What makes an SUV? High ground clearance, low front and rear overhangs, and selectable four-wheel drive (4 wd ). Most cars have two-wheel drive (2 wd ), with engine power being transmitted to the two-wheeled rear axle, making them 4X2 (4 wheels, 2-wheel drive). Four-wheel drive supplies power to both axles, making it a 4X4 (4 wheels, 4-wheel drive). Four-wheel drive equals improved traction, an especially desired off-road feature, for driving through mud, ruts, and rugged ground. The first 4 wd vehicle, the great-granddaddy of them all, was built in 1904 by Amsterdam’s Spyker Manufacturers. Other forebears include the 1930s Marmon-Herrington 4wd American-built medium-sized trucks, and the same era’s Willys’ four-cylinder econo-trucks, which could be considered the progenitors of one of today’s hottest SUV groups, the compacts/minis. The utility vehicle really came into its own, however, with the World War II 1/4-ton jeep, the fountainhead from which today’s wide range of SUVs takes it source. That’s where the story really begins. A final note: While a 4 wd vehicle is by definition an off-road vehicle, statistics show that of today’s SUVs, less than five percent of them will ever be used for off-road driving. The ironic culmination of the off-road revolution has been to make the SUV one of the all-time favorite on-road machines.
FOLLOWING PAGE : The MB standardized jeep was developed by the Willys-Overland company’schiefengineer BarneyRoos,whowould civilian version. Shown here in the background is Utah Beach in Normandy, France, site of one of the D-Day landings—a reminder of the vehicle’s battlefield origins. go on to pioneer the machine’s postwar
Trucks and SUVs have always had a one-to- one relationship, with truck platforms serving as templates for a wide variety of utility vehicles. Leading truck maker GMC’s origins predated 1940, but the company didn’t get around to making SUVs until three decades later.
Jeep Wrangler, “king of the compact SUVs.” Built on the basic platform of the CJ, which it replaced, it embodies the breed’s military-utility roots.
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