How The Jeep And The Half Track Suspension System Contributed To America's Love Affair With Off Road Vehicles

Posted on

Off road vehicles, like Jeeps, have a rich history based on engineering and military necessity. The average owner of an SUV or Jeep is probably unaware that one particular aspect of the vehicle's design greatly enhances its ability to safely and easily trek across difficult terrain. This aspect is the half track suspension system, and it was first popularized in America through military Jeeps.

The History of the Jeep

Dubbed "America's only real sports car," the Jeep was borne of the United States Army's desire to find a lightweight four-wheel-drive war vehicle. The Army requested assistance from over 130 car companies, but only two of these companies placed bids for the contract. In the end, the American Bantam Car Company won the contract and freelance engineer Karl Probst developed a prototype that fit within the Army's vehicle specifications.

The Army lacked confidence in Probst and the American Bantam Car Company's ability to mass-produce the prototype, so it then turned to the Willys-Overland car company, which was the Army's only other real option. The company worked with Ford to produce these war vehicles.

In the 1940s, Willys-Overland trademarked the Jeep brand name. The company continued to manufacture these off-road vehicles for military use and, after the war, resold these vehicles to the general public.  

Suspension Systems in the First Jeeps

One of the primary reasons why the Jeep was so successful as a military vehicle is because of its half track suspension system. This system is still used today in both military and civilian vehicles.

The Kegresse Track

Automobile historians believe that the "Kegresse track" was the first true off-road vehicle modification. In the early 1900s, French-born engineer Adolphe Kegresse designed a flexible rubber or canvas belt that, when installed on a vehicle's back tire system instead of traditional belts constructed out of metal, increase the vehicle's ability to maneuver on both soft and rocky surfaces. 

Half Track Suspension Systems in American Vehicles

The Kegresse track suspension system traveled across the Atlantic and, during the second World War, American military Jeeps were produced with Kegresse-based half track suspension systems. These resold military Jeeps found great popularity with the American public, and as a result, rival car companies modeled their off-road vehicle designs on this half track design.

In the second half of the 1900s, civilian car companies, such as Toyota, Nissan, Ford, and Land Rover, began appealing to this audience with half track off-road vehicles. Along with Jeep, these car companies increased the creature comforts in off road vehicles. The sport of off road automobile racing also originated.

Use of Half Track Suspension Systems Today

Even though most people have no need for a heavy-duty off road vehicle, car companies continue to manufacture cars equipped with off road capabilities. These special suspension systems help ordinary citizens maneuver through inclement weather in a much safer way, assist search and rescue teams' work in treacherous environments, and provide outdoors enthusiasts with a vehicle suitable for exploration and off road adventure. Contact a company like Trail Quest Inc. for more information.