5 Weird Classic 4x4 Cars You Can Actually Take Off-Road
The market for classic SUVs has become superheated, with all manner of old 4x4 tin being snapped up by both collectors and enthusiasts seeking a fun trail rig. With so much focus on trucks and sport-utility vehicles, there are more than a few unusual cars—that's right, coupes, wagons, hatchbacks, and even convertibles—that can deliver similar four-wheel traction.
Which weird 4x4 cars make the off-road cut? These five unusual adventure machines are waiting to be rescued from obscurity.
Toyota Tercel 4WD
Few, if any, would think of a Toyota station wagon when considering an outside-the-box classic 4x4. And yet the Toyota Tercel 4WD, which debuted in 1982, was a crossover in every sense and delivered a four-wheel drive experience that punched well above its compact size and featured a few tricks that gave it legitimate capability on the trail.
Sure, the Tercel 4WD didn't boast the ground clearance of a traditional SUV, but it did offer an available six-speed manual transmission that included an ultra-low 4.71:1 crawl gear intended to beef up torque delivery when dealing with difficult terrain. The vehicle also featured a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive system that allowed drivers to tag in the rear axle when required in situations where traction was at a premium.
Rated at a mere 63hp, the Toyota Tercel 4WD's four-cylinder engine wasn't exactly lighting any fires. That being said, what other '80s wagon came with a functional inclinometer (borrowed from the Land Cruiser) on the dashboard?
Volkswagen Golf Country
The Volkswagen Golf hatchback was long viewed as the 'do-everything' model for the German brand, so it’s no surprise that it also served as VW's first proto-crossover.
In 1990, the Golf Country debuted for the European market, and despite its small size it delivered a fair amount of credible 4x4 capability.
The Golf Country was built in partnership with Steyr-Puch in Austria, which turned its G-Wagon skills to the Volkswagen with relish. The Golf was given almost 5-inches of suspension lift, bumper bars, skid plates, auxiliary lighting, and a more rugged set of shocks and springs. The Country also came with Volkswagen's Syncro four-wheel drive system, which in combination with its seven or so inches of ground clearance made it formidable when tackling off-road obstacles.
Modern Subarus have become inextricably linked with standard all-wheel drive, but in the late '80s it was still more often found as an option, and typically as a part-time system. This lead to unusual models like the Subaru Justy, a subcompact hatch that came with a tiny 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine, but which by 1988 also featured a selectable four-wheel drive system.
Like the larger Tercel, the Justy originally made do with just over 60hp (although later models would crest 70 ponies), but despite its sub-2,000 lbs of curb weight it was far better to drive with its five-speed manual gearbox rather than the continuously-variable automatic on the order sheet.
Also similar to the Tercel was the Justy's lack of a center differential, which meant its four-wheel drive system was restricted to slippery conditions only. Limited ground clearance is the Justy's Achilles' heel, but its small size and solid reputation for finding traction have made it a dark horse among fans of cheapo adventure.
AMC Eagle Sundancer
Want to tackle the trail topless, but aren't interested in a Jeep or a Bronco? The AMC Eagle Sundancer has you covered. Eagle, which pioneered the concept of the crossover by building wagons, coupes, and sedans exclusively with four-wheel drive, also offered a convertible option in the form of the Sundancer.
The Sundancer peeled the roof back on the Eagle coupe, but in true early '80s style it stopped at the B-pillar, giving the car a targa look that also included a removable rear window for maximum air flow. The cars were actually built by Griffith, a third-party shop that also build Toyota's similar 'Sunchaser' convertible editions of the same-era Celica.
All versions of the Eagle Sundancer convertible came with the same rugged four-wheel drive system, reasonable ground clearance, and a stout inline six engine. Although few convertibles were offered in America at the time, scarcely 200 people ponied up the cash to take one of these unique Eagles home, making them rare (but not necessarily expensive to buy) on the classic car market.
Fiat Panda 4x4
The Fiat Panda 4x4 was intended to be an inexpensive commuter box, but over the years it's grown into a cult figure among European off-roaders who prize the vehicle's small size, cookie-cutter tires, and excellent snow manners.
Equipped with a four-wheel drive system by the same Steyr-Puch crew responsible for the Golf Country, the Panda 4x4 offers low-range gearing to complement its traditional front-wheel drive layout. The Fiat earned its reputation largely for its performance in Italy's alpine regions, where it would routinely best SUVs stuck in winter drifts on its way to ski chalets and resorts. It wasn't long before the tiny 50-horsepower hatch had charmed the off-road crowd and become a fixture on the farms and forest roads across the continent.
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