Monday, January 24, 2011

A Jeep, A Sportsmobile & a Ford Bronco : Driving Arizona

In my mind, the vehicle brand names associated with overland adventures include Land Rover and Toyota.  However, in the States, the name Jeep stands out as an overlanders choice.  I was rather sceptical - surely a Jeep could not compete a Trans-continental trip like that of a Land Rover or Toyota?  I have been proved wrong.
Photo courtesy of Scott Brady

I have been fortunate enough to travel to the States for a work conference and to take a few days off to meet with Scott Brady from Expedition Portal and the Overland Journal magazine..  Scott kindly invited me to tag along with a group of keen overlanders from the Expedition Portal.  The plan was to tackle an old trail on the outskirts of Prescott, Arizona.  Our vehicle for the day was a Jeep Rubicon fitted with BFG mud terrains.


A stunning blue sky greeted us at the rendezvous point leading up to Crown King.  The convoy of vehicles included a Sportsmobile, a Powerwagon, three jeeps, two Toyota's and a Ford Bronco short wheel base vehicle.


My first drive of the day was the Jeep.  As mentioned above, I was sceptical that this vehicle would be suited to complete an extended overland trip.  My impression was the size of the vehicle limited the vehicle and the engine size would damage the fuel budget.  Impressively the Jeep Rubicon is bigger than a Land Rover Defender 110.  I was very surprised when Scott told me the dimensions - the Jeep is longer, wider but not as tall as a Defender.  The interior offered the driver and passenger a comfortable ride with decent visibility (certainly better than a Defender but not as open as a Discovery).  The rear of the vehicle could be accessed via rear side doors and a fold up window at the rear. The dimensions made it perfect for a sliding drawer system, whilst the rear doors offered easy access to a fridge and misc storage.

My 2nd drive of the day was in the very unique Sportsmobile.  Lance (Disabled Explorers), the owner, kindly showed me the vehicle, with full disabled controls and a TV monitor connected to external cameras.  These cameras would assist disabled drivers to enjoy the flexibility that overlanding offers without the need to exit the vehicle during difficult terrain.
In my opinion, this vehicle would make an excellent overlander for those interested in travel with families.  the interior is large enough to modify to your needs and has enough space to provide sleeping arrangements for everyone.

My last drive of the day was a 1968 Ford Bronco. I have owned a 1972 Land Rover Series III and thought that the Bronco would perform in a similar fashion to the Series.  Unfortunately no comparison can be made.  The V8 5L engine growls as you gently pressure the throttle.  The automatic gearbox smooths the transition between the gears and the huge tyres roll effortlessly over the terrain.  A fun vehicle to drive but probably not the best vehicle for an extended trip.

What impressed me even more than the three vehicles was the enthusiasm of the people for overland travel. This event, coordinated by Mark (a member of the Expedition Portal) attracted a group of like minded people. Not once during the day did any of the drivers attempt to move beyond the 'boundaries' of the gravel track, and the emphasis on tread lightly was taken seriously.  It was good to see the type of people contributing to the Expedition Portal and their enthusiasm for overlanding and taking responsibility.

In summary, if someone asked me about using a Jeep Rubicon as an overland vehicle, I would have to say that it would be good option.  Prepare and plan well and the vehicle would prove a comfortable, and practical vehicle for any trip.

Additional photos

Additional Links:
Expedition Portal - a very useful forum covering all topics related to overland and adventure travel
Journal Overland - simply the best magazine available.

Thanks:
A quick thank you to Scott Brady for hosting me for the weekend, to Mark for leading the trip on Saturday; To Lance for the tour and drive of the Sportsmobile and to Todd for the drive in the Bronco.