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The Nomadist represents our shared voice & passion for everything adventure related and automotive driven. One voice, one passion and one mission for the people behind The Nomadist: driving adventure forward!

Geeking Out On The Authentic Jerry Can

A female British factory worker welds a copy of a Wehrmacht fuel can in 1942 I’ve written several times on this site (here, for example), and in articles elsewhere, about the original Wehrmacht “jerry” can, now the NATO can, which I still hold to be the best fuel container on the planet. Now someone, specifically a Scottish bloke named Calum, has significantly out-geeked me with a 30-minute documentary (and commentary) on the Wehrmacht fuel can and its subsequent adoption by the British—as well as its inexplicable subsequent cheapening by the Americans as the Blitz can.There’s stuff in here even I didn’t know. For example, the above screen capture from the film shows that in 1942 the British were already in production with outright copies of the Wehrmacht cans they had found abandoned in the deserts of North Africas. I found the whole thing fascinating; I’m sure you’ll find at least some of it so—and the opening vignette is hilarious. Hat tip to Graham Jackson for finding this.Jerry can history

Trail Turn Assist, the Rivian “Tank Turn,” and other environmentally destructive tricks.

During my test of the new Ford Bronco—a vehicle I liked a lot—I tried out its Trail Turn Assist feature, as you can see demonstrated in the video above. TTA drastically shortens the turning circle of the vehicle by applying the brake to an inside wheel, essentially dragging it through the turn. Of course, in a normal scenario you wouldn’t be initiating a 360-degree turn such as in my demonstration above, conducted in a heavily used wash and cleaned up afterwards. Its utility would be negotiating a tight maneuver when, say, a boulder threatens the outside corner of the vehicle, or a drop-off threatens the entire vehicle. However, there’s nothing to prevent an owner engaging it simply to show off how tightly he can reverse course. And no matter how briefly one engages it, it will impact the trail. My approach to driving, or to teaching someone to drive—as with all instructors I know—is, at all times, to try to minimize or eliminate wheel spin, which causes both a loss of traction and control and results in degradation of the surface, particularly in places where multiple vehicles are likely to lose traction. And wheel spin while the vehicle is stationary does more or less precisely the same thing as a locked wheel while the vehicle is moving: It wears away at the substrate, increasing erosion.I’m not going to claim I would never use TTA if I owned a Bronco, but I would be extremely reluctant to do so.As potentially damaging as TTA is, it pales before the much-hyped “Tank Turn” the much-hyped Rivian electric pickup can accomplish. By powering both wheels on one side forward and both wheels on the opposite side backward, The Rivian can essentially spin in place. The resulting destruction of the trail is easy to see in the videos produced by the company itself. Look at the bird’s-eye view of the video still: Nice, huh? You can see the entire sequence here. The Tank Turn “feature” has actually been delayed for an unknown period after the Rivian engineers recognized several issues—including the fact that when the turn is enabled, traction is completely lost. Thus if an owner were to initiate it on a slope, the vehicle would immediately begin sliding downhill.Rivian will undoubtedly warn that the feature is only to be used on a “closed course,” just as they say for their “Drift Mode,” designed for “advanced drivers wanting to drift their R1T on a closed course.”Wink, wink.Sadly such hypocrisy is by no means limited to the Rivian company (see here). Every truck maker loudly proclaims adherence to Tread Lightly practices, while producing advertising material expressly promoting the exact opposite. There are certainly those consumers who are responsible enough to eschew aping the ads, but there are tens—hundreds—of thousands who are not. I see the results every single time I head out on a trail, and it has been getting exponentially worse. Blame it on what you will, but there has been an unmistakable increase in self-centered behavior on public land in the last half decade or so. More litter, more driving completely off trail, more hooning on the trail. These are not the type of people who will respond to a friendly lecture. Yet they are the ones who will scream when severely damaged trails are shut down by overworked and underfunded public lands managers. Short of funding a sniper division in the BLM, I really don’t have a solution.

There are chocks . . . and chocks (I needed the latter)

Inadequate . . . Now and then it’s good to be reminded of the laws of physics.A few weeks back I conducted a training weekend for a lovely couple who had recently purchased a very well-optioned Sportsmobile. They wanted to become familiar with its capabilities (and theirs), to learn recovery techniques, and especially to learn the use of their winch, an accessory new to them both.We spent the first day, Friday, driving and marshaling, and I think hugely improved the confidence of both of them, in addition to opening their eyes as to just how capable a Sportsmobile can be despite its size. Saturday was winching day. I’d picked a dead-end bit of trail where we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way who happened to pass. It was a hill steep enough to actually work the winch, but not so steep as to be intimidating. The Sportsmobile was equipped with a Warn 12,000-pound winch and synthetic line. For an 11,000-pound vehicle that’s marginal if one applies the standard one and one-half times GVW formula for speccing a winch’s capacity, but we discussed ways to ameliorate this by running out more line and, especially, rigging a double-line pull whenever possible.The only trees available were both marginal in size and behind a barbed-wire fence, so I set up my FJ40 as an anchor, facing down the hill at the top of the slope.It was then I realized I’d forgotten my set of Safe Jack chocks, the substantial ones I normally use for winching. All I had with me were the smaller folding chocks I keep in the vehicle for tire-changing duty and the like. No problem, I figured—I set the folding chocks in front of the front tires of the Land Cruiser, and we lugged a couple substantial rocks to put in front of the rear tires. I was in low range, reverse selected, engine off and parking brake pulled out stoutly.The first, single-line pull proceeded without drama. The winch did not seem to be working over hard (although I remarked that it was one of the loudest winches I’d ever heard). So we re-rigged for a double-line pull, running the Sportsmobile’s line through a 7P recovery ring linked to one of the 40’s front recovery hooks, and back to the Aluminess bumper of the van. I stood to one side and directed while Emmett sat in the Sportsmobile’s driver’s seat and operated the winch remote. He began to spool in and the van crept slowly up the hill.For about five feet. Then a front tire happened to hit a bit of a rock ledge I’d failed to notice, perhaps eight inches high. The Sportsmobile came to a halt—but the winch, of course, didn’t.Even as I was raising my fist to give the “stop!” signal, I turned to see my 40 pulled gently but inexorably over the folding chocks, which collapsed as if they’d been soda cans. Behind them the rocks in front of the rear tires had held, but were themselves being dragged with the vehicle.The winch stopped, and I signalled Emmett to apply the brake and shift to park, then let out some slack in the winch line.The Land Cruiser had only moved about eight inches. Had we for some reason continued to power the winch, it would simply have kept on being dragged slowly across the ground; there was no chance of it careening out of control. Nevertheless, it was a good lesson in the force an 11,000-pound vehicle and a roughly 24,000-pound-equivalent double-lined winch can put on a 4,000-pound vehicle, even on a moderate incline. The math is pretty simple. These would have been better. From Safe Jack. What could I have done differently? Having the larger and sturdier chocks might have made a difference, as might using big rocks instead of the little chocks. Even putting the rocks we used in front of the front tires, and the small chocks under the rear tires, might have made a difference, as the front of the Land Cruiser was being pulled slightly downward in addition to forward. However, a more secure option would have been to daisy-chain the 40 by its back bumper to the base of one of the trees on the other side of the fence with the endless sling I had on hand, then pull forward until the sling was tensioned, then chock.A good lesson that there’s no such thing as “enough” experience, and there’s never a time to stop learning.For much more on the forces involved in winching, please read this.

An Exhaustive Toyota 70-Series Land Cruisers Resource List

Our own 70-Series Troopy camper, which we drove around Australia and Tasmania, then across southern Africa before shipping to the U.S. This week I was doing some extra research on “technicals”—the converted pickups, usually Land Cruisers or Hiluxes, used as mobile gun platforms by insurgents across northern Africa, the Middle East, and the ‘Stans—for the blog on my author page (here). While doing so I chanced upon this site at tanks-encyclopedia.com. It comprises the most comprehensive library of information on Toyota’s 70-Series Land Cruisers I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Additionally there is a huge section featuring both images and video of technicals in action. I’ve not covered a tenth of it yet and I’ve learned things I didn’t know I didn’t know. Highly recommended as a bookmark if you have the slightest interest in the vehicle, whether in its civilian or military role. (If you don’t, you might gain a new respect for it.) This is what happens when you mount an EC90 90mm cannon to a 70-Series pickup, then fire it at 90 degrees. Technicals used as rocket launchers are often lost to fire. It’s not hard to see how.

This is not your father’s Land Rover Defender

(A version of this article originally appeared in Wheels Afield, Summer 2020.)A line from my test notes reads: If you need a quick 90-mph sprint to scoot past a paint-scouring dust devil charging the highway ahead of you, the new Land Rover Defender is eager to oblige.I’m willing to bet that’s the first time you’ve read “quick 90-mph sprint” and “Land Rover Defender” in the same sentence.I also could have included in that sentence terms such as unibody construction, fully-independent air suspension, 14-way memory heated seats, photo-darkening windscreen, panoramic sunroof, 400-watt Meridian sound system, dual-zone climate control . . . but you get the picture. Stepping from the last iteration of the Land Rover Defender into the new one is like going straight from an Underwood typewriter to a MacBook Pro.As a fan (and owner) of the original Defender, I was one of approximately eight aficionados worldwide who weren’t enraged at the re-invention of the world’s most famous safari vehicle. I knew it was never going to be another bolted-together oxcart an owner could rebuild—and might well have to—under a mango tree in Zambia. It couldn’t be. Times have changed, and so has Land Rover. The company tacitly ceded the expedition, NGO, and insurgent market to Toyota’s bulletproof 70-series Land Cruiser a couple of decades ago.At the same time, they were never going to retire the name Defender like some star ball player’s jersey number—it is marketing platinum. Thus the new Defender.And what to make of it? In the glacially extended run-up to its actual introduction, JLR (Jaguar-Land Rover) claimed the new Defender would eclipse its predecessor in comfort, handling, safety, economy, and power, while also surpassing it in off-road ability—no great feat on the first bits, but challenging indeed to simultaneously achieve the latter. In early January 2020 I finally got a 2020 Defender 110 SE all to myself for four days to prove or disprove those claims (press launches are interesting, but minutely orchestrated to show off all the strengths of a product and none of its flaws). The first official photos of the new Defender elicited a collective “Eew!” from traditionalists. Despite JLR’s references to numerous “stirring evocations” of the original two-box design, modern aerodynamics and aesthetics have melted the shape into a generic form more likely to be mistaken for a Kia Soul than a Series II. The rounded edges also have the effect of making the new four-door Defender 110 look decidedly smaller than the old one, despite the fact that it is larger in every dimension except height (and even that with the air suspension fully raised). It’s also heavier.I got used to the unexceptional styling. I did not get used to the “Martha Stewart sample swatch,” as I called it: the strange body-color square stuck in the middle of the greenhouse. I could picture a couple agonizing over the paint choice on their new Defender. “Okay, how about this one? It’s called, um, Gondwana Stone?” (Don’t laugh—that is the actual name for the color on my test vehicle.) Some gloss black Krylon would fix the sample swatch. At least my ride didn’t sport the bizarre, optional Flintstones-lunchbox “side-mounted gear carriers,” which perform the dual function of hampering rearward vision and compromising aerodynamics.Any sense of disappointment disappears once you slide into the driver’s seat. The new Defender has what is quite simply the most strikingly elegant dash ever put into a production vehicle. The instrument cluster in front of the driver employs all-LED instrumentation, including the “analogue” tach and speedometer—brilliantly crisp and visible in any conditions, and of course programable to display various functions and gauges. The 10-inch touch-screen in the center of the dash, nestled below an upholstered but structural magnesium beam/grab bar spanning the width of the cockpit, actually looks like it belongs there, in contrast to the stuck-on-iPad look of so many; its graphics are sharp, and function, according to my tech-savvy wife, is intuitive. A pod below houses the stubby shift lever and twin climate control/multi-function knobs. There are a few ergonomic glitches—the gear indicator on the shifter is invisible when you’re actually shifting (although there’s a duplicate next to the tach), the low-range button is oddly tiny in comparison to its importance, and identifying the button to convert one of the climate-control dials to a 4x4 drive-mode selector requires a dive into the 490-page owner’s manual. Quibbles, really—I could sit and admire this dash for hours. (Very recently I tested a new Ford Bronco, the dash of which pales in comparison.) In back there’s comfortable seating and, more important, a completely flat, rubber-matted load bay with the rear seats folded, perfectly rectangular. It’s considerably more usable than the same area in a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited—and the Defender’s load capacity, thanks in part to manually adjustable rear ride height, is up to 800 pounds greater. Owners under five-ten or so will find it comfortable to sleep side by side as a couple, or solo (diagonally) if you’re taller. With the power seat adjusted every way to Sunday, and the tilt/telescope wheel positioned, the promised massive improvement in comfort becomes plain. “Land Rover elbow” is officially an affliction of the past. Push-button-start the 395bhp/407lb.ft. Ingenium 3.0-liter inline six, both electrically supercharged and twin-scroll turbocharged, and backed by ZF’s excellent eight-speed transmission, and it’s also clear no Defender owner will ever again be beaten from a stoplight by a furniture-delivery truck. Zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds puts it level with my old 1982 Porsche 911SC. Yet on a 300-mile mixed highway/dirt road trip we managed a bit over 21mpg on the required premium fuel. (Base models come with a four-cylinder 2.0-liter with a mere 300 horsepower.) That highway experience would have been sheer fantasy to any early Defender owner. In “Comfort” mode the all-independent, air-sprung suspension lends the ride of a—dare I say it?—Range Rover, with interior noise levels nearly as quiet. At an 80-mph cruise normal conversation is, well, normal. Passing semis in a vicious side wind elicited not a twitch in the steering wheel. Short of JLR’s own premium models it was the most comfortable on-road experience I’ve ever had in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.So: Full marks to Land Rover on transforming the Defender’s comfort, handling, safety, economy, and power. What about off-road performance?The Defender is built on a new, aluminum-intensive platform called D7x. Engineered to pass something called, alarmingly, the Extreme Event Test (part of which involves driving repeatedly into a six-inch curb at high speed), it also raises the body of the Defender slightly higher that that of Land Rover’s other models. With the air suspension at its tallest setting, ground clearance below the nearly flat underbody is a full 11.5 inches. Approach and departure angles of the 110 are excellent at 38 and 40 degrees. (I much prefer a departure angle greater than the approach angle—if the front end clears you know the back will.) Breakover angle is also good at 28 degrees. These specs all compare favorably with the corresponding Wrangler and Bronco models, and the Defender’s wading depth of 35 inches beats them both. Put the Defender’s Terrain Response selector in Wade Mode and it raises the suspension to its maximum, locks the driveline, displays the water depth on the center screen, and, last but not least, lightly drags the brakes to dry them once you emerge. I dialed in another Terrain Response mode—Rock Crawl—for a day in Redington Pass east of Tucson, along the same route I’d earlier taken a Jeep Gladiator Rubicon diesel. With a 119-inch wheelbase instead of the Gladiator’s 137, the Defender didn’t kiss a single rock, and otherwise went everywhere the Gladiator had gone with its dual lockers and disconnected front anti-roll bar. (I did wish the Defender had the Jeep’s 17-inch wheels rather than the supplied 19-inchers, which reduce sidewall height and don’t allow airing down as much.) Rock Crawl mode locks the center and rear diffs; however, the front is left to make do with brake-actuated traction control, so those tires scrabbled a bit on steep climbs before grabbing. Nevertheless it was clear that the new Defender decisively eclipses the old one in this sort of terrain. The original’s admirable coil-spring compliance simply wouldn’t be able to overcome the lack of any cross-axle locking function. I should note that fuel economy dropped precipitously near to single digits for this run—not unexpected but roughly half what the Gladiator’s turbodiesel managed in the same circumstances. The Defender has other tricks: ClearSight Ground View, which magically makes the hood disappear in dicey terrain, additional camera modes that lend close-up views of the front wheels or a bird’s-eye perspective. All-Terrain Progress Control allows the driver to dial in a walking pace and concentrate on steering rather than throttle management. And all the while the suspension and silky transmission continued to coddle us. At the end of the day Roseann and I agreed that neither of us had ever experienced a vehicle so comfortable on pavement and at the same time so capable in the backcountry.  Of course the 800-pound gorilla lurking in the cargo compartment of the new Defender is the question of reliability. The legendary original was not, shall we say, legendary for this, and the new one is orders of magnitude more complex (quite literally a Macbook Pro versus an Underwood). Time will tell if the new, dedicated plant in Slovakia can exceed the quality of the venerable works in Solihull. One early YouTube saga involving a complete engine failure made a splash for some time, and others have surfaced detailing lesser issues. Only time will give us statistically valuable data.In a way the baggage of that legendary name is unfortunate. If JLR had named this vehicle anything but Defender, it would have been greeted rapturously by Land Rover fanatics. The rest of us can greet it for what it is: a supremely accomplished 4x4 that is also comfortable for 600-mile freeway days, and capable of carrying nearly a ton of passengers and camping gear, or pulling four tons of trailer. I wouldn’t recommend trying to disassemble it under a mango tree with a hammer and a few spanners, but by every other objective measure the new Defender is a vastly better vehicle than the old one. 

2022-02-10T00:37:03+00:00By |Overlanding|0 Comments

Can we admit the spare tire on the bonnet was a dumb idea?

I would venture to say that no single automotive feature is as widely recognized across the globe as the spare tire on the bonnet of a Land Rover. The Rolls-Royce “Spirit of Ecstacy” winged lady is certainly in the running. Some might mention, say, the tail fins of a ’57 Chevy. But it’s certain more people have seen that spare tire in person, from the streets of London or New York to the dirt tracks of Kenya or Australia or Nepal.But, honestly, it was a really dumb idea.Let me hasten to say that it was much less of a dumb idea as originally configured, with the skinny 6.00 x 16 tires and 5-inch wide wheels standard on Series 1 vehicles. But the arrangement still made raising the bonnet a pain, reduced forward visibility, and presented a challenge in getting the spare off and, worse, getting a potentially muddy punctured tire and wheel back on without scratching or gouging the paint or the Birmabrite itself. Even the 6.00 tire on this Series I blocks forward vision. With modern wheels and tires—even so modest a fitment as the 235/85 x 16 tires on our 110—near visibility is significantly hampered. Topping out on a steep climb with nothing but a BFG filling your field of vision is not fun. And lifting the bonnet is a genuine heave for anyone not stout of tricep. Even the modest 235-section tire on our 110 is a problem. I might also point out that, horizontal on the bonnet, the tire is much more exposed to UV degradation from sun exposure, and to heat from the engine. Finally, I’ll point out that in the event you are rear-ended in your Land Rover, the ramifications of that tire breaking free and coming back through the windshield are not pleasant. And with wider modern tires it gets a bit ridiculous. Advantages? Well, er . . . let’s see. It’s quicker to access and doesn’t get as dirty as a spare tucked under the rear chassis. It eliminates the “complexity” of a swingaway carrier, as on the Series Land Rovers’ primary competitor, the 40-Series Land Cruisers. And adding a swingaway carrier on a Series Land Rover is an easy way to obtain two spares for journeys fraught with tire hazards. But really the spare should have been mounted on a swingaway to begin with—perhaps with an optional second spare on the hood.Anyway . . . it sure does look cool.

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