25 Classic Off-Roading Vehicles You Shouldn’t Forget About
People have been taking cars off-road long before there were designated off-road vehicles. Adventuring further than paved roads is a pastime for some and a necessity for others, and while there are plenty of modern off-roaders out there, you shouldn’t overlook the classics. Classic off-road vehicles were purpose-built and often lacked many of the modern luxuries that we’ve come to expect today. They were tough, capable, powerful, and usually wicked cool. If you plan on spending any time off road, consider one of the following classic off-roaders before you go out and buy that shiny new Jeep Wrangler. Some of these are older than others, but they all have two things in common: they’re tough off-road and the model or particular generation of model is out of production.
1. Land Rover Defender
The Land Rover Defender is legendary. With its roots going all the way back to 1948, it’s a trusted vehicle all around the world, whether you’re roughing it in the outback of Australia or experiencing a safari in Africa. The Defender is known for its tough construction and bulletproof engines. These things can (and have) run for decades and take on some of the most challenging terrain the world has to offer while doing it.
2. Ford Bronco
Ford’s bringing back the Bronco, but it’s doubtful the new vehicle will come close to being as cool as the original 1966 to 1977 model. The Bronco was designed to compete with off-roaders like the Jeep CJ, and compete it did. It was available as a hardtop, pickup, or convertible, and had no problem tackling just about any terrain. It’s a tough off-road machine that is well-liked by enthusiasts, and today vintage Bronco’s demand quite a large sum at the auction block.
3. Jeep CJ
Like the Land Rover, the CJ- model Jeeps spent decades in production, and inspired the modern-day Wrangler. These Jeeps were off-road ready (they were closely related to the military Jeeps of World War II), rugged vehicles that would take on just about any terrain with ease. They’re easy to customize, and many CJ owners modify their suspensions to go rock crawling. There were a few different models –including this rare CJ-8 pickup shown above. Regardless of the specific model, the CJ was one cool Jeep.
4. Jeep Wagoneer
The Wagoneer was Jeep’s SUV that came before the Grand Cherokee. Known by collectors as the first luxury SUV, the Wagoneer (and its even more luxurious version, the Grand Wagoneer) remained in production with relatively few changes from 1962 to 1991. These faux wood sided badasses (not all had the fake wood trim) have become one of the most sought after American classics in recent years, and Jeep supposedly has a new version in the works. Even if Jeep makes good on a new Wagoneer, we doubt it could ever be as awesome as the original.
5. Chevrolet K5 Blazer
Launched in 1969, the Chevrolet K5 Blazer was the largest and most luxurious of the early Sport-Utility Vehicles. It had a removable top early on and was as off-road ready as the Bronco or Jeep CJ. These tall standing, rough and tumble SUVs could handle a romp through a field or something much more extreme with ease. Today, they (and the nearly identical GMC Jimmy) don’t necessarily have as big a following as the Bronco, but they should.
6. International Harvester Scout
The International Harvester Scout hit the streets (and trails) in 1961, long before the Blazer or the Bronco and arguably laid the groundwork for those vehicles. The Scout competed with the Jeep CJ when it first came out, and while it offered more off-road capability than most folks would ever need, its boxy body offered better protection from the elements. Over its nearly 20-year production run, it came in a number of configurations including pickups, convertibles, and fixed-roof SUVs.
7. Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover brought the Discovery to the U.S in 1994 to try and gain more of the luxury SUV market. The Discovery was less expensive than some of the company’s other offerings, but it was still luxury SUV with the necessary equipment to get the job done on and off road. It had solid axles and long-travel suspension that made going up or down a difficult trail almost easy. The Discovery isn’t as tough as the Defender, but it was significantly cheaper and still an excellent vehicle off pavement.
8. Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40
For thousands of fans, the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser is the definitive classic off-roader. Simple, reliable, and tough as nails, the Land Cruiser is part of the off-roader’s holy trinity, along with the Jeep CJ and Land Rover Defender. Sales started in 1960 and only 13 years later, over 300,000 of them were cruising around the globe. Sold in the U.S. until 1984, and in Brazil until 2001, the FJ40 came in hardtop, soft top, and pickup versions. These things are eternally cool and will run forever.
9. Toyota Land Cruiser J62
The more refined J62 lacks some of the original Land Cruiser’s timeless charm, but it’s still a four-door off-roading badass. This model was built from 1980 to 1989, and was one of the best factory-built trail-busters of its time. Today, some off-road enthusiasts would have a hard time picking between the two. The FJ60 took everything the FJ40 did and modernized it while still being virtually unbreakable. If you want to get anywhere but need four doors, the J62 is one of your best options out there.
10. Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro
The Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro might not look like a rock crawler, but it’s more than worth mentioning. Simply put, the Vanagon Syncro is the four-wheel drive version of the humble T3 Vanagon. But with its light weight and excellent traction, four-wheel drive transformed the humble bus into a legitimate off-roader. Due to a steep price tag when it they were new, there are likely only about 5,000 models in the U.S., which makes it one of the rarer vehicles on our list.
11. Dodge Power Wagon
If you want a giant truck that can get you over every rocky outcrop and hill out there, you’d better consider the Dodge Power Wagon. Sure, Ram now has a new Power Wagon, but it doesn’t compare to the original off-road beast. Based on the three-quarter ton WWII military trucks, the first Power Wagon was simply a civilian version of that truck. Astonishingly, it stayed in production from 1946 until the mid 1970s. As you can imagine, it was an almost unstoppable force off-road.
12. Range Rover
Yes, Land Rover still sells several versions of the Range Rover, but the original version is still the one to get. First built in 1970, the classic Range Rover remained in production until 1996, and featured a boxy design, classic Land Rover off-road utility, and an upscale interior. The vehicle was designed to blend luxury and ruggedness, and it definitely does. Talk to anyone who has ever owned one of these vehicles and you’ll see their face light up. The old-school Range Rovers may not be as rough and rugged as a Defender, but these beautiful boxy trucks can more than hold when things get tough.
13. Jeep XJ Cherokee
You still see a lot of the XJ Cherokees on the road. The reason? These vehicles refuse to die. With an impressively long production run (1984-2001), the XJ has a boxy exterior, is tough as nails, and almost impossible to kill. The other upside of a Jeep XJ Cherokee? It’s cheap. You can pick an old XJ up for a few thousand bucks and drive it for years off-road — provided rust isn’t an issue.
14. Isuzu Trooper
In 1981, Isuzu took some of the best features other 4x4s had to offer and combined them to create the Trooper (also known as the Isuzu Bighorn). It was a boxy, four-door, four-wheel drive SUV that was comfortable on the streets, but was truly built for adventuring off-road. As the model’s life went on, it got a little more upscale and soft, but still boasted impressive off-road chops that encouraged you to take the dirt path instead of the highway. The Isuzu Trooper disappeared after 2002. Isuzu followed suit and left the States in 2009.
15. Suzuki Samurai
When Suzuki sold vehicles in the U.S. it was known for chasing niche markets with small and quirky vehicles. No model embodies this better than the Samurai. The Samurai was like a 4/5 scale Jeep with harder edges and a can-do attitude. It was an excellent and affordable off-roader in its day, and you still see many of these little vehicles out on the trails. There are even full off-road enthusiast communities that swear by the Samurai. If you find one of these rides today, it’s likely been modified; few Samurais have survived unmolested.
16. Isuzu VehiCROSS
Had Isuzu waited 10 years to release the VehiCROSS, there’s a chance the company would have been able to survive in the U.S. The VehiCROSS was a compact SUV that would’ve fit right in with the weird-looking Jeep Cherokee or Nissan Juke. Aside from its odd styling, it had an advanced 4×4 system, and a short wheelbase. Add that all up and you have a seriously interesting off-road vehicle. Unfortunately, the model didn’t sell well; production began in 1997 and ended in 2001. You may not think of it as a legitimate classic, but this Isuzu really deserves to be remembered.
17. AMC Eagle
American Motors Company (AMC) was the last independent car company in the U.S., and one of those automakers that deserves more recognition than it gets. On top of innovative compact and muscle cars, value-packed sedans and station wagons, and a groundbreaking factory warranty, it also invented the modern-day crossover with the AMC Eagle. Available as a sedan, wagon, and even sporty SX4 hatchback coupe, the Eagle was truly an original. It had a 4×4 system and a high ride height that could handle going off-road when needed. Nowadays, Subaru has found massive success selling a similar package with its Crosstrek and Outback, while AMC left the market nearly 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the Eagle was just ahead of its time.
18. Mitsubishi Montero
This automaker still makes the Montero under the nameplate “Pajero” in some parts of the world. But the modern model looks nothing like the cool boxy first-generation SUV that debuted in 1982. Back then, the car borrowed its looks from the Land Rover Range Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser of the same era. Originally available as a two door in hard and soft top models, eventually Mitsubishi offered a four-door variant. It was cool SUV to own, and it was ready for just about any adventure off pavement or on.
19. Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen 460
The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is still in production, but it’s commonly known as the G-Class now. Debuting in 1979, it was an instant success. But while the ultra-luxurious modern version keeps the boxy styling of the original, the first G-Wagen was a utility vehicle intended to compete with models like the Defender and Land Cruiser. With a simple interior and bulletproof mechanicals, Mercedes offered it in hard and soft top versions, with two or four doors, and a number of gas and diesel engines. Long before it became a status symbol for the rich, the early, spartan G-Wagens were popular among militaries and civilian off-road enthusiasts. They still are today.
20. Chevrolet Suburban
The Chevrolet Suburban is a large SUV with tons of cargo and passenger space and capable four-wheel drive. You’ll often see Suburbans used to tow trailers or cart around a lot of people, but since they’re built on a truck frame, these things are monsters off-road as well. The classic versions of this model had an overall boxy shape and tall stature, making them excellent off the beaten path. The fifth and sixth generation Suburbans (built from 1960 to 1972) have the biggest presence due to their eye-catching, old-school styling.
21. Hummer H1
For most Hummer fans, they think of the Humvee that the military used, not the plastic-cladded junkers of the 2000s. In 1992, Hummer civilianized the military vehicle and called it the H1. It featured a huge body, large wheels and tires and near bulletproof construction. Due to their high price tag, not too many of the H1s were made. However, if you can find one, you’ll be able to traverse just about any off-road terrain. Pro tip: If you’re set on owning a Hummer but are only going to keep it on the trails, you may be able to snag a bargain on an ex-military truck at a government auction.
22. VW Baja Bug
Okay, the Volkswagen Baja Bug is a bit of a stretch because VW didn’t intend for the lowly Beetle to be used this way. Still, these things have been powering around sand dunes and motoring down trails for decades. The fact of the matter is that the VW Beetle was a versatile package. With a few modifications, the little car can become a tough little Baja Bug. With a small footprint, light weight, and excellent traction thanks to the bulk of its weight sitting over the drive wheels, a Baja will never be as quite as capable as a Jeep CJ or a Ford Bronco, but it’ll still get places most other vehicles can’t.
23. Lamborghini LM002
Lamborghini is known for making supercars, but the company branched out in the 1980s and built the LM002. It was a big and boxy 4×4 SUV with a huge V12 borrowed from the Countach under the hood. Looking like a sporty version of every off-road SUV that came before it, it had an engine that could blow away most sports cars on the road. Lamborghini did race the LM002 in a few rallys, but most people know the model for its outrageous looks and powerful engine.
24. Ford Model T
One of the original off-road vehicles was never really intended for off-roading. But Ford built the Model T for all purposes, and when it was released in 1908, there just weren’t that many paved roads. For many people of that time period, this meant that their Model T needed to be tough enough to handle just about anything: Rough dirt roads, fields, streams, and sometimes even more extreme terrain. The vehicle’s simple mechanicals and solid construction allowed it to do these things with ease. All of this helped give the Model T its ironclad reputation.
25. Willys-Overland MB
The Willys MB was designed for the U.S. military at the outset of World War II, where it quickly became known as the Jeep. While it’s the direct ancestor of the Jeep CJ, it served as the inspiration for both the original Land Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser, making it the true, original 4×4. Built by both Willys-Overland and Ford for the war effort, the MB saw action all over the world, and thousands survive today. While many of them haven’t been driven off the beaten path in decades, they’re still a common sight at auto shows and car meet-ups. Due to its war pedigree and technological importance, the MB will always be the ultimate off-roader.