The First SUV?

Which vehicle, year/make/model, was the antecedent of the modern SUV?

I’m sure they were making pick-up trucks with covered beds and a second row of seats as early as the middle 60’s, but damned if I’ve ever seen one.

BTW, in Grumpy Old Mem, Walter Matthau’s character drives a vehicle that looks like an SUV, only it’s clearly 60’s-70’s vintage. And it seems to have more in common with a pickup truck than a modern soccer-mom SUV. What kind of vehicle is that, anyway? Somebody once said that it was made by International Harvester, but I thought they only made tractors…

Just a WAG, but the International Scout 80 was introduced in 1961.

I’d like to say the first “true” SUV was the Willys Wagon, which was introduced in 1946 and was available with four-wheel drive in 1947.

I’d like to say that; but I think Chevrolet has a good earlier claim, based on what someone said in another thread a couple of years ago. (Could depend on how you define “SUV”, but I don’t know enough about the Chevys to say.)

It all depends upon how you define SUV. If you’re talking about a pick up, then it could be any number of claimants to the honor. If you’re talking about a vehicle specifically designed to operate like a car on the roads and also be able to go off-roading, then I’d have to say that it’d be the Bantam Reconnaissance car, which is where Willy’s got the idea for the original Jeep.

The Jeep in the Grumpy Old Men movie (IIRC) was either a Jeep Wagoneer or a Jeep Cherokee, the body style was used from the late 1960s until the early 1990s.

Johnny, I don’t think that the Chevy Suburban counts since it was primarily a “truck” and didn’t develop the off-roading capabilities until the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Crap, forgot to add this. It’s a link to a page with photos of the various incarnations since the first Willys model (Jeeps were built by Ford as well, during the war, BTW.)

I did some looking and found clutch parts specifically for four wheel drive Suburbans, 1947-'55.

Serves me right for WAGging. Still, I don’t think that it counts as the first SUV. AFAIK, off-road 4WD wasn’t developed for vehicles until just before WW II, and the first vehicle of that sort was the above mentioned Bantam (at least in the US, I’m not sure about Europe, Germany had 4WD vehicles during WW II, but I don’t know the dates for when those were produced) and since it was almost identical to the civilian Willys Jeeps produced after WW II, I’d say that it counts.

I seem to recall that someone produced a prototype vehicle well before Bantam that had 4WD, but they were never able to get it into production (sort of a forerunner to Preston Tucker’s efforts just after the war), but I don’t believe it’s purpose was for off-roading, only to improve traction on slippery roads. I’ll do some digging through my books to see if I can find it.


Actually, Walter Mathau’s ride in GOM looks more like the International Scout 80 in Eleusis’ link above.

BTW, since it all depends on the definition of SUV, I’d have to go with a vehicle with a truck body with a covered bed (covered when it came from the factory; not with an aftermarket “shell” put on it) and a second row of seats.

The Jeep Wagoneer (1962-1991) was the first luxury SUV; that is, a truck-framed 4wd station wagon marketed to people who would rarely, if ever, go off-road in it.

I don’t know about the US, but in Europe: Toyota RAV-4.

No question about that.

It was the first 4x4 that was a good off-roader without compromising on-road performance and comfort.

I am sure that there were others before the RAV4, but at least in Europe, it was the one car that changed the people’s perception about 4x4 vehicles and turned the market towards SUVs.

In that case, (if you’re not going to include 4WD capabilities), then it looks like the Suburban has anything built by Jeep beat. However, you can clearly see on the linked page that there are vehicles of the design you describe dating back to 1899! There might even be older designs than that, but I’ve not the time to dig through my steam car books to check.

In Europe the Range Rover from Land Rover was introduced in 1970. They’re pretty much a classic SUV type, with four-wheel drive capabilities but reasonably plush interiors.

The first Land Rovers came out in 1947 and some of the short wheel base versions with full cabs could possibly be described as SUVs.

Thanks to the use of aluminium bodies and brick solid construction some people estimate that something like 80% of all Land rovers produced (since 1947) are still in use. My father still uses a first series land rover around his farm, they’re pretty much indestructible and most problems can be fixed by anyone with minimal mechanical skills.

IMO, the definition of an SUV should include that it is available in 4WD.

I would agree with HeyHomie that “a truck body with a covered bed” is a good start at defining what an SUV is; but then, what’s a truck? Probably the most influential SUV (IMO) was the Jeep Cherokee (1984-2001). Was it a truck? They certainly made a pick-up version of it (the Comanche); but it is a unibody – no rolling chassis. The Cherokee is unquestionably an SUV, and there was a truck version.

I would suggest that an SUV is a truck-like vehicle with a station wagon type body (not panel van type) and four-wheel drive, that is intended as a utility (“works for its living”) vehicle and has adequate torque and gearing to ensure reasonable performance on unimproved roads.

By that (suggested) definition, would the Suburban qualify? It was built like a truck and it had a station wagon type body. Was it available with 4WD?

On the other hand, the Willys/Kaiser/AMC/Chrysler/DaimlerChrysler CJ/YJ/TJ series do not have station wagon type bodies. They do have 4WD, an engines that are suited for utility roles, and they are technically (going back to the MB and the GWP) ¼-ton trucks. Are they SUVs? Or are they something different – the generic “jeep” (small “j”)? What about a Toyota FJ-40 or a Land Rover? Similar to the CJ-series in size and intended use, many people call then “jeeps”. SUVs, or not?

Anyway, if the Suburban was available as a big station wagon with 4WD prior to 1947 (when Willys added 4WD to their Wagon), then it sounds as if it’s the first. If not, then I’d give the nod to Willys-Overland.

You know that the first Land Rover prototype was built with parts from a Jeep? Not slamming the Land Rover’s, mind you, but it’s interesting to me, anyway, that one of the best known SUV type vehicles was originally built using parts from the company which continually has to reassert that Jeep is a registered trademark, and not the generic term for a small off-road vehicle.

I wasn’t aware of the Jeep parts being used in the Land Rover prototypes.

The main point of my post was to give an example of a SUV available in Europe that predated the RAV4 mentioned in Dog80’s post.

I’ll say the 1935 Chevy panel truck:


If you’re going to count that, here’s a '29 Model A.

I’ll see your Ford and raise you a 1905 Packard or any number of 1909 Packard trucks.