Overlanding

Take a right-hand drive JDM minivan into Death Valley? Sure, why not?!

When you're looking for a great overlanding vehicle, you don't always have to go traditional too ensure a great time.

Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

Trekking through California's Death Valley on paved roads in a family car isn't as treacherous as it might have been a generation ago. Modern technology has made air conditioning and engine cooling much more trustworthy.

Venture off of the scorching pavement and the Great Basin Desert can exact a toll upon human and machine alike. A properly prepared vehicle outfitted with skilled, resourceful drivers is a must.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon Andy Lilienthal drives the Space Tractor through California.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

There are precious few vehicles sold in the U.S. market that can handle the sort of overlanding that Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal want to do. That's why they chose to tackle the lowest point in North America with a right-hand drive minivan that was never sold in the U.S.

Indeed, the 1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon (nicknamed by the couple as the "Space Tractor" for the sci-fi inspired styling) may look like a van that was briefly sold Stateside – its L300 chassis was sold here as the creatively named Mitsubishi Wagon. While the US market model was rear-wheel drive and powered by a four-cylinder gas engine, in Japan the Delica was offered with myriad trims and drivetrain options.

For Andy, the Delica obsession started in New Zealand, where he'd driven one for a week – "I knew I had to have one at some point," he said. Six months later, he found an importer with this Delica in stock rather close to his work. The van was lightly rusted making the original asking price too high. The van sat and the price sank to an acceptable price for both parties - $8,750.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon The Space Tractor sits preparing to take on Death Valley below.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

The Lilienthal's Delica Star Wagon rolled off the line with a 2.5-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine that powers all four wheels via a five-speed manual transmission and a two-speed transfer case. When pushing a vehicle far from what most would consider civilization, chasing gremlins caused by haphazard engine modifications can be dangerous. The Lilienthals kept the Space Tractor's engine completely stock, in order to deliver "maximum reliability." Stock doesn't mean the original parts, however – all of the consumables under the hood have been replaced, including the glow plugs, and a strict regimen of oil and filter changes have kept the 90-horsepower oil-burning power plant churning like new.

Ninety horsepower is all that the Space Tractor has on tap to motivate its blunt body down the road. The Lilienthals limit the Delica to 65 mph. "It'd go faster, but just wasn't happy," Andy shared. The couple simply got used to the slow lane, especially in those places with higher freeway speed limits. They found – by necessity, of course – that life in the right lane is simply less stressful.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon Andy Lilienthal sits under the Space Tractor's ARB awning at Red Rock campground.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

Designed for the narrow streets of Japan, the Delica didn't arrive on U.S. showroom floors ready to take the kind of punishment a typical overlanding journey can inflict. The Lilienthals made upgrades. Yokohama all-terrain tires give significantly better traction and sidewall protection from sharp stones. An ARB awning turns a parking spot into a shady picnic area. A BajaRack roof rack gives plenty of extra stowage space. The couple even added custom curtains to make sleeping a bit more comfortable and private.

Overlanding holds a special place in the hearts of the Lilienthals, who met on a road trip. For them, it's a peek back to the days when families almost exclusively traveled cross-country in cars. "Traveling this way gets you away from the masses … [to see things] that haven't been invaded by scads of tourists," said Andy.

They haven't just taken the Space Tractor to Death Valley. Mercedes was partial to camping in California's Alabama Hills, surrounded by "[r]ounded terra-cotta colored boulders and an intricate web of dirt trails." Andy, on the other hand, recalled the treacherous crawl down Lippincott Mine Road in Death Valley, an 8.2-mile long trail with extremely rough terrain – without the extra vehicle preparation they'd add later. No winch, no extra fuel. "The van would go up on three wheels on occasion as we'd traverse bigger rocks and washouts," Andy said.

As much fun as it is, the Space Tractor is only a temporary addition to the Lilienthal's garage. They bought the van as a test to see if they wanted to live with this type of vehicle. While the duo has found that this is exactly what they want, they also came to the realization that the van has some corrosion that will be expensive to fix.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon The interior of the model is well-kept.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

So they decided to sell. Mercedes said that in the three years they've had the Space Tractor, the market has become stronger. $11,000 seems to be the entry price, she said, "We've seen several priced recently around $15-16k, and they are all bone stock."

In their time with the Delica, the Lilienthals found themselves interacting with two new automotive subcultures: Japanese domestic market (JDM) fans of anything forbidden fruit from The Land of the Rising Sun, and van fanatics. Beyond these two subsets, the off-road community further welcomed them with curiosity about their unusual rig.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon The Lillienthals have taken the van to Alabama Hills, California.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

After quickly selling the Space Tractor, the Lilienthals purchased their next rig, a 1994 Mitsubishia Delcia L400 Space Gear, which comes with a more powerful diesel engine than the Space Tractor, and a manual transmission.

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Ford just announced specs for the new hardcore off-roader.

Ford

After years of speculation over the Bronco's return, Ford finally pushed the revived SUV to market last year. The rumor mill immediately kicked back into action with speculation of a higher-powered Raptor version of the Bronco to match Ford's F-150 Raptor here in the U.S. We've seen teases and a short film on the SUV, but today, The Blue Oval announced specs for what will surely be a highly desirable new vehicle in 2022 and beyond.

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor The Bronco Raptor gets upgraded cooling and engine tuning to handle high-temperature operation.Ford

The Bronco Raptor gets an exclusive twin-turbo 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 that makes 400 horsepower, which is a big improvement over the standard SUV's V6 that makes an already healthy 330 horsepower. Four-wheel drive and a ten-speed automatic gearbox are standard. Ford says the Raptor also comes with a new towing mode that allows a max tow rating of 4,500 pounds - a 1,000-pound improvement over the base Bronco. Trail Control, trail Turn Assist, and Trail One-Pedal driving are also present here.

The Raptor gets seven of the standard Bronco's G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) driving modes, including a new Baja Mode that works with the engine's turbo system to reduce lag and improve performance during high-speed runs in desert temperatures. An active exhaust allows four selectable sound modes, including normal, sport, quiet, and Baja, and the Raptor's intercooler helps keep operating temperatures at reasonable levels when running in hot weather.

Using the Bronco's modular design, Ford gave the Raptor unique front and rear quarter panels, fender flares, and door appliqués. The new body components add 9.8 inches to the Raptor's width, and removable running boards help improve rock crawling abilities. Model-exclusive amber LED running lights accent the Raptor's front end, and Raptor logos set the hardcore model apart from its "lesser" counterpart.

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Amber LEDs and special badging designate the much-upgraded Raptor model.Ford

Inside, the Bronco Raptor gets a 12-inch digital gauge cluster with configurable view for vehicle performance and other information. Black marine-grade vinyl seats and rubberized flooring are standard. Orange accents on the dash vents, door netting, and steering wheel help break up the all-black interior, and Ford offers a synthetic suede upholstery upgrade for buyers wanting a little more comfort with their capable off-roader. A 12-inch infotainment touchscreen and 360-degree camera system are also standard.

Bronco Raptor hopefuls can start placing orders in March, but be aware that there will be a wait involved for everyone. Ford says that the majority of 2022 Bronco Raptors will go to existing reservation holders based on their reservation timestamp. It's worth noting that many 2021 Bronco buyers are still waiting for the SUVs, which are being converted into 2022 orders, so the wait time for the Raptor could be severe for anyone without a standing reservation.

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Off-road performance truck

Shelby American announces new Ford F-150 Raptor

Shelby just announced the new truck, which has a starting price of more than $124,000.

Shelby American

The third-generation Ford F-150 Raptor is a true off-road menace, with a strong turbocharged V6, beefy tires and shocks, and a luxury-level interior. Most people would consider the truck overkill for all but the hardest-core off-road enthusiasts, but the wizards at Shelby American have other ideas. As it has done with Ford vehicles for years, Shelby gave the new Raptor a performance makeover, and the finished product is quite impressive.

Shelby F-150 Raptor There's no mistaking a Shelby-tuned Raptor. Shelby American

The F-150 Raptor is already a capable beast, but Shelby turns things up a few notches. Performance upgrades include a performance intake and high-flow filter, an aluminum intercooler, a tune that pushes power to more than 525 ponies and 610 pound-feet of torque, a Shelby exhaust, and a BDS lift kit. The Shelby Raptor rides on 18-inch wheels with 37-inch BFG KM3 Mud Terrain tires.

If you’re thinking Shelby slaps a few go-fast parts on the Raptor and calls it good, think again. The truck’s interior features embroidered custom leather upholstery and exclusive floor mats. A unique serial number plate is mounted in the dash. Shelby also fits billet racing pedals, carbon fiber accents, and deep tinted windows.

Outside, the Raptor gest several touches to let everyone know it’s not a standard Ford. A special Shelby hood with intake and extraction vents is standard, along with power side steps with rock sliders. A bevy of Shelby logos and badging grace the truck’s body, and both bumpers have been replaced with steel units to accommodate light bars and additional tow points.

Shelby F-150 Raptor Shelby fits performance parts and gives the truck a tune.Shelby American

If you’re hoping to be one of the insane few to own a Shelby Raptor, get your wallet ready. The truck’s base price starts at $124,820, which includes the MSRP of the truck itself. That said, it’s unclear how extreme demand and supply chain issues will impact Shelby’s ability to get new trucks to modify.

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