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The History Of Four Wheel Drives

Early days of four wheel drive vehicles and significant technical developments:

  • 1898: Latil (France) making front wheel drive units and then 4x4.
  • 1898: Tatra starts manufacturing.
  • 1900: Ferdinand Porsche's La Toujours Contente is battery-powered with 4 electric motors, one per wheel. He later patents the Mixte transmission: a petrol engine drives a dynamo and electric motors drive the wheels (too expensive for the day).
  • 1902: Spyker (Dutch) full-time four wheel drive car built. Exhibited at the Paris Motor Show in December 1903 [Sco61].
  • 1907: Felix and Norman Caldwell of South Australia apply for a patent for four wheel drive plus four wheel steering; they go on to buildCaldwell Vale 4x4 trucks with Henry Vale.
  • 1911: FWD sells its first 4x4 [Bal87].
  • 1913: Jeffrey Quad 4X4 truck goes into production.
  • 1915: Big Lizzie road train (Au).
  • 1917: First Oshkosh four wheel drive truck [Bal88].
  • 1922, December 17: Citroen half-tracks leave from Touggourt in Algeria to cross the Sahara Desert.
  • 1924, December 28: Citroen half-tracks leave to traverse Africa.
  • 1929: AEC start to build AWD trucks in conjunction with FWD (UK).
  • 1931-1932: Citroen-Haardt expedition, usingCitroen half-tracks, follows part of Marco-Polo's route from Beirut to Beijing.
  • 1932: Miller 4x4 racing cars at Indianapolis.
  • 1934: AECroad train (one of three built) brought to Australia. It consisted of an 8x8 prime-mover and two 8-wheel self-tracking trailers.
  • 1934:Dodge start building 4WD trucks (- George Miles).
  • 1934: Prototype PX-33 four wheel drive car built for the Japanese government; the car did not go into production (Mitsubishi).Thanks to Balazs Toth.
  • 1938: GAZ 61 - Russian 4x4.
  • 1940: Jeep specification issued.
  • 1940-1941: Bantam build 2700 light 4x4s, early "Jeeps".
  • 1941-1945: Ford and Willys-Overland build 700,000 General Purpose vehicles for WWII (GP becomes Jeep).
  • 1946, October 10: Unimog introduced(- H. J. Feil).
  • 1948: Series-1 Land-Rover released.
  • 1948: Ford release first of the F-Series vehicles.
  • 1950: Ford GPA, or amphibious Jeep`Half Safe' crosses the Atlantic ocean (I am not making this up).
  • 1951: First Toyota Landcruiser built, as the `BJ Jeep', the LandCruiser name came in 1954.
  • 1951 - NAPCO (Northwestern Auto Parts Company) starts to produce 4x4 conversion units. The earliest documentable truck to be converted by NAPCO was a 1951 Chevy 3/4 ton owned by Butch Gehrig of Odell, Oregon.
  • 1954-1956: Amphibious Jeep `La Tortuga' "drives" from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.
  • 1955-1956: London to Singapore overland (except for Channel!) 2 x Land-Rovers.
  • 1958: First ToyotaLandCruisers imported into Australia.
  • 1959: Haflinger by Steyr-Daimler-Puch.
  • 1960: A Jeep and a Land-Rover traverse theDarien Gap.
  • 1961: Stirling Moss driving aFerguson Project 99 (P99) with the Ferguson 4WD system wins the Oulton Park Gold-Cup race.
  • 1964, 17 July: Bluebird (4WD) raises the land speed record to 403 mph.
  • 1966: Jensen FF all wheel drive road car is put into production (until 1971), using aFerguson Formula 4WD system with centre diff' and viscous coupling ?? --> (the FF also had ABS brakes) - John Wild.
  • 1970: Range Rover released - luxury full-time 4WD.
  • 1971: Ford Falcon XY ute 4WD (Australia)
  • 1971: Four wheel drive onthe Moon
  • 1971-1972: BritishTrans-Americas Range Rover expedition.
  • 1974: Subaru Leone L-series - four wheel drive passenger car.
  • 1979: AMC produce the Eagle 4x4 car
  • 1981: Humvee or Hummer (HMMWV - High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) specification issued.
  • 1981: Audi revolutionize rallying with theQuattro 4WD rally car.
  • 1981: Porsche must have been watching Audi as they showed aPorsche 911 AWD concept car at the Frankfurt Motor Show [Porsche].
  • 1983: Land Rover 110, coil-sprung, full-time 4WD.
  • 1984: APorsche 911 AWD wins the ParisDakar rally.
  • 1986: Porsche 959 AWDs finish 1, 2 and 6 in the Paris Dakar rally.
  • 1994: Range Rover completely revised.
  • 1996: Jeep Wrangler gets coil springs!
  • 2002 and onwards???

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Further Reading:

[Bal88] N. Baldwin. Four-Wheel Drive and Land-Rover. Shire publ'n, 1988.
[Cla82] M. Clayton. Jeep. David and Charles, 1982.
[Hou65] R. Hough & M. Frostick.A History of the World's Racing Cars. Allen&Unwin 1965.
[Hut82] T. Hutchings. Land-Rover. The Early Years. 1982.
[Nye74] D. Nye. Motor Racing Mavericks. Batsford 1974.
[Rif43] H. R. Rifkind.Jeep Genesis, the Rifkind Report. Washington DC 1943, ISO Galago London 1983.
[Sco61] D. Scott-Moncrieff. Veteran and Edwardian Motor Cars. B. T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1955, 1956, 1961.


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