Back in the mid to late sixties, 4WDing in Australia was still in its infancy. But, if you jump forward ten years or so to the mid-seventies, hitting the road in a 4WD was becoming a major outdoor activity. Although, it was a vastly different scene to what it is today.


The Early Days of 4WDing


Except for the two-door Range Rover that was released at the 1970 Paris Motor Show, all mainstream 4WD vehicles were only designed as part-time four-wheel drives. In fact, early land Rovers only had three transmission sticks; one for 4WD engagement, one for low range, and one was the gearstick.


Eventually, the Toyota Land Cruiser started to gain popularity, overtaking the Land Rover as the 4X4 vehicle of choice. This particular vehicle only had two transmissions, as low and high range were combined in the one stick. Back then; using the low range functionality was an absolute pain, as you would have to go into reverse to disengage it.


These early vehicles also weren’t designed for long distances, as they were made primarily for short-haul agricultural, military and mining applications. For instance, drivers could expect to tackle non-assisted steering, deafening engine noise and manually operated or no air-con. Suspension that was built for toughness and longevity, rather than ride quality also added to the discomfort.


The tyres also weren’t ideal. Back then; they were all cross-ply construction with split-rim steel wheels that raised multiple issues if you had to break the bead if you had a puncture. With time, tyre options started to improve. There were plenty of brands to choose from but they were all pretty much all-terrain patterns with little degree of specialisation, like mud grubbers or rock hoppers.


In the early days, any serious 4WDers drove a diesel. This is because they were less exposed to engine failure when driving through water than petrol engines were. The extra braking that was afforded for steep descents was also a major plus!


Moving away from the functionality of the vehicles themselves, which have undoubtedly improved over the years. Whether this is a good thing will probably depend on who you ask, as 4WDing was definitely a challenge back in the day, which some would say is better than what we have today. But, when you hit the road back then, you didn’t have a mobile phone, so going off road really meant you were going off the beaten track. If you wanted to communicate with the outside world (mainly in case of emergencies) you had to have an RFDS radio. To use one of these bad boys you had to throw an aerial over a relatively high tree branch and fish around for a frequency connection.  Eventually sat phones came into play, but they were pretty primitive up until recent times.


Creature comforts were also non-existent. AM-only radio was technically available, but the frequency was terrible and there were no dials for changing the station. Thankfully seating improved, with extra padding making for improved comfort but old-school headlights that were still measured in candlepower made night driving an experience and a half. Your camping equipment was also less civilised than it is today, and you definitely couldn’t power a small fridge in the back of your vehicle like you can now. Canvas flaps and an old-fashioned drover’s swag was the name of the game, and tinned food for days was the diet of champions.


Roughing it now is not what it once was. And in truth, a few decades ago, unless you knew what you were doing and were an experienced driver, heading off-road probably would have been a pretty crappy experience. Nowadays, any Tom, Dick, and Harry can head off-road with the right equipment, but one thing has never changed. 4WDers have a responsibility to the tracks they’re travelling, the campsites they’re using, and other drivers out there, to be responsible and learn what they should and shouldn’t be doing before they jump behind the wheel.


Before you head out on your next off-road adventure, check in with the guys at Ultimate 4WD for all of your 4WDing equipment, and of course, a thorough service of your vehicle.