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Aloha G55 Build

Nufan09

New member
Hey Expedition Folks,

As a complete novice I wanted to document and share my journey, and also learn from the collective wisdom of all the people that make this community great.

About me: I spent the first 30 years of my life in Ohio. I grew up on a farm until I was 14. My Dad is an incredibly capable mechanic, electrician, welder and all around engineering problem solver. I am going to refer to myself as novice, but I did have a hands on upbringing around tools and machinery.

How the off-roading & overlanding bug bit me: I moved to Colorado 7 years ago, and made friends with a crew of people that I would call automobile enthusiasts. While I don't have the interest to race vehicles like they do, I did find a connection through the outdoors. On a trip to Moab we rented some side by sides and hit up the trails and rock crawling routes that Moab is famous for. That experience was the catalyst.

Why a G Wagen?: I've got a few reasons and you can be the judge of how good or stupid they are. The group I would mostly be traveling with didn't want any duplicate vehicles in the crew, because we are eccentric like that. The crew desperately wanted me to go with a Samurai, and I was on-board with this idea. I was also interested in a Delica, having almost gone the van life route prior to buying a house. I mentioned my adoration for the look of G-classes, and asked my friends if they were capable. I received a volley of good natured ribbing about the stigma that came with them, and Mercedes owners in general. Despite all that baggage, they all agreed they are incredibly capable stock. I looked up their specs, and was happy to see they had an automatic transmission. This is an important detail for two reasons. First, I don't really enjoy driving a manual. Second, I wanted my partner to be able to drive and enjoy it as well. Bonus reason, my partner has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Germany so that connection is worth something in my mind (even though they are built in Austria).

Buying journey: I turned my search to G-wagens and quickly lost a bidding war on Bring a trailer for a 1995 Turbo Diesel model that had the most gaudy red leather interior. I found a 2003 G500 in Houston Texas, and took it for a ride. This was my first time ever setting foot in one. I was instantly sold. I loved the visibility, the upright driving position, the massive amount of headroom, the sound and feel on the road, and of course the solid and heavy doors. The owner pointed out the flaws, such as failed power lock and window switches he had to replace and the useless cup holder that attaches to the arm rest. The owner was a great guy and he let me get in the dirt and engage the lockers and feel it on something other than tarmac. I slept on it, and landed on a price. I went to the bank to do a wire transfer, and was hoping by about 4pm I would be the proud new owner. Instead I got a call from my bank saying the transfer failed. I contacted the seller and found out I had transposed the last 2 digits in the transfer details. I'd have to wait till the next day to redo the transfer. Later that evening I fall into my standard routine of looking at my autotempest search results across all the craigslist cities, and to my surprise there was a new listing. It was for a 2005 G55 that had 80,000 fewer miles than the one I was planning on buying, and it was 'only' $7,000 more. I look to see where it's located, and my stomach sinks, because I see that it is in Honolulu. I instantly Google "shipping a vehicle from Hawaii", and much to my surprise find that it only costs about $800 to get it to Los Angeles. I call the dealership in Hawaii that posted it, and they were beyond helpful in doing a video call to walk me through it. They were totally willing to help ship it to the main land. They sent me the vehicle history report, and what I found in it helped me make up my mind. It had originally been sold in Colorado, went to Ohio for a few years, and then to Hawaii where it has been for the last two years. I felt a kinship with it, since we had lived in the same places. It didn't hurt that the AMG upgrade also gave it Turbo (good for Colorado elevation) a good bit more HP and Torque, and generally made it more unique/rare. Near the end of January 2021 I bought a one way ticket to LAX. With Covid in full swing the ticket was only $37, and there were 12 people on my 5am flight out of Colorado. With two masks on and plenty of hand sanitizer I got to the dock and finally get to see the beauty in person. As a bonus it came with a Journey greatest hits CD!
 

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Nufan09

New member
Adding Rubber: The prior owner had put it on 22" wheels and low profile tires. After some research I learned I could go down to 18" wheels and fit 275/70/18 KO2 tires without any hassle thanks to the bigger AMG fenders/wheel wells. Luckily I was able to find someone to buy the 22" wheels for about 40% the cost of the new tires and wheels. For wheels I went with Alpha wheels, because they had an offset that would push everything out without needing to use a wheel spacer. Here are some before and after photosPXL_20210129_231234118.jpgPXL_20210310_173833546.jpg
 

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Nufan09

New member
Getting a lift job: I knew I wanted to do a ~2inch lift to improve approach and departure angles, and give some breathing room for the larger wheels. I connected with Jack from JackWagonOverlanding and ordered a lift kit with Koni Raid Shocks, and ORC springs. The pandemic has caused large shipping delays, but Jack kept me well informed and by the middle of March I had the new shocks and springs on. Before lift on the left, after on the right.PXL_20210310_173709921-COLLAGE.jpg
 

Nufan09

New member
First, second and third trail experiences: Confession time. I actually took this beast out on the Switzerland Trail when I got it home while still rocking 22" wheels and low profile tires. The trail is not challenging, but it is rocky, and in January was covered by a couple inches of snow. You can only imagine how jarring the ride was. The AMG stock suspension on G55s is notoriously stiffer than the already stiff G500. Mix in terrible wheel and tire combo plus worn out suspension components, and by the end of the ride I felt like I had finished a 5 minute bull ride.

For the sake of science, and getting a relative comparison I went back to the Switzerland Trail with the new wheels and tires still on the old stock suspension. It was a night and day difference. This time I had my buddy with me in his right hand drive defender. Had my first interaction with a person that accosted me for "destroying" a "$300k" vehicle by taking it off-road. Before then everyone I encountered was friendly. I'm sure if I looked hard enough I could have caught a few eye rolls when I moved through, but they had kept it to themselves.
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I need to go back to the Switzerland trail a 3rd time to see how it feels with the new suspension.

The third time out was to tackle Medano pass and check out the Great Sand Dunes National Park. By now I had the wheels, tires, and suspension in place. All of it was put to the test. Medano pass is excellent and I encourage anyone with a solid 4x4 to check it out. Gives you a little bit of everything with loose deep sand, water crossings, plenty of rocks and dirt, and wonderful views. It's also a sneaky way to drop into Great Sand Dunes National Park from the back side.

There are dispersed camp sites along the pass, which I made use of. By chance I had my friend with me who is getting into astro-photography. So he was setup taking photos as night approached when suddenly we started to see a string of lights moving through the sky. We were convinced it was aliens, but with morning sobriety and data access we were able to find out it was actually Elon Musk's StarLink satellites that were being launched into orbit. Also come morning I noticed the G-wagen sounded quite a bit louder. Upon further inspection the passenger side muffler was missing. They are definitely one of the low clearance points with the low hanging dual tips. We cruised back where we had come from and didn't see it. Fortunately as we were leaving the trail someone had leaned it up against the trail entrance sign. It is in good shape still, but I haven't put it back on. I'm extremely interested in this cat back option. I'm thinking it may be the next modification.
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While on the Medano pass I got to test my recovery gear. A family had gotten an Infinity QX?? large SUV stuck in the sand. The rear wheels had sunk down to the axle. I put in my hitch, used two soft shackles to connect my strap to their rear tow point. I shoveled some sand out from under their rear end and luckily we got them out with no issue on the first try. I was pretty nervous because I had never done any recovery stuff before. I was literally taking items out of plastic wrap. Fortunately I had watched about 25 hours of Ronny Dahl YouTube videos, so I knew what to do. It felt good to help someone out and prove to myself I can actually use my gear.
 
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Arktikos

Explorer
Wow, nice rig. Thanks for sharing your story. Excellent move to get rid of those 22" wheels as they are ridiculous on an SUV. What is wrong with people?
 

N8TURE

New member
Good looking G, in a rarer shade.
Medano Pass is an excellent trail and some of the campsites up at the pass are amazing.
 
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