New or Used: Red Rover, Red Rover. Should Tim Get A Land Rover?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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.

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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  • Gedrven Gedrven on Aug 08, 2015

    How 'bout a Land Cruiser?

    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Aug 10, 2015

      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.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Aug 10, 2015

    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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