full time four-wheel drive and engine options capped off by a 454-cid/240-hp V-8 gave the king towing power to haul just about any type of recreational toy a family desired.

The Suburban assumed its place at the top of the four-wheel-drive family hauler heap in the 1990s when inexpensive gas prices and a strong economy resulted in the model’s highest sales totals.

Dodge Power Wagon

Power Wagon

Dodge long ago established a reputation for building rugged and reliable trucks. A civilian version of the military’s Power Wagon was first offered in 1946. Aside from a more comfortable cab, the public production model was based on the same ¾-ton chassis as the Army version of the truck. It was powered by a 230-cid six-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed transmission with carburized gears, and featured a two-speed transfer case.

The Power Wagon is most commonly known as a pickup, but its go-anywhere four-wheel-drive capabilities made variations of its chassis and cab platform desirable to both commercial and personal consumers. Ambulance, fire truck, tow truck and station wagon versions of the Power Wagon were all produced.

An early automotive jack-of-all-trades, the station wagon variant was a through-the-looking-glass sign of times to come. Its brute strength, all-terrain capability, storage and contemporary design (woodie bodies) were a blueprint for the present-day SUV.

Toyota Land Cruiser

Land Cruiser

Toyota’s entry into the family four-wheel-drive market can be traced back to 1951. The Japanese automaker first joined the fray with the Jeep BJ. The Land Cruiser name was introduced with the 1954 model due to accusations of trademark violation by Willys Corporation.

The 20 Series Land Cruisers debuted in 1955. Toyota built BJ (diesel) and FJ (gasoline) models, with F-type engines standard on exports. The FJ28VA could be purchased as a two-door or four-door long body hard top. Engineers placed an emphasis on ride comfort, improving the suspension by extending the leaf springs and reducing the number of plates.

A low range sub-gear was added to the 1960 FJ 40 Series. The low range improved acceleration and performance on bad roads.

By 1967, the U.S. demand for station wagons had greatly increased. In response, Toyota introduced the FJ55V. The FJ55V was designed as an all-condition station wagon; if you needed a wagon to haul people or cargo over a washed-out road or snow-covered pass, the Land Cruiser could do the job. The larger body size and passenger car comfort helped change consumer perception of four-wheel-drive wagons.

The Land Cruiser continues today and is Toyota’s longest-running model.

Land Rover Range Rover

Range Rover

British automakers are well-known purveyors of luxury vehicles. Land Rover built the first luxury 4x4 in 1948. The model quickly gained popularity for its design, capability and strength. A seven-seat station wagon model with coach-work by Tickford followed a year later.

Land Rover took over manufacturing duties in the mid-1950s. By the end of the decade, engineers had begun experimenting with estate-type bodies fitted over the utility chassis. The project was termed the “100-inch station wagon.”

As sport utility vehicles became an established market segment, Land Rover seized the opportunity to create the benchmark for luxury models. The original Range Rover (now called the “Classic”) launched in June 1970. Advertised as “the most versatile motor car in the world,” the Classic debuted as a two-door wagon with exceptional off-road capability and comfort. Underneath the wood-trimmed leather interior sat a Buick-derived 135-hp V-8 capable of reaching 100 mph.

Demand for the Range Rover was higher than expected, and Land Rover worked to fulfill a waiting list of orders until 1974. The Range Rover continued in production until 1995.

Comments

  1. Dave Ball San Jose Ca

    How could you leave out the Jeep and the early International scout also Dodge produced a Town wagon power wagon that was very near identical to its Carryall from WW2 know as the 3/4 ton WC-53.This are historic vehicles are they not.

  2. Bill Hunstock Minneapolis, MN

    How do you leave out the 1946 - 1963 Wilys Jeep 4x4 Wagon, as well the later Wagoneer, and Cherokee made by Jeep?

  3. Bill Hunstock Minneapolis, MN

    How do you leave out the 1946 - 1963 Wilys Jeep 4x4 Wagon, as well the later Wagoneer, and Cherokee made by Jeep?

  4. job b maine

    With both the land rover and the toyota being knock offs of the original willys jeep, how can you write an article about historic wagons without mentioning any jeeps?? The 63 Wagoneer is most often credited as being the first modern SUV and remained in production largely unchanged untill 1991. Lazy or uninformed author, shame on you Hemmings.

  5. larry evans michigan

    I'm shocked you omitted the Jeep Wagoneer or Cherokee...These cars were mainstays until dropped in early 1990's

  6. Patrick Cheyenne, WY

    What about the venerable International Harvester Travelall? Beginning with the R line in 1953 IH produced an all-steel wagon which could be ordered with factory four wheel drive. In 1957, IH celebrated their 50th anniversary as a truck builder and their Travelall got a third passenger door (on the curb side). Travelall got a fourth passenger door in 1961. This was clearly a people-friendly upgrade and made trips to grandma's house much more comfortable. By contrast, GM Suburbans didn't get three passenger doors until 1967 and four passenger doors finally arrived in 1973. International Harvester was on the ground floor in developing what we now consider the modern sport utility vehicle. Mr. Weadock, your list of historic 20th century four wheel drive wagons isn't complete without a Travelall.

  7. Tom Shearer Virginia

    I remember using Carryalls and Powerwagons back in the early 60s when a Boy Scout on a remote Navy base in Nevada. The vehicles got us in and out of some tough terrain in the Tyoibe National Forest. One time when it was -20 Farenheit, we could not get the engine to turn over while camped in deep snow.......just used a fire burned down to coals in the middle of the road. Rolled the crankcase over the hot coals and got her started about 15 minutes later.

  8. Philip de Vos Virginia

    ITS A JEEP THING AFTER ALL

  9. PAUL CULBERTSON SPRING,TX.

    All of the above are for sure accurate. Living in Teller County, Colorado in 1969, I had a friend with a new IHC CARRYALL 4x4 with the big 390+ V-8. It was one big SUV! We also put small block Chevy engines in several Jeep 4x4 Wagons and a few IHC Scouts. These were all great 4x4's!

  10. Chris California

    Did I miss something? I don't see anything in the title implying this is a "best of" or "top 10" or "all inclusive" list of 4x4s, it looks like an article giving some background info on five vintage 4x4s. Whatever. The pic of that woody Power Wagon is SWEET - I never knew they even made one.

  11. Steven Szerdy Hudson, Ohio

    Where's the second half of this article that talks about the pioneers of 4x4s, JEEP?

  12. Michael Roye Midland, TX.

    I wish you would include the Jeep Scrambler since they were in very limited production ( 26,000 +- total ) for all models from 1981-1986.

  13. Russ Vollmer Long Island

    The Range Rover continues in production-in two versions, too. I believe production of the original body style, as shown in the photo, is what ended in 1995. Also, I believe that the inspiration for the Land Cruiser came from the long wheelbase Land Rover Defender 110 which, along with the legendary, Jeep-like Defender 90, was not shown in the article. And yes, it would have been nice to see some examples of the early Willys Jeep Wagons which were arguably the first SUVs produced for public use.

  14. JOHN PHILLIPS United States

    I HAVE AN FULLY LOADED, ALL ORIGINAL, 4 WHEEL DRIVE ,1976 INTERNATIONAL SCOUT TRAVELER WITH ONLY 60,000 ACTUAL MILES. I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT A VEHICLE SUCH AS THAT WOULD BE MENTIONED. AS IT GETS NO RESPECT, I MIGHT AS WELL TRY TO FIND IT A NEW HOME !! INTERESTED ?? pjohnf@bellsouth.net

  15. james lavold california

    DONT FORGET THE OLD FORD BRONCO RAN 10 YEARS WITHOUT A BODY CHANGE!!!!!!

  16. james lavold california

    DONT FORGET THE OLD FORD BRONCO RAN 10 YEARS WITHOUT A BODY CHANGE!!!!!!

  17. james lavold california

    DONT FORGET THE OLD FORD BRONCO RAN 10 YEARS WITHOUT A BODY CHANGE!!!!!!

  18. james lavold california

    DONT FORGET THE OLD FORD BRONCO RAN 10 YEARS WITHOUT A BODY CHANGE!!!!!!

  19. Colin Peabody Phoenix, AZ

    Well, everyone has pretty well chewed your butts for leaving out the Jeep Station wagon in it various forms from 1946-present and the International Carryall. You really dropped the ball on this. Oh yeah, and the photo of the 55-56 Chevrolet Suburban is actually a GMC. Come on you guys, you are supposed to be car people. Well, maybe what I just said is the explanation. You are car people, not TRUCK people!

  20. Frank Swygert Leesville, SC

    I have to agree -- there can be no legitimate article on vintage 4x4 wagons without mentionein Jeep -- even if it's just to say that everyone is aware of the Jeep wagons, so here's some others... That only works if you're talking about the more obscure makes like the Power Wagon (love that photo!). To mention Range Rover, Chevy, and Toyota and not mention Jeep, which basically created the market those jumped into, is a travesty! Sorry Tim, but you don't need to be writing about 4x4s if you make a blunder like that!

  21. Mike Maryland

    Gotta agree with the comments about the Jeep and International. Also, being a Land Rover fan, your statement "Land Rover built the first luxury 4x4 in 1948" is pretty funny. The 1948 Land Rover, commonly called a Series I, was NO luxury 4x4 anymore than the first Jeep was. I think you guys need to do a bit more research....

  22. Jeff Littleton, CO

    Nice to see that you mention Landcruisers and not Jeeps! I love it!! I would have added the old Broncos and IH vehicles though. Anything but a Jeep is fine by me! I do agree that you guys are car people and not 4x4 people, you wouldn't take my vehicle because I do drive on dirt occasionally.

  23. Tim Texas

    FYI- Any article under a thousand words should include every vehicle year, make and model produced throughout the history of modern transportation corresponding to the relevant topic. The article should also include the origin of the transportation necessity and all aspects of social change that occurred before, during and after each vehicle was introduced into the market. It would also be beneficial to include what impact vendor model changes had upon targeted geographical markets. I say either cover the story or refrain from writing it. I drive a 1976 e250 pathfinder conversion which was not reflected in this article leading me to believe that a vehicle that is not considered OEM is irrelevant. P.S. Thank you for allowing comments. Reading and posting comments always proves to be a jocund deviation from work!

  24. Brian Midwest

    Mr. Weadock states, "Underneath the wood-trimmed leather interior sat a Buick-derived 135-hp V-8 capable of reaching 100 mph." Obviously, he's never seen the interior of an early Range Rover: there's vinyl rather than leather, rubber mats on the floors intended to be spraryed clean with a garden hose, and absolutely no wood in sight. Please do some research before writing such things. Other classic 4x4s not mentioned include the Nissan Patrol, the Mercedes-Benz Unimog and Gelandewagen, the little Suzuki Samuri, the Volkswagen Iltis, the Fiat Campagnola and the Austin Gipsy which, despite its failure on the marketplace, was equipped with some rather revolutionary features.

  25. Billy Kankakee, IL

    I remember my buddy Sluggo and I would get so hammered in my old IH Travelall hitting snowbanks. One time we got stuck and had to boil our own urine in the back for heat and when it cooled drinking water. Sluggo almost set the old IH on fire! One time Sluggo and me picked up a couple lot lizards in the parking lot of a truck stop in Southern IL. We ended up doing pcp with them and we woke up in the back of the IH 21 days later in Mobile Alabama naked. Those gals had handcuffed us to each other in the 69 position. We sat there for two days until a deputy spotted the truck and let us out. but, not until they laughed at us an took pictures! I really miss that Travellall! Billy

  26. Billy Kankakee, IL

    I remember my buddy Sluggo and I would get so hammered in my old IH Travelall hitting snowbanks. One time we got stuck and had to boil our own urine in the back for heat and when it cooled drinking water. Sluggo almost set the old IH on fire! One time Sluggo and me picked up a couple lot lizards in the parking lot of a truck stop in Southern IL. We ended up doing pcp with them and we woke up in the back of the IH 21 days later in Mobile Alabama naked. Those gals had handcuffed us to each other in the 69 position. We sat there for two days until a deputy spotted the truck and let us out. but, not until they laughed at us an took pictures! I really miss that Travellall! Billy

  27. Jon Texas

    The best part that always get left out about Land Rover is the very first one was built off a Jeep CJ2a chassis! The 2 brothers loved their Jeep, but couldnt get parts in Australia, so they decided to build their own, using the Jeep as the prototype!

  28. Jon Texas

    The best part that always get left out about Land Rover is the very first one was built off a Jeep CJ2a chassis! The 2 brothers loved their Jeep, but couldnt get parts in Australia, so they decided to build their own, using the Jeep as the prototype!

  29. Jim California

    I owned 4 by's all my life growning up in Colorado. They included an IH Scout II, Willy's wagon, three Land Crusers, and a Chevy. They all served me well when I needed them most. Love them all.

  30. Mike Florida

    Toyoda (Toyota) had a 4x4 jeep vehicle in 1935, Ford and Dodge both had 4x4 trucks as well as others before the jeep vehicle as we know it was invented by American Bantam whose blueprints were given to Ford and Willys to build copies for the govt. use.

  31. Mark Washington

    Everyone ease up a bit. I dont see where the article claims these are the only 5 4x4 SUV units ever made, it just talks about this small sample. I would however love to see something about the first Porsche model mentioned in the header as having been invented in 1900. I will have to look that up elsewhere...