Ever since humans figured out how to ditch the horse, we’ve pointed our horseless carriages—or Jeeps, trucks, bikes, trikes, whatever—at the most impassible, inhospitable, and downright unforgiving terrain we can stub a toe on. Back in the first half of the 20th century, a lot of four-wheeling’ wasn’t done out of recreation, but out of necessity, considering the world wasn’t nearly as paved as it is now.
Since then, we’ve turned the idea of tackling the unknown into an international sport, a leisurely pastime, and an integral part of the world of motoring enthusiasts. That’s why we dredged up some choice images of old 4x4s, trucks, Jeeps, SUVs, and buggies getting dirty in the rocks, mud, and sand—all before the advent of the digital camera. We picked out a few of our favorites below, but make sure you click in for the full gallery.
Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka Passes a Dune During the 2000 Dakar Rally
The Dakar is just about the most brutal and taxing motorsport event on the planet, some say more so than the Baja 1000. After multiple days and off-road stages, competitors cover thousands of miles in the roughest high-speed terrain imaginable. Here’s Hiroshi Masuoka conquering a dune during the event’s 2000 running.
Meyers Manx Grabs Some Air, 1966
The Meyers Manx is one of the great democratizers of the off-road world, bringing cheap and cheerful dune-busting to the masses with fiberglass construction and Volkswagen mechanical bits. Here’s a Meyers Manx dune buggy in action, grabbing some serious air—and smiles from the driver.
Lamborghini LM002 Cuts Through Mud, 1986
It seems someone actually used the mighty LM002 for its intended purpose back when it was new. This dramatic scene was captured during a French test of multiple 4x4s back in 1986.
Alvis in the Muddy British Countryside During Trial, 1930
Prior to World War II, trialing was one of the most popular motoring pastimes in the United Kingdom. Groups of enthusiasts swarmed the countryside in sports cars, saloons, and roadsters of any ilk to determine who could make it the farthest uphill in the shortest amount of time. Here’s an Alvis on some wretched country road—check out the tread pattern on those skinny tires.
Cartoonist and Soldier Bill Mauldin and his Jeep, 1944
Here we have Bill Mauldin, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the most influential cartoonists of the 20th century, cutting through the mud in his wartime Willys Jeep. For many Americans, their first interaction with an off-road environment was behind the wheel of a Willys Jeep, inspiring many to take up the 4×4 hobby after the conclusion of the War.
Tough Times for Buggy at SCORE race at Riverside, 1974
No word on whether or not the driver was able to wrangle the buggy back on the straight and narrow, but it sure makes for a fantastic photo.
1966 Ford Bronco Gets Rowdy During Testing
This is a scene from MotorTrend‘s period test of the 1966 Ford Bronco, which apparently resulted in some jumps, bumps, and scrapes.