No list of classic American off-road vehicles would be complete without the Jeep Wrangler. It was the direct descendant of the famous original Jeep Willys. The Wrangler is the evolution of a small, compact, extremely capable, and everyday usable all-terrain vehicle. Jeep presented the Wrangler in 1985 to replace the Jeep CJ model.
The Wrangler is one of the models that endured all the market changes, yet it never compromised the characteristics that made it legendary. But despite the necessary improvements in design, safety, and fuel efficiency, the Wrangler is still the rugged and dependable Jeep it has always been. That will always make it one of the rare models that didn’t crumble under the wave of plastic SUV models.
Not many people know that Dodge is one of the pioneers of off-road vehicles and trucks on the American market. One of the first was the innovative and influential Carryall WC53 they introduced at the beginning of WWII as a military vehicle. The Carryall got its name by using a 1939 Carryall body they mounted on the WC53 chassis.
The WC Series Dodges were military vehicles with a three-quarter-ton capacity, tough underpinnings, and durable 4.0-liter straight six cylinders providing around 90 HP. This was one of the first closed off-road vehicles for transporting important military personnel. After the war, Dodge concentrated on Power Wagon truck production and decided the Carryall closed body was too rugged for the civilian market.
Ford offered their first 4×4 truck in 1959 and the first off-roader was the Bronco in 1966. However, even though those mainline Ford models were lagging behind the competition when it comes to all-wheel-drive, Blue Oval fans could get a closed off-road vehicle with a Ford badge on it with a factory warranty. They just sent their F-1 truck to Marmon-Herrington in Indianapolis and they would return it as a fully capable off-road model.
The Marmon-Herrington company did significant changes to the drivetrain, suspension, and gearbox of the stock F-1, turning it into an extremely capable machine. However, this was an expensive process. Also, in the early ’50s, not many people knew about the possibility of owning a fully enclosed, new, and all-terrain capable Ford model. That’s why they only built 54 of them.
After the war, there were lots of used Jeep Willys military vehicles that proved their worth on battlefields all over the world. However, most post-war buyers wanted something a bit more civilized and with a closed body. So Jeep produced the Willys Overland SUV, as well as a panel truck.
Those cars used Jeep’s rugged mechanics and chassis construction but offered a bit more comfort, usability, and features. Using proven, four and six-cylinder drivetrains, the Willys Overland Jeep came in a pickup, station wagon, or panel wagon version. The buyers loved these models and besides the U.S., they assemble these Jeeps in South America, as well.
The original Meyers Manx is a kit car based on the VW Beetle blueprint and engines. But this car was so important to the American off-road scene, it has to be on this list. They introduced it in 1964. The Meyers Manx was a brainchild of Bruce F. Meyers, an American boat builder, and surfer who wanted a dependable yet cool beach car. They finished the first prototypes in 1964 and full production followed.
So by the early ’70s, they made more than 6,000. The construction was simple using a fiberglass tub they mounted on VW Beetle mechanics. This rear-wheel-drive car was light and could tackle almost any terrain. Some owners even installed more powerful boxer engines from the Corvair or even from the Porsche. Due to its characteristic design and great driving capabilities, the Meyers Manx became one of the symbols of the surfing culture.
GMC introduced the Jimmy as a mechanically identical car to the Chevrolet Blazer. However, the GMC Jimmy was still different thanks to the better-looking front end. Also, it had a bit more equipment and all-wheel drive came as standard. From the start, they intended the Blazer for a wide audience. But they also aimed the Jimmy towards the off-road enthusiast market. And that is why the GMC Jimmy is rare. The most popular versions are the early ones from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The engine lineup started with straight-six, but most buyers opted for the more powerful V8 engines. Just like the Blazer, the GMC Jimmy had a removable hardtop. These are the classic vehicles before those plastic SUVs took over. In fact, they are the best American off-road trucks they ever made. And although most SUV fans would like to see them return, they want them to retain their sturdy and rugged features.
Introduced in 1984, the Cherokee XJ generation was an enormous success for Jeep. It had a boxy-yet-elegant looks, great build quality, and lots of useful features. In fact, the second-generation Cherokee was the SUV of the â80s as well as a globally-successful model.
Despite being a modern, comfortable vehicle, the Cherokee XJ retained all the Jeep characteristics like rugged mechanics and a dependable AWD drive train. Also, the engines were great, which helped it claim the title of one of the best SUVs of all time. In some foreign markets, they produced the Cherokee XJ until 2014. And that just shows how good of a car this Jeep was. The XJ is the next big thing since decent examples are hard to find yet people fondly remember this great vehicle.
Although the original Bronco was a capable off-road vehicle, its smaller and less powerful cousin Bronco II was not. Ford presented it in 1983 and sold it until 1990. And although the Bronco II had a V6 engine, they sold most of them with rear-wheel drive only. The Bronco II was an inexpensive way to get a compact SUV.
However, they trimmed the suspension for paved roads. Also, it had relatively low power and not much in terms of rugged construction. So, the Bronco II wasn’t the wilderness-conquering vehicle everybody expected it to be. It also had some stability issues, so people have largely forgotten about it.
The Hummer H2 was the definitive useless SUV from the past decade that is a common sight on the roads. And this is despite being replaced by newer and more expensive yet still unnecessary luxury SUVs. When GM decided to put the Hummer into civilian production, the H1 was still too rugged for most buyers.
So, the logical step was for GM to introduce the H2, which they built on a truck base and with a thirsty V8. Although it had a plush interior and a long list of options, it still looks like a battle tank. Even with its looks and V8 power, the H2 was not so good off-road. In fact, it was too big and heavy to manage any terrain course. Sadly, the people who bought it for its off-road capabilities wasted their money.
Like the Bronco II, the S-10 Blazer was a simpler, less expensive, and less capable version of a respected off-roader. Chevy introduced it in the early â80s, but this version of the Blazer was much smaller. Also, it was less powerful than the models from the late â70s that earned their reputation in the dust, mud, and deserts all over America.
They sold the S-10 Blazer in rear-wheel-drive form and only with 4×4 as optional. Chevy based it on the S-10 truck chassis. Sadly, it came with the choice of four and six-cylinder engines that lacked power and torque.
Located in rural Wyoming, Legacy Classic Trucks specializes in restoring and restomoding legendary pieces of American car history. Legacy Classic Trucks introduced a series of restomod models that amaze truck fans with the quality of craftsmanship, engineering, and original ideas. There are several classic trucks on offer, but the most interesting is the Legacy Power Wagon.
Legacy based it on the legendary Dodge Power Wagon. But Legacy’s interpretation keeps the original design, durability, and usability. They also add a ton of modern features and encasements. This transformed this rugged truck from the 1930s into one of the best off-road vehicles of the 2010s. The prices start at just below $200,000 for a basic model powered by a 6.2-liter Chevrolet LS3 V8 engine with 430 HP. If you want, you can get a modern V8 diesel engine in your Legacy Power Wagon, as well as an extended cab or double cab configuration. Best of all, the latest state-of-the-art electronics, suspensions, and comforts are part of the package.
Willys was an economy car manufacturer before the Second World War. They produced Jeeps for the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1946. But when the war ended, Willys found it hard to transfer to passenger car production. They were left with a big amount of Jeep engines, chassis, and components. So the logical decision was to produce Jeeps for civilian use, mostly as farm and utility vehicles. Willys thought that ex-military personnel would buy Jeeps as everyday cars after they got to know them on the battlefield. It turned out that Willys was right and civilian Jeeps did, in fact, have a market in post-war America. However, the company wanted to go further, so they introduced a line of pickup trucks with Jeep mechanics, engines, and design but with a twist.
The Willys pickups they introduced in 1947 had four-wheel drive, making them much more capable than any regular pickup truck available at the time. Today, four-wheel-drive trucks are nothing special since most new models come with 4×4 as standard. But back then, the four-wheel-drive was revolutionary. Although those early Willys Jeep truck had small 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines delivering 63 HP, they were tough, capable trucks with great traction, pulling power, and durability. Willys produced a couple of variants including a bare-bones chassis for custom bodywork. Over the years, Willys introduced bigger six-cylinder engines. However, they ceased the production of this original model in 1965 after building more than 200,000.
A direct descendant of the legendary Willys Jeep Pickup, they unveiled the Gladiator in 1963 with fresh new styling and great new features. However, the most important upgrade was the independent front suspension similar to the Chevrolet C/K. Jeep wasn’t the first, but it was the first four-wheel-drive truck with that kind of front suspension.
It was not hard to mount a double-wishbone suspension or A-arms with coil springs to the front end of a truck, which Chevy did in 1960. It was hard to do the same with the front axle going through the suspension components and powering the front wheels. As an all-wheel-drive and off-road authority, Jeep was able to make it work. The result was the first truck ever with an independent front suspension and 4×4 drivetrain, which was a huge achievement. The Gladiator immediately became the best off-road truck on the market. Even the U.S. Army used special versions for various duties. With powerful six-cylinder and V8 engines, the Gladiator was one of the best, most versatile trucks of the era.
For those who don’t know, a crew cab configuration means that a truck has four doors and a truck bed. Today, the crew cab is a common option, so most new models, full size or compact have it as standard. But, back in the day, trucks only came in a single cab configuration with two doors. Back then, no one could imagine a truck with more than two doors that could carry more than two or three people inside.
But in the early ’60s, International Harvester presented the Travelette version of their C-Series truck, which changed the industry with the first crew cab. Today, International Harvester is the famous producer of agricultural machinery and big trucks. But during those days, it was active in the pickup truck market. Their products were always heavy duty for professional users. They came with tough mechanics, big engines and durable components. The idea behind the Travelette was simple. Allow a group of six workers to travel together with their tools and equipment in the back of the truck.
This interesting vehicle is primarily a military truck. But they sold a few of them to civilian customers. They based the M715 on the Jeep Gladiator pickup, introducing it in the late â60s for the U.S. Army. The engine was a dependable, strong six-cylinder with just 130 HP.
However, it had a lot of torque, which was necessary to move this three-ton truck. They built the M715 to be easy to service and extremely durable, which is proved in the Vietnam War as well as several other conflicts. Kaiser Jeep produced over 30,000 M715s until 1969.
There were diesel trucks before the ’80s-’90s Ram Cummins, but they weren’t as good as this one. Under the hood was a venerable 5.9-liter straight-six diesel engine with only 160 HP but a healthy 400 lb-ft of torque. However, for the 1991 model year, Dodge updated the truck, giving it more power and options.
As a matter of fact, most diesel truck fans consider this to be the best year in the series. The power and torque figures seem low considering today’s engines, but this is an old truck with old technology. However, old technology doesn’t mean that the ’91 Ram Cummins is not a capable vehicle. With a 4×4 drivetrain, it is an extremely good truck.
Chevy introduced the third generation of their popular C/K trucks in 1973. It was one of the biggest, most important trucks in their history. Not only it was advanced and well-engineered, but it also featured many firsts for Chevrolet and for the entire truck segment, as well. Chevy called it the “Square Body” for its boxy design.
This third-generation C/K featured a computer-designed body with more space and comfort than ever before. The truck was bigger and tougher due to the new platform, revised suspension, and tougher axles. Customers had numerous cab configurations, special editions, engine options, and details to choose from, too. This made the third-generation C/K one of the best trucks in the world at the time. Chevy produced the C/K from 1973 to 1991 in the U.S. They also produced this model was in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and South Korea. During the long production run, Chevrolet introduced a diesel engine as an option. This proved to be a highly popular choice in Europe and South America.
All Jeeps are capable off-road SUV models with a characteristic design and signature appearance. However, in 1956, Jeep introduced a strange model they called the Forward Control or FC. It was a cab-forward, bulldog-style truck with the engine underneath the passengers and all-wheel drive.
Even though the FC was a Jeep, which means it was a capable, tough, and durable machine, the market didn’t respond well. So, in its nine years of production, Jeep made just around 30,000 of them, mostly for the export market. Jeep thought the FC would be a bestseller, but on the domestic market, most buyers preferred models with a more formal look.
When they presented the popular Jeep CJ-5, some customers complained about the lack of interior space since the CJ-5 was just a bit bigger than the classic military Jeep Willys. For those buyers, Jeep introduced the CJ-6 model in 1956. It was basically a CJ-5, but with a longer wheelbase and more space in the back.
Even though it was more practical, the CJ-6 wasn’t popular with most buyers. Interestingly, there was also a military version they called the M170. But the easiest way to recognize the CJ-6 is with its increased length over the standard CJ-5. Also, some versions had a spare tire they mounted on the rear fenders.