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Off-road vehicles

An off-road vehicle is considered to be any type of vehicle which is capable of driving on and off paved or gravel surface. It is generally characterized by having large tires with deep, open treads, a flexible suspension, or even caterpillar tracks.

Several types of motor sports involve racing off-road vehicles. The three largest "4-wheel vehicle" off-road types of competitions are rally, desert racing, and rock crawling. The three largest types of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) / motorcycle competitions are Motocross, Enduro, and also desert racing like Dakar Rallye and Baja 1000.

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One of the first modified off-road vehicles was the Kégresse track, a conversion undertaken first by Adolphe Kégresse, who designed the original while working for Czar Nicholas II of Russia between 1906 and 1916. The system uses an unusual caterpillar track which has a flexible belt rather than interlocking metal segments. It can be fitted to a conventional car or truck to turn it into a half-track suitable for use over rough or soft ground.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Kégresse returned to his native France where the system was used on Citroën cars between 1921 and 1937 for off-road and military vehicles. The Citroën company sponsored several overland expeditions with their vehicles crossing North Africa and Central Asia.

A huge wheeled vehicle designed from 1937 to 1939 under the direction of Thomas Poulter called Antarctic Snow Cruiser was intended to facilitate transport in the Antarctica. While having several innovative features, it generally failed to operate as hoped under the difficult conditions, and was eventually abandoned in Antarctica.

After World War II, a huge surplus of light off-road vehicles like the Jeep and heavier lorries were available on the market. The Jeeps in particular were popular with buyers who used them as utility vehicles. This was also the start of off-roading as a hobby. The wartime Jeeps soon wore out, though, and the Jeep company started to produce civilian derivatives, closely followed by similar vehicles from British LandRover and Japanese ToyotaDatsun/NissanSuzuki, and Mitsubishi. These were all alike: small, compact, four-wheel-drive vehicles with at most a small hardtop to protect the occupants from the elements.

From the 1960s and onward, more comfortable vehicles were produced. For several years they were popular with rural buyers due to their off-road and load-lugging capabilities. The U.S. Jeep Wagoneer and the Ford Bronco, the British Range Rover, and the station wagon-bodied Japanese Toyota Land CruiserNissan Patrol and Suzuki Lj's series were all essentially just station wagon bodies on light truck frames with four-wheel-drive drivetrains. Later, during the 1990s, manufacturers started to add even more luxuries to bring those off-road vehicles on par with regular cars. This eventually evolved into what we call the SUV today. It also evolved into the newer crossover vehicle, where utility and off-road capability was sacrificed for better on-road handling and luxury.

Common commercial off-road vehicles include four-wheel-drive pickup trucks like the Ford F-SeriesChevrolet C/KDodge Ram, and Toyota Tacoma. A number of military vehicles have also seen civilian use, including the Jeep CJ and the AM General Hummer. Some, like the early Land Rovers, were adapted to military use from civilian specifications.


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