CC Capsule: Steyr-Puch Pinzgauer – Jeep, Austrian Style

(first posted 2/16/2012)    How can I resist not putting this up, posted at the Cohort by Andrew Turnbull? I’ve been trying to figure out just what my profoundly deep-rooted connection I have with vehicles that have central tube chassis, swing axles, and all-wheel drive to boot. Is it something about being Austrian, like Hans Ledwinka and Ferdinand Porsche, the two biggest champions of these features? Or just their elemental goodness and functionality? One thing’s for certain: the Pinzgauer and its ilk represent almost the polar opposite approach of the American Jeep. Which is better? Depends on what you want to accomplish. 

Unless I’m wrong, Rumpler first put driven swing axles on the driven axle of his Tropfenwagen. Ledwinka conceived of and built the first tubular backbone chassis, and added the swing axles at Tatra. And Porsche added four-wheel drive to the VW chassis, although the front suspension retained its non-swing-axle design. The Tatra T26 (above) was one of the first attempts maximize traction by employing dual rear swing-axles.

The legendary Tatra T111 6×6 truck, powered by an air cooled V12, added a driven front swing axle, and as a consequence became a formidable tool in WW2. It was so successful that production didn’t cease until 1962, and then was replaced by a stream of other Tatra trucks that to today continue to use the same basic tubular backbone, swing axle chassis.

After WW2, the Austrian Army was outfitted with surplus American Jeeps. But by the mid fifties, it was looking for a replacement, one particularly suited to the very rugged Alpine areas. Erich Ledwinka, Han Ledwinka’s son, was contracted to help develop what became the Steyer-Puch Haflinger, the predecessor to the Pinzgauer.

The Haflinger was considerably smaller, powered by Steyr-Puch’s own 643 cc air-cooled boxer twin, the same basic engine used in S-P’s version of the Fiat 500. But with its “portal” wheel hubs, locking differentials, unbeatable approach and departure angles, low center of gravity,  and the right gearing, the Haflinger was unparalleled in its ability to simulate a mountain goat. I had the pleasure to ride in one up to a remote Alm hut, and it was a memorable experience indeed. It was slow; but who’s in a hurry, when the scenery is so spectacular? Haflinger production spanned from 1959 to 1975.

In 1969, the more substantially-sized Pinzgauer arrived, building on all the basic design features of the Haflinger. The biggest difference in addition to its size was a new aircooled 2.5 L four, and the availability of a 6×6 model, which has become one of the legends of the off-road world.

Essentially a smaller-scale version of the big Tatra 6×6 trucks, optimized for the most difficult situations conceivable.

The Pinzgauer is still being built, in a further-developed second generation, and now by the large British aero-defense contractor BAE.