Our Favorite Vehicles from Overland Expo East
Four-wheeled fun for the car-camping masses
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This year’s Overland Expo East took place November 9 to 11 at the beautiful Reeb Ranch just outside Asheville, North Carolina. Thanks to a day and a half of relentless chilly rain, off-road tires plowed the sodden grounds into the consistency of a Louisiana mud bog. Here are eight of our favorite overland camping machines, as described by their owners, that managed to navigate the calf-deep muck.
2008 Jeep Wrangler and 1967 U.S. Marine Corps Surplus M416 Trailer
Matt Gessner, veterinarian
“The Jeep has a three-inch lift, steel bumpers, an old Warn 8274 winch, and a Kargo Master Congo Cage on top with a Safari rack. I have a Tepui Kukenam Ruggedized tent, but it’s 220 pounds—and you could feel it on the top of the Jeep. The top of the trailer had an aluminum lid that worked great, but it couldn’t support anything. So I had Apex Overland in Greensboro, North Carolina, build a steel lid. This summer, my family and I did two days on the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route starting in Damascus, Virginia, and getting off around Roanoke. The setup was just awesome. It pulled like a dream. Just being out there in the mountains with the family and the mountains and those views, that was the pinnacle thus far.”
2005 Mitsubishi Fuso 140
Dan Carr, retired military aircraft maintenance engineer
“I found the truck on Craigslist in Connecticut. It was built for a ferrier, a guy who shoed horses. He had walls inside the back and bars for hanging the horseshoes. I tore all of that out and opened it up. I’m going to build out a kitchen, but right now I just have a cot that fits perfectly and an Ikea wooden platform with a piece of foam and about 15 layers of blankets. Last night I was comfortable as could be. I’m taking it to Alaska next year. Other than needing to soften up the suspension a bit, I love the way it drives and handles. And because Fusos were sold in North America, you can get parts for it here. It’s a really nice setup.”
1979 Mercedes Unimog
Mike Ladden, restaurant owner and real estate executive
“I’m a Land Rover guy. But I was always fascinated with Unimogs. I imported this one from Switzerland. It was a Swiss Mountain Police vehicle with an inline six-cylinder diesel engine. I added a turbo and faster axles because it was naturally a bit slow. It’ll go 65 now. It’s been pretty much all over the U.S. I’ve had it in Moab, and I did a trans–Labrador Newfoundland trip. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Vermont Overland and took it on a Class IV road. I have no idea how that was ever actually a road. But the truck just does fantastically. I’ve never gotten it stuck. But it does have a 22,500-pound winch on back, which I’ve used to get other vehicles unstuck and pull trees out of the yard.
On back is an old U.S. military Humvee trailer. I built the rest of the living structure. It has a bed setup that will sleep two people. It’ll soon have a little office space with a swing-out desk, because I work remotely. It has front and back roll-up fire-engine doors, so that in nice weather you can open it all up. And the bathroom was a priority. It has a cassette toilet and a full-size shower with a propane hot-water heater. It’ll suck water from jerricans or even right out of a stream and give you hot water in five seconds.”
1983 Land Cruiser Turbo Diesel Camper
Marc Joinville, semi-retired truck driver
“My wife and I did an ATV trip in 2007 and 2008, taking a small trailer from Canada all the way to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Backroads, fire roads, forest service roads. Ten months of living outdoors. After that, my wife really wanted a place to get indoors. For me that had to be a Land Cruiser. I’ve had four of them. But finding a rig with camper space was quite a challenge. So when I stumbled on this on eBay, I said, ‘This is it. We’re never gonna both find a vehicle we love like this.’ The camper was hand-built by a guy in Australia. The 35-year-old canvas is still watertight. This Land Cruiser’s got two 35-liter water tanks and an extra fuel tank. It had a propane RV fridge, and I took that out and put in a 12-volt fridge with 145 watts of solar for two auxiliary batteries. It’s got LED lighting and an exhaust fan. I also added a sink. When I got it there was no place to sit. It was just countertops all the way around, and you’d put planks across to sleep. I took all that out. The outside shell is pretty much the way I bought it, but the inside is all me.”
1995 Mitsubishi Delica 4×4 Turbo Diesel Van
Vincent Bouchard, retiree and van dweller
“A few months ago, I decided to live on the road. This isn’t my first overlanding vehicle. I started a few years ago with a Jeep with a rooftop tent. Then a trailer with the Jeep, then a Ford Raptor with the trailer. I found out about these vans because someone mentioned the greatness of Delicas in the comments on a Jalopnik article.
All vehicles are a long list of compromises, the hard part is figuring out what you really need and what you don’t. I knew I wanted a living space that was all-in-one. I like the outdoors but I also like cities. With a big Fuso or a Sprinter, you can go explore Portland, but you can’t park it in the city. I wanted to be as stealthy as possible. That’s why this has no roof racks, no awning, and no rear jerrican or tire carrier. I went with smaller tires so the spare could fit under the van. I did install the snorkel, though.
The ride is really comfy. It doesn’t feel like a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It’s civilized. The sound system and climate control are great, and it’s quiet.”
2008 Land Rover LR3
Tre Cash, medic and search and rescue specialist
“I started camping with a Nissan truck. Then my wife and I had kids and we needed a little more space. For me, this LR3 is just perfect. I have a sleeping platform inside for traveling by myself, and then if the family goes somewhere, we use the Oz tent on the roof. Then the Foxwing 270-degree awning wraps around to the Rhino rack, so that everything’s covered but the front of the truck. I put aluminum drawers in back to keep everything organized and store food in an ARB Element fridge. I added bigger tires and kept the stock air suspension. It’s got a factory snorkel and the factory roof, which I’ve modified like crazy. I added a cell booster, a Wi-Fi hot spot, an air compressor, and power inverter. With my search and rescue work, I do 24-to-36-hour shifts. And a lot of the time, I’ll just use my own truck.”
Custom 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro Camper with North American High Tops Roof
Leslie and Jeff Hogue, owners of Jeff’s Old Volks Home
Jeff: “This is my 14th personal van, and I’ve built lots of vans for other people. This one came to me as a rolled-over Syncro Weekender model. Now it has a TDI engine from an ’06 Jetta. It gets 30 miles per gallon if I keep my foot out of it, and it cruises at 65 miles per hour no problem. With the high top, it’s so nice to be able to stand up inside. We insulated it and put in plastic ABS panels to cover the walls. It’s also got a Propex furnace, 20-liter onboard water capacity, and a 40-quart Engel portable fridge. We also have an ARB awning with extra zip-in room. And the pantry trays slide out, which helps with storage. Plus we have a dedicated coffee drawer.”
Leslie: “We don’t want to go too big. This thing is just so convenient. It can fit in any regular parking spot so long as it’s not in a low-clearance parking garage. I think of it like a house. The bigger it is, the more stuff you put in it, but how much stuff do you really need?”
1967 VW Beetle Overlander
Jamie Wiseman, mechanic and owner of TVR Automotive Repair
“I live off-road. I rode dirt bikes and drove RC cars. But my wife bought an old Beetle a couple of years ago, and that got me hooked. This was a regular ’67 I found on the Samba . I was going to flip it, but my wife and I wanted to go to Colorado with a unique off-road vehicle. So I thought, OK, I’m going to build an overland Bug. I lengthened the suspension to give it a wider track with custom lift spindles and added a six-inch lift. I also put in a coating of spray-on Lizard Skin for noise reduction and sound-deadening asphalt material. It rides perfectly. I also installed extra gears, a complete roll cage, custom rack, roof lights, an air conditioner I built myself, and a kerosene heater.
We drove it from Alabama to Colorado this summer. At one point, a guy in a Jeep saw us running up the hill over boulders the size of bowling balls and said, “That’s a Volkswagen!” We made it where the Jeeps go. I thought we might break down but it never missed a beat. We call it our Burro, our pack mule.”