4 Fascinating Facts About the History of 4×4 Pickup Trucks
The 4×4 pickup truck is an icon, and a staple of American culture. But no matter how much you love your 4WD pickup, here are four fascinating facts about the history of the 4×4 truck that you probably don’t know yet.
The first truck was a trike
The first truck in history couldn’t have been a 4×4…it only had three wheels! Nicola-Joseph Cugnot was an engineer who built a steam-powered truck for the French military–in 1769. Back then, supply chains were a significant military problem that his huge flatbed was designed to solve. Cugnot’s vehicle had a standard solid rear axle but steered by turning its single front wheel. As its steam boiler drove only the front wheel, this truck was technically a 3×1.
The first 4×2 truck with an internal combustion engine was Gottlieb Daimler’s “Vehicle 42.” Built in 1896, this was a much more “modern” looking truck with four wheels and a rear cargo tray. But its driver/passenger compartment was just an open-air bench.
Learn all about the first automobile.
Ferdinand Porsche patented an early 4×4
Technically, the first 4WD vehicle design was for an overland steam engine that an English engineer penned in 1893. But Ferdinand Porsche built an AWD vehicle in 1899 for the World Exhibition in Paris. And here’s the kicker: it was electric.
Porsche’s 4×4 vehicle was not a pickup truck. But it did have an electric hub motor at each wheel. Early prototypes had a large battery and a gasoline-powered generator to extend its range. This is a surprisingly similar layout to the new Ram 1500 REV which will likely be available with a gasoline-powered “range extender” generator.
To reduce weight, Porsche eventually downsized his vehicle’s battery, wiring its generators directly to the electric motors and it technically became a hybrid. Find out the difference between a plug-in hybrid vs. range-extended EV.
The first factory 4×4 pickup truck used WWII technology
They say necessity is the mother of invention. When Allied forces struggled to move troops and supplies across war-torn Europe after the Normandy invasion, Detroit stepped in to save the day. Vehicles such as the Willys/Ford Quad (called the Jeep by soldiers) and the Dodge WC series pioneered mass-produced 4WD technology and secured an Allied victory.
After the war, Dodge used surplus wartime components to assemble its Power Wagon pickup. The Dodge Power Wagon was the first factory-built 4×4 pickup truck. Willy targeted a similar segment with its civilian Jeep, which has evolved into the modern Wrangler.
Read more about the original Dodge Power Wagon.
Three 4x4s have been to the top of the world
Technically, this final fact is not about pickup trucks. But it is an important chapter in 4×4 history. When Jeep first rolled out its four-door Wrangler Unlimited for 2007, the automaker needed proof that the SUV was still off-road worthy. Jeep resolved to win a Guinness World Record. It modified two special Wrangler Unlimited vehicles for high altitude, fit them with oversized Goodyear tires, then hired a team of German expedition specialists to navigate a volcano in the Chilean Andes.
The Jeeps set an altitude record of 21,804 feet. The drivers planted a huge “Jeep Parking Only” sign, patted themselves on the back, and then headed home. But even a big corporate budget is no match for a little local know-how. The next week two local Chileans drove a 1986 Suzuki Jimny they had modified with a supercharger up the volcano. They achieved an altitude of 21,942 feet and pulled up the Jeep sign.
Next, learn all about the alititude records and where the historic Suzuki is today, or learn more about the history of 4WD in the video below: