By on August 7, 2015

Tim writes:

Tim from Hooniverse here, looking to see what you and the B&B have to suggest.

I’m writing for recommendations to replace my ’69 Wagoneer as the Family Dirtwagon. The Wagoneer’s great as a 46-year-old classic, but it’s a 46-year-old classic, and is a little too old, project-y and fragile for what I need. We’re talking about the fourth car in the fleet, aside my wife’s Mazda5 (6MT FTW!), my ’64 Falcon and the ’62 Ranchero LeMons racer.

What’s it need to do?


Tow: I’m looking for something to tow the Falcon, Ranchero or future LeMons/LeMons donors. Also Home Depot or Junk runs.

Dirt/Snow: Remote camping trips at the end of long dirt trails are desired. Additionally, the California Highway Patrol requires chains on 2wd cars the second snow starts falling.

Road trips: Gotta haul our family of 4, plus dog, plus gear in relative comfort to far away places. AC is a must, EFI and/or overdrive are big plusses. Right now, the Wagoneer gets passed up in favor of the Mazda.

Condition: Doesn’t have to be too pretty and can need some work, but I really don’t have time for a major project.

Durability: I’m anticipating having this thing a long time, so durability and fixability are priorities over, say, an extra 3 mpg or heated seats. I don’t really trust half-ton trucks for this, but maybe I’m mistaken.

Cost: Definitely under $10k and more like $5k total (purchase plus fixes).

Right now my prime candidate is a 1991 Suburban 2500 as it’s the last year of the square-body solid axle, but the first of the 4L80E heavy-duty overdrive. Going back a couple years, I lose the 4L80E for a TH400, but still have EFI after ’87. Diesels are tempting for the mileage, as well as the CA smog exemption that might allow a future 6.0-liter LS swap. Same logic applies to finding a pre-1975 example.

Other candidates are crew cab pickups of any vintage or a Centurion “Bronco-burban”. Surely there are more options out there…what am I missing?

— Tim Odell, aka “mad_science”

Steve Says:

I am going to blow your Suburban loving mind and endorse a vehicle that you probably don’t have on your radar quite yet, but should be at the tip top of your list. Especially if you look at your next SUV from an international perspective instead of the boorish old-school American one.

The Mitsubishi Montero of the Y2K-plus era is pretty much the rolling embodiment of what you’re seeking. The 3.5-liter engine and 4×4 combo that was offered in North America is especially strong.

Can tow 5,000 pounds? Yep. Easy to work on? Absolutely. It has the right combination of OBDII diagnostics and intelligent design under the hood when it comes to maintenance. The timing belt is a more than minor pain (about $1,000 for the non-wrencher) which is why I often see so many of these traded-in at the auctions. They don’t have any major problems — just an owner who doesn’t want to swallow that nut of maintenance cost.

Can haul kids, dog and stuff? Without a hitch. I used a 2000 Limited model until about a year ago that handled all the camping adventures of two kids (now 14 and 12) that are heavily into scouting. It was a fun ride that pretty much had every option checked off for well under $5,000 retail. I bought it for only $1,800, but the wholesale market is a different world.

I have owned four Suburbans of your ilk, and honestly, that generation is a bit of a relic. Both of my ’91 models had the smaller 6.2-liter diesel engine and I just couldn’t warm up to the powertrain. Slow as molasses. An interior riddled with 1980s cheapness. There’s a nostalgia factor with these vehicles that’s similar to the old Volvo 240s. The elders are always lionized. But the more modern ’90s versions (740 and 940 for the Volvos) were far better. I almost bought a ’95 GMC 2500 Suburban for nearly $3,000 about six months ago with the same idea in mind and I would take that over ye olde Old Faithful Suburban in a New York millisecond.

But you live in California, so with high used car prices in mind I’m going to recommend you hit ’em where they ain’t with the Montero.

Sajeev answers:

Look, I’m all about the “Auto journo be so cool with obscure tastes in vehicles” shtick. I worship from that same book, but not for something daily driver-like. I like modern-ish technology, often much superior in terms of NVH, fuel and space efficiency, less deterioration from age and most importantly — wait for it — superior safety.

Would you want your family facing a looming accident in a square ‘burb or a newer version with airbags, ABS brakes, superior (probably) crumple zones/roof/side impact protection? While I admire the square body ‘burbs, I suspect they are not the cheap buys they once were, which means you pay more for less. Big mistake, just like Lang’s Mitsubishi!

So let’s be real: if it’s slim pickins nearby, your budget nets you a stupid clean late-90s to mid-2000s Suburban, Tahoe or Expedition in Texas, with plenty left over for vacation/roadtrip delivery. Shopping around Autotrader means you need to get one of my home state’s fully depreciated iron for yourself.

Yes, newer SUVs spank your preferred ‘burb in everything but autojourno street cred. Parts are more plentiful in junkyards, and likely too online. Something like the 2003 Expedition with fold flat power rear seats, an independent rear and (usually) more depreciation than its Tahoe counterpart? Get you one of those, son.

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59 Comments on “New or Used: Red Rover, Red Rover. Should Tim Get A Land Rover?...”


  • avatar
    olddavid

    Now you guys are a Tag Team? I am assuming the editors are aware of your separate proclivities?

  • avatar
    Rday

    LOL. I had a Porsche 911 once. the dumbest decision i made was to buy it but the best decision i made was to sell it and never look back. So anyone that has owned several Porsches is not someone i would trust to pick any vehicle for any reasonable person. So go ahead and buy the Landrover. It must be some ego thing because there are all kinds of other vehicles that are more reliable and would do the job even better. But if you need to be a ‘poser’ then the landrover will fit that bill.

    • 0 avatar
      tooloud10

      I own both a Porsche 911 and a Land Rover. Both have been bulletproof, and I can honestly say that owning a BMW for three years was more stressful than the Porsche and Rover combined.

  • avatar
    WhiskeyRiver

    Unless it’s a rustbucket, why not rebuild the suspension and drop a modern GM LS engine and running gear in the Wagoneer?

    It could be done in that budget. I know it’s “project-y” but I’d be happy with a towing vehicle like that.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Alternative suggestion, 4th generation 4Runner or older Lexus GX470. These things are nearly indestructible. Not sure if you can get them cheaply enough. If there is a Land Cruiser at your price point that would work too.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      1997-2005 Toyota 4Runner’s should fall in this price range. They are very durable and have great off-road ability and stock locking rear differential. You can daily it if need be and they stay tight even after lots of mileage. We pay a premium here in Canada for them, I’m sure they are even more popular in California but there is a reason for that. The Montero isn’t a horrible choice because is a similar setup but it’s not a 4Runner… You can drive a 4Runner for 2-5 years and get your money back when you sell it

    • 0 avatar

      Very tempting, but prices are a little too high while space and towing capacity are a little low.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    Isuzu Troopers.

    • 0 avatar
      360joules

      Um, no. Love Troopers, family members owned Gen 1 & 2, see Gen 3’s frequently where I live but sh!t as tow vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Gen 3? The magic unicorn of Troopers! While offering fantastic torque, I’m not sure the Trooper’s glass jaw (transmission) could handle constant heavy pounding.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          A Trooper’s auto transmission can’t even handle itself for more than 60k at a time without asplode. I love the looks of the thing, but it’s definitely an AVOID for anybody needing something work-ready.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    Personally I’d go for the ‘burban, but then I’m biased as my first ride was a 84 Suburban. Just an FYI, the 00 and newer have less leg and interior room then the old ones.

    Nothing fancy, but a good tough rig, and easy to work on.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      Yes, but the 00 and newer trucks also have the significantly better LM7 or LQ4 instead of the old 350 Vortec. Nothing sucks worse than having your upper intake manifold gasket blow all your coolant out while you’re towing your LeMons racer through a concrete-barriered construction zone outsize Lawrence, Kansas right at dusk.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    How about a Dodge Ramcharger? The 92/93 models were available with Magnum V8s that have some continuing aftermarket support. I seem to recall even seeing a project show once where they dropped a Wagoneer body on a Ramcharger frame/running gear. Maybe I’m biased, my first ride was an 88 Ramcharger.

  • avatar
    360joules

    Old Suburban for your needs. Cheap & abundant parts, nasty interior, death trap in a wreck, superb towing vehicle. Steve’s suggestion of an early 2000’s Montero makes sense in Georgia but not within a tank’o gas driving range of the porous Southern Border. Monteros in California/Cali/Calexico are stolen frequently, driven south, and end up in most parts of Latin America. If you are a worldly traveller, you know to chuckle when you see a Montero outside of the northern parts of North America, because most of these wonderful beasts are sold throughout the world as Pajeros not Monteros.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I am feeling like gas hogs will be dirt cheap in Cali. Luxurious ones too. I am seeing a good number of <10yo Lincoln Navigators for sale within dude's price range.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    +1 on the 08ish+ Navis

    @Sajeev

    “Something like the 2003 Expedition with fold flat power rear seats, an independent rear”

    What about the spark plug threading issues in the period?

    • 0 avatar
      greaseyknight

      Sparkplugs are a problem, but a known and very fixable problem for those engines. IIRC Ford has it down to a science now, and the aftermarket even sells kits to help. I would take it to a good dealer to have it done, as they probably have a tech or two that does them all day.

  • avatar
    slow_poke

    – 4door tacoma’s are out of the price range,

    – 4runners for 5k in the bay area are pretty crappy…

    – maybe a 4 door dodge dakota, or Durango? i ‘bench shopped them a bunch for a while” i worried about the durability.

    – i know its going up-market, but you if you look for a while you’ll be able to find a 4-door tundra between 10-15 and it’ll likely outlast anything else you consider, be a bit safer, end up the being the vehicle of choice for all long trips (w/o punishing the family)

    i got something like that. don’t know about you but i’m busy and figured i should save my “projecty time” for my projects. 1hr on OUR lemons racer is WAY more satisfying (kinda…) than 1hr fixing ratty daily driver… that was my logic. working so far.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    He has to tow project cars on trailers, says he is leery of half tons and you morons recommend monteros and 4 runners? Lol

    I’ll give you the low down, any pre gmt 800 4L60e is guaranteed to blow at some point. So 4l80 is a good idea. I’d recommend the 2500 suburban but I recently bought a sub $5000 gmt 800 2500 4×4 suburban with the 6.0 and 200k. And promptly blew the engine while towing my boat. Granted it weighed 10k and I have had bad luck too but now I don’t trust anything that doesn’t say duramax Allison on the side.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I see the requirements and budget, and “don’t trust a 1/2 ton truck for this” (don’t blame him).

    And I think … “so get a 3/4 ton”.

    Any number of perfectly tolerable F250s, Silverado 2500s, and Ram 2500s out there in that price range, at least around here – and I don’t imagine that central California is too much different.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    SUVs in Texas are usually 2wd. Doesnt fit his needs and is a sin in my book.

    First thought is an Excursion with a built 7.3L. The “Go big or go home” option. Youll never run out of room, going down dirt trails and snow covered mountain passes are fine, but serious off roading will probably get you high centered at some point, and no 22R Toyota is going to be able to pull a vehicle that weighs as much as a small house (youll have to wait for a big 4X4 to come pull you out). You didnt mention serious off roading but I thought it was worth mentioning. Do not get a 6.0L. Its a terrible engine. Id sooner buy a high mileage Range Rover off craigslist lol.

    I agree with a 90s Suburban, Id get a GMC 2500 if I could find it with any engine but the diesel. The sucky diesel is a major factor in why a 7.3L Excursion is preferable overall to this choice. They ride and drive well for how large they are.

    Its too bad the Jeep Commander was awful and the Grand Cherokee isnt large (or distinctive) enough. That leaves the Expedition and Tahoe. Based on half ton chassis, you might as well consider a 2004+ F-150 SuperCrew and the 2ng gen (better looking by far) Avalanche. I think a half ton truck/SUV would be fine for your needs, but thats up to you.

    An International TravellAll is a possible choice, but itd be pretty much the same types of issues youre already sick of with the 60s Wagoneer youre replacing.

    If I could afford it, and had the people to pull it off, Id get a vintage (1960s or so) crewcab Ford or Dodge 1 ton and repower it with a 7.3L/5-6spd in the Ford or a Cummins 5spd in the Dodge. You can find a 3/4 ton 4wd 90s/2000s doner truck and swap everything over (get lucky and find one wrecked or beat up but mechanicly sound). Id go with an aluminum “ute” (drop side) bed (company near Seattle makes and sells them) and a non-dually rear axle. That would hold plenty of gear, be easier to load/unload than a traditional pickup bed, and can even be used as a table or work station. Vintage style, very usable, modern reliable and durable powertrain. Youll never stop answering questions about it at truck stops, though.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The problem with the Excursion is people want so much cash for the 7.3L version. V10s go for nothing though.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Youre right about that. There is the possibility of taking a chance on a high mileage one, which would be a no-no with other vehicles. My dad’s 1999 F-250 7.3L has 328k+ on its original engine, transmission and rear axle (2wd). It has towed a lot and it shows no signs of quitting. He bought it new and it didnt start having any issues whatsoever until well after 200k. Even then, it was just a sensor. A tank of bad diesel shortly after Katrina resulted in 3-4 injectors needing replaced. Original water pump, hoses, fuel pump, etc all lasted past 300k before being replaced. Only other issue was the injector control module located annoyingly between the inner and outer fender. I was able to replace it for him without totally removing the fender, but it was a PITA. Slightly easier than doing a serp belt on a Windstar lol.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Replacing a serp belt on a Windstar is task created by Satan himself.

          I would expect even a high mileage 7.3L to go for a long time. It’s just tough to find someone that wants to sell it.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Repent ye sins and bow to the altar of torque!

            So say we all.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            I struggled for two hours on my 97. Id get it around the bottom and work my way up. Since it turns out that I dont have a third hand, i coupdnt keep it from falling off below. I had no helper so it was frustrating. I could not believe it was taking me so long. It only took me like 25-30 minutes to do the fifty-leven V-belts on my 3.3L I-6 Mercury Zephyr with A/C and P/S.

            I also once had a hell of a time with one on a Vulcan Taurus, but have done it other times with no trouble. I took that Taurus to a little garage and they couldnt get it. I finally had to pay stupid pepjerks $60 to install MY new belt (which of course they told me was worn out until I pulled the packaging out of the trunk and told them I bought it that morning). It didnt help that it was in stormy Atlanta, maybe thats why we couldnt get it (rain making it slip off the pullies during install attempts).

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    9th gen F250/350 crew cab with the 460.

  • avatar

    I have a Range Rover P38 that I bought for $3,600.

    I could shoot the engine block with a .45 and it would keep running.

    The air suspension still goes up and down with 5″ of travel.

    I recently hauled 1,200 lbs of dirt from Home Depot and drove the truck through my back yard to lay the dirt down in the forest (drainage issues).

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Same here, I have an ’01 P38. I find it to be a useful in-between size. Not as huge as a Tahoe/Suburban, but bigger than the Japanese trucks. And waaaay better to drive than anything else. It has an actual suspension! And steering feel! And decent brakes! The air suspension is well worth the added maintenance, it is magical in its abilities. Even side airbags if you care. Great seats too. Some “British character”, but overall it has been less trouble than I expected it to be.

      Plus that warm fuzzy feeling of paying $5K for something that cost $80K new.

    • 0 avatar
      korvetkeith

      Could you shoot anything else and have it keep running? Your probably one hot day from blowing a head gasket as all rover V8s are wont to do.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        You know, there is this funny concept called “preventative maintenance”. When the engine gets towards 150K, you can change the head gaskets BEFORE they have a problem. Then it will go ANOTHER 150K miles without a problem. Odd how this is such a foreign concept (no pun intended) to the average American. My truck lived 12 of its 14 years in Texas, it saw plenty of hot days.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    Chrysler T&C towing capacity is 3600 lbs. Add a tranny cooler and some stick-on wood grain and you’re good to go.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Id much rather have a more durable E4WD Aerostar. The lack of a second slider is made up for by 7-passenger and gear capability from what is pretty much a wedge-shaped AWD 4.0L Ranger/Explorer. I wouldnt trust an AWD Chrysler minivan no further than it would take me to trade it in or sell it.

      I would suggest an Astro/Safari, but I find the foot room in the front very lacking, and Id trust an Aerostar over it as well. For some reason, I always see high 4.3 failure rates in Blazer/etc and the minivans compared to full size trucks. Case in point, my brother has a 1997 GMC Sierra 1500 2wd with 360k on the original 4.3L (but not trans or rear end) and my 95 Blazer required a new engine just before I bought it with 101k miles and was running bad when I sold it not long after when the trans blew and I decided it wasnt worth (for me anyway, since I didnt like it) replacing and dumped it.

      As far as minivans go, if Tim has a JDM ich to scratch, get a 25+ year old Mitsubishi Delica or Toyota (pre-Previa) 4wd van.

      But, since he said that he wants something more capable than a half ton truck, this is all a moot point as a minivan (car or truck based) whould be far from that objective.

    • 0 avatar
      korvetkeith

      Pass me some of that brother. Chrysler transmissions are notorious pieces of shit.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    For a vehicle that is not a daily driver, I’ll second the recommendation for an Excursion. The diesels of any kind will definitely blow your budget if they’re in any way clean/lower mileage examples, but a post-2003-refresh V10 in pretty much any trim level with less than 150k should be pretty easy to find. Yeah, the spark plug issues with the Triton modular engines is pretty well documented, but it’s barely an issue at this point, since everyone knows about it and knows how to address it. Other than that, they’ll tow pretty much anything you can hook to a bumper ball, they’ve got enormous amounts of space, and provided you change the transmission fluid, they’ll basically run forever, although they’ll get 9-13 MPG while doing it.

  • avatar

    Thanks guys.

    My premise is biased by the fact that I grew up with a ’95 Burb 2500 that went well over 100k towing a wakeboard boat (~5k) with no special maintenance, while every one of our friends with boats and half tons needed transmissions every 30k miles. My folks recently ditched an otherwise awesome ’11 Runner for a Tahoe as the 4Runner just wasn’t up to the job towing. (saggy butt, tranny overheating)

    Going smaller is of no value to me on this purchase, as it’s an extra/partial use vehicle. I love midsize SUVs, but they’re at least 3rd place behind most 3/4 or 1/2 ton full-sizers.

    Can anyone comment on the reliability of the 1/2 ton Fords of the late 90s-00s era? I have a general dislike of modular motors, but I could get over it if I knew a 5.4 + (whatever trans) + 9.25″ rearend F150 supercrew would get the job done.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Get the 3/4 burban, it is the best choice no doubt.

    • 0 avatar
      korvetkeith

      5.4s are weak but reliable. Just never try changing the spark plugs. I don’t know how there transmissions are but not hearing much about them maybe they’re ok? I know whatever trans got put behind the 7.3s need rebuilds but you can also find manual transmisions if you shop.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I’d recommend the 11th gen (2004-2008) F150 over the 10th gen (1997-2003). That being said, price may be an issue. The 5.4L is fine, but keith is right; don’t try to change the plugs yourself. With either truck, you’ll end up with ye olde 4 speed. Since it’s roots are in the early 80s, everything is pretty much figured out.

  • avatar

    First gen sequoia may meet the needs but they are ugly.
    Commander with a 5.7 aren’t bad towing either but the room inside is not great.
    Nissan Armada or QX56 seem to do well towing on the RV forums plus their cheap in comparison to more popular options.
    If you want something smaller the Durangos are pretty good other than the cheap interiors. I tow with my wifes first gen durango it works pretty well. Plus 3 rows in not such a huge package.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Kia Borrego?

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    How ’bout a Land Cruiser?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You don’t get much LC on his budget for $5k, because they say Land Cruiser on the back. He’d be shopping the early-mid 90’s FJ80 with extremely high miles. Those are thirsty and worn out, and really do take quite a bit of maintenance with the 4.0 I-6.

      These days it’s difficult to find the one you WANT at the price you can afford, in the condition you desire. Not all of them had rear lockers, only some.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I will agree with Sajeev here, because the heavy duty needs you sound like you have is going to put a much bigger strain on the 00’s Montero (which I have always loved, by the way) than the cheap and much more common V8’ed Tahoe model of your choice.

    *Please note the 00 Montero which Steve had is rather rare, and was available with an Endeavor luxury trim for one year only. It was the last year of the box Montero, before switching to the final generation for 01-06. They didn’t sell many because they were expensive and outdated by that time, and the new model was close on the horizon.*

    Expedition/Nav is also on the table here, but the older ones aged less gracefully than any GM option, IMO. There’s a certain ghetto-fabulous about those gen1 Expe/Navs.

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