After more than a year of looking for a suitable international overlander, I found it in Canmore, Alberta.
My requirements for an overland vehicle are for a simple, basic, strong, honest machine, that will reliably carry me to where I want to go for the next 10 years or so.
After my experience with electronic gremlins on my BMW motorcycle at the end of my 2008/09 trip to South America, I knew I wanted as few of onboard computers as possible. I need to be able to maintain the vehicle myself and to give a proper bush mechanic an honest chance of fixing it, if and when needed, no matter where I am in the world.
So from the start, I knew I would be challenged to find an older low mileage vehicle, that had a good reputation for reliability, that was well maintained, had not been abused, had not modified in any meaningful way, was in good condition.
Frustrated with my search, I started looking at importing a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) or a vehicle from the UK. But they are right-hand drive vehicles, and many countries don’t allow the import of these beasts, even on a temporary basis. I would encounter enough road blocks and detours on my planned adventure without adding to them before I started.
I briefly considered a diesel powered vehicle. However, several European cities are, rightfully, now limiting diesel vehicles from entering. This number is growing, and is sure to continue as the world combats climate change caused by environmental pollutants.
During my search, I examined several first-generation Toyota Tacomas, model years 1995—2004. It ticked all the boxes for what I required for an overlander. I have owned Toyotas in the past, including a second-generation Tacoma, and I knew them to be reliable, and I knew that many overlanders use them for their adventures.
However, most that were available needed a lot of work. Many had rust body parts and frames. Many were heavily modified. Many were abused or heavily used. All had in excess of 300,000 kilometres, a few even approaching 450,000 kms. But the one thing in common with all of them is that they were loved by their owners.
I found the above pictured 2002 Tacoma, in Canmore, Alberta. Three times zones and some 4,500 kms away. I spoke with the owner, who owned a new van conversion shop in Canmore. Seems every second person wants to adventure in a van these days. He was asking a premium for the Tacoma, but his description made it sound solid. It had only 135,000 kms recorded, and he said it didn’t need anything. After the independent pre-purchase inspection was completed, I booked a flight out. The owner picked me up at the Calgary airport and we headed to Canmore. After I took it for a test drive, and did my own inspection, we negotiated a bit on his price. I handed him check, gave more to the Alberta government for a transfer permit, and started driving east that evening. A multi-day snow storm was on it’s way from B.C., and I wanted to stay ahead of it as much as possible.
I stopped at the MEC store in Calgary, picked up some gear, as temperatures were forecasted to drop to -30℃ by the time I got to Winnipeg and northern Ontario. Combined with the storm, and questionable tires, I thought it prudent to have a warm sleeping bag. When I reached Winnipeg, I stopped into to Cabela’s and picked up a Mr. Buddy heater. I figured the supplemental heater might come in handy in the event of an unexpected stop through rural northern Ontario at night.
Five days and 4,659kms later, I arrived back in my own driveway. The Tacoma was caked in ice, road salt, sand, road grind, dirt, and probably other natural and unnatural matter, but she didn’t miss a beat. She started up without a fuss, even at -30℃. I slept in her when I needed some rest, but most of the time I just drove east, mostly through snow and slush, in traffic and deserted rural roads, day and night.
I was exhausted when I arrived back home, four and a half days after I started, but I was also smiling. I knew she would be a good solid base for what I had planned. And I started to understand why people loved their old Tacomas.