Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Overland Expo West 2017 – Part 2

It must be nice to have the means to support a Unimog 4×4, in a way. I wouldn’t want one, but I still think they’re slick.

Opps! Hit the wrong button! Oh well. Enjoy!! This post is much more pictures than text, so let’s get at it! –

This Oregon Trail’R was one of many teardrop trailer variants. This one trades artistic integrity for utility. Trail-friendly, roof rack for holding an awning, solar panels, or what have you.

Land Rover debuted their reimagined Defender from a legendary boxy fossil to a thoroughly modern SUV compromised enough to appeal to the Starbucks-slurping crowd. Despite a very sophisticated and capable 4WD drivetrain, forward progress is in the eye of the beholder. (This example is not actually tipping, it’s simply revealing its street car design priority.)

Here’s a Land Rover Defender of recent vintage (softop version), just for comparison. Land Rover pulled the plug on it in 2015 not just because they can’t justify an annual market of “only” 20K vehicles, but because it’s somewhat unreliable and too heavily biased for off-roading, by modern standards. Car testers (and Land Rover owners) pan its road manners, comfort and noise levels. Although it’s had several design iterations since 1948, a continuous 67-year run is a lot to ask of a revised platform.

At the same time that owners and potential owners have complained for decades about the classic Defender’s uneasy mix of wonderful utility and ability, with obsolete driving and reliability characteristics, a dwindling number of purchasers each year made Land Rover’s decisions exceedingly tough, no doubt. The damn thing has such a time-honored Camel Trophy slog-through-the-swamps and “get-the-medicine-to-the-village” reputation that discontinuing the Defender is somehow a slap in the face of both history and tradition. Everybody loves the vehicle, hates to drive it, and no one but a few nostalgic diehards will ante up for one any more.

Beauty and the Beast. I could have driven the Land Rover on their twisty and undulating off-road test track, but my brother-in-law’s Subaru wagon has pre-empted any need to. On the other side, I frequently complain here about my F-250’s harsh ride. The original military-spec Hummer makes it seem pillow-soft! Try taking the trail tour in Sedona that uses them and see for yourself.

What to do? Technically, they could have clean-sheeted the Defender, starting from scratch to create an end product with almost the same outward appearance, an even more adaptable suspension and a more modern and capable drivetrain. Greater strength, better steering, less noise – that kind of thing. Some things, such a passenger accommodations, require noticeable appearance changes, but the recreation need not be slavish.

Land Rover may have considered this approach – for a few seconds. Unfortunately, their interest is in finding ways to acquire lots more purchasers for a hot new model named after an old one, not in updating mechanical and structural elements on the old one in order to the shut whiners up.

But “retro styling” does work. The 1964 Mustang spawned the Camaro, Challenger, and Barracuda after it. The sporty pony car market softened within a decade, and the various models either died off or morphed into something else more modern. In fact, when the long-suffering Ford watched its Mustang volumes dwindle to dust, it announce that the exciting new Probe front-drive econoluxe tub would replace it. Bye-bye. GM immediately and gratefully announced that the Camaro would be killed off as well, since it had only existed to compete against Ford’s pony car and keep Ford from owning a marketing segment that had become unsatisfyingly small.

Fans of the Mustang organized a letter-writing campaign to vehemently protest the Mustang’s demise, since it now (poorly) still represented the classical front-engine rear-drive truncated, sporty body, sort of. It had long since been deformed into an upscale Pinto. The Camaro was closer to its basic origins, but had, apart from size and basic layout, nothing in common with its forbears. Shaken by the clamor, Ford dumped the wimpy swap idea and bet the farm on a dream: modernize the old platform, but stuff it with as many carryover 196os styling cues as it can hold. The big question was whether the talk-is-cheap protesting claimed fans would buy in substantially bigger numbers than the measly sales of the existing “modern” version. Surprisingly, they did, which caught GM without a competing model once again, just as in the first round. It took them years to bring out a new Camaro, also with 1960s Camaro cues. If I recall rightly, Dodge smelled the coffee and resurrected a rather good retro version of its Challenger well before Chevrolet could replace its constant “it’s coming!!!” hype with an actual car.

Are the new versions modern, up-to-date and valid from an engineering standpoint? More than yes – the originals are junk in comparison. Could Land Rover have done the same? Yes. The problem is that, as was with the Big Three in the U.S., nobody’s buying the current Defender either. How many more will buy a completely redone expedition vehicle? Twice as many? Probably not enough to justify the costs. How many more will buy what is now represented in the overcrowded SUV/crossover/AWD bag of vehicles that are just station wagons with 4WD for slick pavement? Probably a lot more, and it’s simpler to produce and market. More shared parts with existing models. What makes this the route that promises less risk and more volume? Answer: Nobody was writing in, protesting and demanding continuation with a serious effort at updating. Instead, it was as if a gruff old auntie had finally died, and people suddenly felt free to whisper for the first time how poorly behaved and smelly she was. There was 95% “good riddance” and 5% “I’m keeping mine”. Sure, there’s a British millionare who’s vowing to manufacture a re-engineered pseudo-Defender that’s better geared for low-volume production, but right now, that’s just talk put out there to gauge interest, like Tucker did. I don’t expect any large manufacturer to come up with a reincarnated Defender, ever…unless a small upstart markets one and magically survives a transition to respectable production volumes, in which case GM will announce that it’s working at resurrection the long-dead Hummer badge.

There was one Pinzgauer High-Mobility Vehicle there. Production went from 1971 to 1985 for the original, and until 2007 for a British variant, when they were removed from production due to a trait they shared with the Humvee – vulnerability to IED’s. A true lightweight with impressive off-road abilities, this one later showed up on Land Rover’s test track.

The boys from Expedition Overland drew a sizable crowd to lecture and answer questions.

Alaskan Camper! Alaskan looks to recovering from its long moribund state. Glad to see it! Nice to see them get out there and market rather than rely solely on legend and nostalgic owner stories.

Hey kid! Howarya?

This rather unusual view out is from the Alaskan’s bed overhang. The three panels are folded down as a first step to lowering the upper section, but it also makes a superb means of sticking your head out to yell at the kids.

Here, I’m outside shooting in! Colors and finishes are very appealing, having a very cabin-like aura. Maple laminate.

Well, here you go. Normal mode. These start at close to twice the price of standard Four Wheel campers, but add the front dinette configuration and a host of “extras’ as standard, so it really isn’t all that much more than a comparably equipped one. Just make sure you have enough truck underneath it, as it’s quite a bit heavier. The Alaskan display got a lot of traffic – especially from parents with kids, and deservedly so.

Just in case you wonder, the roof has electrohydraulic lifts, which allows kitchen cabinet storage to be located in the roof interior.

another gargantuan “adventure” rig. The only reason I shot it was because I could discern no stowage for a ramp for that motorcycle, and was stumped as to how any mortal was supposed to get it out, or use all that wasted space more efficiently, for that matter.

The new EarthCruiser GZL, their first truck camper. That’s it for the roof-up. Another front dinette layout, the interior is either clean and ultramodern, or cold and devoid of character and hominess.

At just three times the cost of the 1950’s Alaskan truck camper this XPCamper does the same thing but swaps fabric walls in for the Alaskan’s rigid hinged front panels. Cool white modern interior, not quite as laboratory-like as the EarthCruiser’s. Sorry to be so old-school, but nobody was looking at this or the EarthCruiser, while I couldn’t get in to see the Alaskans without waiting my turn. It’s not just me.

Front view of the XPCamper, showing the fabric walls.

Patriot Campers is an Austrailian adventure trailer outfit, except they also offer two truck-based solutions which are sold complete. Big bucks, of course, and how you get them serviced, I don’t know. I can’t get their website to stop misbehaving.

Why so many photos of what I characterize as 4WD moving trucks? Because so many of this type were there!

Let’s do a walkaround for one adventure trailer, because they’re getting more elaborate. One ones with just the space for a cooler, water tank, sink, battery and propane range are apparently gone. This tent cavern is coming out of one trailer, the hitch area of which is just to the right of that happy child.

Not moving much, just a little anti-clockwise, still staying in front. What on any other trailer might be a kitchen counter, is of indeterminate function…

…Because THIS is the food prep/cleanup counter – unless you’re going full-gourmet on us and really need to spread out. Who needs a deck, canopy and outside kitchen at home? Just get one of these!

Oh yeah! The chilluns loved THIS one! By the way, this was one of the few events with children present where I never heard a peep out of one, once, outside of camp. No boredom, no bullying, no whining. Just climbing and waiting turns while parents watched and talked. Not your local grocery store.

Four Wheel’s display was doing alright, but not the same as last year. Outgunned for attention by Alaskan, perhaps.

would you prefer this EarthRoamer, perhaps? They offer a 900-mile fuel range and full 4-season comfort down to -30 degrees F, all for a starting price of $438,000. I can’t be too smart-alecky – they had traffic. Actually, if you’re sitting on half a mil and don’t care for a typical RV park motorhome, this fills the bill.

I think I saw a duplicate of this here last year. A Ram pickup refitted by AEV, its flatbed just waiting for a camper or something. Everything appears so smoothly integrated that you’d never guess that it’s packed with serious mods. It has that “factory options” look, like you could just head for a dealership and order one.

You can order or buy yourself a completely refurbished and updated International Scout for just $100,000-$125,000. Don’t gasp – the similar Toyota fossils get up there, too!

This is the $100K Scout. It was pristine right down to the sheetmetal welds and overlaps. Maybe it costs less because it’s a softop…but with a rollcage and serious roof rack.

Also present in this Scout is Cummins’ new R2.8 Turbo Diesel to replace the old gas 4-banger. Cummins apparently let a few pre-production units out the door to help feed the promo machine and perhaps get real-world non-engineer feedback. The crate motor includes the brainbox as well as the gas pedal control in order to avoid having to improvise and cobble any more than necessary.

Jeep/Ram had a display there. I couldn’t tell what their goal was – A Wrangler, a couple Ram trucks, and several SUVs styled like bars of soap. I’m glad to see OEMs like this – I just couldn’t tell what they were doing with their presentation. Unfortunately, it was a bit lonely there, possibly since the staple of the line, the Wrangler, was peppered in modified form all over the show.

I have some video footage of various vehicles on Land Rover’s track. I’ll do what I can with it, but no guarantees. It’ll take awhile to put online, assuming anything worthwhile can be salvaged. Think I’ve hyped and promoted it enough? 🙂


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5 thoughts on “Overland Expo West 2017 – Part 2

  1. I don’t get it. Where are all these expensive, extreme, ostentatious vehicles supposed to be used? Does the customer ship them overseas to some third world country?

    You certainly wouldn’t use them in a national forest with a restrictive MVUM. (Take a look at the Santa Fe or Cibola national forests in New Mexico.)

    The growth in these restrictions will never end. Extreme “Overland” vehicles are a big waste of money.

  2. Typo in the comment at 630 — please delete it.

    I apologize for the brutality of my comment, but I do think it is accurate: these vehicles are nothing but codpieces for wealthy people in the big city whose high-pressure careers don’t allow them any time to actually use the vehicle, even if they could find places to use the vehicles legally.

    • I couldn’t spot the typo in your follow-up, but I did kill it. I’m thinking of your outlook as “forthright” rather than brutal. Truth to tell, I’ve never seen even one of the extended pickup with SuperCamper rigs anywhere – highway, boonies, trail, RV park – in my 4-1/2 years as a glorified tourist. What I have seen is one of the big-tired Unimog-style rigs camped off an NF main trail near the south rim of the Grand Canyon a couple years ago. Had Arabic lettering on the side of the cab. He’d apparently had it shipped over and was doing his thing crossing the country. If not too many of my grey cells have passed on, he may have made it across the African continent before coming here. I’ve seen (a very few) similar rigs in the camping area of the Overland Expo, or in the owner “special vehicle” parking area complete with a posted map with their route so far. They do go across continents, and up and down between N & S America. The Unimog/Fuso-style rigs seem ridiculous for traversing the U.S., but it only seems that way because they are. Once they head anywhere else, they suddenly get practical. In the Expo camping area, I watched a Fuso traverse a ditch that would pose a damage risk to the Mighty Furd, and do so with no more suspense than steering around a wet spot on the road. Squeezing between overgrown bushes on MVUM trails, not so good. Getting through otherwise tough trails that they can physically fit on, no concerns. They are oft-applied for true overlanding, as opposed to the backwoods trail camping escapades done by myself and everybody else claiming to live an “Adventure Lifestyle”. Obviously, it takes heavy bread to do what these Uni/Fuso people do, and I’ve observed that Europeans in particular are much more attuned to visiting other countries than we are. They just save up and get it done in one way or another.

      As for the box-on-a-stretched-pickup folks, they are a mystery to me as to what they actually wind up doing with them. There’s much more of an inherent reliability/repairability issue with that type of machinery if you were to try to traverse, say, Africa or East Asia. Having never seen one in the wild makes me think that no one buys them, but they wouldn’t keep showing up at the Expo unless they did sell to someone, somewhere. Since I don’t make an effort to search that rig style out on the blogosphere and don’t troll through used rig sales listings, beats me. My money is on the side of them being used as a more boondocking-oriented version of a motorhome by people younger than retirement age, otherwise referred to as simple camping in the RV manner.

      I always think of all these huge rigs along the lines of “He who dies with the most toys wins” until I manage to come across one actually being used for what it was designed and outfitted for, which is almost exciting, in a way. That’s always difficult to get my head around, since it’s so distant from my own realm. How they financed a cross-continent voyage, I don’t want to know, but for a moment, that one rig in use no longer represents a big waste of money, in the same way that a couple of Germans getting ripped off in a $160/day Cruise America motorhome as they cross the USA on vacation are getting their money’s worth. They’re after the experience, and the most practical way to get the project accomplished. We tend to gravitate more toward impressing ourselves and others, which most often is a big waste of money.

  3. BobG on said:

    “Why so many photos of what I characterize as 4WD moving trucks? Because so many of this type were there!”

    When I first started gallivanting, I ran into a guy from New Jersey who retired to a box van pulling an Aerolite trailer. Sounds odd, and nobody’s idea of sleek, but it was really quite comfortable and even economical. He was happy as a clam. The box van held his Harley and tools. You can see a picture and description here, about halfway down:

    Again in an Alaska parking lot I saw a box van camper with a regular back door and a short wooden porch with a pair of rocking chairs.

    One man’s hell is another man’s heaven. And heaven has many mansions.

    • Actually Bob, I think box vans are a great way to go for a combination of cost, availability, roominess and potential stealth. Big rear-wheel-drive duallies have their own territory. As simple boondocking rigs, they are deluxe. My objection for the rigs I snapped pictures of at the Expo is that it’s specifically an overlanding event, and although the vehicles there had 4WD, they’re more in the spirit of sporting motorhomes than anything else. Yet I see Fusos and Unimogs as a different animal. True, you’re not going to be able to scout for hidey holes down narrow forest trails with one, but they don’t blink when the going gets exceedingly rough. For literal cross-country work out in the open, they work. As for the super-pickups, I’ve observed the most prestigious of them idling over mild washboard dirt, and the flex and bobbling of the entire structure over the truck cab was almost horrifying. When it comes to serious off-roading, stronger springs and tires don’t address all of the inherent problems of adding size and weight to what is at its core an adapted pavement vehicle. See what I’m getting at? It’s about suitability for true overlanding, not boondocking.

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