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.
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.
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.
Once unobtanium on U.S. Shores, these two expedition legends can now be had—for a price. Are they worth it? By Graham JacksonImages by Graham Jackson, Brian Slobe, and Jonathan HansonThe images are ubiquitous, in National Geographic, in Geographical, on CNN and BBC, even on the web on Overland Expo and Exploring Overland: two of the most iconic and aspirational expedition vehicles in the world; the Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon and the Toyota Land Cruiser 75 Series Troop Carrier (Troopy). Both come from the same generation, the Defender started production in 1983 (yes, I know, it wasn’t named “Defender” until 1990, but it’s the same vehicle) and the 70 Series (J7) started production in 1984. From that time they became common sights in videos and news reports from the furthest, most adventurous parts of the world. Every wildlife documentary seemed to have a 110 lurking in the background and every natural disaster video report seemed to have a 70 Series on hand. These two vehicles became legends in short order.But for the longest time neither vehicle was available in the USA. Sure, in 1993 Land Rover imported 500 federalized Defender 110s, which now fetch staggering prices on the used market—a testament to the pent-up demand for this vehicle. Mining companies have imported 75-series Land Cruisers, but they are not road legal and spend most of their lives as workhorses underground, where the incredibly tough conditions means no other vehicle is adequate. Why neither Toyota nor Land Rover took the effort to bring the vehicles into the USA as a major model for sale to the public can only be answered by the penny-pushers and spreadsheet drones at either company. However, examples from the golden era of these vehicles (mid-1990s) have now reached the 25-year-old mark, making them eligible for private import into the USA. The question is, are they worth it? Should you find a Defender 110SW or 75 Series Troopy and import it into the U.S.? Would either serve well as an overland or expedition vehicle here? Since I own both, I think I can offer some insight. To be clear, I am referencing only the specific models mentioned. Obviously there are other Land Cruisers and other Defenders, and both marques have massive followings of experts who will call me out on any transgression, so let’s define what we are talking about: In my opinion, the golden age for these vehicles was the 1990s, and the best of the best were the export models, which is what the UN and aid organizations typically got. For Defenders that means, at its base, the Rest of World (ROW) spec 110 Station Wagon with the 300tdi diesel engine and 5-speed transmission, in white. There are ROW spec pickups, 90s, 130s and 3-door 110s as well, but here we are looking at the Station Wagon, the 110SW. For the Land Cruiser, choosing a spec is even more murky; the J7 line has two model groups, five wheelbases, many body variations, and twenty-two different engines! Here we are looking at the HZJ75, the ‘heavy duty long wheelbase’ with the 1HZ inline 6 cylinder engine and manual 5-speed transmission with the enclosed or ‘troop carrier’ body—also in white. See the chart for specifics. AnalysisLet’s get this one out of the way: They are both gorgeous. Something about the boxy appearance and the utilitarian stance; they exude confidence and capability even when parked. They are vehicles you cannot step out of and not look back at; like your ultimate crush, they command the eye. I put that solidly in the good list, because their legend is in no small part due to this. If you don’t find your eyes drawn back to the opening picture of this article, then . . . well, I’m surprised you read this far.The rest of the “good” category pertains to the very utilitarian aspect that makes these vehicles excellent for expeditions and overlanding. Tom Sheppard and Jonathan Hanson have a fantastic comparison of the features in the Vehicle Dependent Expedition Guide, and I’ve included some in the chart here. Both are at the top of the range of available vehicles in terms of payload, in volume and weight, for their size. The Defender can carry a staggering 41 percent of its GVW as payload (with the heavy duty suspension installed), and the Troopy isn’t far behind at 30 percent, while the Troopy has a cavernous load bay at 87 cubic feet compared to the Defender’s at 77 (both with rear seats removed). As great load carriers, they lend themselves exceptionally well to expedition work, capable — with tried-and-true four-wheel-drive systems and suspension — of carrying the load over unforgiving terrain. The 110 has the more comfortable and compliant coil springs coupled with full-time four-wheel-drive, while the 75 has leaf springs and part-time four-wheel-drive with locking hubs—and, in many available examples, factory-optional cross-axle diff locks front and rear. The Land Rover’s fuel capacity is 21 gallons; the Troopy boasts dual tanks carrying a total of 47 gallons. Both come with five-speed transmissions.Far from sport-utility-vehicles, these are just utility vehicles. No automatic transmissions, no driver aids like stability control or ABS—these are vehicles that have to be driven. They do not handle particularly well on the road, they lean excessively in corners when driven fast, and demand attention. But this is also an advantage. The lack of complex systems and sensors means that field repair is easier, and reliability is better. And no, I’m not going down the Land Rover reliability rabbit hole; Defenders are extremely reliable when cared for well. Both the 300tdi and the 1HZ are stalwart expedition diesel engines that run on mediocre quality fuel, though the 1HZ is more tolerant. Both have simple mechanical fuel injection and can run on only one wire to the fuel solenoid if required — no computers to get in the way. But that also means they are not clean engines. They will pass 1990s emission standards, but nothing better. The 300tdi is a bit cleaner since it has a turbo, while the 1HZ will serve as an extremely good black fog machine at elevation. Neither are powerful. At 111 HP for the Land Rover and 129 HP for the Toyota, they accelerate slowly and cruise the same way. We will come back to this point later. Toyota’s ultra-durable 1HZ six-cylinder diesel has been in production for 30 years. Land Rover’s 300tdi is exceptionally fuel-efficient. Luxury appointments are sparse, as are electronics. No electric motors in seats, no electric windows; sound systems that are barely able to drown out the noise of the engines and the road. They are not vehicles to drive with one finger at 85 mph while sipping a latte, texting friends, and jamming to tunes. The 75 does have tilt steering and optional electronic door locks, but no remote key fob. The 110 doesn’t even have those bare luxuries. Air conditioning is the one “luxury” shared by both, though some would argue it is a necessity (and it’s only optional for the 110SW). There are no speed sensors and interlocks to stop you shifting the transfer case while on the move and no backup sensors or cameras to help those who neglected to learn how to park or use mirrors. No clutch interlock to stop you starting the engine with the clutch engaged. Again, this speaks to their utilitarian drivability which is also one of their strongest assets. These are not nanny vehicles that assert “safety;” they are vehicles that demand attention, demand driving, and reward you in that you can start in gear when bogged in soft sand, or switch to high range while on the move so long as you double de-clutch. Stock tire sizes are the same, at 235/85R16 (760R16), one of the most common light truck sizes in the world. Pretty easy to find almost anywhere. Given the simple non-electronic mechanics on both vehicles it is very easy to get them repaired.The load bays on both models are spacious, sparse and square. Nothing better for building out a living space or a load system for any expedition. Unhampered by plastic trim, carpeting and cup holders, they are blank slates to build up and make your own. Both vehicles lend themselves to camper conversions. Which leads us to the two features that makes both of these vehicles so exceptional yet have nothing to do with Toyota or Land Rover. It is the massive aftermarket support in accessories and the equally massive community of owners who are willing to help wherever you go. Because of their highly customizable and modular nature (by design), it is very simple to make a 110 or a 75 your own unique expedition rig. From pop-tops to long-range fuel tanks to water tanks and interiors, to suspensions and underbody protection, both models have excellent support in this regard. The internet is filled with fantastic examples of beautifully outfitted vehicles. This also means that it can be very challenging to find one that is unmolested or even close to stock. But don’t mistake all my praise to imply that either vehicle is perfect out of the box. One of the reasons that they have such massive aftermarket support is that they are, by all counts, mediocre when stock. Expedition vehicles are a collection of compromises and the 110 and the 75, in stock form, are exceptional in that they are completely un-exceptional. It’s like getting the highest quality blank notebook, with the finest acid-free paper and the most beautiful leather cover, case bound, that will last forever. But it is still a blank notebook until you put a few stickers on the outside and then fill it with stories and paintings of your travels to the most remote and beautiful parts of the world. So . . . are they good for the USA?In a word, no, I don’t think they are. But that speaks more to the culture and circumstances of the U.S. than it does to the vehicles. In this country most people get very little time off, and distances are so great that a good portion of any overland adventure is going to be highway time. Neither of these vehicles is good at that. With a comfortable cruising speed of not much above 65 mph, both demand patience; with solid axles and archaic steering geometry, both demand constant attention. Many, many people have purchased a Land Rover Defender after falling in love with the safari image, only to sell it when they discover it is not a modern car, lacks anything close to a creature comfort, and requires diligent maintenance. If it is expected to be a mode of travel for family vacations, strife and frustration are often the result.With that said, if you are a person with plenty of time who is happy to cruise at 65 mph and enjoy the scenery—and to be fair, there are quite a few who can and do (looking at you Maggie McDermut)—you might live happily with either of these vehicles, and will enjoy looking back at it every time you park and get out. When modified in any of the hundreds of variations possible, up to and including pop-tops, cabinets with sink and stove, hot shower systems, awnings, and more, once in camp they are the equal of any more “modern” vehicle. Cabinetry turned this Troopy into a mini motor home. Finally, of course, if you ever do have the opportunity to ship your Defender or Troopy overseas to Africa, Australia, or South America, you will be driving one of the premier choices for extended exploration in the remotest regions of the planet. It will be a notebook in which you can write your own adventures. If such a vision inspires you, I cannot recommend either of these vehicles highly enough. Graham Jackson is the long-time Director of Training for the Overland Expo, and a founder of 7P Overland, a professional four-wheel-drive training and equipment-supply organization. Their website is here.
I had the pleasure to meet Matt from the the JaYoe Nation YouTube channel at Overland Expo East. If you are into adventure, overlanding, cycling or just about any other travel related activity be sure to follow this guy! Matt is incredible! He has climbed Mount Everest, run marathons, ridden a recumbent human powered trike half way across the world, and is now building an Overland Van to drive across the globe on a very similar route to me. Truly inspiring and a blast to watch his videos.
There is a well-written, if disturbing, article by Andy Lilienthal over on Gear Junkie, here, about two states that are pulling registration from legally imported Mitsubishi Delica vans, for no logical stated reason. Their owners are being told to take the vehicles off the road—no loopholes, no grandfathering, just bang: The vehicle on which you spent thousands of dollars to purchase and import under valid U.S. law is now illegal to drive on the road in Maine and Rhode Island. Please mail in your license plates.As the owner of a legally imported Land Cruiser Troopy worth several tens of thousands of dollars, this is a horrifying possibility to contemplate. Since states can set their own rules as to what is legal to drive, or not, on the state’s roads, an inimical legislature could render such vehicles illegal on any one of dozens of flimsy excuses. Steering wheel on the wrong side? Boom. Non-USA-spec engine? Boom. The percentage of owner-imported vehicles within the entire U.S. market has to be risibly low for any legislature to waste time with such a thing. As Andy points out, a Model T is perfectly legal to drive anywhere in the country, despite being less safe, slower, and more polluting than any Land Rover or Land Cruiser—or Mitsubishi.Here’s hoping some attorney will do a pro bono and fight this capricious movement.
The Mecedes G-Class—or Gelandewagen or G-Wagen, if you prefer—arrived late to the expedition scene: It was only introduced in 1979 as a military vehicle, designed at the urging of the Shah of Iran, at the time an important stockholder in Mercedes-Benz. (The Shah put in a pre-order for 20,000 of them, subsequently canceled when he rather abruptly became the ex-Shah.) Once civilian versions became available, a small contingent of explorers appreciated the Holy Grail configuration of the G-Wagen (and could afford its premium price)—a massive, fully boxed chassis with up to six tubular crossmembers, equally overspecced solid axles riding on an all-coil suspension, and cross-axle differential locks front and rear. No other mid-sized expedition machine combined all those features. Fast-forward to today. The vast majority of G-Wagens are now sold bloated with luxury options (64-color ambient lighting, anyone?), and the most challenging expedition they’ll face is a gallery-hopping run up Canyon Road in Santa Fe.And yet, the basic bones remain—despite a move to (gasp) independent front suspension in 2018. Over the years the company has offered various “Professional” models with overland-friendly bling-delete spec-lists. Now it has announced a new, military-only (for now) model referred to as the W464 (succeeding the W461). The company hasn’t released detailed specifications; however, it is known the new version will benefit from significantly more power, thanks to a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder turbodiesel, producing 245 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque, run through an 8-speed auto transmission. The W464 also has a heavy-duty 24-volt electrical system. Finally, photos indicate it retains a solid front axle.In contrast to these business-like features is the civilian-spec (with IFS) W463’s new “Professional Line Exterior Trim” package, which includes mesh stone guards for the headlamps, 18-inch wheels with mild-looking tires, and . . . mudflaps. A nice-looking roof rack is an option, as is a swing-away spare tire holder, and some truly alarming body colors. Not sufficient for your professional overlanding needs? You can also order the “Night Package,” which includes black mirrors and—ready?—a black three-pointed star in the grille. See above.Dear Mercedes: Can we please have the W464 instead?
Toyota has revealed some details of the 2022 Tundra. The biggest news is the deletion of the long-serving V8 engine for a twin-turbocharged V6, following current popular trends in configuration and number of pistons. The top-of-the-line model produces 437 horsepower.Other changes include rear coil suspension on some models—a welcome upgrade and one the Tundra should have had from the beginning.What I haven’t found out is if the Tundra’s sub-par “Triple-Tech” chassis, with open-channel frame members under the bed, has been ditched for a proper boxed chassis as every competitor has. I suspect not, although I still don’t know why the company abandoned boxed chassis in its trucks for a design similar to that found on Fords and Chevys in the 1970s.More news as I uncover it.
Along with the near simultaneous announcements that Toyota would be pulling the Land Cruiser from the U.S. Market while introducing the completely redesigned 300 Series Land Cruiser elsewhere, the company also announced a brand new engine for the updated model. Replacing the existing 4.5-liter, twin-turbo V8 is a 3.3-liter, twin sequential turbo V6. This is Toyota’s first diesel V6.Reflecting the advances in turbodiesel technology, the new engine boasts increased power and torque compared to its significantly larger predecessor—304 horsepower and 516 lb./ft. compared to 268 horsepower and 480 lb./ft.Just as importantly, and contrary to the fears of those who predicted the smaller engine would have a torque peak higher in the RPM range, the 3.3’s curve peaks in more or less exactly the same range as the 4.5, from 1,500 to 2,900 rpm. Note the chart on the right below. The new engine should exhibit significantly decreased turbo lag, thanks both the the sequential turbo configuration (in which one is set up to provide immediate boost while the other takes over higher in the rev range) and the “hot vee” arrangement of the exhaust.In contrast to standard V engine construction, in which the intake manifold sits between the cylinder banks and the exhaust exits under the sides of the V, the hot vee turns everything around, siting the exhaust manifolds between the cylinder banks. This drastically shortens the run from the exhaust ports to the turbos.The 4.5 was known for—depending on your point of view—underwhelming specific power output, or being admirably under-stressed for heavy-duty use. The 3.3 is obviously tuned to a higher level, but much of that might be attributed to the configuration. The 4.5 also had a few problems, at least early on, with disappointing oil consumption (although I only read about this in connection with the single-turbo version in the 70-Series vehicles). I’ve not yet read anything regarding the new engine’s fuel-delivery system—or, more to the point for overland travelers who rightly view the 70-Series vehicles as the ultimate global expedition platforms—whether or not it will be installed in the Troop Carrier and its brethren.
Just in case you thought it was no longer possible to buy an off-pavement vehicle as uncomfortable as an FJ40 or Series III Land Rover . . .More here if you’re intrigued. I am, in a twisted sort of way.