Wheels

Modifications, upgrades, customizations, and general tech
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
Converting a Disco into a Camper – I’m not fond of ground tents, roof tents, or any other piece of canvas-walled silliness—such shelters should be tolerated when the destination or mode-of-transport leave’s no other option, not adopted as the go-to solution. I hate rattles. I can’t stand clutter. I abhor loose, unsecured gear. I don’t have kids and I don’t take prisonerscarry passengers. I do prefer the comfort of hard walls, lockable doors, and a well-equipped galley…so long as they don’t limit my options on a journey. I also happen to have a Discovery II at my disposal, essentially a trail-ready postal truck disguised as a luxury station wagon. The rear of a Discovery II is downright cavernous, especially when gutted. 46 inches from carpeted floor to headlined ceiling, 63 inches from wall to wall, and nearly seven feet of length to work with over the center console (front seats forward). The Discovery II is why I don’t own a teardrop trailer. The Cargo (and on-board systems) The goal was to keep weight low and clutter non-existent, with a full camping load-out below the deck. In practice there is also room for clothes and personal gear, except for hanging jackets/shirts and my camera gear of course. The cubbies from top to bottom, left to right contian: driver’s clothing and personal gear, water tank, passenger’s clothing and personal gear, standard sleeping gear (pads, pillows, blankets), more water tank, complete toolkit (everything I need for every task on a Discovery), optional trip-specific gear (cold-weather sleeping gear, Little Red Campfire, shower mat, etc), slide-out galley (and food), and freezer/fridge (beverages and food). On-board water flows from an 11-gallon tank riding low and center under the deck. In the rear passenger footwell hangs a SHURflo 3.0GPM water pump, water distribution lines, and a back-up gravity fed tap (just in case). Taps are located at the rear passenger door and above the galley. The rest of this space holds recovery tools so they can be accessed without opening doors (just move the seats), and to keep weight low. It’s also a good place to stuff flip-flops and muddy boots while sleeping. Sleeper and galley systems are powered by a secondary Group 31 battery behind the rear left wheel, which recharges via solar or while the engine is running. This placement is opposite the spare tire and main battery to help maintain weight balance. 12-volt extension cords, fold-up solar panel, and other accessories are also stored in this… Sleeper
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
An on-going, ever-changing list of equipment and modifications – Basic Equipment: 4.6L Rover V8, factory drivetrain, 3-inch lift, LT285/65R18 tyres (33-inch tires) Project Goals: mid-range exploration and overland travel, moderate load carrying capability over challenging terrain, in-camp comfort and convenience Modifications and Upgrades: OME HD 2-inch Lift, Columbia Overland 1-inch Spacers, ARB Bullbar with 12k TJM Winch, custom rear bumper and swing-out, HLCfab Sliders, fuel tank skid, front and rear QT diff skids, dual Odyssey 2150s, Lightforce LED 180 forward lighting, LED rock/camp lights, roof storage and rear awning in development, 2-meter/70cm radio, Viair on-board air, inline thermostat, 35-qt. fridge/freezer, 11-gallon on-board water system, WindowSOX, upgraded rear door panel, nano-camper conversion with permanent camping loadout… Disco Specs
Wrapping up the Bumper Project – At long last: here’s the details on Ulysses’ rear swing-out. This swing-out carries a full-size 285/65R18 (33×11.50) spare, Hi-Lift Jack, small Eezi-Awn K9 Table, 42-liter Alubox to store water/propane hoses and the water heater, and a 10# propane tank to fuel the stove, water heater, and fire pit. License plate lighting is provided from a set of LED bolt lights. The framework is made almost entirely from upcycled steel salvaged from a friend’s old teardrop frame, and it all rides on an A-to-Z Fab Mega-Duty Hinge. Building the swing-out atop the already squared and straight bumper was a much simpler feat than building the bumper, so on to the fabrication photos…… Swing-out
Sometimes you just have to D-I-Y – After two years of waiting for either delivery of the rear bumper I purchased, or a full refund of the rather large deposit, I’d had enough: it was time to look elsewhere. Discovery II rear bumpers are a tricky thing—a combination of unusual curves and angles, lack of frame tie-in points on the long overhang, and the general lack of symmetry on these trucks creates many challenges in the design process. As a result, most bumpers on the market are either prohibitively expensive or extremely ugly. RTE Fabrication’s rear bumper is arguably the best looking of the bunch and has a beautifully near-factory appearance, but I couldn’t get over the jungle gym they use for their swing-out. It was clear there was only one way to get what I wanted: a custom build. Once again I enlisted help from the exceptionally talented Dave Argust to design and fabricate all the little (and big) parts necessary to pull this project off. Prototyping on something like a Jeep can be fairly easy—straight lines and a body tub that ends cleanly before the bumper mean you can bolt on practically anything from the frame back. While the mounts are similar on a Discovery, the body is blended into the (frame mounted) bumper through several pieces of molded plastic, all designed to flex and bend just enough to allow for body movement. This meant building much of the bumper in place on the vehicle, and installing and removing the bumper dozens of times to check clearances…tedious work. I’m not a huge fan of the ubiquitous 2 x 6″ oval lights found on so many aftermarket bumpers, but I do understand now why they are used so often: few DOT-legal brake lights exist that are small enough to fit on a slim 4-inch bumper. I wanted brake lights, not for legality, but because I needed the “high” lamp to restore the rear fog functionality Land Rover gave us. Fortunately, just as the bumper was nearing completion Grote released a brand new tail/brake lamp with integrated reverse lights dubbed the “2-in-1.” Installation hardware attaches via the original bumper mounts on the frame. Access to the bolts hides underneath the new lights, which sit almost exactly where the original reverse and rear fog lamps once did. As an added bonus the trailer wiring is now safely up and away from trail obstacles, with 4- and 7-pin connections built in. Building… Rear Bumper
Lighting the way with Lightforce’s rugged LED driving light. – I’ve long been a fan of LED lighting on vehicles. Spending a great deal of time behind the wheel at night, the usefulness of a color-rich, long-lasting, low-current solution for running lights, dash illumination, and indicators was an easy sell for me. Like many fellow campers and wheelers I even went so far as to use them for rock lights on the trail and work lights around camp, but found the early examples of main driving lights to be laughable at best (“dangerously lacking” would be a more accurate statement). As recently as two years ago even the most expensive LED auxiliary lights barely achieved “almost as good” status when pitted against their halogen cousins, unacceptable when paying ten times the price. Needless to say, I was biased against the very idea of an LED driving light, and skeptical that anyone would be bringing even an adequate model out anytime soon. Still, when I heard Lightforce was confident enough to put their name on a new set of spot- and combination-beam LEDs I jumped at the opportunity to see what they came up with. Breaking open the boxes to reveal the new lights I was immediately impressed by the clean, subdued looks and solid feel of the black and gray metal chassis. The included pedestal-style bracket mounts vertically or horizontally to the vehicle with either one or two bolts, and supports a wide range of angles when attaching the light housing. Additional mounting holes on either side of the housing are provided for direct mounting, as well as a top mount for attaching a stabilizing bar if the lights will be used for racing. Like most of Lightforce’s lights, the LED 180s are ruggedized against dust, water, impact and vibration (IP68 and mil-spec standards)—so they can handle the stress of being mounted low on a vehicle’s bumper. The LED modules are rated for a service life of 50,000+ hours. With the flexibility of the mounting options, installation and final adjustments are a breeze. Since the vehicle we would be testing the lights on had not been decided yet, we received a generic harness with the basics necessary to wire up the lights. Lightforce does offer harnesses with several different plug options for a plug-and-play connection with a variety of OEM vehicle wiring setups. Output from the LED 180 is nothing short of amazing—Lightforce has done a fantastic job bringing so much light out of an LED system while minimizing the negative effects typically found… Lightforce LED 180
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 little extra warmth and organization – Most Discovery owners, if they’ve had the vehicle for any length of time, have figured out that the structure of the interior panel on the cargo door is barely adequate for the OEM tire changing kit Land Rover places in it’s large storage pocket. While suitable and inexpensive options are available, all of them are metal. Given the sleeping arrangements inside the vehicle, I wanted a panel with at least some inherent insulating properties… so I decided to build one out of some scrap 12mm birch left over from the sleeper project. While I was at it the door latch was moved to a more accessible location above the raised floor, and an organizer was added to provide additional storage. The finished product is coated in the same bed liner as the rest of the sleeper, and now noticeably reduces noise and heat loss.… Cargo Door Panel
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
High-output, low amperage peripheral lighting – I’ve been wanting flood lights to either side since buying the vehicle. The front windows are tinted, which is a godsend during an Arizona summer day, but can make navigating tight trails in the dark a bit cumbersome. Having had great results with years of ordering smaller, inexpensive lights from Superbrightleds.com, I decided to try them out with something a little more expensive: high-output floods. I couldn’t be happier with the result. The LEDs have about the same output as a halogen flood, they’re exactly the color they’re supposed to be (identical to the forward firing 5000k HIDs), and the beam pattern is just right for filling in the nighttime blind spots. They are also submersible, waterproof to IP68 standards. The lights tuck in nice and safe between the roof and rack. Update: August 2014 The LEDs continue to perform flawlessly, though I’ve had to remove them due to the addition of a new awning. One set remains on the back to augment the reverse lights. I’ll have to come up with a new way to light up the sides, but at least the wiring is already done for forward and rear lights.… LED Floodlamps
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
Less Spaghetti, More Cooling – I made the mistake of performing a coolant flush on the Discovery last year, which in it’s life had never experienced problems with the cooling system. It was long overdue, but instead of being a simple matter of replacing old coolant with new it turned into a nightmare of unstable running temperatures, genuine “repair” failures, and frustrations with the original Land Rover design. I decided it was time to toss out the complexity, hard to find parts, and acid-based coolant and build something better… Inline Thermostat