The 10 Sweetest Rigs at Overland Expo 2018
Each year, Flagstaff, Arizona, turns into an overlanding mecca for a weekend. Last week I set out in search of the sweetest, most eye-catching vehicles at the event. They weren't hard to find.
1997 Stewart and Stevenson M1078 LMTV
This four-wheel-drive ex-military vehicle is now Eric Duckworth’s full-time home. He bought the chassis in 2014 and spent eight months building it out. The rear shell has several beds, a full kitchen, and a bathroom. It sits on 46-inch tires weighing up to 450 pounds, and has a ripping top speed of 62 miles per hour. Even though it gets a paltry nine miles to the gallon, Duckworth says he guesses that his environmental footprint is still smaller than the average homeowner’s. He uses significantly less water, powers most of the appliances and lights with solar energy, and never has to commute to work, since he parks it at his office in San Diego and lives inside.
2008 Toyota Tundra
You might know Richard and Ashley Giordano as the duo behind the @desktoglory Instagram account. They drove a 1990 Toyota pickup from British Columbia to Argentina in 2014, but they’re back in North America and have upgraded to this Tundra, which they’ve kept as simple as possible. The only enhancements: a rugged Old Man Emu suspension, all-terrain tires, and a lightweight Go Fast Campers bed topper, which comes with a built-in roof tent. “We didn’t want to add a lot of extra weight, because this is still a daily driver, and we aren’t taking it rock crawling,” Richard says. “We just need the truck to get us up that dirt road to reach the trailhead.”
We’ve covered a lot of vans at Outside, but this one caught our eye because it’s a rental. It’s a Sportsmobile conversion of a 2017 four-wheel-drive Mercedes Sprinter, and it was just added to the Tonto Trails fleet out of Durango, Colorado—a company owned by John Hartley (pictured here with his daughter, Betty). It comes stocked with a full kitchen and plenty of room for a family of four. Upgrades like better suspension and 33-inch all-terrain tires help it get up any back road you’d care to explore. Tonto’s van-rental prices vary depending on the model, but Hartley says they run between $2,500 and $4,000 per week.
1972 International Harvester Scout
It took 800 hours of labor to restore this classic Scout, but now it’s absolutely perfect. The original body was placed atop a 2017 Jeep Rubicon chassis, and it runs on a Chevy L96 motor with a six-speed automatic transmission. Down below it has beefy AEV suspension and 33-inch tires. Inside, there are leather seats and custom Mexican-blanket panels. All the work was done by New Legend 4×4, which specializes in Scout restorations and is owned by Sean Barber out of Van Meter, Iowa.
The name is confusing, because Maltec, a German company, took a 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 chassis and completely remade the truck. They added a new diesel engine and then chopped the back off, replacing it with an ultralight carbon-fiber frame outfitted with beds to sleep four, an inch of insulation in the walls, a full kitchen, and amenities like an outdoor shower. The four-wheel-drive sits on a three-inch lift and has 33-inch tires. Inside detailing is by Sackwear, an American overlanding outfitter.
1974 Land Rover 101 Forward Control
I first met Francisco Calvo two years ago at Overland Expo when he was driving a 1966 Land Rover Series 2A. This year he showed up with the 1974 101 Forward Control—incredibly rare in the United States. It took him four years to find the flatbed version, and he spent months building the custom box, which sleeps seven and includes a shower, toilet, and full kitchen. It’s full-time four-wheel-drive, has a newer, faster Chevy LS3 engine, and runs on all-terrain 35-inch tires. “I’m from Argentina originally, and we just love Land Rovers,” Calvo says.
2001 Jeep Cherokee
This build stood out for its bright yellow paint job, but also because it’s a Jeep Cherokee, a model that’s significantly less popular than the Jeep Wrangler. The owner, Ryan Ward of Fruit Heights, Utah, says he bought a Cherokee because they run a couple thousand dollars used, are tough as nails, and are easy to work on. His Cherokee has five inches of lift for bigger tire clearance, 33-inch tires, a snorkel (so the engine doesn’t suck in as much dirt), and front and rear lockers for better traction. The engine has 189,000 miles, and he says 65,000 of those were on dirt.
1957 Chevy Suburban
This “tropical turquoise” Suburban turned a lot of heads at the Expo. It was a rusted, bullet-ridden carcass when owner Travis Cantrall of Fruita, Colorado, started restoring in 2008. The ’Burban has since received many upgrades, including four-wheel drive, a four-inch lift, 33-inch tires, disc brakes, an automatic transmission, handmade bumpers, and a more reliable Chevy engine. “I went for it because I wanted something I could use to haul the family around,” says Cantrall. “That and everything on this thing is easy to fix.”
2008 GMC Ambulance
When Travis Rabenberg of Grand Rapids, Michigan, came across this decommissioned emergency vehicle, he knew it would be the perfect platform for an overlanding vehicle. It came with a giant Duramax diesel engine, a roll cage, lots of cargo space, built-in wiring he could use to install stoves and fridges, and four-wheel drive. It was also in impeccable shape. Since buying it, he’s added three inches of lift, better suspension, and 37-inch tires to make it even more capable. Next stop: Alaska.
1989 Toyota Land Cruiser HJ61
Old Land Cruisers are having a moment in the overlanding world, because they run forever and because people love the old-school SUV design. There were plenty at the Expo, but this one, owned by Dana Walkerley of Reno, Nevada, stood out because it’s a rare right-hand-drive, high-roofed turbo-diesel imported from Japan. There aren’t many upgrades other than better suspension and all-terrain tires, but that keeps it friendlier on gas, so Walkerley can use it as his daily commuter and adventure rig. “I really just love driving this thing,” he says.