American Overlander: The Ultimate Build, Part I

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In the years following WWII, men and women by the thousands folded up their uniforms and slipped behind picket fences and into the American Dream. These were the hay making days of domestic manufacturing with every home bristling with American-made appliances, and within each garage sat a hulking example of Detroit’s finest. Some say we have strayed far from those days, but we think the American dream lives on in the American overlander. For those of us still appreciative of homegrown goods, the overland segment is full of options. It’s even possible to build a world-beating expedition vehicle made with American-born components. So, what does the quintessential American overlander look like?

This year Chrysler announced a milestone with the one-millionth JK to roll off the assembly line in Toledo, Ohio. That Jeep, a 10th Anniversary Rubicon represents one of the most competent overland platforms on the market today, and not just within the U.S.. Many praise the Jeep JK Unlimited Rubicon as the most capable platform in the world, even surpassing the revered Defender or Land Cruiser FJ78. Good as it is, though, we all admit no self-respecting overland vehicle is complete without a few key mods.

 

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The best way to improve on a stock Jeep JK is to quickly dispatch it to the experts at American Expedition Vehicles. They can transform any Jeep into a rolling masterpiece with the addition of upgraded suspension components, body panels, bumpers, and other refinements. Whether you chose to undergo the full metamorphosis, converting your JK into a four-door Brute, or simply adding a few key tweaks, they are without peer when it comes to comprehensive JK rebuilds.

aev-conversions.com

 

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We would be remiss to discuss the JK without including TeraFlex in the mix. TeraFlex has been working with the Jeep platform since 1950. They currently provide a large selection of upgraded parts from axles and differentials, to suspension upgrades and body protection. They have comprehensive solutions for the JK that increase the vehicle’s performance and reliability. As is true for many of the JK aftermarket suppliers, Terraflex and AEV do have some parts sourced offshore, but their dedication to providing as many American-made goods as feasible is admirable.

teraflex.biz

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No JK would be complete without a winch, and the Warn Zeon 10 is as good as it gets. The Zeo 10 provides 10,000 pounds of pulling force with their new planetary gear train and new series-wound motor. Quiet, powerful, and sealed to keep out the most foul muck anyone can throw at it, the Zeon 10 would look right at home on an AEV bumper. There are other bumper options, though.

warn.com

 

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Pronghorn is the newest player in the JK bumper business and their MFES-JK modular bumper system is not only brilliant in design, it’s American made. With 18 different possible configurations, it’s hard to imagine this system not fitting even the most particular overland needs. Made of lightweight aluminum materials, it is not only strong, it’s a very attractive addition to any JK.

pronghorngear.com

 

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Even for the most efficient organizers, getting everything to fit inside a JK is not always easy. Roof racks are an essential component to any overland rig, even if it’s just there as an emergency overflow. Gobi roof rack systems are proudly made in America and provide JK owners with rugged roof systems for any type of travel. They not only accommodate heavy loads, they make for a perfect platform for mounting auxiliary lighting systems like those from Baja Designs.

gobiracks.com

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Baja Designs, founded by Alan Roach in 1992, has become one of the most trusted names in lighting for not just offroad trucks, but for motorcycles, bicycles, boats and even military vehicles. Their catalog of products includes systems of all shapes and sizes, with the power of their lights only exceeded by the quality of construction. Using only the highest quality materials and components, a Baja Designs light is retina searing with minimal power draw. 

bajadesigns.com

 

 

 

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Any experienced offroad driver will tell you it all starts with good tires. The name Dick Cepek is synonimous with offroad driving. A pioneer in offroad tire design, the Fun Country II all terrain tire is a popular choice, and in keeping with the theme, is made in America.

dickcepek.com

 

It’s an extensive list, and in the coming months we’ll continue to add to it.  It may seem as if American manufacturing is up against the ropes, and perhaps that’s true. If it is true, it hasn’t impacted the overland segment where much of the very best is still made right here in the United States. 


Recommended books for Overlanding


Crossing The Congo: Over Land And Water In A Hard Place
by Mike Martin, Chloe Baker, Charlie Hatch-Barnwell
From $32.5
Overland: A Mercedes-benz Journey Through The Americas
by ri M. Stroh
From $19.36
Into Africa
by Sam Manicom
From $26.46

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.