Jordan Desert Cruisers

The streets are deserted, save a few lone Land Cruisers parked on the main street of the desert town of Wadi Rum. The Petra-Amman highway, which feeds the town, is closed due to snow. As a result, there are no tourists around, which gives most local people a chance to stay at home, drink tea, and rest, although a few are out there trying to catch solitary travelers like us.

We roam around the dilapidated town that survives by driving tourists around in pickups through the deserts of the Wadi Rum Protected Area. Those pickups are mostly Land Cruisers, which rule this place. Especially the 40 Series driven around every day, despite missing a few items here and there such as door handles, mirrors, wiper blades, indicators, or the odd lug nut.

Karin-Marijke surveys the trail leading us down into the valley. We’ve hiked 75 percent of the 650-kilometer-long Jordan Trail and are stoked to be heading into the fabled Wadi Rum area.

We made it safely down the rugged mountains, crossed the busy Desert Highway, and entered the small settlement of Shakaria at the end of the day with the light fading and a storm looming.

There was no good option of pitching our tent anywhere safe from the advancing dust storm, and so we were delighted to be invited by Ali and his family into their goat-hair tent. With Jordan’s hospitality comes food, tea, and a place to sleep.

At night, the wind picks up quickly and strongly. It shakes Ali’s goat-hair tent to its core and sprinkles copious amounts of desert dust all around us. A few drops of rain on our faces confirm that the roof isn’t waterproof, but luckily the clouds spare us the rest of it.

When we wake up, only the tail of the storm is visible in the distance, and blue skies have returned once more, giving the surroundings a sense of peace and tranquility. Noal, Ali’s mother, brings us tea, bread, za’atar, and date syrup—perfect energy for our last push through the desert to Aqaba.

On entering Wadi Rum, we spot our first 45 pickup, and at first sight, it seems to be in fine condition, only missing a door handle, mirror, wiper blades and a few wheel nuts. Nothing serious.

When I look a bit closer, I am shocked by the dilapidated state of most, if not all, vehicles in Wadi Rum, especially when you squat down and take a different viewpoint. On our overland journey, we certainly have learned our share of bush tactics when it comes to temporary trailside fixing of our Land Cruiser, but it seems the owner of this Land Cruiser has been driving around for quite some time with his makeshift tie-rod end solution.

The 45 pickup appears to be the preferred vehicle to drive tourists and cargo around in the desert of Wadi Rum. They’re easy to fix, and if you have plenty of them, you can easily swap parts. This model has upgraded its blinkers to the later 70 Series, which is a vast improvement over the fender-fixed, vibration-prone originals.

We turn left onto a side street lined with Land Cruisers. What is striking is that most, if not all of them, sport 7.50R16 skinnies—my favorites. There are heated discussions on why fat tires are better, but after looking around these workhorses, my feelings are confirmed that skinny tires simply do the job best in the desert.

A driveshaft safety strap is a chain, metal, or canvas strap, surrounding the driveshaft to prevent the shaft from falling to the ground in the event of a universal joint or shaft failure. I’ve seen a few on old big lorries in South America, but this is the first time I’ve seen one on the propshaft of a Land Cruiser.

The usual missing door handles and mirrors on this shorty. It has problems with the rear door locks and I spot a piece of wood that is used to keep the driver’s side rear door in check. Other than that, it’s waiting for some new shoes.

I have no clue why the blue/white poly rope is there. Apart from that, this doesn’t look like the original front-cross member of a Land Cruiser that has been welded into place. This seems a lot thinner, or is that an optical illusion?

There are a couple of bodies sitting in people’s backyards. Are they waiting to be restored, or are they being cannibalised? This 45 pickup was one of the few that I saw with a big bullbar up front, which had me thinking it might have been a second-hand one from Australia. But then that wouldn’t make sense as this is a left-hand drive. With some tinkering, that frame would be an awesome donor for our own rusted Land Cruiser chassis!

Now here is a tip: if you forget or lose your keys, get out your nail clipper. As time has stripped this barebone 70 Series pickup of all unnecessary plastic parts, I suspect the keys got lost too.

The FJ55 Land Cruiser, aka “Iron Pig,” is a seldom seen stout wagon. And although mirrors and indicators are missing, it seems to be smiling. The custom-made roof rack appears to be holding out miraculously.

A few missing lug nuts here. This is a common and disturbing sight in more places around the world. Such (inexpensive) nuts are there to prevent the wheels from coming off, so in my opinion, they are a no-brainer on anybody’s car parts shopping list.

This poor fellow either crashed or rolled. I don’t know if it has been used for spare parts or if the obvious door handles, mirrors, wipers, and indicators have always been missing. The missing rear axle has me wondering what happened. The keen Land Cruiser observer spots a flipped bezel.

Yikes! I now understand the need for a driveshaft safety strap. Apart from the broken flange, the OEM bolts have a finer thread pitch, increasing the clamping force between the flanges. Common bolts and double nuts should be a temporary fix only.

It looks like some of the Cruisers have simply been dumped along the side of the road. Maybe its owner is now driving around in a newer 4Runner and waiting for the right moment to sell it? I’m curious as to why they installed bump stops on the front bumper. Interestingly, this was also one of the few vehicles in the village that had a number plate.

A 70 Series with an aftermarket fuel cap and an interesting way to prevent losing it. It reminds me of the fuel cap of our Land Cruiser, which the previous owner kept linked to the vehicle with a chain for the same reason.

What to do when you have a nice 60 Series but actually want a pickup truck? Well, here they will put an angle grinder to work and weld a strong frame in the back—voilà. No mirrors, but it still has all four original door handles.

As the sun is setting, we stock up at the local corner store before we are packed into a Land Cruiser ourselves and hauled off into the desert to be spoiled at the luxurious tourist camp of a friend. And, surprisingly, this Cruiser has no bolts or nuts missing. Check out wadirumnomads.com/.

Breakfast is in the dark, and we’re back on the trail, leaving Wadi Rum Base Camp behind us. The sun is emerging from behind the imposing table mountains. We are grateful to have its rays warming our bodies on this nippy morning, but the clear blue skies are predicting a hot day of hiking through burning sand. Hopefully, the next well holds water.

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Coen Wubbels is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer. He and his partner Karin-Marijke Vis, a writer, have been non-stop road-tripping in a vintage Land Cruiser since 2003. They’ve been published in magazines around the world, and in 2013, Expedition Portal awarded the pair the coveted Overlander of the Year award. You can follow their journey on landcruisingadventure.com.