Overland Has Evolved – Bless me khakis for I have wandered. It has been two Expos since my last confession. You might have noticed the complete lack of content from the 2016 show, save for a passing mention of walking five miles in last May’s 52 Hike Challenge update. The fact is, as good as it was to catch up with friends in Mormon Puddle last year, I was left feeling quite “meh.” Now that’s not a reflection on the show itself, nor the hard work and excellent job the Hansons and their team do to make every Overland Expo happen—I have nothing but love and respect for them and their efforts. No, it was directed at the overland-o-sphere in general: I lost faith in the overland industry’s willingness to evolve and grow, and I’d become jaded against the overland market’s unwillingness to mature out of rampant segregation—created by both the titanium-clad and the budget-minded alike. So much preaching of how this community of adventure-seekers was different, bound together by our common interests; but the actions spoke louder. The walls built by so many, to mock or often shun anything that was “too expensive,” or “too cheap,” or “too heavy,” or “too minimalistic” said volumes. Weren’t we supposed to be sharing libations and learning from our differences? I mean, we all just want to travel by any means possible, right? Those walls finally crumbled this year. Whether caused by overlanding hitting the mainstream, or the new venue reaccommodating elites amongst the commoners at random (I like to think that was a deliberate stroke of genius by Roseann), the end result was the same: we all felt like equals. No booth, no table, and no camp felt unapproachable; all parts of the show felt warm and welcoming. I sat in a half-million-dollar camper chatting up the owner for advice on a clapped-out budget build. I shared a beer with a fellow gearhead in a $2,000 Subaru, and wasn’t thought snobbish or out-of-touch because I apply lessons learned from Land Rover. It was a reoccurring theme through each encounter from Wednesday’s Gear+Beer event until our departure Sunday evening. I was reluctant to attend, but I’m glad I put aside doubt and showed up for what became the best Overland Expo yet. Three more things stood out at the show: Overland has indeed hit mainstream. Yakima released their own line of rooftents, Nissan sees an emerging opportunity to legitimize their truck line, and traditionally offroad/racing types are pushing the comfort and endurance aspects… OXW17
An on-going, ever-changing list of equipment and modifications – Basic Equipment: Naturally aspirated 2.5L Boxer 4-cylinder, 35mm spring lift, 215/70R16 all-terrain tires Project Goals: quick and efficient backcountry travel over mild-to-moderate terrain, light-duty load carrying to remote hiking/biking trails, economical all-weather commuter Modifications and Upgrades: +35mm Ironman Spring Lift, KYB GR2 struts, Primitive Racing full armor package, prototype rock sliders, snorkel (raised air intake), OEM Oil Cooler, Maxtrax, Yakima Load Bars, Yaesu GX8-R 2m/70cm radio, Living Overland on-board water, front and rear bumpers in development… Foz Specs
Sir Clax-a-Lot gets some Shade – Eezi-Awn introduced a high-quality, entry-level awning to their lineup a few years back, with a price point low enough you’d be hard-pressed to compile the tarp/poles/clips/stakes/lines setup for less (especially once you consider setup/teardown times and a frameless tarp’s general lack of longevity). The problem was, to mount the awning you either had to make a sizable investment in a matching roof rack or be handy enough to fabricate your own brackets. This, along with the low roof line of the Foz, kept an awning off the build list for the original Budget Overlander project. I love awnings. If I had to pick a single most beneficial item the overland trend has brought to our shores it be a toss-up between the vehicle-mounted awning and efficient 12-volt freezer/fridges. Summer is upon us again, and I wanted some shade for several upcoming Forester-based trips to the desert. Enter Bomber Products: they machine a sturdy bracket out of solid aluminum that will bolt to just about anything, Yakima and Thule bars included. Even with all of the mounting hardware in it’s lowest position, the car-side edge of the awning is five-feet ten-inches off the ground—plenty of height to keep the bulk of the awning well clear of my six-foot frame. As an added bonus, the back of the awning sits just behind the side rails of the Forester, so rainwater running off the awning will pass through the roof’s drain channels and not down the side of the car. Now I just need to talk Bomber Products into producing a universal MAXTRAX mount adapter…… Awn a Subaru?
Sir Clax-a-Lot, Breathing Underwater – At first blush the entire concept sounded absurd. Then I remembered a few unexpected water crossings we’d taken the low-riding Forester through on previous trips. The car made it across just fine, but I’ll admit a few more inches of depth might have spelled trouble. Do I think a (non-rallied) Foz really needs a snorkel? No…but considering how inexpensive they are, the unexpected performance gains, and the looks a Forester with a snorkel gets on the trail, it was worth it. Absurd, but worth it. This guide is written based on a non-turbo 2003 model. If you’re doing this on the turbo version or a different model year you might find a different story under the hood and need to adjust your install accordingly. As always, this article is for educational purposes only and I assume no liability if you screw up your car, set your garage on fire, or drown your Scoobaru doing something stupid. Here’s What You’ll Need A snorkel for a 1990-1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Diesel. These can be found on eBay for under $140 USD shipped. I ordered mine from this guy down in Australia, and it arrived within the week. The correctly sized allen key, wrenches, and a rivet gun for the snorkel’s hardware…figure these out after you receive the snorkel so you know you have the right sizes. An 8mm, 10mm, and 12mm wrench and/or socket-and-ratchet. A flat-head screwdriver for the hose clamps. A 3-inch hole saw. A drill, with various sized bits for the snorkel’s hardware. Sandpaper and/or a dremel tool come in handy for smoothing out the rough edges. Assorted 3-inch intake ducting and elbows, or flexible intake tube (recommended). Silicone, rated for use near oils, fuel, and high temperatures since it’ll be under the hood. Lock-tite (red). Push-on weather strip, rubber trim, or an old 1/4-inch hose to pad any rough edges. Prepping the Car You’ll need to remove the air box and a portion of intake tubing (see photos above), as well as the fender liner so you can access the backside of the fender. Alternately, if you’re really worried about rain getting into the motor, you can keep the air box, cut a hole in the side of it for the snorkel, and figure out how to close up the original intake at the front. I chose to remove it, as other owners have reported no issues with rain getting sucked in, and… Snorkeled
A Budget Overlander, Part III – Wrapping up the Forester Project with a few simple upgrades to both vehicle and driver. The first time I packed up the Forester for an overnight camping trip the rear end sagged down to the bump stops, it clearly wasn’t the kind of “truck” I’m used to driving. Building this car has been a long lesson in keeping things simple and light. Though Subarus are built like Legos, modifications and cargo have to be carefully planned out to maintain a good balance between weight, handling, and power. Mechanical Upgrades The Forester’s brakes are adequate out of the box, but if you’re the type that enjoys long “spirited” drives through the mountains you might find them just a bit lacking. Brake fade is a particular endurance problem on the base model, which has drum brakes out back. Fortunately the fade can be minimized without the complexity of swapping in rear disc brakes. After looking at the Brembo option (which would have cost as much as the car itself), I decided to take a chance on the off-brand but highly praised Power Stop set of drilled and slotted rotors with high performance pads. The gamble paid off: for about $125 the brake fade is all but gone and the car now stops with confidence. The only other mechanical weak point we’ve run into are the front CV axles. Fortunately, even with the suspension lift they’re good for at least 50,000 miles. At first blush that might sound nuts, but bear in mind they only cost $45 and about 2 hours of work to replace. Electrical Upgrades A 90-amp alternator comes standard in the Forester, which seems perfectly matched to any reasonable accessory load for a vehicle this size. We’ve had no trouble running a variety of accessories simultaneously, from air compressors to radio equipment, so we chose instead to focus on preventative and convenience upgrades. First up was a DieHard Platinum Group 35 AGM battery (essentially an Odyssey PC1400) to replace the original lead-acid unit and ensure reliable power in the field. The DieHard features 850 cold cranking amps, plenty of reserve power for in-camp use, and a 4-year warranty. I love drop-in upgrades… Next we addressed communications. Though surprisingly capable, the Forester is more about adventure outside the vehicle than inside, so we opted for the flexibility of a hand-held radio. The Yaesu VX-8R ruggedized handheld allows for the convenience of a mobile unit when pared with an external mic and antenna, while retaining… Kitting It Out
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
The Forester project stretches its legs – It was the shop calling, and far too early for new tires to be mounted and a four-wheel alignment done. I had been warned the tire size I selected for the project “just barely doesn’t fit,” but ever the optimist elected to follow the well-documented build of a certain Forester-of-the-Month—a build with the same size tire and no lift. “We can squeeze it in there if we do a little trimming on the plastic bits.” Reluctantly, I gave the go-ahead… Make It Taller