Four-wheel-drive is great when you want to head off-road, but it is also rather great at keeping you on the road.
Today we celebrate that most versatile of drivetrains by looking at Five 4WD Firsts! After all, there always has to be a first time for everything…
First 4WD electric vehicle – Lohner Porsche (1900)
The Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid of 1900 was a lot of firsts all in one big, weighty package.
It was the first car a young Ferdinand Porsche ever designed, it was the first hybrid vehicle and it was also also technically the first AWD car. Although to be fair, the fact that it was AWD was merely a by-product of its propulsion system that saw a hub-mounted electric motor driving each wheel.
It required 1.8 tonnes of lead-acid batteries, weighed more than 4 tonnes and cost fortune, but owner E.W. Hart loved it so much he ordered another one, this time a cheaper, lighter 2WD version.
First 4WD racing car – Spyker 60 HP (1903)
Like the Lohner-Porsche, the Spyker 60 HP from 1903 was a bunch of firsts.
As well as being the first car to have a petrol six-cylinder engine, it was also the first car that had a braking system that was connected to all four wheels and it was the first ever petrol-powered 4WD car. Oh, and it was also the world’s first 4WD car with just a single engine!
Not that any of that helped it be successful in racing, mind you, and Spyker slipped into bankruptcy a few short years later.
First 4WD passenger car – GAZ-61 (1938)
You can never say the Soviets weren’t innovators when it came to cars, as the first ever production civilian passenger car was the wonderfully odd GAZ-61 of 1938.
Although “civilian” may be a bit of a stretch, as the vast majority (and there weren’t all that many made) were used by army and government officials anyway, but such was the state of car ownership in the Soviet Union…
Created by dropping the body of the M2 passenger car on to a 4WD truck chassis (subtelty wasn’t a Soviet strongpoint), the 61 became the first 4WD with a fully-enclosed passenger car body.
First 4WD mass production vehicle – Willys CJ-2A (1945)
Making the most of the adoration heaped upon the Jeep during the war, Willys introduced the civilian CJ-2A in 1945, making it the first mass-produced 4WD vehicle for sale in the general marketplace.
Willys DID make a CJ-1 (which stands for “Civilian Jeep”) which was a modified version of the military Jeep, but didn’t make many and none actually survive today, while the CJ-2 was never actually available at retail, being used only to develop the CJ-2A.
To distance them somewhat from the original machines of war, the CJ-2A was available in a range of bright, cheery colours. 21,760 were produced between 1945 and 1949.
First 4WD crossover – AMC Eagle (1980)
When American Motors (AMC) purchased Jeep form Kaiser in 1970, it came over all 4WD-ish and experimented with all sorts of 4WD vehicles. Including what would unknowingly become the first off what we call a “Crossover” now – the AMC Eagle from 1980.
The Eagle was offered in station wagon, sedan and coupe (complete with removable roof panel!) body styles with a permanent all-wheel-drive.
Combining an existing vehicle (the Eagle was basically a jacked-up 4WD version of the conventional AMC Concord) with a 4WD system, Eagle essentially created the Crossover a good 20 years before it really caught on!