Overland Nomad’s Awesome and Affordable Toyota Pickup Camper

I feel that there are two types of truly cool four-wheel drives out there. The first category encompasses all of the dream vehicles: EarthRoamers, Unimogs, restored Defenders, Land Cruisers, and portal axle G-Wagens. The sort of things we all secretly long for, but realistically could never afford. The second category, which happens to be my favorite, is the down-to-earth, well-used, real-world, four-wheel drives that simply get the job done. Each one is packed with character, and whether from international adventures or just countless weekends on the trail, have dents, scratches, and unique modifications that capture our imaginations like no brand-new car ever could. That’s why today we’re taking a fresh look at a rig that never fails to make us smile. It’s a 1994 Pickup owned by a man named David Gonzalez, and its history spans way back to his early days in school. It has been a lifelong passion for David, as much a part of his family as any vehicle could be, which is exactly why we’re switching up our featured vehicle formula to let David tell you all about this build himself. We hope you enjoy his story as much as we did and find a little inspiration in his Toyota pickup camper.

The following excerpts were written by David Gonzalez.

It’s hard to know where to start. This pickup and I have so much history. From high school to driving my then-wife to having all my friends in the back on the Island, and even now having my son ride with me.

This 1994 Toyota Pickup, equipped with a V6 3.0 and 4 wheel drive, was owned by one of my father’s coworkers. They worked at a school, so when she would get picked up by her husband, she would hop in this bone stock pickup and drive right by me. I was in 6th grade at the time, and I can still remember just how it looked, so clean.

Senior year in high school, she was still working at my dad’s school, and I would beg her to sell me the pickup. I had always wanted a 90’s Toyota 4X4, and this one was the one. Her husband would, of course, say, “No way, this truck is not going anywhere. Believe me, I have gotten many offers for it.” But I didn’t care; I would still bother him. In fact, I bothered him for five whole months, and by that time, his wife had convinced him. With the money I had saved up plus a bit of help from my dad, I bought it, and the rest is history.

Processed with VSCOcam with c7 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c9 preset

The Toyota went from being bone stock to getting a full “restoration.” We did everything ourselves, spending countless hours at my buddy’s one garage shop. From the front bumper to the paint job, it was all done there. We took the V6 3.0 3VZE out and rebuilt it, replaced all the hoses, installed a lift, and even added 35-inch BFG mud terrains. Next, we found a $70 Leer camper shell, which we restored with new windows and paint. In the end, the truck was torn apart in the shop for a full year, but the final result was just the way I had imagined it. Well, how my 19-year-old self had imagined it.

As the years went by, my views on the pickup changed. I had embraced so much of nature and camping again that I started thinking of different ways to improve its usability. I soon became entranced by North American expeditions and adventure travel, and eventually discovered overlanding. That’s when I realized where I wanted to go with the pickup project, and the path became clear.

I soon started doing more Texas explorations on back roads and tied in some more moderate four-wheeling. I took the front and rear axles and regeared them to G2 5.29s for the correct performance out of the beefy 35s, before turning my attention to camping systems.

I had been searching for a different camper shell for some time, as I wanted more room for sleeping in the bed. I soon came across the Wildernest Adventure Camper on Instagram and knew it would be perfect. I was able to contact someone online that was selling one, and I pulled the trigger and drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in my Xterra, a 1,400-mile round trip with only one stop at a Whataburger parking lot to take a quick nap. It was definitely a smart acquisition, though, and fulfilled what I was looking for in terms of camping and future travels. At least, for a while.

Two years ago, I was browsing the Texas Overland pages when a rather rare and promising camper popped up, a 1981 Four-Wheel Camper designed specifically for the Ford Bronco. Obviously, my Toyota Pickup wasn’t a Bronco, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with it, so I pulled the trigger. The modifications to make it fit the bed of the pickup began shortly after and included adding C-channel bars on the sides and front to make up for the height difference. I had to close up the wall that would have led to the Bronco’s cabin by adding plywood and a white aluminum wall on the outside, as well as perform a myriad of other small changes. In the end, though, it was exactly what I had hoped for, and was perfect for my many trips around Texas.

My favorite part of the FWC is the fact that it’s a tiny cabin on wheels. It’s my house on the ocean or my retreat in the hill country, with all the amenities I could ask for. It’s got a memory foam mattress, kitchen, 5-gallon water tank with sink, a couch, and lighting. I do keep everything pretty simple though. I power my LED lighting with a USB power bank, and the sink even uses a manual pump. Why complicate things? My main goal is for it to be a cozy shelter when foul weather or a sand storm hits us on the islands, and for that, it’s perfect.

It’s not without cons, though. My usual camping trips are at South Padre Island, where I drive 25 miles north on the beach. This route requires 4×4 at high tide in the soft sand, and the pickup and the FWC handle this flawlessly, but the capability is limited when I truly go off roading. If, for example, I need to get over more rough terrain like rocks or tackle an off-camber situation with the camper on, it’s not a fun feeling.
The pickup has to be my favorite vehicle for travel because it has character, and it shows in the expressions of everyone who sees it. I’ve owned this truck since my senior year in high school and have so many awesome and crazy memories in it. I’ve taken it all over in all sorts of conditions, and it just keeps going without missing a beat. The Nomad doesn’t have anything fancy, only the essentials. There’s no AC or high-end suspension, no heated seats, or fancy electronics, and to be honest, it’s pretty slow to get moving, but it just never complains. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for me, and I can say that this is just the beginning of my travels with it. We have many more miles ahead, and I can’t wait to see where they lead.

The Specs

  • 1994 Toyota pickup/Hilux DLX
  • 3.0 V6 3VZE
  • Manual 5-speed
  • 4WD
  • 5.29s, front and rear
  • Wildernest Adventure Camper
  • 1981 Four-Wheel Camper – Bronco
  • 35s BFG mud-terrain KM2s on steel rims
  • Rough Country 5-inch lift/2-inch body lift
  • Custom front bumper
  • Hella halogen lights
  • Rigid Industries Dually spot LED lights
  • XRC winch, 12,000 pounds
  • Plano storage box for cooking equipment
  • Coleman Classic propane stove
  • 6.5-gallon water container
  • Sleeping bag, blankets, and pillow

To follow David’s adventures and watch his build progress, check out his Instagram page @OverlandNomad

Learn more about Four Wheel Campers at fourwheelcampers.com.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.