The evolution of the SUV: From the White House to War to Suburbia

January 3, 2018
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One of the best-selling vehicles on the market today is the SUV, or Sports Utility Vehicle. They’re popular with everyone from bush bashers and weekend warriors to urban families and hipster youth. Most people know the terms “Toorak Tractor” or “Mosman Taxi.”

While many SUV-owners today never take their vehicle through anything more challenging than a school car park, the first SUVs were developed as commercial and wartime workhorses.

The Suburban: From humble beginnings to the White House

The Chevrolet Carryall Suburban was released in 1935. It was built on a truck chassis, was rear wheel drive only, and cost a whopping $675.

Even though the original Carryall could seat 8 people, it only had two (front) doors, so it was used primarily as a commercial vehicle. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that a third, rear, door was added. The early 1970s saw the introduction of the fourth door, along with better seats, fully trimmed door panels, and new dash trim.

Chevrolet Carryall Suburban

The Carryall is the longest continuous production vehicle in existence and has traditionally been one of General Motors’ most profitable vehicles.

The Modern Suburban

In recent years, the Suburban has been used as a police car, fire chief’s vehicle, and a limousine. Black Suburbans are commonly used by US federal intelligence services. An armoured version is used as a transport option for the President of the United States.

From Russia with Love

In 1932, Ford Motor Company and the Soviet Union signed a cooperative enterprise agreement known as the Five Year Plan. The Soviets agreed to purchase $13 million worth of automobiles and parts and Ford agreed to assist in setting up an automobile-manufacturing plant in the Soviet Union. This plant would come to be known as GAZ, or Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod.


One of the early vehicles produced by GAZ was the GAZ-61. It was one of the world’s first all-wheel drive passenger cars. It had 85 horsepower, a top speed of 100 km/hr, and could climb angles up to 38 degrees and cross water up to 72cm deep.

The GAZ-61 was produced during WWII, from 1938 to 1941, and was used by many commanders of the Red Army.

The Jeep, Land Rover, and Land Cruiser: Products of War

At the outbreak of WWII, the US army called on automobile manufacturers to invent a prototype all-wheel drive vehicle that was tough, durable, and capable of carrying soldiers over rough terrain. Only two companies responded. One of these companies was called Willys Overland and they produced the vehicle that would come to be known as the Jeep.

Willys Overland Jeep

Willys Overland prototype was commissioned by the Army and, with the help of Ford Motor Company, Willys Overland produced more than 700,000 vehicles for the US Army. The vehicle’s name came from its original designation as a “general purpose,” shortened to “G.P,” and eventually known as “Jeep.”After the war, the Jeep went on sale to the public and became an extremely popular passenger vehicle.

The Wilks Land Rover

Not to be outdone by the Americans, British brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks created a 4X4 vehicle that they called the Land Rover. It was very similar to the Jeep but the Wilks brothers designed it to cater to farmers.

The Toyota Land Cruiser

At the outset of the Korean War in 1950, the US military requested Japanese automobile manufacturers, Toyota, to develop a military vehicle. Although the US military rejected the prototype in preference to the US Jeep, Toyota used this design to develop the 4X4 Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser was adopted for use by the Japanese National Police Agency.

The Toorak Tractor

From products of war, the SUV grew in popularity as a viable passenger vehicle. In 2017, SUV sales overtook passenger car sales for the first time in Australia.

People like SUVs because they’re roomy, high off the ground, and feel safer. Many feature 4WD or AWD, some have the towing capacity of a light truck, and many are increasingly fuel efficient as technology and design improves. They’re versatile and comfortable – able to be used on an everyday basis, with many having significant off-road capabilities.

Looks like the ‘Toorak Tractor’ or ‘Mosman Taxi’ is here to stay!

1 Comment

  • I had a 1985 Toyota Tercel wagon SR5 my wife friends called it a station wagon but I think it was the first modern SUV.

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