This is a 1970 Rupp Go-Joe, it’s been called the world’s first four-wheeled ATV or quad bike, having debuted over a decade earlier than the 1982 Suzuki QuadRunner which is credited with kicking off the quad bike trend in the 1980s.
Rupp Industries was an early American manufacturer of ATVs, go-karts, snowmobiles, minibikes, and other off-road vehicles. It was founded by Mickey Rupp in 1959, and it was highly-influential, developing many designs that would be emulated with much success by other manufacturers.
Fast Facts – The Rupp Go-Joe
- Mickey Rupp founded Rupp Industries in Mansfield, Ohio at the age of just 22. Initially, the company focused on manufacturing go-karts. During the early years Rupp’s go-karts gained popularity for their performance, establishing a solid reputation for Rupp and setting the stage for the company’s future expansion into other vehicles.
- In 1964, Rupp Industries ventured into the snowmobile industry, a significant pivot that would define its future. The company produced its first snowmobile, the Sno-Sport, which was well-received for its innovative design. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, Rupp snowmobiles became synonymous with performance, helping the company to capture substantial market share.
- Rupp then expanded its product line to include mini-bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). These products, particularly the mini-bikes, became popular among younger riders and were known for their ease of use.
- One of the company’s most influential designs would be the Rupp Go-Joe, it’s widely credited with being the first four-wheeled ATV/quad bike. The Go-Joe was over a decade ahead of its time, and it would lay the groundwork for the explosion in popularity of four-wheelers in the 1980s.
The Origin of Species: The Rupp Go-Joe
The ATV, or all-terrain vehicle, began to rise to prominence in the 1960s with models like the six-wheeled amphibious Amphicat and the three-wheeled Sperry-Rand Tricart. The genre would really take off after the introduction of the three-wheeled Honda US90 in 1969, after which all of the major Japanese motorcycle manufacturers developed their own versions.
Three-wheeled ATVs would dominate the market in the early years, The Honda US90 famously appeared in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, and they made memorable appearances in TV shows like Doctor Who and Magnum, P.I.
While three-wheelers were undeniably fun, simple, and affordable, they were also exceedingly dangerous – particularly for new riders. Cornering a three-wheeler requires the rider to shift their weight to the inside of the turn to avoid tipping over, and many inexperiences riders would suffer serious crashes resulting in injuries, broken bones, and even death in some cases.
Safety concerns saw three-wheelers leave production in 1987 to be replaced by safer four-wheeled models. Four-wheelers may have seemed all new and exciting in the 1980s, but the basic design had debuted over a decade earlier in the early 1970s in Mansfield, Ohio from a company called Rupp Industries with the “Rupp Go-Joe.”
Now it’s important to note that four-wheeled motorcycles had been built previously, but the Rupp Go-Joe is widely recognized as the first four-wheeled ATV – better known as the quad bike. British marque Royal Enfield had developed the first four-wheeled motorcycle all the way back in 1893, but this was a road-going motorcycle not intended for off-road use.
The Debut of the Go-Joe
Suzuki is widely credited with creating the four-wheeled ATV, at least the first mass-produced example with the Suzuki QuadRunner of 1983, but the truth of the matter is that Rupp beat them to it – and possibly even directly inspired them.
The Go-Joe entered production in the early 1970s, some say 1970 and some say as late as 1973. Information about the model is relatively scarce but we do know that it was offered with either a red or white fiberglass body and the same wheels and ballon tires as the Ruppster, a mini-dune buggy.
Initially the Go-Joe was fitted with an 8 bhp engine, a mini version was also made with a 3.5 bhp engine, and later in production a Kohler 295cc single-cylinder two-stroke engine was added as an option which gave the vehicle a top speed of 55 mph.
It’s not known exactly how many examples of the Rupp Go-Joe were made, ultimately production ceased when the company faced bankruptcy in 1978. Ironically, four-wheeled ATVs would explode in popularity just five or so years later.
The 1970 Rupp Go-Joe Shown Here
The vehicle you see here is a Rupp Go-Joe that’s said to be a 1970 model. It’s fitted with a replacement Honda GX200 196cc four-stroke single-cylinder engine which was factory rated at 5.5 bhp, arguably a much better choice than the peaky two-stroke original.
This Go-Joe has white fiberglass bodywork and its original wheels with correct tires fitted. It had the distinctive single headlight that this model was known for, as well as the high handlebars designed to allow the rider to pilot the vehicle while sitting upright, rather than bent over forwards.
Rupp developed the Go-Joe to be a two-seater however it’s realistically much better suited to just having a single rider onboard. For ease of use, the transmission is automatic thanks to a centrifugal clutch arrangement, this was a common design feature for many ATVs to make it as simple as possible to use for new riders.
This Go-Joe is now being offered for sale on Bring a Trailer out of Lauderhill, Florida for off-road use only with a bill of sale and no reserve price. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.