Story & Photos by Jason R. Sakurai
(This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine)
Looking around at an overlanding event, what you may not notice right away are the alternatives to late-model Toyotas, Jeeps, Fords or Rams, which are currently the most popular rigs.
Some uncommon builds, however, are equal to, if not more capable of, holding their own on the trail.
While there are shops that specialize in unorthodox types of overland vehicles, it’s the interest they attract and the passion their owners have that should be noted and supported.
ALL IN THE ATTITUDE
Overlanders that run off the beaten path are not so unusual. Here are some examples:
Santa Fe Springs, California’s Desolate Motorsports specializes in 1980-96 full-size Ford Broncos. Greg Gilbert started off building hot rods and off-road vehicles and grew into a fabrication shop.
Desolate is now a well-rounded business with off-road experience that builds anything from Baja race trucks to recreational off-roaders and cool daily drivers.
Another shop, LGE-CTS Motorsports, took on the challenge of overlanding a Volkswagen Atlas. This midsize family SUV is not likely your first choice when recommending an off-road vehicle platform, yet a 3.6L V-6 with 276 hp and 266 pound-feet of torque or a 2.0L 4-cylinder with 235 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque aren’t bad places to start, especially if your customer already owns one or happens to see the LGE-CTS modified Atlas.
Meanwhile, Land Rover of Las Vegas turned a military gun tractor developed for the British Ministry of Defense into an overland vehicle. The “101 Forward Control” name was derived from the vehicle’s 101-inch wheelbase and the position of the driver, which is above and slightly in front of the front wheels.
Designed for aircraft transport, the 3.5L Rover V-8 is positioned beneath and to the rear of the cab to eliminate the hood and reduce unused space.
A 1980 Dodge Power Ram 3500 four-door 4×4 crew cab that Nitto Tires has used in its consumer and trade show displays is one that never fails to draw a crowd. This vintage truck is a good example of a build that can serve a variety of needs, whether off-road, overlanding or as a daily driver.
Subaru is another overlooked platform, although Portland, Oregon-based RalliTEK is looking to change that perception with its Outback, Crosstrek and Forester offerings.
If Subaru’s success in the World Rally Championship isn’t enough to solidify its credentials, seeing a modified Outback tackle trails that challenge other overlanders may alter your perception. Even more encouraging is the number of Subaru dealers that are supportive of modifying these vehicles—presenting an opportunity to work together as you do with other dealers in your area.
Vintage Toyotas may take more of an effort to source parts and accessories, especially if you’re working with a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) vehicle, but they can be well worth the effort. Landcruiser NW is a shop that specializes in classic Toyotas.
Also, while on the subject of vintage Toyotas, Menden, Germany’s Maltec took Jorge Gonzalez’s Toyota 78 Series Troop Carrier, which has roamed the world as the centerpiece of his liveworkwander.com website, and rebuilt, refurbished and mounted it to a restored 80 Series chassis. His 4.2L diesel-powered Troopy has been to the far corners of the earth, symbolic of just how far your customers may go.
Another oddity in overlanding is the Cayenne, a mid-size crossover SUV made by Porsche since 2002. The Cayenne is the first Porsche V-8 vehicle since the discontinuation of the 928, its first off-road vehicle since the 1950s, and the first with four doors. Still, it’s surprising to see them outside of their street-driven element.
“Go big or go home” may be Bailey Cooper’s modus operandi, and he was lucky to find Willard, Utah’s Plan B Supply. Plan B builds Humvee variants, Hummer parts and accessories, and armored vehicles.
Cooper’s 5-ton M934 6×6 overlander may seem extreme, but that’s how he likes it. Originally a military command center, it was acquired and repurposed by Plan B Supply, which turned it into an expedition transporter.
Conversely, there’s an element within overlanding that thinks small, and imported Kei trucks and vans serve as a base for their builds. Examples include a Toyota Hiace former fire truck with its familiar paint scheme, and a 4WD Honda Acty SDX with a rooftop tent and custom bed rack.
(Note: Recent legislation in some states may prohibit the titling and licensing of these diminutive rigs, so check for any restrictions that may exist in your area.)
Finally, Ames, Iowa’s Legend 4×4 is an International Harvester Scout authority that builds on stock frames to impart a vintage driving and riding feel. Its full restorations include modern updates such as a new LS3 engine and 4L60 automatic transmission, while still honoring the feel of the original.
The growth of adventure vans is credited largely to the emergence of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster platforms. Yet, the idea has been around for decades.
Unlike current 4×4 or AWD-equipped vans, some Ford Econoline, Chevy Express/GMC Savana and Ram models feature V-8-powered drivetrains with very robust suspension systems. Their capabilities make them popular in their own right and separate them from the more mild-mannered adventure vans currently in vogue.
Weldtec Designs in El Cajon, California builds 3- to 6-inch lift kits for full-size Chevy Express/GMC Savana vans, Ford E-Series models and Nissan NVs, in addition to Ford Transit and E-Series Class C motorhomes. Weldtec developed its own chromoly steel lift spindles that are TIG welded for maximum strength.
The systems use the factory mounting points to retain the stock steering geometry and are designed to reuse the stock upper and lower control arms. The spindles alone can level out the van, with blocks and U-bolts offered for the rear as well. Fox shocks are an available upgrade.
Meanwhile, Manchester, Pennsylvania’s Quigley Motor Co. began selling trucks and vans, and then customizing them beginning in the mid-1960s. In 1974, it began building the Quigley 4×4.
A third-generation, family-owned manufacturing and design company, Quigley’s innovative drivetrain systems have made it one of the world’s largest manufacturers of full-sized four-wheel drive van conversions. The focus is on go-anywhere, large load capacity, full-size vans for fleets, small businesses, government or emergency agencies, transportation and tourism companies, and individuals.
Whether we’re talking overland vehicles or adventure vans, the idea here is to remain open-minded.
There will always be that customer who refuses to go mainstream and instead wants to substitute a platform or vehicle that’s outside the norm. This may require additional time and effort on your part to source obscure parts and accessories, or to fabricate something that doesn’t exist.
One of the best parts about overlanding, however, is the creative aspect, and doing things differently is all part of the adventure.