The 80 series Land Cruiser a decent off road vehicle
When I decided to buy a vehicle for an Alaskan road trip, the wish list of features I wanted were: something built on a ladder frame (no unibody construction), solid axles which are less likely to break than something with an IFS, a diesel engine with lots of torque (a gas engine with lots of horse power is great for highway acceleration, but the price is unnecessary fuel consumption and besides in the bush it does not matter how fast you go, it only counts if ya make it back alive), a manual transmission with high and low gears (IMHO an automatic does not give a driver as much control), rain gutters (to attach racks on), a coil suspension (much nicer ride than leaf springs), an easy to clean interior and something that was easy to get parts for and something I would look good in while driving to the mall.....
The following are a list of vehicles I considered and my thoughts.
The Hummer H1, was nice because it had a diesel engine and decent off road abilities, but the ride in town sucks and parts were darn expensive.
The Hummer H2, IHMO is a chick car for rich bored house wifes or a Mr. Mom car based on tonka truck styling
The Ford Explorer and Expedition were designed for people looking to escape the mini van image, and not build all that tough for regular trail head use.
I looked various Land Rovers, but past history with British engines and electrical systems kinda knocked those off the list. Although the Defender 110 did have primal appeal, parts are rare and damn expensive since they only imported a few examples.
I also considered the Nissan Xterra, but it was a too small to carry everything I wanted.
The Jeep Grand Cherokeer was ruled out cause they were basically sedans dressed up as SUVs, and and Jeep Wranglers were too small and could use a stronger axial.
The Subaru Outback and Volvo Cross Country were very very nice station wagons that handled very well and did not waste as much gas as psudo SUVs like the Fords or Jeeps. But they could not carry as much as a truck based SUVs.
The latest 4runner's was ruled out because recent models were morphing in vehicles optimized for city driving, and early models I checked out were totally trashed.
I also entertained the idea of a Styer or a Mog, but the issue there was an uncomfortable road ride getting from where I live to distant places. But I found the price of these extraordinary vehicles is surprisingly inexpensive for their load carrying abilities.
After looking at what was available in California, the best compromise I found was a used 80 series Land Cruiser. The 1993 model fit my mission because it was the first year that the 4.5 liter engine was offered, and the last year that the beefy 440 transmission was offered, the 1994 and models thereafter had a less robust electronic transmission. The 100 series which I also looked at, has morphed into a expensive fashion statement less off road capable than its predecessor the 80 series. I also looked at 60 and 62 series cruisers, but their on road ride sucked when compared to the 80 series. Because I had some experience with cruisers in Asia, Central and South America, etc., I figured why not buy something I have used before.
After I purchased a used soccer moms cruiser, I took off the mud flaps and added among other things: a roo bar (useful for pesky shopping carts at WalMart or the occasional rhino as depicted in some SUV ads), a rear bumpers with the ability to carry two full size spare tires, extra fuel, a roof top tent, replaced the springs and shocks to compensate for the added weight, placed nylon seat covers over the leather (sitting on hot leather kinda hurts), rubber floor and cargo mats, and bought an iPod which plays though a cassette adapter.
So at the end of my quest I was able to create an expedition ready vehicle by buying a used 80 series as a basis, for a modest sum. If money was no object I would like to import a Mercedes G wagon (Type 461 - the civil engineers' version rather than the fancy more electronic 463) with a diesel engine (the old fashion 602 series with no commom-rail injector or variable geometry turbo) and manual transmission to be the basis of my dream weekend expedition vehicle.