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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The Nissan Pathfinder is just at home on the trial as it is on the road.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". The message is about making choices and, how the road taken made all the difference. Often in life and on the road, we have to make one choice. Take one road. No turning back. I thought of this poem on my recent test drive in the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder in the hinterlands of Montana, when I could take two different roads—paved and dirt—and that made all the difference!

Nissan has redesigned and retooled its fifth-generation Pathfinder instilling greater latitude for buyers who want to travel both types of roads and expand their adventure footprint. After seven decades of off-road development, 35 years in the business of selling Pathfinders, and with more than 1.8 million sold in the U.S., this Japanese automaker has moved the needle with a ground-up revision of the previous-gen model.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a capable off-roader.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The full-sized sport utility is available in four trims (S, SV, SL and Platinum) and two- and four-wheel drive versions; Nissan expects that nearly 60 percent of buyers will choose four-wheel drive. The Pathfinder is in a segment that has grown larger each year as more families want a vehicle for around-town, school and playdate runs and for weekend getaways with traction technology that allows travel in the backcountry and good towing capability. Direct competitors are the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Ford Explorer.

A day-long drive of approximately 150 miles on tarmac and over a variety of dirt roads and tracks provided the opportunity to assess the Pathfinder's updates. A late-spring snowstorm added slickness to all the road surfaces in the region and allowed the Pathfinder to show off its traction capabilities at both slow and higher speeds and with lane change and emergency-braking maneuvers, when towing. I concentrated my evaluation on the augmented hardware and software designed to enhance the crossover's capabilities for backcountry travel and towing.

What I found most notable over every road surface was the comfortable ride and responsive handling that come from a collection of upgrades—and, in particular, as a result of the following: the gearing on the new nine-speed transmission, with paddle shifters for personal and more precise shifting for sport driving and slowing over rough terrain; the new terrain mode system that's engineered for different driving conditions; the four-wheel drive system that moves torque more quickly to avoid wheel slip; the improved suspension system; and new tires with a larger contact patch and more aggressive tread pattern, among other changes.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Pathfinder's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Pathfinder provided sure-footed motoring and comfort over uneven surfaces. Its 7.1 inches of ground clearance easily maneuvered over the small obstacles on the trail and hill descent control took the reigns without hesitation for steeper and longer downhills on traction-compromised surfaces.

I was also impressed with the Pathfinder's towing competence and appreciated the standard trailer sway control onboard all trims. It offered notably strong, mannered acceleration from a standing start and excellent straight-line braking without porpoising for either exercise.

The new 2022 Pathfinder brings off-road and towing attributes that are important to families who are seeking to spend time in the backcountry for days trips and longer and for overlanding in terrain that doesn't require a true off-road vehicle with a low range. It's will appeal to buyers who want don't want to have to choose only one road.

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The winner of the Charles Schwab Challenge earns this resto-modded Dodge Power Wagon.

Photo courtesy of the Charles Schwab Challenge

Newly crowned 2021 PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson will be among a group of international golfers vying for the lowest score at the Charles Schawab Challenge PGA Tour event in Fort Worth, Texas this weekend.

The winner of the tournament will receive a 1946 Dodge Power Wagon that has undergone a complete resto-mod revision by Legacy Classic Trucks. This is the second vehicle the tournament has awarded to a winner with a 1973 Dodge Challenger awarded to Kevin Na in 2019. Na didn't keep the car for long. He turned it over to his car-obsessed caddy Kenny Harms.

The '46 Power Wagon is a nod to the roots of the tourney. This year marks the 75th anniversary of The Colonial, the original name for the event.

1946 Dodge Power Wagon Charles Schwab Legacy Classic Trucks The interior of the truck wears The Colonial's tartan.Photo courtesy of the Charles Schwab Challenge

Under its hood is a 6.2-liter Chevrolet LS3 engine that delivers 430 horsepower. The engine is paired with a four-speed automatic transmission and a custom Atlas transfer case. The rig rides on 40-inch Toyota tires and custom Trail Ready wheels.

Modern conveniences have been added like air conditioning, disc brakes, a long travel suspension, and a 12,000-pound Warn winch.

Because Charles Schwab is the sponsor of the tournament, Legacy Classic Trucks added some special 'Schwab' elements to the model including a Dove blue paint job and a custom 'SCHWAB' tailgate and brightwork. The interior of the truck is upholstered with a tartan fabric in the design of The Colonial's traditional plaid. A custom nameplate on the dashboard acknowledges Ben Hogan's 1946 win that started the legacy of the tournament.

Similar resto-modded trucks by Legacy Classic Trucks go for around $350,000.

1946 Dodge Power Wagon Charles Schwab Legacy Classic Trucks The rear of the truck features a custom tailgate.Photo courtesy of the Charles Schwab Challenge

Uniquely, the truck has inspired a song by up-and-coming country singer Travis Denning called "Grew Up with a Truck". The song debuted last week on Bobby Bones' podcast, "Bobbycast".

Other golfers joining Mickelson at the tournament include Lee Westwood, Jordan Speith, Si Woo Kim, and Sergio Garcia.

The first round of play kicks off on Thursday, May 27 with the second and third round on ensuing days leading up to the Final Round on Sunday, May 30. Tickets for the event are still available.

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