Over the past five years, overlanding has grown from a fringe outdoor activity to a multimillion-dollar industry. Between Covid drivers and social media spreading the word, more car/outdoor enthusiasts are venturing overland. These excursions include driving to extremely remote campgrounds with all your gear that can be easily used in or on your vehicle.
In fact, the 2022 North American Camp Report shows that nearly 51 percent of city campers tried to land. An increasingly popular event where overlanders gather to display their vehicles is: Destination Outdoor. I went to Blue Ridge, Georgia last weekend to see some of the passion projects for myself.
You’re probably wondering why a Chevy Tracker made it into our list of the coolest rigs at Destination Outdoor. Listen to us.
While it may look like a kid’s bath toy, it’s actually an incredibly capable off-road car. Under the skin, it has a good body-on-frame construction, allowing better articulation on uneven terrain. It’s also one of the smallest vehicles I’ve seen with a well-selectable four-wheel drive system and auto-locking hubs on the front axle. The Tracker’s short wheelbase and fairly chunky 29-inch tires make it an off-road weapon.
The owner bought the car used with some of the exterior modifications already installed. So far he’s only added a lift kit from Old Man Emu to replace the existing springs and dampers, which were pretty tired. Everything else came with the truck when it was bought – snorkel, solid tires and all.
Toyota 4Runner Starlink Setup
While most Destination Outdoor builds had exterior mods, this one was all about what’s inside. Mobile internet solutions have traditionally been difficult for overland enthusiasts. The pre-Starlink days involved prepaid internet plans that were notoriously slow and expensive. Fortunately, Starlink internet was the last piece of this puzzle for many digital nomads, as we see here with this built-in Toyota 4Runner – also pictured in the thumbnail.
The vehicle owner (who wished to remain anonymous) said finding a good signal is actually quite easy with the system. Internet speeds via Starlink at the Toccoa Valley campground in Blue Ridge were pretty solid, at 45 Mbps. The reception at the camp was able to provide a clear HD stream of the Georgia Tech vs Pitt football game without interruption.
Lexus J201 Concept
The Lexus LX570 platform has an excellent reputation as a base for overlanders to begin their build. Based on the same underpinnings as the Land Cruiser, it’s comfortable, reliable and virtually bombproof. Anyway, Expedition Overland — the build’s curators — say the J201 embodies “Omotenashi,” a Japanese phrase that describes hospitality and mindfulness.
The callsign J201 is a reference to the chassis code of the LX570: URJ201. To the casual observer it probably just sounds like a jumble of letters and numbers; however, overland enthusiasts will know it means an off-road monster.
Numerous accessories such as tough all-terrain tires, after-market bumpers/skid plates and many other off-road goodies make the J201 quite a behemoth. While overlanders often adjust gear ratios to optimize performance, the Expedition Overland (EO) team put a Magnuson supercharger on top of the LX570’s 5.7-liter V8, adding 170 horsepower, bringing the total to 550 horsepower. .
Power is great, but it’s nothing without control. Thankfully, EO has added all the off-road gear imaginable to the J201. This includes 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T III tires (which can be re-inflated with the onboard air pump), a pair of limited-slip differentials and extensive suspension upgrades. This capability is combined with Cbi rock slides, skid plates and off-road bumpers to protect vulnerable components.
Firestone Toyota 4Runner
This 2016 Toyota 4Runner with a rather attractive Firestone wrap has a surplus of off-road equipment to suit the owner’s specific requirements. It is actually owned by Isaac Van Essen, one of the curators of Destination Outdoor itself.
The wheel and tire package includes a set of forged 17-inch Black Rhino wheels wrapped with 33-inch Firestone Mud-Terrain tires. These are sturdy and completed with a Dobinsons MRR triple adjustable lift kit; the new setup is just big enough that a slight lift is a good idea to keep the tires from rubbing properly on all surfaces in the fender.
Up front you can see the aggressive Cbi bumper, along with a Warn winch and a Baja Designs light bar and fog lamps. Cbi skid plates and rock sliders flank the sides and undercarriage of the vehicle to protect critical components from rut damage. Then, at the rear, a full-clearance bumper is assembled by C4 manufacture. The end result is one of the most striking 4Runner builds I’ve seen.
It’s no surprise that all these adjustments add quite a bit of weight to the vehicle. Without the ability to add power, Essen says re-shifting the vehicle was the only other option. That is why this 4Runner has a much shorter gear set of 4.88 (the standard 4Runner comes with 3.73 gears). Higher numbers here mean “shorter” gears, which provide more torque.
J80 Toyota Land Cruiser
We often hear car manufacturers talk about fitting standard vehicles with tires up to 37 inches. And that’s great. But this Land Cruiser has 40-inch tires.
With a big old set of Maxxis Razr M/T tires, the vehicle is nothing but striking. However, most of you will know that adapting a Land Cruiser (or any other vehicle for that matter) to fit bigger rubber is no small task. Just look at the front of the car that appears to have been chopped off within an inch of its life. Instead of a front bumper, there are just some bits of metal supporting a Smittybilt winch.
Unsurprisingly, the vehicle has a Dobinsons lift kit installed to allow the monster truck’s rubber to fit under the fenders. Other mods include a Precision Steering Components electro-hydraulic steering assist kit. This is a huge deal considering the 80’s series Land Cruisers are notorious for leaking power steering fluid. Not to mention the stock power steering pump that could never compete with 40-inch tires.
Tires aside, my favorite part of the build is the fact that it manages to be aggressive while staying true to the elegance of the original vehicle.
Matt Crisara is an Austinite born with an unbridled passion for cars and motorsport, both overseas and domestic, and as Autos Editor for Popular mechanics, he writes most of the automotive reporting on digital and print. He was previously a contributing writer for Motor1 after internships with Circuit Of The Americas F1 Track and Speed City, an Austin radio broadcaster focused on the world of auto racing. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he raced mountain bikes with the University Club Team. When not at work, he enjoys sim racing, FPV drones and the outdoors.