Overlanding with a vintage vehicle

Everyone loves classic old cars, and 4 wheel drives are no exception. Just take one look at the market for old Broncos, and Land Cruisers and you will see that they are growing in popularity as collector vehicles. CJs, FJ40s, Broncos, Scouts, ect are awesome. Classic looks, easy to work on, capable vehicles off road, tough to kill and always make for great photos in their element.

Now, there are a lot of people who will tell you that you need a newer, more reliable vehicle for remote travel. You need electronics, and traction control, and all the goodies that modern 4x4s provide. Maybe for some people, but there are a lot of positives to overlanding a vintage vehicle that are easy to overlook.

Toughness. There is something to say for steel bodies and bumpers. These vehicles have already survived 30 plus years, do you really think that little rock in the road is going to take it out? Not a chance. Older 4x4s are built like tanks, and they just take abuse well. These vehicles were built for off road primary, and it shows in how tough they are on the trail.

Reliability. Now, here is where I hear the biggest argument against old vehicles. They just aren’t as reliable as a new 4×4 would be. I agree. To a point. But look at how much a new 4runner or Tacoma would cost you to go buy right now. If you put 1/3 of that money into a old vehicle, it would be just as reliable as it ever was. The biggest reason old vehicles are thought of as unreliable, is that they are just worn out. They’ve been used hard their whole life, and are just in need of some basic maintenance most of the time. More importantly, with fresh new parts, I’d say they are MORE reliable then newer vehicles. So many modern 4x4s suffer from cheap plastic parts, to save weight and increase fuel economy. They have complicated electronics, that if one part fails, can leave the vehicle unable to start, or running very poorly. We had a Jeep Grand Cherokee a few years back, that I drove through what I would call a deep puddle, the water was 3/4 the way up the tires. Deep, but not insane. A transmission sensor got wet, and it set off every light on the dash. It was shifting strange and we aborted the trip and limped home. $400 later, the sensor was replaced and all the lights went away. Contrast that to my old FJ40, which I have had water up to the bottom of the dash and had no issues other then my cell phone was in my pocket and died when my pockets went under water. I would make an argument that if most of the major components of a vintage wheeler were repaired correctly, or replaced, they would be every bit as reliable and dependable as a modern 4×4. However, even if they are not, this brings me to my next point…

Easy to work on. We all know that old guy that can fix a carburetor with a hair pin. Why? Because old vehicles are easy to work on. Lots of extra room in the engine bay. No crazy electronics that you aren’t quite sure what they are. The parts are visible, and accessible to diagnose and repair in the field. You’re not going to have to remove the intake manifold to replace a spark plug in a 1970’s Jeep (my daily car you have to remove the intake to replace the rear bank of spark plugs). No strange tools to keep shade tree mechanics from repairing their cars, no special dealer service tools needed. Just some sockets, wrenches, and screw drivers and you can fix just about anything on old vehicles. Toss in a few spare ujoints, belts, hoses, fuel line, ect and you shouldn’t have to worry about much of anything.

I’m not saying everyone should get rid of their late model vehicle and go buy an old truck. It’s not for everyone. my cruiser is loud, hot in the summer, cold in the winter. It rattles like crazy sometimes, the transmission and transfer case howl like a banshee going down the freeway. The doors leak, the back hatch leaks. the windshield even leaks if it rains hard enough. There is no A/C and the heat from the engine is brutal in the summer. It’s slow, I’m doing 60ish most of the time on the freeway. It’s got lots of little gremlins, strange noises I can’t track down, odd hiccups from time to time. It’s not the most comfortable way to travel, not by a long shot. However, there is something about it that’s just special. Something you can’t quite put your finger on. I just find myself smiling whenever I drive it. You feel so much more connected to the what you are seeing around you. You feel the temperature changes with elevation, you smell the trees. You’re not just in a little air conditioned box watching the world go by through your windows. You can feel your vehicle, listen to the gears and the engine and it becomes part of you, you get to know your old vehicle like it’s an extension of your body. You know what every rattle and squeak is. Travel is so much more of an adventure in a vintage vehicle. People stop to talk to you about your ride, ask you what year it is, what engine is in it. I have met people who I’m still friends with today because they stopped me in a parking lot to ask my about my Land Cruiser. The whole experience of travel seems to change with a vintage vehicle. You stop caring as much about keeping to a schedule or getting to a destination at a certain time, and start to just enjoy the drive more. It’s not for everyone, but for me, there is nothing like an old school 4 wheel drive.

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6 Responses

  1. Jason

    Amen. Ive been having second thoughts about my ’89 Bronco, and this article helped me “see the light” once again… Cheers!

    • Ryan Apple

      We’ve all become frustrated with problems and wanted to give up, but the end result it worth it! I am glad to hear you’re sticking with the Bronco, they are cool rides. If I wasn’t such a Land Cruiser freak, my next choice would be a Bronco. I have always thought a big Bronco with a 7.3 IDI diesel would be amazing for a camping/exploring vehicle.

  2. HS

    I agree 100%. My vehicle is a 1972 Pinzgauer, 710M, completely maintained and very reliable.

  3. TeriAnn

    Glad to see folks keeping your newish vehicles going. They are simpler with few if anything the backyard mechanic can not fix. I would never consider a vehicle with computer controlled steering, brakes, suspension, or throttle. In most cases the computers will immobilize the vehicle for safety until a dealer’s computer tells it the problem is fixed. You don’t want to be out in the Alaskan or Northwest territory boonies and have a computer shut the vehicle down.
    Older EFI systems will put the engine into limp home mode if it senses a problem but will keep you going as long as all the critical controller work. Then you should have a code reader and replacements for critical controllers.

    My 56 year old 1960 Land Rover just keeps going out on the trails as long as I keep an eye out for parts that wear out and replace them as they do.

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