Ever since man invented the wheel and combined it with the internal combustion engine he has basically said to mother nature: “Hey, I just invented some spinny things and something that makes them spin faster. How dare you put rocks, trees, animals and mountains in my way to keep me from fully enjoying my fast spinny things!” And for the next hundred plus years mankind has basically been giving nature the finger.
And that finger has gotten exponentially bigger and in some cases stranger. Going off-road can be fun and also an absolute necessity depending on where you live especially if paved roads, or dirt roads or anything remotely resembling a road doesn’t exist. The vehicles in the below list tried to tackle both issues, some successfully, some not so much, but all in a unique way of their own.
Almost all vehicles with a strict military application were left off since that’s another list by itself with the exception of the Tsar Tank, since that was just too good and weird to pass up. War forces a creativity all its own, peacetime gives designers a little more time and space. And space is what many of these vehicles took up.
10. The Tsar Tank
With the invention of the tank as a military vehicle during World War I every combatant with a decent industrial base tried to make the biggest and best. Russian took that literally. The Tsar Tank looked like one of those old-timey bicycles with the big front wheel, as if King Kong or Godzilla wanted to ride it. It was a tricycle design that consisted of two spoked front wheels 27 feet in diameter, with the idea that they could roll over anything they might encounter on the battlefield. The problem was the 5 foot rear wheel had an annoying habit of getting stuck on just about anything it would encounter on the battlefield. A single full-size prototype was built, but when it performed poorly during testing the whole idea, and it, was scrapped.
9. LCC-1 Sno-Train
Moving stuff from point A to B in Arctic climates isn’t an easy task. Doing it in this thing is quite the opposite. Basically the offspring of a school bus and a monster truck, the LCC-1 (Logistics Cargo Carrier) was built for the US Army by LeTourneau, an American construction company which specialized in obscenely large things with wheels, specifically for Arctic environments. It consisted of a cab with a 6×6 drive, 600-hp engines, an attached crane, 16 ten foot diameter wheels and it pulled 3 cars that could hold 45 tons of cargo. Used in Greenland and Alaska it had a fairly short life span of 7 years before being retired and stopping the nightmares of numerous polar bears.
8. Liebherr T 282B
The world’s largest dump truck, and that’s not just an advertising slogan for Liebherr, a German maker of mining equipment, this monster has the numbers to back it up. It’s 48 feet long, 29 feet wide, has a 21 foot wheelbase and weighs 544 tons. It dwarfs your average dump truck which comes in at just about 20 feet long and 10-15 tons and will put you back about $130,000. The 282B comes in at $4 to 5 million and has a unique feature. Because of its size in cannot be legally driven on most, make that any, public roads. Once purchased, it is brought to its future work site in pieces and assembled.
The Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod (GAZ) or the Gorky Automobile Plant in Novgorod, Russia, was the Ford of the old Soviet Union. It has produced military and commercial trucks for Russia since 1932. In 1955 they came up with the GAZ-72, considered the world’s first SUV. And by “came up with” we mean they basically just put a car body on top of a jeep engine and transmission. They made over 4,000 of these from 1955-58 and it was quite popular since 60% of Russia’s land mass is covered in snow 11 ½ months out of the year.
6. ZIL 49061 Bluebird
Probably the ultimate go anywhere, do anything vehicle. Used to recover Russian cosmonauts after they splashed down (or crashed down, the Russian space program wasn’t well known for accuracy when it came to re-entries) the Bluebird could literally go anywhere. Its fiberglass body and duplex drive allowed it to be amphibious and with 6×6 drive, and the front and rear axles able to steer, remote locations weren’t a problem at all.
The GAZ-M was basically a Russian copy of a late 1930s Ford Model B built and sold just prior to World War II. The GAZ-VM was the same car with wider rear wheel wells and snowmobile like tracks replacing the tires. Initially built as a military prototype and never really meant for mass production, the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 saw about 100 of them produced as staff cars for Russian officers.
Mattracks is a Karlstad, Minnesota based company that is happy to turn any car or truck into something that would not look out of place in a Road Warrior movie. They make and sell rubberized track systems that can be installed on the axles of any standard vehicle when tires just won’t do. So give them a call and be the first in your neighborhood to make everyone think that you have a leg up on the coming apocalypse.
3. Rolligon Vehicles
The invention of a school teacher in, where else, Alaska, who observed some Eskimos moving a large load of food over difficult terrain with rollers made from sewn together sealskins. With this inspiration he patented unique, large treadless rubber tires that aped the Eskimos’ seal skin rollers and created the Rolligon Company in 1951. Rolligon vehicles are distinguished by the almost bag-like tires they use which are ideal for rough terrain since they simply give enough, and don’t burst, when going over rocks and logs.
2. Fordson Snow Devil
Now here is the perfect vehicle for a weekend trip to the in-laws, provided they’re mole people. Developed in the 1920s the Armstead Snow Motor consisting of two cylindrical screw drives powered by the engine of a Fordson Tractor, the Snow Devil proved adept at handling the deep snow of Northern California where it hauled mail and logs but cannot drill into the ground despite its appearance. The US Army showed some interest in the 1930s but never built one and during World War II an inventive German soldier actually built one from scratch and called it schraubenantrieb schneemaschine (screw-propelled snow machine) but it was never mass produced.
1. The Ernest Bazin
A vehicle that Jules Verne would have dreamed up and one which his fellow Frenchman Ernest Bazin actually invented and built in 1896. Although strictly meant for water travel it could have theoretically had an amphibious use as well. Bazin’s design used three pairs of large discs measuring 33 feet in diameter and 10 feet thick to propel a ship 131 feet long, 40 feet wide weighing 280 tons. Basin believed that his unique design would revolutionize trans-Atlantic travel by saving on coal consumption. The problem was that when his self-named invention was tested it had a major drawback. The discs threw up so much water it was a drag on the ships speed and thus made it less fuel efficient. Bazin claimed to have overcome this problem but his death in 1897, less than a year after its maiden voyage, shelved the project. Even so, it would have been cool to see this thing chugging down the Champs Eysees after a trip across the Atlantic.