Expedition-ready 4x4s are all the rage now. Everyone seems to be building their own overland vehicles, including automakers themselves. And it isn’t a hard thing to do; add lift kit, bigger tires, some lights, and a roof rack. You’ll think that you too, can drive your brodozer to Africa. But in reality it’s used for driving the kids to school, going shopping, and occasionally to a ski lodge over a snow flurried road.
Still, people buy sports cars not necessarily because they want to go fast. They buy them because they like the idea of going fast. And they buy them because it gives them the ability to go fast. Same thing applies to overland built 4x4s: knowing you can if you wanted to.
Dan Grec is an author and an explorer. Sometime ago he made a plan to travel extensively throughout Africa. His 80,000 mile trip will take him through 30 countries over roughly two years. For that he needed a proper vehicle. It wouldn’t be something that’s commercially available, because something like that did not exist. It had to designed and built for the sole purpose of Dan’s huge African adventure.
Dan’s vehicle had to be reliable and dependable. It had to be big enough for him to live in but small enough to fit into a shipping container. Dan started off with a 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. For living/sleeping there is a pop-up camper roof. For electricity there are solar panels. There is a water tank with a filtration system. The interior is furnished with custom cabinets to keep everything in.
Per the above map, Dan is about half way into his journey now. He has entered into Nambia around Christmas. From my personal experience, Namibia is one of the most beautiful places on earth. He will then follow the coast to Cape Town and then head north toward the amazing Victoria Falls. He’ll then continue through the center part of the continent towards Egypt. I think the most challenging part of the trip is still ahead of him.
So, this 2017 Hooniversal Car of the Year nominee is a vehicle that was designed and built with a purpose. It has been completed and documented, and is currently halfway through its planned journey. It has gone, and is going, where few dare to go. In the world of dreamers, it is the real thing. It is a machine made not to get from one place to another but rather around a substantial part of the world. It is for that it deserves to be called the 2017 Hooniversal Car of the Year.
Follow Dan’s adventure on his website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Vehicle modifications, abbreviated, in Dan’s own words:
The build of my Jeep is extensive, with each modification carefully thought out and planned. The build focused around primary goals, I will lay out the rationale and decisions for each.
Weight was a primary consideration for each modification, as was limited interior space.
Goal 1: Strong 4×4, big enough to sleep in, fit inside a 20 foot container.
- 2011 Jeep JK Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
- 8l V6 Gasoline engine, 6 speed manual transmission.
- Locking front and rear differentials, electronic sway bar disconnect.
- 10 axle ratios.
- 4:1 transfer case ratio.
Goal 2: Extremely capable off-road
Two years around Africa, especially West Africa, requires a very strong 4×4 vehicle. I chose the Rubicon for the factory diff locks, stronger D44 front axle, and low range transfer case. In addition to that, I have added:
- Suspension: Stronger and improved handling with mild lift – American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) 2.5″ lift with Geometry Correction Brackets.
- Bumpers: Radiator protection, stronger – AEV Front with Skid Plate, AEV Rear, Tire carrier and High Lift Mount.
- Tires: All-round performance, extremely durable, mild clearance increase – BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrain 34×10.5R17.
- Wheels: Extremely strong – Mopar Steel Winter Wheels 17.
- Recovery: Going solo for two years, I need to be able to get myself unstuck.
- Lighting: Inside and out, being able to see is a must
- Snorkel:AEV with Pre-Filter for extreme dust removal with K&N filter.
- Engine Skid:Rugged Ridge Engine/Transmission Skid Plate.
Goal 3: Interior living space
A two year expedition is not a vacation, this is my life. Given that I’m building my Jeep into a house on wheels, I want interior living space – to be able to escape the bugs, the rain, or even just escape the world for an evening will help keep me sane enough to continue.
The build and design is centered around a Pop up roof and interior cabinets I designed and built.
The roof is lighter and more aerodynamic than a roof rack + Roof Top Tent combination.
- Pop-up Camper Roof: Ursa Minor Vehicles J30 popup camper, customized open rear area.
- Interior: allows for standing, sitting and sleeping in the rear of the Jeep – Removed back seat & carpet, custom built cabinets for camper setup using:
Goal 4: Improved Sleeping, Cooking, Eating
Two years from Alaska to Argentina on my previous expedition taught me a lot. I love camping, though after two years I was done with Ramen noodles and tinned soup. I want to eat vegetables, cheese and meat. I want to sleep up off the ground out of the mud. With that in mind, the following modifications where made:
- Fridge: 35L Dometic CFX-35.
- Kitchen & Cooking: Coleman Single Burner Gasoline Stove.
- Shower: Keep it simple, keep it light: 10L MSR Dromedary Bag. I hang in the sun for heat.
- Fan for sleeping: Light, charges off USB, has speed settings and internal battery
Goal 5: Ability to be self-contained for weeks at a time
My aim to to get far off the beaten path, so I need to be able to support myself. With that in mind, I added:
- Water System: Water is the number one limiter for days without resupply
- Batteries: Isolated batteries mean I can run the fridge for days without starting the engine
- Solar: To charge the second battery
- Additional Gasoline: A range above 500 miles is a must: Titan Fuel Tanks 13 Gallon Transfer Tank. (Total Range ~600mi.).
- On Board Air Compressor & Tire Repair: self-repair is a must
Goal 6: Secure Storage for all my stuff
The stock Jeep glovebox and console are just plastic, and the hood does not lock. I improved that with the following:
- Secure Storage:
- Additional Locks:
Miscellaneous Other Modifications and gear
- Navigation: I drove AK-Argentina without a GPS. I’m not doing that again.
- Electrical: I don’t like inverters – they are inefficient, heavy and hot.
- Tools & Spares: Just the essentials.