My plan is to be slightly less esoteric this morning and get right at the question: Did Henry Dangel invent the crossover? The French engineer is not well known here in America, unless you’re a fan of old European cars. The guy started converting Peugeot wagons into lifted 4×4 vehicles and, from a certain angle, created the mold for the modern crossover.
I’ve seen a pair of Dangel 4×4 Peugeot 505 Breaks in the Peugeot Museum in Sochaux, but I don’t know much of the history. I found this article that’s been translated from AutoWeek NL to be quite interesting. First, a bit of background:
Henry Dangel (1935-2006), founder of Automobiles Dangel, is a pioneer in the racing and automotive industry. He did much more than develop a 4×4 system. His story begins in the 1960s, when he developed special suspension kits for Alpine. Dangel, however, had more up his sleeve. He was an electrical engineer with a pa
ssion for motorsport. He developed a racing car under his own steam: the Mangouste. The design was very similar to the Lotus 23, but with the engine in the back. It was legal on the road so you could participate in hill climbs and rally sprints. Equipped with a Renault-Gordini 1100 engine, the Dangel Mangouste, light at just 440 kg, delivered exceptional performance. This is partly due to its space frame and a sophisticated, light wheel suspension. The Mangouste was so successful that it was offered in various variants and after numerous upgrades until 1975 – as a kit car or as a completely finished model. The end of the Mangouste was partly caused by Henry Dangel having to shift his focus to a new project; he was asked by wheel manufacturer BBS to manage their production in France. He was also successful in that; the SERAL (Sociéte Europeane Roues Aluminium) factory produced 20,000 wheels per month with 70 employees.
Cool, but why the 4×4 wagon?
Henry Dangel lived in Sentheim, in the middle of that agricultural environment, and identified this need. That is why he developed something in his own workshop that would benefit farmers (and rally drivers at a later stage as well): a solid four-wheel drive system. Dangel created a ready-to-use system, equipped with a self-designed transfer case.
It’s not a super sophisticated system, but it seems to work. The article goes on to assert that Dangel created the crossover 30 years before anyone else. It’s a habit of the French to claim they invented everything, but if you consider the 504 Breaks I’m tempted to think they’re right.
Update: There’s a good convo going in the comments and, looking deeper, I think the AMC Eagle beats the Dangle 4×4 504 by a year, though that follows the Matra Rancho, which would still give the French the title. – MH
Whether or not it’s the first crossover, the idea is there. Plus, a 505 Dangel 4×4 Break is one of the coolest vehicles imaginable.