A Short History of Off-Road Vehicles

The sheer number of makes, models, and other variations of off-road vehicles that exist today is astounding. Modern technology and creative minds have come together in magnificent ways to give us some of the most incredibly fun and innovative recreational vehicles ever. It doesn’t matter what your cup of tea is when it comes to terrain – sand, snow, mountains, mud, anything – someone has designed an ATV or UTV just for you. Not only that, but the customization options available make the possibilities literally endless. Owning and renting off-road vehicles has never been more exciting and enjoyable. But have you ever thought about the history behind all this? Who started all of this off-roading madness? Who first developed the technology that is is commonplace in these machines? Here is a short history of off-road vehicles that will briefly answer these questions.

We have to go all the way over to Russia, way back in the early 1900s, to learn where and how this whole off-roading thing got started. When the Russian Revolution began to come to an end in 1917, military engineer Adolphe Kegresse returned from Russia to his home country of France and found surprising success when funded expeditions to Africa and Asia began to use his model. His model, which is likely the earliest incarnation of what we consider today an off-road vehicle, consisted of a caterpillar-style track with a flexible belt designed to be customizable to both cars and trucks. (If you’re familiar with modern ATV track kits, imagine that but much, much bigger). During this early period in the history of off-roading, Kegresse’s model was, for the most part, used primarily in places like Antarctica; big rigs crawling the snowy terrain. But when World War II reached its end, the Frenchman’s concept was suddenly put on the fast track as the military began to make wartime off-road vehicles available for purchase to the general public. Regular folks started buying these Jeeps and other four-wheel drive, light-duty vehicles. It wasn’t long before they all started realizing that accessorizing and modifying these vehicles was useful, fun, and economical. Recreational off-roading was born.

It was soon discovered that the shelf life of these used wartime rigs was relatively short. This gave way to the creation a niche market that many automakers soon dove into. Companies like Nissan, Toyota, Jeep, Land Rover, and Mitsubishi began manufacturing and selling light duty 4x4s. This is what is referred to as the first wave of off-road vehicle manufacturing. The second wave saw Chevy and Ford join the party in the 60s and 70s. Those two companies specifically were the first to build into their machines accessories such as air conditioning, spacious seating, radio, and other luxury features. Now off-roading wasn’t only about utility, it was becoming about comfort and style as well.

In the off-roading world today, anything imaginable is essentially available. UTVs and ATVs of all shapes and sizes with every imaginable accessory and upgrade make the customization process extremely personal and endlessly fun. Thanks, Mr. Kegresse!

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A Short History of Off-Road Vehicles

Off-Road Vehicles