An Ode to the Old Adventure Truck

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OUTLANDISH OVERLANDER

OUTLANDISH OVERLANDER IS A BLOG HOSTED BY OVERLAND EXPO SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER, ZACH ELSEMAN.

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It is easy to get caught up in the constant barrage of marketing and advertising efforts telling us that we need the newest, biggest, and fastest adventure rig. A lot of energy is expended at Overland Expo promoting new vehicles and new vehicle parts. But nestled in the corner of every overlanding event and down every backcountry two-track is an old adventure truck that still gets the job done, sometimes better than a brand-new vehicle.

Our journey into old trucks began when we bought a 1986 Toyota 4Runner sight-unseen from a farmer in Oklahoma with the intention of spending a winter in Baja. A family member went to check out the truck and make sure it was straight and ran. The elderly farmer, inundated with news stories of murder and beheadings south of the border, almost didn’t sell us the truck because of our intentions to travel and “get ourselves killed” in Mexico. As is often the case in the South, cash outweighed moral superiority and we walked away with a solid truck. We wouldn’t see our new-ish adventure rig for several months, as we finished up a North America tour in our van.

We learned the following benefits of owning an older truck. We hope that, through our process of building a more senior rig, someone else will be motivated to keep an old truck on the road … or off of it.


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Repairs and Maintenance are Simple

Arguably the most appealing aspect of owning an old truck is the simplicity. Our truck came equipped with a four-cylinder engine with little in the way of complicated electronics. When something breaks, which is rare in and of itself, diagnosis and repair is simple and often quick. When a major repair is needed, simpler trucks are cheaper and easier to repair. Full engine rebuilds are affordable and engines are customizable with aftermarket options galore. When our 22RE blew a head gasket after over 200,000 miles, we were able to find a competent mechanic to rebuild it within ten miles of our home. 


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Buying an Old Truck is Cheap

The most obvious reason that someone would purchase an old adventure rig is the minimal cost associated with buying a truck that is over twenty years old. An aged, well-maintained vehicle will cost a bit more than the same truck in bad shape but good maintenance records are worth their weight in gold. Compared with a new or certified-pre-owned vehicle that costs in excess of $25,000, a $5,000 truck is a steal.

We purchased our Toyota for $2,000 and invested around the same amount in new suspension, a paint job, a tune-up, and a roof-top tent for our adventures in Mexico. On our way down the Baja Peninsula, our original radiator developed a leak and we were able to source a cheap replacement radiator that was in stock to keep us on the road until we could source a high-quality replacement back in the U.S.


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Senior Adventure Rigs are Buildable

Old adventure trucks are remarkably easy to make your own. The same truck that started its life as a stock grocery-getter can be made into a round-the-world adventure rig or a long-travel desert runner with the right parts. The longer a truck has been around, the greater the chance that a company specializes in that particular truck and has a solution for any shortcomings it may have. While new truck owners are waiting around for parts to come to market, old truck owners are in the bush. 

Our 4Runner build has been a simple one with balance in mind above all else. We opted for a basic suspension setup from brands like Bilstein and Old Man Emu, an engine rebuild using Toyota parts for the most part, and anything that we couldn’t find in a local parts store, we could order from a specialty company like LCE Performance or Marlin Crawler.


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Old Trucks are Full of Character

An aspect of old truck ownership that is often overlooked is the character behind a rig that has stories to tell. Each pinstripe and ding are associated with a memory from a trail in Anza Borrego or a shopping cart in Ensenada. This can sometimes be frustrating when a door won’t open just right or hood takes a couple of tries to close, but it pays off every time we get in the truck.

We meet people all the time that pull up to the gas pump or see us on a beach and go out of their way to share a story about a truck like ours that they had when they were younger or before they had a kid. We love hearing stories like this, because it gives us hope that with enough care, our truck can take us on unforgettable adventure and provide us opportunities to make a lifetime of memories.


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Old trucks aren’t for everyone. If your vehicle needs to have power everything, syncing capabilities with your phone and the International Space Station, and heated and cooled leather seats, an old rig might not be for you. It will be cheaper and simpler to buy a newer vehicle with the features you require.

However, if you are looking for a vehicle to reliably take you on an affordable adventure and introduce you to like-minded friends at nearly every gas pump, an old truck might be the right adventure rig for you.

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Photo by Brett Willhelm

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