The Unusual History of Off-Road Vehicles
In America, July is ultimately a look at our past and a glimpse of our future. Surprisingly, off-road vehicles have played a fundamental role in shaping our country, more than you could ever imagine.
Early vehicles faced a number of road-related issues. For most of the world, roads were still quite primitive in the early 1900s, consisting mainly of dirt or cobblestone. Large spanning highways didn’t exist since wagons could only travel so far in one day, requiring frequent stops at nearby villages.
These difficulties led a french inventor working for the Czar of Russia to create the first half-track, a vehicle that replaced the back wheels with caterpillar tracks to provide traction over rough terrain.
With the outbreak of WWI, massive artillery barrages turned the docile European countryside into a hellish landscape. There were no roads, nor anything that could remotely resemble them.
The British were the first to adopt the half-track caterpillar design to a full vehicle, creating the first tanks. This, surprisingly, was where the concept of building vehicles entirely for traversing unsurmountable terrain first came into focus. In essence, the off-road vehicle race had begun.
The axis powers soon developed their own tanks and other off-road related vehicles. And while these hulking behemoths focused on bulk, their speeds were generally laughable. It wasn’t until WWII that quickness became a deciding factor, introducing the invention of the jeep.
Starting with 60 horsepower and 105 foot-pounds of torque, the first jeeps far exceeded the maneuverability and speed of any other vehicle in the American arsenal. Interestingly, their official name was Willys MB. The term “Jeep” most likely was a nickname based on Pop-Eye’s Eugene the Jeep, a dog-like creature from Africa that could magically travel anywhere.
A Hobby is Born
WWII created brand new industries with extensive manufacturing capabilities. But when peace came, these companies were faced with the challenge of selling their military products to civilians. Unsurprisingly, troops had fallen in love with the thrill of adventuring beyond the asphalt. Returning back to their normal lives, they were eager to buy up the army's surplus of off-road vehicles for amusement, creating the first, true community of off-road enthusiasts. Car manufacturers were only too happy to have their off-road military vehicles become a permanent part of American life, leading to some of the companies we know today.
From wartime to peace, the off-road vehicle has transformed much of the last century into the world we live in today. Their legacy intertwines within the story of our country. So every time you make a modification, change a gear or find yourself buried in 4 feet of muddy water, you’re experiencing a living part of American history.
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WELD MY RIDE CONTEST WINNER
Congratulations to the winner of our Weld My Ride project contest. The photo of his 2001 TJ Jeep got the most votes. Thank you for everyone who participated. We're glad you picked a winner with your voting, because we sure wouldn't have been able to choose between so many awesome photos.