Here on TTAC, one finds recurring references to that elusive “sub-$20k AWD manual diesel wagon”. Clearly, this brief blurb of specs isn’t my dream alone; sounds like a lot of us want such a car. But suppose one cares not for a million airbags, iPod styling, touchscreens, blackbox electronics, or much of the other modern malaise plaguing cars that come with warranties. Suppose one’s warranty is a toolbox, two hands, and a brain. Suppose one wants to get such a vehicle by customizing an older platform oneself, on half the budget. And suppose we add one more criterion: light off-road ability. What does one do?
Here are the basic specifications for the end result:
- Size: must be able to fit a person sleeping in it, but weigh no more than 4000 pounds, preferably closer to 3000. Compact pickups/UV’s
are ok, but a wagon would be preferable, I think. This is primarily a long-distance roadtrip/camping vehicle with secondary offroad ability, not an exo-caged monster-tired rockcrawler.
- Drivetrain: non- (or minimally) electronic, proactive AWD, or
manually operated 4WD.
- Diesel, capable of reliably running on veggie oil in a dual-tank system.
- Age: as long as it performs adequately and I can get parts, the older the better.
- Wear parts must be readily available in North America. Other parts should be reasonably sourcable on this continent (so no Euro-only
engines, for instance).
- The chassis, suspension, ride comfort, and driving dynamics have to be good in at least one of two arenas: on dry pavement, or off-road.
I’d like to avoid a basic-transportation shitbox that’s both mediocre on roads and incapable off of them.
- No slushbox. Three pedals. Ye olde stick ‘n clutch.
- Budget is about $10k. This has to cover the candidate vehicle, either a whole donor vehicle or used/junkyarded big pieces (engine,
trans), and the vast majority of the entire vehicle’s wear items (new parts). Labor costs will be little to none.
Comfort, performance, style, badge cachet, and other criteria not listed are secondary to irrelevant (about in that order). The theme
here is reliable long-term Function. I’m able and willing to do some custom work, including driveline swaps and mild fabrication. So, what platform should I start with, and what should I do with it?
You want something with a diesel, a stick, a wagon/utility body and a fair amount of parts availability in North America? I don’t doubt your ability to keep this hypothetical beast running, but what intrigues me is your ability to do a custom work. I’d start with a diesel wagon and let you figure out how to put a stick in it. My choice? A mid-80s Mercedes 300TD wagon. While the platform totally rocks and has decent aftermarket support, I don’t believe the diesels ever came with a stick. But I am sure you can find a U-shift-it gearbox that’ll bolt up, and the pedal assembly to make it work. If you can’t, hey, three outta four ain’t bad.
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