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How Sweet 16 Parties Killed the SUV

Bentley announced it is going to produce an SUV. Our obsession with over-the-top sport-utility vehicles may indicate a greater, cultural problem...

by
Becky Graebner

Bio

July 25, 2013 - 11:00 am
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alcan_armyjeep_1942_sm

REAL off-roading

I find it almost laughable to look at some of the SUVs that are coming out today.  They are generations removed from their inspiring ancestors: the Jeep driven by the American military in WWII and the infamous British Land Rover.  These first SUVs were made for off-roading in unforgiving terrain.  They were working vehicles.  They were REAL vehicles.

My family has always owned SUVs and pickup trucks. In my opinion, they were the best option for a family that was constantly hauling dogs, kids, wood, tractors, and kayaking equipment — and I guess my family agreed.  Our family history of SUVs included several of the classics: the good ‘ole Ford Explorer (first generation), a classy Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a meaty Dodge Durango that we named “Brock.”  Pickup trucks included the trusty Dodge Dakota and a red Toyota Tundra.

These trucks were high off the ground and cut through the Wisconsin slush and snow like a hot knife through butter. Many of the interiors were basic — everything had a purpose.  This was what a truck was made for: to work and haul. When our Jeep showed up with leather seats, it was a big deal.

The sport-utility vehicles you see today are as different from the original Jeep as an apple from a flank steak. Compare the wanna-be hardcore Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV and the over-the-top Porsche Cayenne to the military Jeep — or even the first-generation Ford Explorer…posers. We all know the most rugged thing these cars are hauling are faux-Christmas trees…

The purpose of the SUV becomes even more distorted in the super-luxury brand class. Maserati has been teasing the wealthy SUV/crossover crowd with the Kubang for years… and now Bentley is saying they are going to release a behemoth of their own.  These trucks have price tags in the six-digit range. Wh-hat?

The fleets of working SUVs seem to be a dying breed…

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Top Rated Comments   
Growing up and cutting firewood in rural Northern California in the late sixties and early seventies, having a "wood truck" was normal. It was always an older pickup, usually scratched and dented from year after year of driving on brushy, rutted dirt roads, and it doubled for other dirty jobs like picking up lumber and bales of hay from Hales and Symons. People who needed a 4WD usually had an equally banged up old Jeep CJ or sometimes a Toyota Land Cruiser, as there was no point in trying to drive a family sedan on a muddy or snowy secondary road, nor was there any point in trying to keep such a vehicle clean, whether inside or out, or scratch-free. The first dent or scratch in one of them was cause for relief.
Then I went to live in Spain in the mid eighties, where "Santanas" (Spain's contract factory for Land Rover) were used by famers and ranchers for driving on dirt roads around their land. These Santanas were purely utility vehicles and, despite being a Land Rover, were pretty much thought of as their version of our "wood trucks," not cool at all but not meant to be cool either. Coming from this background, I understand your points. I also have an SUV, not to be cool but to pull trailers around without burning out the motor. I still find it odd to see a shiny, sparkling SUV or pickup. Don't people know what they're for? Apparently not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"There’s something wrong with this country."

Can't disagree with that assessment. Obama getting a second term is absolute proof of it.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (43)
All Comments   (43)
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I had a 1967 International Scout. It made my chest hairy!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My old man had one too - we three kids had to sit on the hard metal benches in the back (with no seat belts of course) bouncing through the rutted muddy roads or three feet of snow of Vermont, banging our heads on the roof, when we went on his idea of "vacation"!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For the record, the Mercedes-Benz G-class was originally designed as a military vehicle. Of course, Germans being what they are, they overbuilt it and had to price it too high for most armies.
Something equally silly is seeing people with 4X4 trucks set up for an expedition into the Darien Gap or the Sahara Desert rolling into the parking lot of the local Dollar General store.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just for the record, that "real off-roading" picture is from the construction of the AlCan Highway during WWII. That picture was obviously before final grading of that section, probably just after the dozers had knocked over the trees. I think that Jeep has chains on, a good idea, and it probably wasn't going far without becoming stuck. Not many Jeeps of that period had winches but many had capstans on the wheels that could be used to pull the vehicle out when it was stuck; just wrap a rope/cable around the capstan on the wheel and let that pull you forward. That said, it is easier to say than do. If you're really having trouble getting out, you can cut down one of those spruce trees, chain it to your tires and, half a tire rotation at the time "walk" your way out. If you're doing stuff like that and it isn't just for sport, you've made some seriously bad choices.

I first drove the AlCan in '74. It was still dirt from Watson Lake, BC to the Alaska Border except for about 40 miles around Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; that's about a thousand miles of dirt. I did it in a '74 Toyota FJ-40, not much more sophisticated than the pictured Jeep. It was September and raining, snaining, and snowing, so the road was about hub deep. I spent most of that thousand miles in 4WD, though some of that was from being a newbie; it would probably have been OK in RWD most of the way but I'd never seen a thousand miles of dirt road before. It cost me $20 at the quarter car wash in Tok, AK to get it red again and in the five more years I owned it, I never got all the AlCan dirt out of it.

The AlCan is paved now, though "paved" is a very vague term between Beaver Creek, YT and the Border. Frankly the last time I was on it, October of '10 in a big U-Haul, I felt like the tail-gunner character in "Memphis Belle" thinking, "please God, just let it end," in that stretch after Beaver Creek. If you look at the picture, those 20' tall Black Spruce trees are probably 200 years old and grow in muskeg over permafrost. That picture could be anywhere in the western Yukon but looks a lot like the country between Beaver Creek and the Border. Right in the middle of that stretch is a place called Snag, YT, site of a WWII airfield. The lowest temperature ever recorded in North American was -81F at Snag, YT. An SUV doesn't feel like a useless luxury in that country.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My SUV is one of the newer generation non-jeeps... but the practical reasons I told myself I was getting it for have all been vindicated. I have had to haul larger loads in it from time to time, or conversely, had to flip the seats up to carry more passengers. Sissified or not, entertainment center in the rear or not, it's very competent at hauling building materials and people, thank you. Half the year, we're prone to heavy snow up here, and the four-wheel drive has saved my life at least twice. The higher position of the driver's seat has probably also been a factor in keeping me alive... I have a friend who drives a sedan, and the streets are so claustrophobic up here, with so many blind corners, that just out of the times I've hitched rides with him when we happened to be going to the same place, he has nearly been T-boned by cross-traffic two or three times of those times. It's not that he's reckless... he just isn't clairvoyant. A higher seat improves visibility markedly.

What I'm saying is that SUVs do have intrinsic properties that make them safer and better, even if I wouldn't drive my car into a WWI trench. Being larger, higher, and more flexible is a surprisingly useful for a vehicle. I can sure as heck attest that after spending a few weeks in Europe on vacation, driving around in a tiny little rental Renault among a bunch of baby car-lettes, I was inexpressibly relieved to get back to the land of reasonably-sized desire-driven cars.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You forgot to mention the "Lambo Rambo" LM002 - now there was an SUV!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Four, and All-Wheel Drive, allow you to become stuck in places you would never ever consider going to in a 2-wheel drive vehicle.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As one gets older, one gains perspective. Nothing has changed.

In the very beginning, cars were an expression of wealth. As costs came down, they also became utilitarian. There has always been a range of vehicles by price and the top end has ALWAYS been about displaying wealth. You're just offended that it now includes SUVs, since you like those.

There has been no change in our culture in regards to cars. It's just that you didn't notice that certain people have always bought vehicles as an expression of wealth. Reality TV makes many uncommon things seem very common.

My truck is a 2001 Ford Explorer SportTrac that I bought new. 110,000 miles later, it is dented, scratched, dirty and very utilitarian, but still a comfortable ride with leather seats.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
bought my first LandRover in 1972..... it was 14 years old then, and the first of many. They would drive through what got the other guys stuck, pull them out, then carry on ahead of them. I NEVER got mine stuck so bad I could not get it back out. And I got it stuck. On the highway they were decent.. 70 mph cruise, got 21-22 mpg. And they could WORK. SLow, but always get there. One time I towed another, both long wheelbase and fuly loaded, over a thousand miles. I am guess ing tot al weight was well over 12K pounds. I never did care for the jeeps, Nissans, FJ Toyos, and CERTAINLY not the Austin Gypsy. All were simple, crude workkhorses of a kind not available today. We must be "protected" at any cost. Fourteen airbags? No thanks.

One vehicle only getting passing mention above, and with a slight touch of scorn, is the Mercedes G-series, the venerable Gelandeqagen. Early ones had the same 670 910 five cylinder SOHC diesel the Merceded 300 sedans had, later with the turbocharger added. THOSE were serious workhorses, and I wish I could find one in fair shape. COmfortable, reliable, cheap to run and drive, versatile... then they gussied them up, fittted the 5 litre injection gas V8 and made them Yanktank pigs. Meanwhile they continued producing the old ones for the Third World. Wish WE were allowed to "suffer" like the "poor". I rode in a late model GW300 in Nicaragua.... and would have bought it on the spot and driven it all the way through Mexico to home, except I knew what would happen at the US order. Government protecting us from ourselves is the current excuse. Thank you very much, but no...... The earlier LandRovers (58 through 74 in the North American market) did offer a diesel, two litre in '58 and '59 (I had one, my brother still drives it), and later the 2.25 Series 11A version. Not a bad workhorse, but a tad on the gutless side of life. I always though fitting a pair of the English SU carburetters to the side of the Series 11A gas engine would make a radical improvement in performance and not hurt the fuel economy. One of the things I always appreciated about the earlier "normal" stuff was that a guy could play with it ant not break any supid laws. THAT is the main factor in the demise of REAL work rigs. Thanks, Uncle Stupid.......
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The first gen Explorer doesn't even compare to a JEEP Cherokee (mid size or full size), it doesn't even compare to a first gen Toyota Forerunner, the original Toyota FJ40 or an International Scout 80/800, in fact the Explorer if anything is what paved the way to these new "SUVs"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
i love those old 4Runners! the new ones are just too big---i think the older models looked more handsome anyway.

thanks for reading!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If I had more money than I knew what to do with, I'd buy an old Rolls Royce or Bentley in poor repair, have its drive train replaced with that of a Chevy truck, and have a customizer convert it into a small pick-up truck.

I might even decorate the front with imitation long-horns and six-guns!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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