Every May, travel enthusiasts from around the world gather near Flagstaff, Arizona, to show off old adventure rides or shop for parts to trick out new ones at Overland Expo West. From $500,000 bus-size rigs to rare foreign imports to one-off custom rides, the show has it all. We spent two days photographing our favorite models—and have begun daydreaming about tricking out our own cars at Outside headquarters.
Photo: Only 600 or so of these left-hand-drive diesel Land Cruisers exist. It took years for owner Doug Pettis, president of ARB-USA, to find his. Modifications include an Old Man Emu suspension and an ARB front bumper.
Jon Burtt, 32, runs a food truck out of an old Airstream in Denver, Colorado, but we were more interested in his 2015 Tacoma. He turned a stock TRD Off Road into the beast you see here by adding Pelfreybilt front and rear bumpers, a four-inch lift, custom drawers, and other toys like the FRP Flip-Pac camper shell.
Mark Schoening, 60, runs Base 4x4 in Portland, Oregon, where he builds custom camper units to fit the popular Mitsubishi Fuso platform. Schoening, who debuted this camper at the expo, says he likes Fusos because they’re nimbler than other full-size expedition vehicles like Unicats and EarthRoamers. They also cost less, at about $100,000, versus up to $600,000 or so.
When Francisco Calvo, 45, found this 1966 Land Rover Series 2A in San Francisco, he swapped in a V8 GM LS1 engine. Translation: it has plenty of power. Over the past four months, Calvo and his family have traveled 14,000 miles throughout the United States and Canada pulling an Airstream.
Sarah Harris, 42, of Denver, Colorado, towed her Hiker Trailer to the event. It stood out for its simplicity, light weight, and low price. The 5-by-8-foot model starts at $4,700 (most similarly sized campers cost around $15,000) and weighs just 860 pounds, which means you can tow it behind most cars, including the Subaru Crosstrek. Rob Reeve, 46, started the company in Denver with the goal of producing an affordable, customizable camp trailer.
Avi Meyers, 67, of Cupertino, California, owns this giant Unicat, which is made in Germany. The company produces only 15 or so per year. They run anywhere from $500,000 to $3 million.
Alex Milan, 29, and Mathilde Treille, 29, from Lyon, France, are in the middle of a two-year road trip of North America in their 1996 70 Series Land Cruiser, which they cut and stretched to fit the custom camper. Milan, who runs a French camper company called Cartech, builds each one with a custom aluminum frame. All Cartech campers have plenty of storage for large toys like kayaks and bikes.
Modified Land Cruisers and pickup trucks are great, but we also saw some more creative rigs. Pete Luchka, 57, of La Verkin, Utah, found this four-wheel-drive 1997 Ford E450 Box ambulance on Craigslist, then added solar panels, a full-size stove, fridge, and furnace to make it a self-contained adventuremobile. He carries a motorcycle on the back in case he gets the beast into a sticky situation and needs to get help.
Grass Valley, California–based XP Camper makes a totally unique camper shell. The fiberglass-composite pop-up design raises with the touch of a button and is both incredibly light and aerodynamic. This Model V2, fitted to a 2006 Tacoma with a diesel engine, is armed with solar panels that generate 300 watts of power, a diesel-powered stove, and 30 gallons of water storage.
It’s easy to drop a lot of money building an overland rig, so it was refreshing to see vehicles like Nathan Mendenhall’s 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i. The Phoenix native took a run-of-the-mill crossover and built it into a full-blown adventure vehicle with smart modifications like skid plates, a suspension lift from Primitive Racing, and large all-terrain tires. Add an ARB awning, dual-battery system, and a fridge, and Mendenhall says he has a family camping wagon that’ll go anywhere yet still average 21 miles per gallon—all for $30,000.
Next up: Why This Family Bought a ‘90 VW Westy as the Ultimate Mobile Home