The Sweetest Rigs at 2019 Overland Expo West
Here's a guarantee: if you show up to Overland Expo West, you'll of course see some incredible Jeeps and Toyota Tacomas. But the real way to take in this annual gathering in Flagstaff, Arizona, is to walk past the cliché Sprinter van build-outs and keep your eyes peeled for the trucks, vans, and other four-wheel-drive campers that are one of a kind. We spent all weekend tracking down some of these gems.
Tony DeFranza parked next to us at the Overland Expo campground, and we were immediately taken by his simple but beautiful van. It’s a 2004 GMC Safari Astro, and he chose it because it came standard with everything from four-wheel drive to a pop-top. He’s since added a three-inch lift, 32-inch tires, and a kitchen and bed inside. (The interior build-out was done by Safari Condo in Canada.) Next he plans to add a roof rack and solar panels. Pictured with him here is Reggie, his chocolate Lab mix.
Toyota only made 30 of these 1984 four-wheel-drive Sunrader camper trucks, and Tim Lefler of Camp Verde, Arizona, got his hands on a used one. It sleeps four people comfortably and includes a full kitchen and indoor and outdoor showers. It also has the original four-cylinder engine, with only 120,000 miles on it. Lefler and his family have used it for years, but he was actually trying to sell it during the expo. Asking price: $39,000. And he had a few offers by the time we left.
This four-wheel-drive 1985 Toyota pickup, which goes by @atoyotacalledamelia, only has 101,672 miles on it and quickly became the perfect rig for owner Tyler Geertsma. After he bought it, he added a new four-cylinder Toyota engine and 30-inch all-terrain tires, so he can now explore all the dirt roads he wants. Geertsma also slapped a Keeper winch on the front and a simple camper shell on the back, where he sleeps. “I love this truck because it has soul,” he says. “I might be a little slower on the freeway, but that’s a good thing. It often prompts me to take the back roads, which are way prettier anyway.”
There’s Instagram #vanlife. And there’s real van life, which is what Colin Boyd, Sofi Aldinio, and their two kids, Alfonso, four, and Camilo, one, are currently living. They started in Boyd’s native Maine and are driving their 1978 Mercedes 508D van/bus, affectionately called Orange Crush, all the way down to Argentina (where Aldinio was born) while also running a mobile video- and photo-production studio called Affuera Vida. The vehicle formerly served as a German emergency command center, but Boyd and Aldinio gutted it and installed a kitchen, a bench (specifically designed to hold the kids’ car seats), radiant floor heating, and a 21.5-gallon water tank, among other things. “The expedition is not only meaningful to us because we are connecting our two homes—Maine and Argentina—but the risk and challenge has given us all the opportunity to grow and evolve in a way that was not possible while living comfortably at home,” Boyd says.
Each year there are a dizzying number of new overland trailers debuting at the expo. Many of them look and function the same—think similar takes on cramped teardrops and models designed to hold gear and a rooftop tent. Not so with the AntiShanty. The company, based in Logan, Utah, and founded by Rod Leishman (pictured here), offers an absolutely bomber aluminum shell that’s tall enough to stand up in, insulated for winter use, slung over an off-road axle, and comes standard with an elevated queen bed that rests in the triangular pop-top. But everything else in the trailer is yours to build out how you want. It will last a lifetime but costs only a little over $20,000. That’s a deal compared to similarly sized trailers that can run upward of $30,000. Granted, many others come with more accessories, but you’re paying for someone else’s interior design. The AntiShanty affords more freedom to customize. (Of course, you can also have the company do your build-out, too, and choose from options like a diesel heater and a stove and a second queen bed.)
Chevrolet and Ford are challenging Toyota and its Tacoma for dominance in the midsize truck market. One of our favorite contenders from Chevy is this 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison (which is built in collaboration with American Expedition Vehicles), owned by Seth Tezyk of Austin, Texas. He wanted a fully designed truck, so he ordered this one, with its snorkel and Decked drawers. “The whole point of this setup is that it lets me go off into the distance with full confidence,” he says. “I can get away from the city, from people, and just explore.”
You’ve probably never seen anything like the 1992 Toyota Townace camper. That’s because photographer Brett Wilhelm of Boulder, Colorado, imported it from Japan. Under the hood is a tiny four-cylinder diesel engine, which gives the Townace a max speed of about 65 miles per hour, but it also has capable four-wheel drive and a surprisingly spacious camper. It comfortably sleeps a family of four and has a kitchen and an indoor shower.
As we hinted before, Toyota’s Tacoma is popular with overlanders. But in addition to Chevy and Ford, Nissan is challenging Toyota’s place at the top of the heap, particularly with its Frontier. More and more companies are offering aftermarket parts for the four-wheel-drive rig, and David Page showed up with this stunning 2019 build that featured, among other things, Hefty Fabworks rear and front bumpers and a Warn winch. All in, the truck and build cost $40,000, which is a chunk of change but significantly less than what you’d normally pay for a new Tacoma and similar add-ons.