What is the best expedition vehicle in the world?
Of course there isn’t one.
“Best” as applied to an expedition vehicle means different things to different people, and can vary even then in different situations with different logistical requirements. And any vehicle one might name out of “the usual suspects” will have strengths that might suit one situation along with weaknesses that might not suit the same situation. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, for example, combines unmatched technical-terrain performance with a poorly laid-out and small cargo area and low GVWR. The venerable (and no longer made) Land Rover Defender 110 combines an excellent layout and capacity for cargo, an economical turbodiesel engine, and all-coil-spring ride comfort with outdated and cramped driver and passenger accommodations and a history of bipolar build quality. The Mercedes G-Wagen (the diesel-powered world-market version) combines mightily overengineered running gear, excellent traction, and a high GVWR with a fearsomely high price and potentially overcomplex electronics.
Then there’s the 70-series Land Cruiser Troop Carrier, or Troopy as it’s known. Arguably the most primitive of the bunch—the only one still riding on leaf rear springs—its reputation hinges more than anything else on unmatched reliability and durability. Tens of thousands of them have shrugged off tens of millions of miles of abuse from safari guides and non-government agencies, hammering on faithfully regardless. Years ago Roseann and I, through the auspices of a crooked fixer, led a safari in remotest Tanzania in a wreck of an early (all-leaf-spring) example. It had layers of flaked tan repaint on it; the ancient 103-horsepower 2H diesel engine wheezed and blew Vesuvius-sized clouds of smoke; there were no seals left on any opening and bulldust choked the interior to the point of actually reducing visibility for the driver; the alternator died during a night drive out of potential bandit country in Loliondo and we had to light our way with a flashlight. We loathed that vehicle by the end of the trip—yet it just kept running the entire time, and for all I know still is. Many thousands of miles in much nicer examples have reinforced our admiration for the Troopy—especially those powered by the later (post-1990) 1HZ naturally-aspirated six-cylinder diesel. This has proved such a dependable workhorse that it is still in production 25 years later despite the advent of the much more sophisticated and powerful twin-turbo V8 diesel. The 1HZ is reserved for markets such as Africa where power is less desirable than simplicity.
But reliability isn’t the only strength of the Troopy. Open the 60/40 split rear door and you are greeted with a cargo bay large enough to return echoes. It is literally cavernous, and the Troopy’s GVWR rating matches it. You could stash enough actual troops and armaments back here to engineer a coup d’état (and it’s probably been done . . .). For mere safari duty there’s room for all the gear you could possibly need for an extended stay away from supplies. And speaking of capacity, many if not most Troopies are equipped from the factory with dual fuel tanks totalling an astounding 47 gallons.
The driver and passenger seating area is spacious and visibility all around is commanding. Seating is comfortable if you get the individual buckets, not quite so good for the passenger with the split bucket/bench. Power-assisted steering and brakes make driving the beast easier than it would seem, and once loaded with guerrillas, AK47s, and RPG-7s the ride is really not bad at all. Finally, a comprehensive selection of bits to augment the strengths and correct the weaknesses of the Troopy is available from high-quality suppliers such as ARB and Old Man Emu.
For those of us in the U.S. there was just one problem: The 70-series Troopy was never imported here, nor was any Toyota with the 1HZ engine. However, notice the date the engine was introduced—1990. That puts Troopies (and the companion pickup configuration) equipped with the 1HZ inside the envelope of the 25-year exemption for importing vehicles to this country.
This was uppermost in our minds as we recently began planning a trip to Australia, where the 70-series Troopy is practially the official national vehicle for any travel off tarmac. Looking at ads on such sites as Gumtree brought up a good selection of vehicles, although many of them had obviously seen a lot of miles in the bush. Also, somewhat counterintuitively given Australia’s huge inland desert, rust is an issue—about 99.9 percent of the country’s population lives along the coast, and beach driving and saltwater fishing are popular pastimes. Prices for early 90’s Troopies ranged from around $5,000 (AUS) for dodgy runners up to $25,000 for pristine examples. Given the current favorable exchange rate (1$ AUS = $.75 US) this left a fair number of possibilities.
With some diligence and luck we found an extremely clean, low-mileage, one-owner 1993 model listed for sale at a dealer in Darwin, and after a few emails back and forth to confirm details, it was ours.
Given its slightly later manufacture date, we’ll have to wait a couple years to import it, but we have plans for the interim . . .
Meanwhile our friends Graham Jackson (director of training for the Overland Expo) and his wife, Connie, searched for and found their own Troopy, with higher miles than ours but equipped with dual locking differentials and a drawer system. Both vehicles are now on their way to the Expedition Centre in Sydney, where owner Daniel will be installing a few modifications before we arrive. Then we are off to the Simpson Desert for a solid shakedown run.
If you’re interested in importing a vehicle directly to the U.S. and having most of the work done for you, look at AustoUSA.com. Phil Newell there is experienced in the entire export/import process. Of course Troopies are not the only potentials for one’s own version of the “best” expedition vehicle. There are plenty of Hiluxes, Prados, and Land Rovers available as well, including many that were purchased by visitors, fully kitted with roof tents, fridges, etc., taken on a trip, and then ut up for sale when the owners returned home. This opens the possibility of landing in Australia and picking up a fully prepared vehicle for your own journey for about what it would cost to rent one from the many outfitters there. The AustoUSA site lists all the costs to have a vehicle delivered to the U.S., including shipping, customs, etc. There is literally a “click to purchase” button.