Gone, and but forgotten. It can be interesting to look back into the past and discover how far automotive technology has advanced. Sweeping changes in consumer demand, fluctuating economic conditions, and new technology all determine the success or failure of an automaker’s end product.
Off-road vehicles, once only available to the military and heavy industry, offered the car-buying public the opportunity to get off the main road. Much of America’s great outdoors can only be experienced and appreciated by leaving the highway behind and going off-road. Here’s a look back at several vintage 4x4s – some obscure, some recognizable, all noteworthy.
1. Chevy Blazer K5
General Motors introduced its smallest full-size SUV in 1969. Competing against Ford and Jeep for its own off-road brand, Blazer K5 quickly became a success among off-roaders and dominated SUV sales. Fully configured for all terrain, Blazer K5 also offered the creature comforts of air conditioning and automatic transmission.
2. Ford Bronco
Launched in 1965 and built as a two-door, Ford labeled the Bronco as “a new kind of sports car with four-wheel drive.” Originally fitted with 4×4 parts from Ford trucks and with Mustang door handles, Bronco was built on the cheap but remains an off-road icon.
3. Jeep Wagoneer
Considered the first luxury 4×4 SUV, Jeep Wagoneer is the offspring of the old family station wagon and became noted as an American status symbol. For 30 years, no significant changes were made, and today the Wagoneer remains a collector’s gem.
4. Isuzu VehiCROSS
According to AutoWise, with only 4,153 sold in the U.S., VehiCROSS has the potential to become a future classic. It may also be the weirdest looking off-road SUV you never heard of.
Built tough as nails. Despite its strange looks, its advanced four-wheel drive system enabled VehiCROSS to capably handle demanding off-road conditions.
5. Plymouth Trailduster
Remember when Plymouth made cars? Built mainly to keep up with industry competition, Trailduster was Plymouth’s only SUV. With four-wheel drive and high ground clearance, it was manufactured as a serious off-roader. But as SUVs became more popular, Trailduster was no longer profitable and production was discontinued after 1981.
6. Jeep Commando
Originally produced by Willys-Overland, Commando was known as the “cute” Jeep. Built to compete with Bronco, Land Cruiser, and International Scout, the four-wheel drive Commando was offered in four configurations: station wagon, pickup, topless roadster, and convertible. Production was discontinued in 1974 and replaced by Jeep Cherokee.
7. International Harvester Scout
When production ended in 1980, more than 500,000 Scouts had been manufactured since 1961. Today, Scout is remembered as the extremely rugged predecessor of modern off-road SUVs. International Harvester was known for manufacturing farm equipment, and during World War II the company built heavy-duty vehicles for the military.
8. Land Rover Discovery
Aiming for a lower price tag and larger market, Discovery was based on and designed from the more expensive Range Rover. Motor Trend calls Discovery the 4×4 upper class with a wide range of versatility to attract different types of buyers. A favorite of Great Britain’s royal family, Prince Philip could be seen driving his Discovery during his duties as a park ranger in Windsor’s Great Park.
9. Acura SLX
Sold in the U.S. between 1996 and 1999, Acura SLX was the company’s first SUV. This nowobscure four-wheel drive had a 190 hp V6 engine. In 1998, Acura reconfigured SLX with a 3.5 liter V6. After a series of complaints by owners and “not acceptable” ratings from Consumer Reports, SLX production was discontinued. Acura did not produce another SUV until 2000, when the SLX was replaced by Acura MDX.
10. Daihatsu Rocky
Manufactured to compete with Suzuki Samurai and Jeep Wrangler, the mini-SUV Rocky had a short sales life in the U.S. While its square solid body with four-wheel drive was designed for off-road, it wasn’t powered to keep up with competitors.
Its 94 hp 1.6-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission were satisfactory for its build, but Daihatsu’s market timing was off. By 1990, consumer demand was for larger, more powerful and comfortable off-road SUVs.
11. Mazda Navajo
Mazda purchased Explorers from Ford and, with some minor reconfiguring, produced Navajo from 1991-1994. Motor Trend’s 1991 Truck of the Year, Navajo’s four-liter V6 provided enough power to tackle off-road terrain and could be fitted for a 5,000-pound towing capacity. Despite some great features, Navajo ironically lost out to Ford Explorer’s popularity.
12. Dodge Ramcharger
Production started in 1974 and was based on the design of Dodge’s Ram pickup truck. Rated as a full-size SUV, Ramcharger was large and powerful, with plenty of space for hauling gear.
Original models were sold with a removable hardtop but came optionally equipped with a canvas soft-top and roll-up windows. Dodge discontinued production in 1993. However, there’s a rumor of a comeback based on a new full-size Ram.
13. Chevrolet Suburban
Over 80 years ago, the first Suburban sold for about $675. Today, its starting price is around $50,000, and Suburban is still one of General Motor’s top vehicles. More than just a large family vehicle, it’s built tough with plenty of power, making Suburban especially capable off-road.
14. Isuzu Trooper
Manufactured between 1981 and 2002, Trooper was considered underpowered with its four-cylinder, four-speed manual transmission.
Later upgrades improved both the vehicle’s off-road capabilities and reputation among buyers. To keep pace with SUV competitors, Isuzu redesigned Trooper in 1991 with more power and better off-roading ability. After almost a decade of poor sales, Isuzu pulled out of the U.S. auto market.
15. Jeep XJ Cherokee
Still sometimes spotted on the road today, Jeep XJ Cherokee is one of the most versatile and durable of the smaller 4x4s. Weighing about 3,200 pounds, super light for an SUV, XJ Cherokee handles well and is just plain fun to drive.
Its small wheelbase makes it extremely maneuverable in the backcountry and gives it easier access to narrow trails. Although production was discontinued in 2001, Jeep XJ remains a popular vehicle for collectors and restorers.