Eye-Catching Vehicle Builds of Overland Expo West 2021

Photography by Richard Giordano

After a hiatus in 2020, Overland Expo West was back in the saddle this past weekend with a busy event at Flagstaff’s Fort Tuthill County Park. Offering their usual jam-packed schedule of roundtables, educational sessions, trail rides, presentations, and vehicle walk-arounds, the Expo fairgrounds were also filled to the brim with vendors, an expansive camping area, and the Camel Trophy Expedition Skills Area.

From rock crawlers to adventure motorcyclists, international overlanders, and car campers, this event brings those with a love of vehicles together to bond, chat, and debate about whether Land Rovers, Jeeps, Toyotas, or Sprinters are the best overland vehicle platform out there. We debate over price, drool over imports, and lust after the classics. No matter who you are or where you’re from, there’s bound to be a vehicle at Overland Expo that catches your eye. Here are a few that drew us like moths to a flame.

Sunroamer Overland’s 1982 Toyota Sunrader

Owner Bradley Enlow admits that his favorite part of his 1982 Sunrader build are the smiles he receives wherever he goes, the appreciation for the work involved, and conversations that are started with strangers. “I love passing on what I have learned. Like any project built on a budget, you need to learn new skills. The main ones for me were fiberglass and building a DIY lithium battery solar system.” Other highlights of the build include an Exped Megamat Duo mattress, a Grizzly Cubic mini wood stove, Sumo progressive bump stops, and a Marlin Crawler adapter to a gear-driven transfer case.

After camping in a DIY trailer with a rooftop tent, Enlow yearned for a more straightforward setup and more effective shelter for colder climates. “There’s nothing like not having to make the bed,” he said. Originally a 2WD version with an empty shell, Enlow says weight was the main consideration for the build. He decided to swap the 22R with a 3.4 5VZ after the 4WD conversion, adding 33-inch Falken Wildpeak tires and 4.56 gears. “The little motor that could needed a transplant. What practically fell into my lap was a rolled 1996 4Runner as a donor, and the [decision] was made.”

As the Sunrader weighed 5,800 pounds and had an automatic transmission, Enlow knew he needed a brake upgrade as well. “With an IFS hub swap, I could run Toyota Tundra rotors and calipers.” He also consulted the pros for the addition of a rear Hellwig sway bar and Alcan custom springs. “[They] made all the difference to allow me to push the limits of where this [vehicle] can go.”

To learn more about Bradley’s 1982 Sunrader build, or to follow his adventures, visit @sunroameroverland.

John van Vlaardingen’s 2017 200-Series Land Cruiser Maltec Conversion

Parked near the Step 22 booth, this US-spec 2017 200 Series Land Cruiser Maltec conversion created a buzz at the Expo. Owner John van Vlaardingen visited the Maltec booth at Overland Expo West in 2018 and was impressed by the quality of the builds. “The only thing I did not want was to start with a 25-year-old chassis and engine,” he said. “We wanted something different.”

Van Vlaardingen bought the Land Cruiser in the US and shipped it to Germany for the conversion. After selling their home in Florida, he and his wife moved into the Cruiser full-time in April. “If it rains outside, you have everything: your fridge, your burner, and a whole kitchen.” You can sit comfortably inside. It’s a small house, but it gets us everywhere we want to go. I’m still impressed; the car is more capable than I am.”

Bucket list items for the van Vlaardingens include visiting all national parks (so far, John and his wife are up to 33) and a trip from San Diego to Alaska. “[The truck] gets us to some remote places. We look at each other, my wife and I, and say, ‘This is the best place ever.’ Then, the next day is even better.”

Truck House Life – Tim Johnson’s 1996 Ford F-350

As darkness fell at Overland Expo West each evening, Tim Johnson set up a small stage in front of his 1996 Ford F-350 Truck House, playing live music for small groups of campers in the DIY section. “I decided to do an open mic at Overland Expo to give back to the community,” he said. “The idea was to bring people together to hang out and enjoy themselves and forget about all of the material stuff around them.”

Using leftover wood from a small cabin he built in Alaska, Johnson created this cabin-on-wheels on top of a 1996 Ford F-350 7.3 Power Stroke diesel 4WD truck. “I had just finished full-timing for six years in my 1989 Toyota 4WD motorhome, and it needed to be rebuilt, so I opted to build my own camper instead.” The truck boasts a 6-inch lift, 35-inch tires, a custom aluminum winch bumper, homemade aluminum flatbed, and custom aluminum flatbed storage boxes.

“My favorite thing about the build is it’s a capable 4-wheel-drive camper vehicle. The extremely low gearing, no overhead cab, and heavy truck weight keep the center of gravity fairly low for a truck camper. I’m on a three-month road trip now, not full-timing anymore, but I did full-time for six years and in Alaska, moving around to a new spot every night.”

To learn more about Tim’s build, visit youtube.com/truckhouselife.

The TruckHouse

The origin story of the TruckHouse began seven years ago when co-founder Matt Linder bought an original 1987 4×4 Sunrader. He remodeled and rebuilt the vehicle, bringing it into the 21st century— living in it and chasing the snow. According to Nico Monforte, COO and co-founder of TruckHouse, the floor plan’s small footprint, off-road capability, and livability was where the TruckHouse began.

To support the weight of the composite shell, the TruckHouse team went with long-travel suspension systems, drilled and slotted disc brakes in the front and rear, six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers, and a fabricated rear axle. Monforte says that the box rides on a torsion-free mounting system, so it’s independent on the frame. “The Tacoma, as we all know, is a very reliable vehicle and there are parts all around the world and huge aftermarket support. We have also created a fully custom chassis and do a lot of work to the vehicle itself to fit the application.”

“I’ve been driving the prototype now for a while, and it drives great,” said Monforte. This one is naturally aspirated, but we do offer a Magnuson supercharger for those who want more power.” As for the fit and finish, Linder and Monforte looked to the marine industry for inspiration. The interior has clean lines, with grain-matched teak throughout.

The guys at TruckHouse are currently working on customer builds, are taking orders for future ones, and have more news coming this fall.

To learn more about the TruckHouse visit truckhouse.co.

Bob and Kathy Kelly’s 1993 Land Rover Defender 110

Well past the booths, the food trucks, and the crowds lies a vast onsite camping area filled with pine trees and Expo enthusiasts from all walks of life. After a long trek from the vendor area, I spotted Bob and Kathy Kelly’s 1993 turbo-diesel Land Rover Defender, outfitted with an Alu-Cab top, extruded aluminum storage (built by Bob), and a diesel heater.

Born and raised in California, the couple desired a change, so they purchased the vehicle stock after it had been imported from Australia, sold their house, and hit the road full-time. “We’ve traveled with it mostly in the deserts of California, Tahoe, and Colorado, but we plan to go into Mexico and see how far we can go on the Pan-American Highway,” Kathy said. Their favorite aspects of the build include the instant hot water, the Alu-Cab top, and Front Runner bags for storage of clothing and toiletries. Bob smiled when I asked if they had been enjoying the vehicle so far. “We’ve been having a lot of fun with it.”

Jason Momoa’s 1989 Land Rover 110 with Redtail Overland Camper

Although this raven-black 1989 Land Rover 110 forms part of actor Jason Momoa’s vintage vehicle collection, it spent the weekend rounding out Redtail Overland’s booth at this year’s Expo. The Rover is equipped with a Cummins 2.8-liter engine, Scheel-Mann seats, and plenty of storage in the rear for production equipment required by Momoa for video shoots in remote areas.

The Rover is also topped with a Redtail Overland camper, which, according to Redtail owner Ty Tatro, is the first hard-sided pop-up rooftop-mounted camper in the world. Ty and his wife Annie initially owned a Ford Raptor with a rooftop tent, and although they loved it, they were inspired to design something that addressed the weak points of their setup. “We loved it because you could bomb around; it was super lightweight and super nimble.” Ty said. “It was great in great weather. But if it was windy, we wouldn’t sleep, and if it was rainy, it got damp.”

The result is a high-end fully insulated carbon fiber tent that is available in various trim packages, including integrated solar, batteries, an inverter, heating system, USB outlets, a fan, a queen-sized mattress, dimmable interior and exterior lighting, and an optional pass-through into the vehicle’s cab. The dual-pane polycarbonate window in the rear is huge, at 5 feet high by 42 inches wide. “We wanted to accentuate the look of the vehicle and do something a little more fuel-efficient, sleek, and modern. Plus, the carbon fiber shell keeps it below 300 pounds.”

Learn more about Redtail Overland at redtailoverland.com.

The Bell Family’s 1994 Range Rover Classic

Prevented from continuing their global overland travels due to a civil war in Ethiopia, the Bell family has now landed on US soil and is exploring the country in a 1994 Range Rover Classic. Hailing originally from South Africa, this family of five (Graeme, Luisa, Keelan, Jessica, and dog, Chewy) have coined their Rover “The Roach.” According to Graeme, the vehicle is “full of character and is super comfortable. She turns heads and makes people smile.”

The Rover is equipped with a Quick Pitch USA rooftop tent and walled awning, a SnoMaster Leisure Series fridge, a 100-watt solar panel, and a Wagan Tech 1200 lithium cube. The ladies retire to the tent at night, while the gents sleep on two stretchers underneath the awning. This was especially interesting, they tell me, during their time in Maine during Hurricane Ida.

The Bells picked up The Roach in Miami, hitting Maine and the Appalachian Trail, completely avoiding the interstates. Before arriving at Overland Expo West, they drove to upper Michigan Arizona via Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.

You can find the Bells online at a2aexpedition.com.

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Ashley Giordano completed a 48,800-kilometer overland journey from Canada to Argentina with her husband, Richard, in their well-loved but antiquated Toyota pickup. On the zig-zag route south, she hiked craggy peaks in the Andes, discovered diverse cultures in 15 different countries, and filled her tummy with spicy ceviche, Baja fish tacos, and Argentinian Malbec. You can usually find Ashley buried in a pile of travel books, poring over maps, or researching wild medicinal plants. Ashley is a co-founder of Women Overlanding the World and crew member of Expedition Overland. You’ll find this Canadian-born couple exploring a different continent in 2021, and sharing their trip every step of the way at Desk to Glory.