AAIR Expedition Vehicles

The Old Truck

One of AAIR's first vehicles was a 1989 Toyota 4x4 Extended Cab which I purchased in 1994. It was a V6 and after a few mods it became a very capable offroad vehicle suitable for aviation archaeology outings.

The truck as purchased, shiny with no scratches
After lights, bumper and winch were added
A real mud hog!
Loaded up and heading to a crash site
Camping was simple in the early days
A little off camber action!
More desert mud!
This was a great truck!

While the 10 years and many miles on the 89 Toyota helped me know what I wanted to do to the new truck, the bulk of my knowledge of how and which components to use came from:

The Current Truck

After a run-in with a hidden rock the 89 Toyota was retired at 370,000 miles in favor of a 2004 Toyota Tacoma 4x4. It came equipped with a V6 and automatic transmission. The truck had 24,000 miles on her when purchased and like the 89, it needed a few mods to make her expedition ready.

I rarely go out to just off-road; usually I am trying to get somewhere specific like an old mine, plane wreck, or a place to camp or hike. I built my truck with the goal of having a capable 4X4, but still retaining the drivability. I've driven from Mexico to Canada; often going to remote places in NV, NM, or CA and I have put 50,000 miles on it in the last 2 years. My preferred roads are 2 tracks that are in the middle of nowhere.

75% of my (off pavement) driving is on 2 tracks like those pictured below. I have set up the suspension to allow almost highway speeds on most of them, like a prerunner, but still having 4 wheel drive capability.

With 2 people and full tanks, but no gear, my rig is at 4720 lbs. When I weighed it with full camp gear it tipped the scales at 5760 lbs. I usually get around 15 to 18 mpg.

The Light Racing Jounce Shock System lets her fly and land with ease
A lift, winch, lights, bumper and accessories were added. Tires, rock sliders, skid plates and new shocks soon followed
Driving desert 2-tracks are a fav
Crossing a wash
Leading the pack
Where no one has gone before
More 2-tracks
and no-tracks
Rock crawling with a local club
This is about my limit
Crossing the Gila River

Major mods to the 04 Tacoma include:

  • ARB Bull Bar and WARN 9000lb winch
  • Donahoe coil overs, Camburg arms & manual hubs
  • Deaver springs and Bilsteins in the rear
  • Demello rock sliders and rear bumper
  • Bud Built IFS Skidplate and Belly Skidplate
  • BFG 33X10.5 tires on 15X8 rims
  • On board air
  • ScanGauge II gauge
  • Light Racing Jounce Shock System (Front & Rear)
  • IPT Valve Body Upgrade for the auto transmission
  • GPS moving map display, GMRS & CB radios
  • Dual Batteries, 4.88 gears, and a whole lot more...

The "Expedition" Trailer

Our camping gear was taxing the 8 leaf Deaver springs in the rear of the truck. I had been thinking a trailer might be a good way to decrease the load on the bed. I had been eyeing adventure trailers for a while, but my wife pointed out that they really did not improve our camping "comfort", and if we were going to tow a trailer, shouldn't our comfort be improved? Our current truck camp setup already had a kitchen sink with hot water for dishes and also a shower. If we were going to spend the money and deal with the hassle of a trailer we might as well upgrade for the luxury items we really were after: an indoor shower and toilet. While the Fleetwood Evolution series are no where near as off-road capable as the adventure trailers, my wife pointed out that on the more extreme trips we can still use our current truck camp setup. The Fleetwood could serve the trips were we would only mildly off-road (dirt 2 tracks really), and when we wanted a more permanent base camp.

I have to admit that in addition to the toilet and shower, the thought of having heat, air conditioning, as well as a dry, wind free, place to cook and eat sucked me in too. We settled on the Fleetwood E2 for the floor plan and length. We also looked at Jayco and Starcraft off-road camping trailers, but the Fleetwoods seemed to be built better, had a larger water tank, had a better layout, and looked better (I have to admit that the option of getting the trailer in gray and black to match the silver and black truck probably biased my opinion). I was a bit surprised at how much the trailer dropped the rear of the truck, but I had already decided to upgrade to Deaver 10 leaves to better carry the regular camping gear in the truck.

The Fleetwood E2
Reasonably good off-road clearance
The trailer requires around 30 minutes to setup and about an hour to pack up
Looking at the front with bed and toilet/shower covered. Edge of sink on lower left and edge of table bench on lower right
Refrigerator, heater, and storage on left
Stove and sink
Table setup for use
Storage under the table seats with table collapsed
Front bed
Dual propane bottles and battery
Blue hose is for washing off. Gray hose is the shower drain line
We are quite happy with the trailer