Many of today’s most popular off-road vehicles started their lives as military vehicles. Whether it’s the Jeeps driven by Americans and their allies in World War II or the Toyota Land Cruiser designed for battle by the Japanese. These iconic vehicles went from being strictly utilitarian military vehicles to becoming some of the most popular automobiles on the civilian market. Here are fourteen of the most popular off-road vehicles of all time.
When you think of off-road vehicles, chances are the Jeep Wrangler is one of the first vehicles that comes to mind. A true American icon. The Wrangler is a direct descendant of the Willys MB military Jeeps driven in combat zones from World War II to Korea to Vietnam.
The Jeep became such an important vehicle to America and its allies that President Eisenhower called it "one of three decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII." Jeep later produced the Wrangler by taking this classic military vehicle and making a version that was more comfortable with better on-road manners. The new Wrangler has a lot more creature comforts inside than the old Willys MB, but don’t let the refined looks fool you. Even the base model comes with part-time four-wheel drive, high and low gears and a rugged body on frame design. They can also be driven with the roof and doors removed, just like their military predecessors.
The Hummer H1 is a four-wheel drive utility vehicle produced by AM General from 1992 through 2006. The Hummer was designed strictly for military use, then later it was introduced to the civilian market due to the overwhelming customer demand. Later, GM began marketing the Hummer H2 that was also assembled by AM General on a modified GMC 2500HD chassis. GM stopped marketing the H1 in 2006, but AM General continued production of the military Humvee versions.
The iconic Hummer H1 came to fame from photographs published during Operation Desert Storm alongside a marketing campaign from actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nothing says tough, battle ready and off-road capable like a Hummer.
Jeep built its reputation for making rugged military vehicles and then continued to expand into the civilian market with more family friendly models. Introduced in the mid 60’s, the Jeep Wagoneer was aimed directly at growing families that needed comfortable seating for all the kids plus plenty of room for storage.
Despite its bulky size and optional wood paneling, this is not your average station wagon. The Jeep Wagoneer is plenty capable off road. It also came loaded with high end options, which was unique for an off-road vehicle at the time. Power brakes, power steering, a tilting steering wheel and a high-end ratio set the Wagoneer a cut above the competition.
Jeep gained worldwide recognition with their military vehicles used in World War II. Later, they continued growing their vehicle line up to serve the civilian market. Many Americans wanted a reliable vehicle that was comfortable for everyday use yet still capable enough for off-road adventures.
In the early 1960s, Jeep introduced the Gladiator pickup truck. It was built on the same rugged platform as the Wagoneer, but the Gladiator offered a pickup truck bed rather than extra rows of seating. The original Jeep Gladiator was produced from 1962 until 1988, when it was discontinued due to dwindling sales numbers.
Gladiator lovers rejoice! Jeep reintroduced an all new Gladiator model to the market in 2019. The new one is built on the Jeep Wrangler frame, rather than the now discontinued Wagoneer. The all new Gladiator is essentially a four door Jeep Wrangler with seating for five and a five-foot pickup bed.
Toyota began producing the Tacoma in 1995 and it quickly became one of the top selling compact trucks in America. In 2005, the Toyota Tacoma was named truck of the year by Motor Trend Magazine. The second generation, in production from 2005 to 2015, and the third generation which has been in production ever since, have grown in size a bit and are now considered mid-sized pickup trucks. The current Tacomas are produced in the United States and Mexico and continue to be one of Toyota’s top sellers.
The Toyota Land Cruiser is a timeless classic in the SUV world with a reputation for rugged reliability. It has become the top choice of off-road aficionados across the globe. The Land Cruiser is extremely popular in Africa where it’s used by the UN on humanitarian missions as well as government and military officials.
The Toyota Land Cruiser’s origins date all the way back to 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Army was occupying the Philippines. There, they discovered an American military Jeep and sent it back to Japan. Japanese military officials ordered Toyota to produce a similar vehicle but to alter the appearance. After several iterations, the Land Cruiser was born and now it has become Toyota’s longest running model. As of 2019, Toyota has sold more than ten million Land Cruisers around the world.
Toyota began producing the 4Runner in 1984. At that time, it was little more than a basic Toyota pickup truck with a fiberglass top over the bed. Overtime, it became much more luxurious, allowing it to compete with the best midsize SUVs on the market.
In 2019, a study by iSeeCars.com ranked the Toyota 4Runner as the longest-lasting vehicle in the US. The 4Runner made up 3.9% of vehicles over 200,000 miles (320,000 km), according to the study. This top-notch reliability has made the 4Runner one of the most popular vehicles in America and around the world. The 4Runner is still being produced today and sales are at an all-time high. In 2018, Toyota sold 139,694 4Runners in the United States alone.
Featured Image Credit: IFCAR / Public domain
The Isuzu Trooper was one of the most popular SUVs of the 80s and 90s. This rugged midsize SUV came with low range four-wheel drive, four cylinder and six-cylinder engine options, as well as two door and four door body styles. Japan's Isuzu Trooper was an affordable SUV which became a top choice for Americans who wanted a reliable daily driver that could also handle some rough terrain.
The Ford Bronco is more than an SUV, it’s an American icon. The first generation made its debut in 1966 and was in production for twelve years. Today they are still considered a highly valuable collector’s item. The Ford Bronco had plenty of competition in this segment, but it still sold extremely well due to its rugged off-road suspension, full-time four-wheel drive system and fiberglass top, which could easily be removed for open air driving.
The first version only had a 105 horsepower engine, which Ford quickly updated to a 200 horsepower V8 option. The Ford Bronco was, and still is, the ideal adventure vehicle. Ford just announced the return of the iconic Bronco for the 2021 model year. The new Bronco will be completely updated yet still remain true to its off-road roots, coming standard with four-wheel drive and a removable top.
The Jimny is a classic four-wheel drive compact SUV made by Japanese automaker Suzuki since 1970. The Jimny was Suzuki’s first global success story and has gone on to sell 2.85 million of them in 194 countries from its initial launch in April 1970 through September 2018.
The Jimny was originally developed by the Hope Motor Company of Japan in 1967. The first model was powered by a Mitsubishi two-stroke engine. This small engine mated to the ultra-compact body of the SUV proved to be plenty capable. Later, Suzuki updated the first generation Jimny using a four-stroke engine that produced 41 horsepower. Not a hot rod by anyone’s standards, but still a lot of fun both on and off the road.
The Dodge Power Wagon was a four-wheel drive medium duty truck produced by Dodge from 1945 to 1980. Later, Dodge brought the name back for certain Ram truck models from 2005 to 2013. Most recently, Dodge reintroduced the Power Wagon as an individual truck that is purpose built for off roading.
The Dodge Power Wagon was the first mass produced medium duty 4x4 truck and it quickly set the standard for other truck manufacturers. The Power Wagon was one of the first civilian pickup trucks built specifically for off-roading. The rugged chassis was designed to withstand rocks, mud, water and anything else the trail could throw at it. The first series came standard with a front-end winch, a feature which is also offered on the latest models.
The Power Wagon is not just a capable off-road vehicle, it’s a truck that was literally built for war. The Power Wagon is a direct descendent of the command vehicles Dodge built for the Armed Forces during World War II. The original version, commonly called the “flat fender,” was mechanically based on Dodge’s 3/4 ton series of military trucks.
The Range Rover was launched in 1970 by British Leyland. It’s been in production ever since and the flagship model is now in its fourth generation. The first generation was produced between 1969 and 1996. At its introduction the Range Rover was available only in a 2-door body. It was also very basic and utilitarian compared to a lot of its competitors such as the Jeep Wagoneer. The Range Rover featured vinyl seats and plastic dashboards which were designed to be washed down with a hose.
Later, the Range Rover adopted more convenience features including power steering, carpet floors, air conditioning, leather seats and wood interior trim. The Range Rover is now one of the most luxurious SUVs on the market with a price tag to match. However, underneath all those luxury options the Range Rover is still a very capable off-road vehicle.
Featured Image Credit: Bull-Doser / Public domain
The Mitsubishi Montero, also sold overseas as the Pajero and in some markets the Shogun, is a full sized 4x4 SUV that began production in 1980. It is still manufactured and sold to this day, although Mitsubishi has halted sales in the United States as of 2006.
The Montero / Pajero / Shogun has become a legendary off-road SUV after winning the Dakar Rally 12 times. The Mitsubishi Montero won 80% of the Rallys from 2001 to 2005, landing this classic off-road SUV in the Guinness Book of World Records where it stands undefeated to this day.
Many aren’t aware of it, but the Chevrolet Suburban is the longest running SUV in production. The Suburban was introduced way back in 1934. It’s gone on to be one of General Motors most profitable vehicles, popular with civilians as well as law enforcement, fire fighters, border patrol and other government agencies.
The Suburban is essentially a Chevy truck frame with a station wagon body, making this one of the most luxurious and rugged family haulers on the market.
In 2018, an iSeeCars.com study named the Suburban as the vehicle that is driven the most each year. In 2019, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce unveiled a Hollywood Walk of Fame star for the Chevy Suburban, noting that the truck had been in 1,750 films and TV shows since 1952. The Chevy Suburban is a true American icon which is still in production to this day.