Well shit, Oppo. We did it.

A while back I mentioned a group of us was going to do a ::deep breath:: Top Gear Style cheap car epic overland road trip. ::exhale:: What that really means is we flew to Sacramento, bought cars and fixed them up for less than $3,000 each, and then drove a lazy arch through national parks and BLM land, sticking to back roads and offroad trails as much as possible. I plan on wiring a full write up, same as I did last time, in the following months, but for now I want to introduce the cars.

Taylor’s Tank

Unbeknownst to us, Taylor arrived two days earlier to buy a car. He works remote, so he could do this with little impact to his work schedule. Bastard. His goal was to poach one of the cars we were looking at as a bit of a joke, with the intent to sell it to one of us if we got offended. It was a pretty good plan.

Taylor and I were essentially looking for the same car: manual SUV with a real transfer case. I had pretty well laid claim to the Izusu Rodeo market as I’ve always wanted one, but we were both looking at Pathfinders, XTerras, Amigos, Troopers, etc.

Taylor actually had a bitch of a time finding a car. While he only test drove two, he went to see at least seven. They had various problems like bad brakes, awol owners, “creative” paperwork, and bad transmissions.

So much want!


He did look at my #1, a two-grand Trooper that looked SWEET. Not sure why he didn’t drive it. If he had, he could have saved me the time and heartbreak. More on that later.

With time dwindling, he finally got a bite. A red 4Runner that he had been trying to see for three days suddenly became available. Taylor was supposed to be picking up one of the others of our group, Charlie, at the airport, but luck for him Charlie’s plane was delayed such he got in at the same time as George and I.

Red, or as I called it “Rusty Butt” (Against Taylor will, mind you)


When we all pulled into the AirBnB, Taylor was waiting in the driveway in front of a red 1995 Toyota 4Runner SR5, 5-speed, with keys in one hand and a bourbon in the other. We were confused, alarmed, surprised, elated, enraged, and ecstatic… all at the same time. What a wonderful game he’d played! More importantly, we didn’t have to worry about buying him a car tomorrow, which made buying the other two easier!

As Taylor tells it, after the test drive the seller immediately knocked $500 off his $3500 asking price and a confused Taylor just accepted. He hadn’t anticipated being able to get that much off. Both parties left happy with the deal.

I did a stupid

The next morning Taylor and I set off in the 4Runner and Charlie and George in the rental chariot (a 2017 Chevy Tahoe, surprisingly terrible) to go buy the remaining two cars.


Taylor and I headed off to some suburb or another to look at my most promising lead a regrettably automatic but otherwise clean Rodeo. When we got there, we laughed our asses off at the other thing in the driveway: a 1992 VW Cabriolet. (If you’ll recall, George bought a 1991 for the last trip.)

Visual inspection of the Rodeo revealed it’d been sitting for a bit as it was stuck to the ground with spider webs. Still, it fired right up and the AC worked a treat. I actually really liked it! It pulled well in the low end, despite being autotragic, and in general was a pretty sweet car. EXCEPT… the 4WD wasn’t working. Sadly, haven’t forgotten to bring my OBDII scanner and the seller wanting too much money for the car, we quickly noped out and headed back to view the Trooper Taylor had passed on.


We arrived right as the dealer was opening (but accidentally before he had actually opened) and took a look. Luckily, the car was unlocked so we got to go over it and found no reason to pass. When the dealer, confused, arrived he handed us the keys and sent us out on a test drive. That… didn’t go well. To this day I don’t know what was wrong with it, but when pulling away from a stop at any level of throttle produced a violent shaking and juddering until the transmission slammed into 2nd, at which point all was well.


I really want(ed) this car...


Next up was another Rodeo listed at midnight the night before. When we arrived, the dealer had already started the car (a bad sign) and it was ready for our test drive. Only problem was while “4x4” was plastered all over the listing, this thing was cleared 2WD. The dealer tried to convince me it was AWD, but it wasn’t. It just wasn’t.


After parting ways with that dealer, I had the stupid idea to call him back over and ask “got anything else with 4WD?” He did! A F250 diesel. Sadly it wasn’t going to be “ready for sale” for a few days. Pass. He also had a Land Rover. Ok, any port in a storm. How much? “Three grand.”


Let’s see it.

It is going to look so good broken down at the side of the road!

Turns out it was a 2001 Land Rover Discovery II SE7. Leather everywhere, power everything, dual automatic climate control… this thing was awesome! A test drive revealed no major problems. Engine was great, AC was cold, and the transmission was buttery. Holy fucking shit balls I was going to buy this car.


Shortly thereafter we put a deal together and I was driving away in my Land Rover.

I have been a massive idiot.

After getting back to the AirBnB we decided to park the Land Rover around the corner as a surprise for the others. Because you know… who could be that much of an idiot?!


George’s Trash Can

While all this was unfolding, George and Charlie were on the hunt. His first stop was a dealer that had a 1996 Grand Cherokee Limited that had seen better days. That said, the price was right. He went and took a look, but everything was wrong with this car. The headliner was missing, the 4WD status panel was dead, the trip computer was dead, the interior was from at least three different cars, the lift gate cylinders were shot and it hadn’t been started in at least a month. It was a trash can. Still, it did OK on the test drive and the AC worked well, but he decided to pass.


After that was another dealer with a lifted Grand Cherokee. This one was in way better shape… until he test drove it. This was an experience that he described as “terrifying.” Apparently even for a Jeep the handling was wayward due to the shitty lift, and he got to experience for the first time what he now knows well: Death wobble.

He turned around and paid $1600 for the trash can Jeep.

What could possibly go wrong?

So we have a high mileage 4Runner, a Land Rover, and a beater Jeep to complete an 1800 mile offroad road trip.


(Photo credit TSmith)