Ever since the cars became an integral part of modern life, militaries all over the world have searched for a way to include them in their arsenal. Early armoured cars soon turned to tanks, and field cars became fast response all-terrain vehicles and personnel carriers. Over the years, civilian and military vehicle production grew apart, and it is hard even to comprehend that any army vehicle can be used in everyday traffic without any problems. However, you might be surprised to know that there are some military vehicles which enjoyed much success as regular civilian transport and influenced the industry in global. Here are the five best-known military models that changed the uniform for plainclothes but didn’t change their nature.
1. Mercedes G-Class
Today, the G-Class is the iconic status symbol of celebrity musicians, athletes, or actors, but 40 years ago, this Mercedes was designed and built to be the transport for Iranian Special Forces. Sometime in the mid-`70s, Iranian leader Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, renowned Mercedes fan and customer, asked the company to make a special, all-wheel-drive, an off-road, light military vehicle which will be used by his elite forces. Since the Shah was high profile client, Mercedes obliged and in 1979, presented the G-Class. However, there was a big problem. Just a few months before the official release of the G-Class, the Iranian revolution had started, and the Shah Reza Pahlavi was overthrown.
That meant that the deal with Mercedes was off, and the company was left with a fully developed car but without its primary customer. Because of this, Mercedes decided to offer the G-Wagen to other armies and even sell it to the public as a passenger vehicle. Who would have guessed that it would be driven by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber!
2. Hummer H1
Remember the rise of hip hop culture in the `90s and countless music videos featuring lifted off-roaders and a bunch of girls dancing? Well, then you will definitely remember the Hummer H1. Introduced in 1984 by a company called AM General, the H1 was initially called HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle), and it was designed and produced solely for military purposes. This was an enormous, an all-terrain vehicle produced in numerous versions, equipped with a massive diesel V8 engine and capable of enduring hits from RPGs or going over land mines.
The military spec Hummer is still one of the most robust military vehicles ever made. However, this “Rambo” image made it so appealing to the general civilian public that after the Gulf War in the early `90s, AM General started producing the Hummer H1 as a road-legal model which retained all critical ingredients of the HMMWV such as its tough bodyshell, drive train and appearance but had improved interior, more comfort, and somewhat better drivability. The civilian H1 was introduced in 1992 and sold until 2006 and become very popular in its own right. These days, they often fetch around $100,000 sadly!
3. Willys Jeep
The USA wasn’t ready for the Second World War, but when the conflict became inevitable, the Army started preparing for it. One of the main directions was to construct a light, off-road vehicle, capable of enduring enemy rifle fire and swiftly run from one side of the front to the other. This is how the Willys Jeep was born. It was the first mass-produced all-wheel-drive vehicle, and it proved to be so good, dependable, and well-built that even the legendary General Paton mentioned it as one of the few most essential weapons that helped Allies win. During the war, Americans made over 600,000 Jeeps, which were later sold to civilians who used them as farm vehicles, agricultural machinery, or simply as off-road leisure cars. Soon after, Jeep became much more than a surplus military model and grew into what it is today.
4. Lamborghini LM002
What if we told you that Lamborghini was once designed to be a military vehicle, you probably would think that we have lost our minds. Well, it is true, and crazy, all-wheel drive and all-terrain LM002 is, in fact, stillborn, military model. The story started in the late `70s when Lamborghini entered a contest of designing an army jeep. Long story short, Lamborghini`s proposal was denied. After so much money and time invested in the project, the company wanted to get something in return and decided to adopt the Cheetah project for civilian use. This how “Rambo Lambo” or LM002 came to be in 1986. It was an enormously expensive but immensely fun off-road vehicle thanks to the front-mounted V12 engine straight from the legendary Lamborghini Countach supercar. However, for more demanding customers, Lamborghini was happy to install monstrous 7.2-liter V12 from a racing boat!
5. UAZ 469/UAZ Hunter
This list wouldn’t be complete without proper Eastern Bloc military vehicle, which can still be bought and used as a regular passenger car – the UAZ 469. This rugged Russian jeep-like off-roader was ordered by Soviet Army for its purposes and introduced in 1971 with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder petrol engine and 71 HP. It was a crude, simple, but capable machine designed to endure the harshest condition of Siberian winters as well as real-life combat situations.
The first versions were only equipped with a canvas roof and could seat seven people. Pretty soon, UAZ 469 was ordered by other Soviet agencies and converted into ambulances or response vehicles. The legendary off-road capabilities made it popular with campers, alpinists, and all people needing dependable machines when the tarmac stops. UAZ realized that the civilian market has enormous potential and presented the UAZ Hunter with a bit improved styling, 2.7-liter engine, and some creature comforts. This model you can still buy today, although it looks like a relic from the bygone communist era.