Overlanding has existed about as long as the automobile itself. Long before the interstate highway system, motorists traveling to and from towns and destinations across the country had no choice but to take unpaved, untraveled roads. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone are some of the most famous forefathers of the pastime, taking Model T’s into the wilderness to go camping as early as 1914. Today, overlanding is synonymous with rugged body-on-frame behemoths stomping through bogs, side-stepping toppled tree trunks and competently carrying passengers through otherwise unsurpassable terrain.
Though most off-roaders today shelter passengers in a protective steel cage, that’s not how overlanding began. Henry Ford and his overlanding party, the “Vagabonds” had most of their adventures in a Model T soft top, essentially a pup tent with wheels and a 20 horsepower engine. Thanks to the soft top, overlanding was done in the open air, the way it was intended. The Vagabonds and their Model T’s set a precedent for the next century. Some of the most iconic overlanders in history have gone topless and it’s no coincidence that they’re some of our favorites.
Battle hardened and time tested, today’s Jeep Wrangler keeps strong ties to its forefather. The Model T may have been the open-top off-roading forefather, but the original Willys MB set the standard every overlander should aspire to.
The Volkswagen Thing may look like one of the more nonsensical choices on the list, but its bare-bones simplicity and ruggedness made it great for light off-roading. The Thing’s genetic predecessor was used for desert patrol in wartime, but despite the unfavorable roots, Volkswagen Things were mainstays with surfers and sandy beaches.
1969 Ford Bronco
There’s a reason some of the most hardcore custom-built off-roaders are based on the Bronco: the brutish platform was already a competent off-roader out of the box. The biggest question is: why hasn’t Ford produced a new Bronco?
Land Rover Defender 90
The Defender was directly inspired by the wartime competence of the Willys. Developed after WWII, the Defender also proved to be an exercise in timeless design and engineering. So much so, they’ve been producing them, almost unchanged, right up until this year. Land Rover promised a replacement but said it won’t be out for another year or two.
Even today, a classic FJ40 can hold its own off-road. Its iconic character, fortitude and silhouette only solidify its place in overlanding history. Like most of the vehicles on this list, the FJ’s cult following is well deserved.
Like the Defender, there has been little need to change the Jeep over the decades. If you get it right the first time, there’s no need to fix anything. But that’s not to say a few modifications would hurt.
Laugh if you want, but a Suzuki Samurai can be found at bargain prices, and when your off-roader’s asking price doesn’t break $10,000, you can afford to thrash the dirt roads a little harder with a clearer conscience.
Range Rover Evoque
The Evoque Convertible may be the glamping version of an overlander, but no one is going to complain about the luxurious ride while getting a clear view of the French Alps overhead.