The JATAC: A self-contained, solar-powered expedition vehicle

It's just a Tacoma—affordable, capable, reliable.There’s absolutely nothing exotic about our new Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper—that’s exactly why we chose the combination.

Our 1993 FWC Eagle and Toyota truck in Mexico.Our first Tacoma/FWC proved to be very nearly our ideal traveling arrangement, combining a capable, comfortable, and reliable truck with a compact home-away-from-home camper that deployed in 60 seconds, subtracted almost nothing from the off-pavement ability of the Tacoma, and provided everything we needed for long journeys away from civilization.

As I said to Roseann, the new combination is familiar, but feels like our old rig had won a spot on Xtreme Truck and Camper Makeover. The 2012 Tacoma is bigger and more powerful than the 2000 model, yet looks on track to deliver equivalent fuel economy, thanks to modern computer engineering. The camper is larger as well, and has been upgraded extensively since our 1993 version. Pressure water (totalling 26 gallons including the, heh, water heater), a cunning interior shower arrangement, a vastly more efficient compressor-driven fridge, and a front-mounted dinette that leaves the entire galley free for the cook are just a few benefits. It retains the gargantuo bed, sink, two-burner stove, and a tucked-away porta-potti for occasional use in crowded campsites or villages.

However, our needs and plans have evolved somewhat in the last decade, so we have several projects in mind or in process to suit our requirements:

  • Since we work in electronic media now (laptop computers, cameras, video), we wanted an electrical system that would be essentially self-sufficient, able to handle the demands of the fridge and lights in the camper, power the laptops with 120-volt AC, and also do recharging duty for the cameras. 
  • Since we often travel as a solo vehicle, we wanted a truck that was not only capable in four-wheel-drive terrain, but completely self-sufficient in terms of recovery equipment and accessories.
  • Lastly, we frequently combine camping with work, which can mean meetings in cities. We expect to be able to present ourselves properly—dressed well and not trailing an odor like, well, people who’ve been camping for a week. 

Just a Tacoma . . . and a camper. Newly installed Fleet at Four Wheel Campers.The solution to the first challenge will involve designing and installing a comprehensive solar-power system, a suitable battery bank and charge controller, and a reliable inverter to provide 120V AC when needed. It also entails ensuring the electrical systems in the camper (lights, etc.) are as efficient as possible.

Addressing the second issue will include adding traction control in the form of a rear locker, ensuring the suspension retains compliance while carrying the extra load properly, and adding a winch and recovery points, along with the tools and accessories needed to augment the winch and allow for such needs as tire repair.

The third issue has been resolved—the shower and hot water system are brilliant for such a small unit.

We will be debuting the JATAC at Overland Expo 2013, and in the meantime I'll be posting updates on the modest modifications we have planned, including suspension from BOSS and ICON, new tires, front and rear bumpers, and mounting points for Hi-Lift and other tools.

[Special thanks goes to project co-sponsors Findlay Toyota of Flagstaff and Four Wheel Campers; we will be naming other sponsors as they join our project.]

The inspiration for the new project: Tom Hanagan's 2012 Tacoma and earlier Fleet model. Ours has a newer configuration.