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Overlanding In Luxury: Scott Lewis’s DIY 2008 Lexus GX 470

Overlanding in Luxury

Tori TellemAuthorTrenton McGeePhotographerKen BrubakerPhotographer

An overlanding Lexus?

Before you scoff or smirk, hear Scott Lewis out. He's the owner of this Desert Sage Metallic '08 Lexus GX 470, and he's got a pretty convincing argument for why you should consider one for yourself (and it's an argument that'll probably now drive up the price of used ones).

We met Scott and his wife, Krista, on the 2019 Four Wheeler Overland Adventure, which meant he would be bringing a rig built for getting to remote locations, driving on various terrain, and being in an unknown place called home for extended periods of time. But it wouldn't be his daily driver, a '14 Ford Raptor. That one is very low mileage and has held its value, so he wasn't about to start tweaking it.

Rather, it'd be his other vehicle, a Lexus. He'd been looking for a project vehicle for a few years and had randomly come across a YouTube video highlighting the GX 470's capabilities and reliability. Four Wheeler readers already know that's not new news—it won our Four Wheeler of the Year award in 2003 and 2004, and our Project TraiLex was modified for wheeling on hard-core trails, including the Rubicon. Scott's ongoing research deep dive led him to conclude that the GX 470 was a "complete sleeper and a total bargain," and since an overlanding vehicle needs to run forever, be easy to find parts for, and not leave you stranded, next thing he knew, he was buying a one-owner model that he purchased remotely after a dealership's lot manager walked him around it for a look-see via FaceTime. The sad fact is that most owners of a GX 470 never take it off the pavement, but that was a happy fact here, as it meant Scott was getting a near-perfect vehicle. A near-perfect luxury vehicle to boot.

Scott's a product designer by trade, so he treated the build like he would any new product. He first established "usage scenarios," like high-speed washboard roads; rocky mountain trails; and multi-week, off-grid camping trips. Those got him thinking about "high-level product requirements," such as range, capabilities, reliability, and performance. Next, it was "systems and subsystems." For example, the "capability systems" he would build into the Lexus included the suspension, recovery, lighting, shelter, power, water/food, fuel, storage, and armor, and the "subsystem" of, say, power was that of batteries, relays, solar panels, and custom cabling to tie it all together. Quite an elegant reinvention of the traditional build "checklist."

He then did all the work himself, save for the vinyl wrap on the hood. It took about nine months, and everything was done in his garage. "I worked several months through a very cold, very long winter. I measure that winter in how many propane tanks I went through trying to keep the garage above 35 degrees."

The only part of the Lexus that didn't have systems or subsystems in place was the factory engine. "The engine is bulletproof. No reason to mess with it. A few people are adding superchargers, but I'm not looking to set speed records with a rooftop tent," said Scott. Why spend the money, he figured.

He also realized that while many people swap gears on their GX once they add larger tires, he didn't need to with 33s. He also didn't bother with any lockers. "The Toyota ATRAC traction control does a great job, and I haven't yet found myself in a position where I wished I had lockers. Would I take them if somebody gave them to me? Sure! But it's expensive and not currently a priority for us."

Beyond the whole "a Lexus?" and "you lifted a Lexus?" thing, the hood-mounted solar panels are the other constant conversation piece. "It's funny that the solar panels seem 'oddball.' I expect that in 5 years, over 80 percent of serious overlanders will have solar panels mounted on their rigs. The driving force behind the adoption of solar is fridges. Once you make the move from a cooler to a fridge, you need to look at installing a solar solution."

When you hear Scott summarize his Lexus—"our ultimate daily driven, adventure-seeking, four-wheeling, overlanding, shelter-providing, solar-powered, off-grid, bug-out vehicle with a little bit of luxury to keep us smiling"—it's hard not to seriously consider tapping on the FaceTime app and connecting with a pre-owned car dealer.

At a Glance
General
Vehicle: '08 Lexus GX 470
Owners: Scott and Krista Lewis
Stomping grounds: Midway, Utah
Build time: Nine months
Drivetrain
Engine: 4.7L V-8
Transmission: A750F 5-spd auto
Transfer case: Toyota full-time 2-spd w/Torsen diff lock
Low range ratio: 2.57:1
Crawl ratio: 35.23:1
Front axle/differential: IFS, 3.73 gears/open
Rear axle/differential: Solid axle, 3.73 gears/open
Suspension
Front: Independent, 3-in-lift Fox 2.5 DSC remote-reservoir coilovers, ICON Vehicle Dynamics Delta Joint upper control arms
Rear: ICON Vehicle Dynamics Overland Series coil springs, Fox 2.5 DSC remote-reservoir shocks, Metal Tech upper and lower control arms
Tires/Wheels
Tires: LT285/70R17 BFGoodrich Radial All-Terrain T/A KO2
Wheels: 17x8 Black Rhino Razorback
Miscellaneous
Lighting: Lightronic driving lights, foglights, Metal Tech floodlights, tent and rock lighting
Armor: Metal Tech bumpers and rock sliders, RCI skidplates
Cool stuff: GROM/VLine Android-based stereo system, voltage monitors in dash/storage/tent, Smittybilt winch, ARB twin compressor, onboard water system, recovery equipment, Trailpower solar panels, custom-built storage system, Dometic electric cooler, Rhino-Rack roof rack and awning, iKamper rooftop tent/room, Bubba Rope recovery rope