A Budget Overlander, Part II – With the necessary capability upgrades sorted, our focus shifted to protecting the soft underbelly of the Forester. Subaru did a fine job keeping most of the vehicle’s components tucked even with the frame rails, but not so well offering skid plates for the vulnerable oil pan, transmission and rear differential. Fortunately, the simplistic design of the chassis makes aftermarket protection both affordable and easy to install. I have a confession to make: when I accepted this assignment I had serious doubts. Before this project I had never thought of a Subaru as anything more than gravel-flinging fun. I found the idea of a mere Forester attacking moderate trails laughable, and I pushed forward expecting to gain little more than a rally-inspired softroader. During a recent trip over the Mojave Road the little Foz shattered all doubts with it’s nimble capability. In the sand and washboard it was the speed demon we expected, cruising along comfortably at around 50mph. On the rocky hill climb after Fort Piute, a trail which rates nearly a 3 after recent storms, it was shockingly unstoppable. We managed to run the entire 140-mile trail in under 24 hours (sight-seeing and camping included) without a single issue. Primitive Racing There are two big names in the Subaru off-pavement aftermarket, but Primitive Racing is the only manufacturer to offer comprehensive protection for the SG Forester (model year 2003-2009). Their full armor package includes three thick aluminum skid plates which provide ample protection to the most vulnerable areas on the undercarriage for about $500. The front skid plate is formed like an upside-down 3/16ths hood, and provides complete protection for the bottom of the entire engine bay. Integrated vents allow for airflow, and options are available for an extra-length “stinger tail” and oil drain plug/filter access ports (we opted to skip the access ports for the best possible protection). Installation is extremely easy: remove the factory mud shield, then install the new skid plate onto the pre-existing threaded holes in the frame. Removing the plate for service is an even simpler four-bolt process. The 4EAT transmission skid plate takes a little more thought to install: an area on the forward corner of the plate is pre-notched for easy removal, as some Subaru exhaust systems can interfere with the plate (ours did). Otherwise, installation is fairly straightforward using existing bolts on the transmission housing. Ample venting is provided, as is a convenient opening to access the drain plug. The rear skid plate is the most difficult… Protection
A Budget Overlander, Part I – My first introduction to Subaru was a rally-ready “bugeye” WRX I happened upon while visiting a Jeep dealership many years back. It looked like a blast to drive, but I was too wrapped up in the rock crawling thing to give it a second thought. Somehow, that bugeye stuck in the back of my mind, and years later when Scott asked if I’d like to take over the ExPo Forester project I immediately thought “oooh, FUN!” It’s All Yours, Now Make It Go The first order of business on our little project was to get the vehicle running. The 2003 Forester had been flogged hard for the first 100,000 miles of it’s life, and the rebuilt EJ251 motor sourced to replace the original motor turned out to have the exact same problem—disintegrated bearings. Our little project was not off to a good start, but clinging tight to Subaru’s reputation for reliability we pressed on. With a little help from our friends at AT Overland I was able to pull the motor and tear it down for rebuilding, then build it back up on the new block over two weekends. The post-rebuild fine tuning tasks such as adjusting the valves and replacing the broken valve guide rod proved simple enough to do in an afternoon. Replacement parts for the EJ251 motor are both cheap and readily available. Do I still recommend the vehicle as a budget-minded overlander, after putting in the work to get the car running? Absolutely: it’s very easy to work on with a minimal tool kit and little knowledge, a valuable trait for any adventure vehicle to have. I have complete confidence I’d be able to find and fix any problem I’m likely to encounter in the field. Note: I am not a mechanic—this was my first experience with anything more complicated than a fluid change. The Most Boring Fun Car I’ve Ever Driven I’d be lying if I said the Forester was nothing but fun. Driving the twisting mountain roads outside Prescott, tires squealing out in pain through the torture of every turn is fun; launching over cattle guards at foolish speeds is fun; drifting around dusty backroad switchbacks is fun. But when it’s parked, it is one of the most generic looking vehicles ever created… A tastefully built-up SG Forester is a true sleeper. Simple, subtle, and unassuming in it’s appearance; devoid of anything flashy that… Capability
This was the first real outing for The Mule, our new-to-us generator-hauler-turned-expedition trailer. In the past we’ve been unsure about the compromises proposed by towing while on the trail. Despite being poorly equipped for the task our Mule has proved to us it will be well worth the effort. It has earned itself a real suspension, a matched set of tires & wheels, and a good kit of on-board support equipment for our longer treks. The little trailer made the entire trip without issue until 20 minutes outside Laughlin, where one of the el cheapo Wal-Mart tires exploded, probably from a cholla picked up in Lanfair Valley. Luckily, I was able to borrow a bigger trailer from a friend to go pick it up…… Proof of Concept Wrap-up
This began with an exhausting Craigslist search for what I thought would be the ideal long-term camping and canoe hauling platform: an old Datsun truck-bed trailer. The last long trip we took saw 500 pounds of water sitting in the back of the Disco with all the other gear, and even with the OME heavy duty springs it was not fun to drive. We ended up supplying water for most of the group during the first few days just to get the weight down. After finally tracking down a trailer that didn’t disappear before I could reach the seller, we made the 8-hour drive down to Tuscon only to realize that the Datsun’s bed would be way too big for what I had in mind (the constant question was “Would I have been ok towing this on the Navajo trip?”). Fortunately, we found this little… The Mule
1,294.3 miles of driving, hiking, climbing and exploration over 239 hours, 43 minutes and 4 seconds (about 11 days). We encountered just about every sort of weather possible (short of a tornado or a hurricane), but somehow it always seemed like just the right weather for the moment (or the picture). Many thanks to Dave of OAUSA for setting this up, the Navajo and our guides for their hospitality, and everyone else who participated in making this a wonderful trip. I would have to say the highlights for me were a 3-way tie between the Poncho House ruins on day 6, the snow/rain in Monument Valley on day 8, and Tom’s peach cobbler… all of these would be hard to beat. All of the pictures from this trip can be found in the Flickr set » Note: the geo-locations for many of the pictured sites have been kept private to protect the sensitive cultural and natural features in the Navajo Nation. If you would like to visit some of these places for yourself I suggest visiting OAUSA to find out when the next trip will be.… The Navajo Expedition: Recap