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Overland Expo 2015 - Expedition Vehicle Choices

Posted in Events on August 10, 2015
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Quitting our jobs, selling the house, and driving a well-equipped and capable vehicle across the country, over the continent, or around globe is something that we at Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road dream about. And while we reserve the right to make fun of any and all overlanders with their pressed khakis and solar-powered pith helmets, we do like what they are doing to modify their vehicles for an activity we used to call car camping.

Some of the modifications that overlanders make are great and what we would do. At the same time (and with any aspect of off-roading) there are things they do that we don't think make sense. Buying and building an older Toyota truck and outfitting it with some off-road parts and cool camping gear makes sense. Buying a rare or super-expensive 4x4 to drive around the U.S. or the world because it fits an image or matches what you've seen online or in print is silly—although it may still be cool depending on what it is.

After attending the Overland Expo for a few years, we wanted to talk about what we've seen going on there, not so much about all the cool gadgets but rather about what vehicles we saw there. Were they cool? Did they make sense as a platform from an overlanding standpoint here in the U.S.? We take into account the various. aspects of what should be important to an overlander and tell you what we think about the vehicles we saw in the show and in the parking and camping areas nearby. Feel free to take what we say with a grain of salt, but know that while this is our opinion, we do have some experience in the matter both traveling around the world a bit and always playing with 4x4s.

We rate these rigs on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being best) as it relates to parts availability in the U.S.; parts availability in North, Central, and South America; parts availability in Europe, Asia, and Africa; reliability; off-road capability; and coolness. We also give you our personal read on each rig. Our prices are the estimated cost for unprepped vehicles. What prepping a vehicle will cost depends on where you want to go and how comfortable you want to be when you get there. Capability is a hard thing to judge, especially on a vehicle that has a small house attached to it. Just for reference, we are thinking that a full-on rock buggy with a roof-mounted tent might be a 10. Everything else is below that, so when we say a Unimog is a 7 on the capability score, don't get your khaki-colored knickers in a bunch.


Ex-Military American Iron

We dig this CUCV M1010 ambulance converted into an overlanding rig. The initial price could be very good depending on condition, and parts in the U.S. should be easy to get. Overseas parts may be pretty few and far between, but U.S. embassies around the world should have had a few CUCVs on base for security over the past 30 years at one time or another. Also, the 6.2L diesels these things run are no powerhouses, so don't expect to get anywhere quickly.

Cost: $2,000-$7,000
U.S. parts avail.: 10
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 5
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 3
Reliability: 8
Capability: 7
Coolness: 8

Best 4x4 for World Travels

The FJ60 and FJ62 might just be the best "world car" that we can think of. By that we mean that parts for these trucks are going to be available almost anywhere they have roads. These things have been bashed through roads and trails from the outskirts of Timbuktu to New York City and back. Any drivetrain or off-road modifications and U.S. standard luxury appointments (like power windows and automatic transmissions) are going to be prone to failure and harder to get parts for while in deep dark Africa, high in the Himalayas, or in eastern Siberia. Also, these trucks are getting a bit long in the tooth, but they are still everywhere and dead reliable.

Cost: $4,000-$20,000
U.S. parts avail.: 10
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 10
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 10
Reliability: 10
Capability: 8
Coolness: 6

Icons of Overlanding

Old-school Series and Defender Land Rovers are iconic and have been just about everywhere a 4x4 could go in the world. They are, however, rare in the U.S., making the initial price prohibitive for most of us. They are very cool and should be easy to get parts for almost anywhere—except the U.S.?

Cost: $4,000-$40,000
U.S. parts avail.: 5
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 10
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 10
Reliability: 7
Capability: 8
Coolness: 10

Cheaper Than the Icon

Speaking of British 4x4s, the Land Rover Discovery's are quite a bit more obtainable in the U.S. and are widespread around the world (although our gas engines, auto transmissions, and electronic/leather interiors are going to be rare in Third World countries). These rigs have a spotty reputation for reliability (head gaskets and wiring), but they are capable and pretty cool, especially in Camel Trophy livery.

Cost: $800-$10,000
U.S. parts avail.: 8
North, Central, South America parts avail.:
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.:
Reliability: 6-7
Capability: 8
Coolness: 5-10 (10 for those in Camel Trophy Yellow)

Recycled Ambulances

Were pretty sure these two rigs were at the Overland Expo last year, but they are still supercool as platforms for overland rigs. One is an older Ford E3504x4 ambulance, and the other is a 2WD Freightliner FL60 fire and rescue truck from Miami-Dade County. Both of these make for pretty awesome DIY off-road RVs for use in the U.S., Mexico, and maybe into South America. Any farther south or across a large ocean, parts may be more difficult to obtain.

Cost: $5000-$40,000
U.S. parts avail.: 10
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 7
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 3
Reliability: 8
Capability: 3-6 (the freightliner is actually 2WD)
Coolness: 6

Impractical but Uber-Cool

Some of the coolest overland/expedition vehicles just aren't that practical. This mini camper with portal axles, based on a G-Wagon, scores a big ol' 10 in the cool department but may not be all that practical. The main problem is that it has a bunch of rare and expensive parts. These parts are expensive here in the U.S., and they will be more expensive and harder to get in the Gobi. Of course, for some people expense is not a problem, and today, replacement parts can be shipped to any corner of the world if you have the time to wait, which most overlanders do. But for everyone else we'd pick affordable and available replacement parts over high-dollar components with unknown reliability.

Cost: N/A
U.S. parts avail.: 2
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 2
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 2
Reliability: 9
Capability: 8
Coolness: 10

Reliable Pickups

Toyota trucks sold from the 1980s to the present are also a great platform for an overlanding rig. Add a camper or a canvas cover to the bed for storage or sleeping, and you're done. If you plan on traveling far, one issue that may rear its ugly head is that some of the trucks sold in the U.S. (like the 1994 1/2-2006 first-generation Tacomas) were not sold in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, or several other places. That means that getting parts for your Tacoma may be a bit tough, although some Land Cruisers not sold in the U.S. (like the Prado) share the vehicular platform and some parts. However, because Toyota here is the same Toyota that you find in Africa, it should be possible to order parts through the worldwide chain of dealers.

Cost: $1,000-$50,000
U.S. parts avail.: 10
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 10; 6 for U.S.-only Tacoma models
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 10; 5 for U.S.-only Tacoma models
Reliability: 10
Capability: 8-9
Coolness: 6

Unimog. Need We Say More?

Chances are that if you know what a Unimog is and you have a pulse, you want one. They are uber-fresh (that means really cool in German) and quite capable for what is a unique heavy- to medium-duty 4x4 truck. Getting a used one will help bring down the price, but they still command quite a cost in the U.S., where they are rare. Plus, you may have to outfit the truck with a camper or other enclosure. Parts could be hard to get anywhere in the world (except Europe), but chances are that if you can afford a big new Unimog you can also afford to have parts flown to Djbouti if necessary.

Cost: $10,000 on up to god only knows how high
U.S. parts avail.: 5
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 5
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 5
Reliability: 10
Capability: 7 (up to 9 for some of the smaller Mogs)
Coolness: 10

Oh Fuso Horney

There were several 4x4 Mitsubishi Fusos at the Overland Expo with various stages of outfitting. While we can't say we know much about them, we dig them. These trucks are found around the world as commercial units and are therefore a decent foundation for a global overlanding camper. Powered by a four-cylinder turbodiesel, the Fuso has similarities with light-duty Isuzu and Iveco cab-over trucks that also have a wide dispersal. All have to be outfitted with a camper, and that adds to the cost of finding one that has 4WD and is not all used up.

Cost: $45,000 and up ?
U.S. parts avail.: 10
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 10
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 10
Reliability: 10
Capability: 7
Coolness: 6-8

'Merican Truck, Overlanding

Finding a fullsize American pickup truck to use as your overlanding platform is going to be easy and relatively inexpensive in the U.S. Travel very far or across too many bodies of water, though, and these trucks are real oddities. Parts could be hard to find, and our emissions standards may be too loose for or at odds with a foreign country's regulations. Still, a 12- or 24-valve Dodge with a manual transmission and a small drop-in camper would be pretty sweet for traveling in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and even on down into South America.

Cost: $3,000-$60,000
U.S. parts avail.: 10
North, Central, South America parts avail.: 8
Europe, Asia, Africa parts avail.: 3
Reliability: 8
Capability: 7
Coolness: 5

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