Home » Was The Crossover Invented By Henry Dangel? Cold Start

Was The Crossover Invented By Henry Dangel? Cold Start

Puegeot Dangel

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

Big Beefy BoyWhether 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.

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35 Responses

  1. In 1955, Frank Kurtis modified two Chrysler New Yorkers — a sedan and a convertible — for a Saudi prince. Both had increased ground clearance and four-wheel drive. I would say those predate M. Dangel.

    I doubt there was much (or any) demand for similar vehicles here, and in any case Kurtis was busy churning our “roadsters” for the Indianapolis “500.” So only two were built as far as I know.

    1. I just learned about him last year! Fascinating story – maybe not as flamboyant as guys like Shelby, but very much in the same league.

      And then icing on the cake…when I came across a Matchbox Kurtis Sport Car in the store, knew exactly what it was and why I had to have it!

      1. The first sports car I ever rode in — at roughly age 5 — was a Kurtis 500S that belonged to one of my father’s friends. I’ve wanted one ever since….

        All I can clearly remember is that it was a beast. And loud. And red.

    1. Arguably, “Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and “Private Helicopter” were far more direct lines to the modern crossover, though no one might have heard them without “Flagpole Sitta.”

    1. Is the lifted suspension the qualifier in this scenario?

      The El Camino and Ranchero are utes! So.. wait.. are they sport utility vehicles? I guess they can be if BMW can call a sedan a coupe.. words mean nothing, call them whatever the hell you want.

  2. Dangel 4×4 conversions are pretty cool, but they basically copied the business model of Sinpar, which was a small car company that was founded in the early 20th century and pivoted to off-road vehicles right after WWII. Sinpar has been collaborating with Renault since before Dangel existed, doing basically the same type of officially-sanctioned 4×4 conversions. And long before the 505 Dangel there was the Renault 12 Sinpar. Sure, Dangel models tend to look the part a bit more, but Sinpar-converted Renaults were just as capable off-road.

    Their special builds even tackled the Paris-Dakar race in its early days, soon after the company was absorbed into Renault, with a Renault 4 Sinpar taking two podiums in the first couple editions if I’m not mistaken. Then in 1982 a Renault 20 Sinpar actually took the win, driven by the same guys who took podiums in the Quatrelle (the Marreau brothers). That same year 12 Peugeot 504 Dangel entered the race, and the best placed finished 49th (but in all fairness those were not factory-backed).

    1. I recently updated the Sinpar entry in Wikipedia as some overzealous deletionist was trying to have it removed as “not notable.” Not a lot of material available online (company was originally founded in 1907; they also built the R4 Plein Air) but I have acquired some back issues of the delightful Charge-Utile magazine for more information. I’d still take a Dangel 505 Break, though…

  3. My sadness about this column and this site is readers want to prove their knowledge, despite being wrong, as opposed to learning from educated professionals. Not me.

  4. Dangel definitely gets credit for the first three row crossovers since none of his predecessors or contemporaries offered that. Of course this only applies to Peugeot 504/505 Familiale models.

  5. I would have guessed Subaru was first, but they weren’t lifted. From at least the EA81 series engines the 4wd ones had provision to raise the suspension ~30mm*, but afaik, they were shipped at stock height

    * -ish: the threads looked to be about an inch &1/4

  6. I think the Lada Niva (2121) from 1977 also pre-dates this as early crossover.
    Unibody and full-time 4-wheel-drive, 2-speed transfer case with lockable center differential.
    First or not, these Dangel Peugeots are still cool.
    I like these limited-run conversions, also a dying breed these days due to development costs.

    1. Per Wikipedia:
      In 1955, the first comfortable mass-produced monocoque all-wheel drive vehicle appeared, the M72, with a four-wheel drive system adapted from the contemporary Soviet GAZ-69.[13][16][17] It was the brainchild of Vitaly Grachev, assistant to the GAZ-69’s chief engineer, Grigory Moiseevich Wasserman.[13] It used a standard Pobeda transmission, mated to the GAZ-69 front axle, leaf spring suspension, and transfer case, with a brand-new rear axle (used on no other vehicle, a rarity for Soviet car production).[13] The body had fourteen panels added to strengthen the floor, frame, doors, and roof.[13] Trim and interior were otherwise the same as the M20, and in all, 4,677 were built by end of production in 1958.

  7. Subaru was making 4×4 station wagons as early as 1975. Considering those early ones had manually-selectable part-time 4WD instead of AWD, does that count as a crossover?

      1. The AMC Eagle transfer cases were designed by New Process, a company that seems to know what it’s doing with transfer cases. The Eagles had three or four transfer cases throughout its run, some of which were full-time AWD and later models to be 2- or 4WD. I can’t find anything on Dangel’s “self designed” transfer case, and would be curious to learn more about it.

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