Historic Four-Wheel-Drive Wagons
‘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.
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.
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
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
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
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.