Some of you might dispute my characteristically unequivocal headline, but the 1977 Talbot Rancho makes a pretty compelling argument for being the first passenger car-based (unibody) sport utility vehicle. It was based on the Simca 1100 (full story here), which when one thinks of it, was quite a pioneering vehicle in more ways than one, being essentially the prototype of the modern FWD hatchback as well as spawning the Omni-Horizon twins, America’s first successful FWD compacts. Folks didn’t really know quite what to make of the Rancho, as in 1977 in Europe, this was like a fish out of water. Undoubtedly it was inspired by the Range Rover and the off-road boom, but the Rancho was hardly off-road capable. It had FWD and the rather weak-chested 80 hp Simca 1442 cc four. But it had its uses and made a splash, or we wouldn’t be talking about it almost 40 years later.
The Ranch was built on the pickup version of the Simca 1100, and had a glass-fiber body built by Matra, which was a bit of an expert on the subject. It was designed by Antonis Volanis. Peugeot inherited the project when they bought Simca (and the rest of Chrysler’s European ops), and managed to sell some 58,000 Ranchos until 1984. Somewhat curiously, its successor was planned to be more of a van-like design, also designed by Volanis, and using Matra’s space-frame technology and plastic body parts. When Peugeot demurred, Matra took the project to Renault, where it became the Espace, Europe’s first mini-van. So in an indirect way, we can credit the Simca 1100 with spawning the minivan along with the CUV and modern hatch. How’s that for spreading one’s gene?