Extra Tall Options

spectre6000

Observer
A good friend is interested in buying and building a truck that best falls into the overlanding category. I've had all manner of trucks including an FJ40, a split window VW bus, an M1009, JKU, and several others. I don't have the problem of being 6'5" though. He wants something that can be built for light off roading and vehicle camping. I'm thinking probably something capable of 3-rated trails or so.

Our initial searches have been on the order of a heavy duty Suburban; opting for the heavier axles and better torque since the acquisition cost delta is negligible. Finding a good one will take some time and a little luck. We talked about Excursions, and while I couldn't convince him that a Suburban might be somewhat limiting from a hugeness perspective, he agrees that the Excursions are probably too big.

There also seems to be a fairly firm preference for dual air bags... As we (I, he, and his wife with my wife in the periphery) were talking last night, there seemed to be some acceptance of a single driver's airbag and talk of maybe not worrying about them at all since it won't be a DD. It's pretty limiting from the perspective of cost and availability of options, but given that I just about died a year ago in my '81 K10 it's not the easiest case to make (though one of my surgeons said I'd have been in just as rough shape had I had airbags, the injuries just would have been different).

The budget for the build is $7500. That includes acquisition, baselining, and modifications. My thoughts on that are minimal lift, 33-35" tires, hopefully a locker in the rear, and a comfortable interior. We're in Colorado, so that should give some idea of what's available and the terrain in question.

We've discussed alternatives such as SAS/4WD conversion on a commercial-type van (probably prices out), decommissioned ambulance (none currently available, so I don't know where they fit in the budget and I'm not really sure what they tend to be mechanically), Sequoia seems too short, same with an Armada (I think)... We talked about what it would take to open a truck cab up to a bed with a camper top, but that seems like it might prove either cost prohibitive or too janky to satisfy the comfort criteria.

I'm appealing to the collective knowledge to try to get some ideas from the extra-long crowd for what can handle a person that is in the 0.5% percentile. What options am I not considering? At nearly a foot shorter, it's not an issue I've had to contend with or ever think about...

I suggested RTTs, but I don't know about the height parameter. He also seems dubious about the comfort of an RTT. Any insight there?
 

UHAULER

Explorer
I think the suburban sounds like one of the better options or a full size truck with a shell or camper. A van might eat up most of the budget just on the conversion alone.
 

plainjaneFJC

Goofball
You are limited to high mileage stuff based on your budget. By the time you find something with the desired safety features it will be really high mileage because your actual purchase price is limited to 4k max when you account for the desired upgrades and baselining. Good luck.
 

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CRolandLJ

Adventurer
It's not big enough to sleep in but for the record i'm 6'4" and fit in a jeep TJ just fine. You can always carry a ground tent...

I also fit in nearly any half ton truck just fine but most short beds wouldn't be an option for sleeping inside. If you're trying to sleep and get something as cheap as possible a single cab, long bed 4WD pickup with a shell may be your his best bet. Added Bonus: (at least around here) long beds seem to be a little cheaper, probably for aesthetic and maneuverability reasons.

I can practically guarantee you could find a cleanish 90's ford or chevy 1/2 ton or 3/4 ton single cab long bed for 5 grand, get it reliable (parts are cheap) and capable (shell, level, tires) with the remaining 2500.
 

spectre6000

Observer
I think the suburban sounds like one of the better options or a full size truck with a shell or camper. A van might eat up most of the budget just on the conversion alone.
Yup on the van. It would be super ************, but I think it would be a ton of work and a lot of down time to scrounge up the parts from yards within such a tight budget. If it were just the axle swap it would probably be able to squeeze in, but the 4WD conversion sorta breaks it (transmission, transfer case, the axle, AND likely two custom driveshafts...). Plus, he's heard me bitching and moaning about how annoying it is working on vans from when another friend of ours had one a while back. Adding that to what's already likely to be a steep learning curve doesn't sound appealing.

He's dubious of the truck shell idea, but might be interested if we can open it up to the cab somehow. I have ideas, and they're a touch on the crazy/redneck side of things. To be discussed with him sometime soon.


plainjaneFJC said:
You are limited to high mileage stuff based on your budget. By the time you find something with the desired safety features it will be really high mileage because your actual purchase price is limited to 4k max when you account for the desired upgrades and baselining. Good luck.
Yup... Until recently, I've dabbled exclusively in cars older than myself. I don't usually pay much attention to the mileage. If compression and oil pressure are good (or rebuild parts are cheap), I can fix pretty much anything else over a typical weekend. I buy and sell cars a lot (I get bored easily), and know what to look for to avoid expensive mistakes or to add to the baselining budget. The safety features mean 97 and newer, and that means, like you said, not a ton of options... The late-90s/early-00s kinda sucked for fun cars... 200K+ miles seems to more or less be what we're looking at across the board, and we can deal with that.


CRolandLJ said:
It's not big enough to sleep in but for the record i'm 6'4" and fit in a jeep TJ just fine. You can always carry a ground tent...

I also fit in nearly any half ton truck just fine but most short beds wouldn't be an option for sleeping inside. If you're trying to sleep and get something as cheap as possible a single cab, long bed 4WD pickup with a shell may be your his best bet. Added Bonus: (at least around here) long beds seem to be a little cheaper, probably for aesthetic and maneuverability reasons.

I can practically guarantee you could find a cleanish 90's ford or chevy 1/2 ton or 3/4 ton single cab long bed for 5 grand, get it reliable (parts are cheap) and capable (shell, level, tires) with the remaining 2500.
His wife doesn't like the ground tent idea. RTT seems to be a bit of a turnoff. It's kinda inside or not at all from what I gather.

I think the short cab/long bed truck might be worth entertaining... Single cabs seem to be adjusted down on the market, and if my bed/cab joining scheme passes muster, it might work out pretty well... If it doesn't come with a shell though, that might be a bit of a challenge to get in the budget after mechanical baselining and running gear...

BTW, I grew up in Rockwall.


Do any inhumanly tall people out there have any experience with the RTTs? The last time I looked, they were super expensive. I looked yesterday, and there were some available for under $1K, and a TON more options. I've never slept in one, and even if I had, I'm pretty short by 21st century American standards... If RTTs were to be deemed acceptable, that would open up a TON of options.

Aside from the larger Excursions, is there anything of similar length to a Suburban? I thought Sequoias might be since they're essentially enclosed Tundras, but it looks like it's probably a good foot shorter in reality. Same with Nissan Armadas. I've been wracking my brain, but nothing has fallen out my nose yet... Outside the box is totally cool too if it works... M1028 (save he's seen my cracked 6.2L with only 30K miles, and no airbags), ambulance,... there has to be other crazy options...
 

spectre6000

Observer
Oh! One idea I had this morning was to try to figure out if a flip-forward seat could be rigged up like in your typical coupe. The old civilian K5 Blazers had one on the passenger side, and it seems like it might not be too uncomfortable to sleep with one's head toward the tailgate, and hang feet off the end of a platform into the space otherwise occupied by that seat. That might open some things up, but I'm not really sure what's out there in terms of seats like that. Truck seat bases are a lot taller than coupe seats, and there haven't really been any 2-door SUVs in a few decades... It's possible it's within my fabrication skills, but it's also possible I'm not good enough to rig something like that up from scratch that's safe enough in an accident. Any thoughts there?
 

UHAULER

Explorer
I've done the cab cut out on an 83 Toyota. It didn't turn out too bad.

This is a truck I had about 8 yrs. ago, I kinda miss it, if I had to do it over I would have cut the back out to make a pass through. 93 f250 7.3 idi, 5 speed.

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ExplorerTom

Explorer
1st or 2nd gen Explorer.

I know a guy that is a tall/skinny 6'7" and he drives one of each of those Explorers. See my build thread in my signature- I was doing trails rated as high as 6 in Colorado before I SAS'd. I bought it for $2000. You can still find clean low mileage rust free Colorado Explorers for about this price. Throw some new ball joints, tie rods, brakes and whatever else you need to bring it up to snuff. Then a $250 3" body lift, $100 add-a-leaf, $200 Warrior shackles and you can run 33x12.5 tires. The rear 8.8 is plenty strong. $800 to regear ($200 or so more for new bearings).

To get to this point, you've spent about $5000 (purchase price, new tires/wheels, regear, lift, maintenance.....)
 

leelikesbikes

Adventurer
My 3rd gen ram 2500 standard cab has tons of room in the cab. The hemi trucks are cheap and bulletproof IMO. I have 4.56 gears/lockers, Carli suspension, winch, and 37" tires. I've got about $10k into the truck and it carries a small 8' truck camper. It's perfect for my wife and I and our 2yr old.
 

UHAULER

Explorer
How did you seal the cab to the bed while permitting flex?
The toyota was an 83 shortbed 4wd.Those frames don't flex much. I cut the opening down from the window opening and along the bottom of the bed leaving about a 1" flange along the bottom. I loosened the bed bolts allowing the bed to slide forward to the cab. I believe I used camper shell foam and silicone between the cab and bed and bolted it with 1/4" bolts every 6". This was back in 1990.
 

jeep-N-montero

Expedition Leader
If he is patient he will find what he really wants, in December I bought a 2003 Yukon XL 2500 SLT(same as Suburban 2500) with 126k miles from the original owners for $5k, a week later I sold my diesel Silverado for 30% more than I paid for it 4 years ago. The Yukon needed a new water pump and tune-up but is in excellent condition otherwise. I am only 6'1" and know for a fact that it would accommodate someone up to 7 feet tall very comfortably.
 

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Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
1st or 2nd gen Explorer.
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I know a guy that is a tall/skinny 6'7" and he drives one of each of those Explorers.
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Does your buddy sleep inside it? Because that's one of the OP's requirements too. I don't know how long the interior of an Explorer is but I'm fairly certain it's less than 6' 5" (OP's minimum requirement.)
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If sleeping inside, 4wd and <$7500 including baselining is the requirement then the only thing I can think of that fits that is either a full sized pickup with a topper and a long bed, or a GMT-400 or 800 Suburban (and the 800 is going to be tough to find in that price range unless it has high miles and/or needs a LOT of work.)
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If the budget is tight, I'd almost prefer a lower-mileage, more gently used GMT-400 Suburban over a higher mileage, thrashed out GMT-800. I believe the later GMT-400's had passenger airbags (not sure what year they got them) but all of the GMT-800's do, as far as I know.
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GMT-400 Suburbans are pretty common and I've heard they're fairly easy to work on (no first hand knowledge though.)
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EDIT: Just realized everyone hear might not speak GM so I'll translate: GMT-400 = Suburban/Yukon/Tahoe/Silverado/Sierra from ~1991 to about 1999 (pickups had different model ranges from SUVs) and GMT-800 = GM trucks from ~1999-200 to 2006 - 2007.
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The GMT 400 Suburbans had either the 5.7 (350), 7.4 (454) or diesel (don't know the displacement off the top of my head - 6.2 maybe?)
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GMT-800's have either the 5.3 (1500 models), 6.0. (2500 models and GMC Yukon Denali and Cadillac Escalade models), and 8.1 (2500 models only. ) AFAIK there was never a diesel option with the GMT-800 trucks.
 
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spectre6000

Observer
1997-on 2500 Suburban in the price range is pretty much what we're after from the sound of it. I ran the pass through pickup truck/topper scenario, and he didn't seem super keen on it. Sounds like he'd rather hold out for the Burb.

That means 454 or 8.1L (mixing units because GM did for whatever reason). I think the small block 6.0L seems like it sort of negates the whole purpose of a big block. In my mind, it's not about displacement so much as the larger bearings, journals, and the rest of the drivetrain. The Suburban looks like about the lightest duty application for the big block, and the heaviest duty application for the small block, so that leads me to believe the stresses on a small block in that application might be pushing the boundary of reliability. Also, I think i already mentioned this, but having driven both big and small block Suburbans, the small block can barely get out of its own way while the big block seems far more suited to the platform.

I have reservations about the 8.1L over the 454, because I know the 454 is extremely well supported, and it seems like the 8.1L might not enjoy quite the aftermarket coverage. I could be wrong about that, as it looks like the 8.1L saw duty in a number of aftermarket applications (box trucks, motorhomes, and the like). Any insight on this?
 
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