Mercedes G-wagen and Land Rover Defender 110 pickup
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7 Cool Off Road Rigs We Saw At Overland Expo West

Overlanding, in case you haven't heard, is the big thing in the off-roading world right now. Think of it as a cross between exploring and off-roading, a pursuit of adventure so popular that it has spawned a pair of shows dedicated specifically to loading up Land Cruisers and G-Wagens with a Manhattan apartment's worth of equipment.

At its core, overlanding is self-reliant travel to remote places to satisfy curiosity and the need for adventure. In today's increasingly connected world, modern adventurers seem to be eager to get away from their offices and explore where few dare to travel. Outfitting top-tier rigs is a rich man's sport. The price of entry easily exceeds $100,000 for a fully outfitted SUV with a kitchen, a rooftop tent, and all the modifications required to leave the slab. 

We recently attended Overland Expo West, the original overlanding exhibition held annually on the shore of a lake deep in the piney woods of northern Arizona. There are cheaper ways to live the overlanding lifestyle, but you don't go to Overland Expo because you want to drive down a dirt road; you go because you want to drive to Mongolia. Starting from Peoria. 

Overland Expo West was full of built-to-the-hilt rigs, as the following slides will illustrate. 

Land Rover 101 Forward Control
  • Image Credit: Andrew Ganz | AOL

Land Rover 101 Forward Control

Originally built for the British military in the 1960s and made available to the public after decommissioning in the 1990s, Land Rover 101 Forward Controls were designed from the start as overlanding vehicles. They're built for extreme conditions, even though they shared much with contemporary Land Rover Series 4x4s sold to civilians. Don't look for spares at your local auto parts store.

That helps explain why this particular Forward Control now has a 6.5-liter GMC diesel engine mated to a Toyota Land Cruiser manual transmission.

An enormous snorkel helps keep water and dust out, while a built-in "security spray" does what you might expect. The Forward Control's South African owners indicated that the spray had been used on an adventure – rather effectively, it turns out, since the Rover and its owners are here today.

Toyota Land Cruisers
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Toyota Land Cruisers

When we think overlanding, we think Toyota Land Cruisers. That's because the Land Cruiser has deservedly earned its reputation as the vehicle most likely to get you there – and, more importantly, to get you back home. We didn't see nearly as many as we thought we would at Overland Expo West, and those we did stumble across generally didn't stand out.

An exception could be made for this pair lurking outside of Australian mapping firm Hema's tent. On the left sits a 70-Series Cruiser, a direct descendent of the beloved FJ40. Still sold in many overseas markets, the 70-Series is the ultimate embodiment of rugged simplicity. The right-hand-drive, manual-transmission, diesel 200-Series Land Cruiser next to it is a pig by comparison but still desirable for its long-range comfort. 

Private importers have made 70-Series Cruisers somewhat common now that they're old enough to be legally brought into the US. Most of the diesels are right-hand-drive, but a handful were sold new in LHD countries and thus have their steering wheels on the side most Americans are used to. They're simple and durable, but considerably more modern and comfortable than a classic FJ40. 

1987 Mercedes-Benz Unimog
  • Image Credit: Andrew Ganz | AOL

Mercedes-Benz Unimog

Its serial number may say it is a 1987, but this Unimog was rebuilt last year to standards far beyond the already rugged Mercedes-Benz design.

Unimogs are monumentally capable overlanding rigs, but they're probably overkill for the kind of person who wants to explore a nearby logging trail on a quiet Saturday.

This Unimog was most notable for its camping box mounted in place of a bed. The compartment is thickly insulated, carries its own diesel generator, and even stores 66 gallons of water for emergencies. The owner was offering it for $225,000, but we didn't stick around long enough to see if it found a buyer. 

AEV Prospector Ram 3500
  • Image Credit: Andrew Ganz | AOL

AEV Ram 3500 Prospector

The folks at American Expedition Vehicles are best known for making Jeep Wranglers into dream machines, but they also have a more utilitarian side. AEV's Prospector is a Ram Heavy Duty with 37-inch tires and more on- and off-road presence than anything this side of a Peterbilt.

AEV has generally suggested that its Prospector package should be ordered on a fully outfitted crew-cab truck, not a single-cab with no bed like the company brought to Overland Expo West. We beg to differ. It's like the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that captivates your attention at the natural history museum: bare bones but menacing. 

Oh, and kudos to AEV for resurrecting the Prospector nameplate once applied to the Dodge Ram and Ramcharger. 

Mercedes-Benz L911
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Mercedes-Benz L-Series

Built for more than 40 years, the Mercedes-Benz L-Series' biggest selling point to overlanders is its popularity in the most remote places on the globe. Venture to just about anywhere in Africa, South America, or Asia, and you'll stumble across one of these short-nose trucks in regular commercial use. In fact, they're still made under license in Iran should your overlanding plans happen to take you there.

Outside of the US, trucks like the L911 are cheap to buy, parts are plentiful, and they're enormously flexible vehicles. This particular one featured a custom, fully insulated living space with a pop-out awning. It's bigger and more luxurious than a San Francisco flat – and, these days, it's cheaper. 

Camel Trophy Land Rover Discovery
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The Camel Trophy Land Rover Discovery

If you ever wanted to see the world's remaining stock of running Land Rover Discoverys, Overland Expo West may have been the place. Among those was one true stand out: this ex-Camel Trophy Discovery that is still regularly exercised.

Overland Expo is more than just a show – it's an opportunity for attendees to sign up for classes to gain real-world experience The lessons taught by seasoned overlanders have included uprighting a heavy vehicle that has flopped on its side, building a raft large enough to shuttle a vehicle across a raging river, and extracting a 10,000-pound rig buried up to its axles in mud or sand. 

As an added bonus, check out the Ural sidecar motorcycle that followed the Camel Trophy Rover. Ural's designs are based on prewar BMW motorcycles that had been converted to military use by the Russian government. The current lineup is a little more modern – but not a lot, meaning you can fix a Ural with whatever happens to be on hand out in the bush. One big advantage to the Ural for those seeking simplicity is how far they lag behind modern motorcycles on the technology front. It was only a couple of years ago that Ural added disc brakes and fuel injection.  

Suzuki Sidekick
  • Image Credit: Andrew Ganz | AOL

Suzuki Sidekick

Small-car enthusiasts Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal tugged a trailer with a popup tent from Portland to Mormon Lake behind their Suzuki Sidekick, and we'd wager they had at least as much fun as anyone else at Overland Expo.

A refreshing break from overlanding heavyweights, the little 95-horsepower Sidekick nicknamed the "Teal Terror" has been outfitted with the basics needed to take its owners on adventures all over the American West. Their little Suzuki is a nice reminder that it doesn't take big bucks to venture away from civilization. Instead, all it takes is enthusiasm and passion.

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