Six Letters Re: Some Thoughts on the Survival Vehicle

Jim –
Read the article [by OddShot] about the BOV and wanted to add a ranching note. Some of us ranchers have pickups with a trailer hitch mounted in the front as well as the back. This makes pulling trailers out of awkward situations easier without having to turn the truck around. Added to a substantial front bumper, it makes front ramming an interesting proposition, as that hitch – with a draw-bar but no ball – would do some serious damage. Kind of like the bronze prow on a Greek warship. Just an idea. – Geoff in ND

JWR Replies: While I’m not an advocate of playing “Road Warrior”–(I’m more of a “hunker down” in place kinda guy)–in my dealings with consulting clients I’ve witnessed quite a few “specialized” custom-fabricated bumper accessories. Most of these were variations of crash bars. (My old friend “Jeff Trasel”, for example, many years ago owned a camouflage-painted Volkswagen festooned with various Marine Corps bumper stickers and equipped with a very stout crash bar.) I’ve also seen all manner of nefarious devices designed to fit into standard 2-inch square receiver hitch channels. The biggest advantage of these is that they can be quick-detachable, allowing them to be kept out of sight in normal (pre-Schumeresque) times. One of these was a clever pair of “radiator killer” spikes. The 1-1/2″ diameter spikes on this were both nearly three feet long. and tapered for just their last eight inches. The bottom one projected directly out from the receiver, at just below “trailer ball” height. The other half of the forked pair was parallel to the first, but about 15 inches higher. If ramming another vehicle, at least one of these two spikes would likely puncture the radiators of 90% of the cars and trucks that anyone might encounter on the highways and byways. When installed in a rear hitch mount, the barbs are a primarily defensive weapon. But when installed in a pickup’s front receiver, they can act as a fearsome offensive anti-radiator weapon.

Hello Jim,
I would like to add one thing to the article by Oddshot. Fix-A-Flat type [aerosol tire sealant] products can freeze and not flow in cold weather, rendering it useless. I learned this the hard way during a recent cold snap here in Ohio. Although I disagree with his comments on diesels it was an informative article. Thanks, – Jeff in Ohio.

Mr. Rawles,
I rarely contribute an opinion here because my expertise pales in comparison to many who are listed in here. The gentleman who recommended the Ford F150 as a base unit for a survival vehicle is spot on. I would go one stop further and recommend a early to mid eighties F150 or F250 with a 300 straight six engine coupled with Fords famous “three speed with granny low” standard transmission. Used to sell trucks to horse and other farmers in the early nineties at a very large new Ford lot. The young guys (me included) bought the big diesels for their stock trailers and the old guys would buy the straight six. Guess who never needed to come into the shop. You got it, the old guys. That straight six will pull almost as good as the diesel including up and down hills with the only sacrifice being a little lower top speed. It is a very simple engine to work on (if you ever have to-very reliable). I still own and use my 1991 Ford diesel but in retrospect would have spent much less and gotten the 300 straight six if I had it to do over again.

From a construction stand point the Fords of that era were built and designed much better than it’s competition. The beds were bolted on instead of welded etc. Their only weakness is a tendency to rust out over the wheel wells.

I am a MOPAR guy who comes from a MOPAR family. But when you take emotion, and prejudice out of the equation, the light Ford pickup of the eighties was indeed the best of its contemporaries for durability and simplicity for your dollar. – GSJ

Sir James,
Tires rot. There is a five year expected useful safe design life. The valving on shock absorbers wear, and their chrome shafts also rust. Replace tires when truck is purchased and once every five years even if tread depth measures (US penny Lincoln’s head = 1/16″ tread depth remains).

I have been driving 1 ton pickups ever since I was 16 years old (in 1964). Over the [intervening 45] years, I have used bias tube type, tubeless, with and without tubes, and radials. While aluminum lug holes can wear and rims can break, their beads don’t rust air leaks as steel rims eventually do [in regions where road salt is used].

My ’72 3/4 ton , owned since new, “3 door” Suburban project now has 17″x7″ as backspacing on more common 16″s mismatched with OEM 16.5″ steel rims. They rusted leaks after 25+ years. The 17″ wheels allow for larger front disk brake upgrades. I use 265-70Rx17″ LR E = 235-85Rx16″ LR E tire diameter nominal 32″ tall, the latter being the most common skinny tire on 3/4-ton and 1-ton trucks.

I advise replacing all moving/flexing rubber, such as belts, every three years and rubber hoses every five years. Yes, I have had family members get 20 plus years, but that takes pure Grace to miss anything in between inconvenient to catastrophic failure.

Replace the mindsets of “can you get by until the lease has run out” or “trade as soon as you’re no longer upside down”. These paid-for bug-out buggies are your best means of not carrying your kit on your back for a decade or more, if you can keep it fed.

My plan is to have a 110 mph-capable, 400 horsepower and 400 pound ft. + 5 speed with overdrive and a gear splitting overdrive (unit gearing) truck capable of towing and stopping five ton trailer loads, firewood, and the like

This truck shall never again be a painted lady or look as fast as it truly is. – Tom K.

Mr. Editor;
See the Expeditions West web site and the vehicles they are testing and past vehicles they recommend for the purpose of traversing cross country in all terrain. These folks could be consider ‘experts’ on the subject. Choosing a vehicle should be like choosing a firearm, where personal experience with the equipment and the users physical attributes can be major considerations in the choice. As apart of an intended hobby, I had hoped to build a vehicle for the purpose and get involved with the sport. As an example I’ll discuss my primary vehicle for the purpose. Because of my extensive experience and knowledge of the vehicle, not so much cost considerations, I chose a 1985 Toyota 4WD fuel injected pickup and spent a fair amount to thoroughly restore it. It is #4 on Expedition West’s most recommended list along with more modern vehicles. They state the major reasons for the choice. Fortunately there are other and more modern vehicles on their list, so there’s something there for everyone.

A quick and incomplete mention of the Pro’s and Con’s of some my vehicle’s attributes. The drive train is essentially a scaled down and lighter version of the Toyota FJ40, and like the FJ40, exceptionally tough. Chevy trucks have been known to bend frames on trails these Toyota’s climb like goats. Albeit a light truck, it can can handle a useful and relatively heavy payload for it’s size, passenger capacity and fuel economy. It offers one of the highest payload to fuel economy ratio found in any gasoline powered 4WD truck.

The 1985 [model year] is the only Toyota pickup with the durable straight front axle and more powerful and modern, yet simple fuel injected motor. A separate computer is not needed to help with diagnostics. Any reasonable mechanic or intelligent young person can handle the job. A small trailer can be towed and navigate tight Forest Service roads, and a larger trailer with electric brakes can safely handle fair amount weight. The truck’s towing capacity is a reasonable 3,500 pounds, exceptionally high for it’s class. In light of a possible EMP attack, it’s major weakness is the computer controlled fuel injection and ignition. The upside to a modern EFI motor is the availability of emission control devices which may need replacement and these parts can be had at lower cost than the latest models. Out here in boonies, we’re lucky that Emission Certification is not required. With some modification, this 1985 model can use the injection system from a 1995 models. Fortunately I happen to have several spare and complete sets of replacement parts for the fuel and secondary ignition systems for 1985 to 1990 models. I also have plenty of spare parts for the rest of vehicle stored in boxes and extra and operational vehicles that can be used as parts cars. The vehicle is common in this sparsely populated neck of the woods and spare parts are plentiful, but not as plentiful as the old Chevys. The key to utilizing the parts of different years and related models vehicles is to have intimate knowledge of the subtle changes made from year to year. A mechanic with such knowledge could be invaluable. I’m not a mechanic by trade, but a passion for these trucks during my youth led me to research and discover the vast technical support and knowledge available on the internet from other enthusiasts of this once very popular truck. To be sure, my parts pile is considerable and includes spare gear sets, transmissions, suspension, and axles, to the now difficult to obtain distributors, cylinder heads and exhaust manifolds and so forth. A complete and spare, yet still running 4WD Toyota truck can be stripped of it’s carburetor and accessories if needed or simply driven as is. This un-restored “spare” 4WD truck is still serviceable and equipped with a flat bed, a good wood getter that can squeeze and navigate though narrow openings and roads. Because of it’s high mileage and other attributes, I do not consider it a primary vehicle. Another complete low mileage and running 2wd of the same year could donate it it’s EFI. It is essentially a copy of my primary vehicle without the 4WD.

Spare and complete sets of stock and oversized tires on rims allow these vehicles to operate on any terrain or road conditions from sand dunes to deeper mud and snow. With only stock sized tires, which are adequate for most trails and roads, these trucks do surprisingly well. Letting the air out of the tires to no less than 15 psi greatly improves there performance in sand. Tall and narrow tires are recommended over tall and wide usually seen as the foot print is actually greater ‘aired down’. The rolling resistance is less on the highway and it ‘bites’ into dirt and snow far better. It is a well balanced choice in off road tires. This is a topic of it’s own and I’ll leave it with a recommendation that 23575R16 tires are the best all around for many 4WD vehicles, including Toyota trucks. No suspension modification is required for most.

Regardless of your choice, a good ‘yard car’ or well used and still running spare vehicle, is wonderful source of parts. Rust buckets are cheap.
New and used carburetors for many full sized and light foreign and domestic trucks are becoming difficult to find.

Rebuild kits for carburetors are a good idea. Although the older Toyota’s are my personal favorite, we also have fleet of Chevy’s, model years from 1964 into the 1980s: a 1 ton, flatbed, dump bed, standard and 4WD Suburbans. Not only do these all run, but: “Hey, parts is parts!” We also have a “Toyolet”, a Toyota FJ40 [that has been retrofitted] with a powerful V8 Chevy motor and heavy duty Turbo 400 transmission, with air lockers and other serious off road features. Even with all it’s fancy stuff, my 1985 Toyota does well off road in comparison while getting 24 mpg on the highway. Although not a practical daily driver, it would fun in the sun and useful in a high speed Mad Max world, yet one would need plenty of stored fuel.

Well, it looks like I’ve ramble on anyway, so it time to quit. Hopefully some of areas covered provide helpful tips and considerations. With all the factors one may consider, a big clue on what to buy could found while driving around the neighborhood. Consider using the tool the natives have found to be the most useful. If old Chevy’s are plentiful, get a Chevy. Then again perhaps it is Ford or Toyota as the popular choice. The local junkyard is likely loaded with parts. Even if an older Toyota is your ‘thing’, be sure to have a full sized carbureted Pickup on hand, preferable a 3/4 ton, and make sure one of those truck is 4WD, preferably the Toyota, especially if you intend to live in a heavily forested area. It may mean taking two trips to get the wood, yet it can go where the wood is and usually a pickup is driven mostly empty. As bug out vehicle or wood getter, no full sized can follow it down those very narrow jeep trails or traverse soft deep sand. A Toyota could get between 19 and 24 mpg loaded/unloaded, and a full-sized would get between 8 and 12 mpg whether or not, it is loaded. A full size 3/4 ton should be used and is needed to handle the very heavy work. As always, use the right tool for the job. A 2WD full sized pickup can often be found in better condition and at a cheaper price. A 3/4 ton 4WD Chevy Suburban can be a very inexpensive all around family and farm rig. A late model and nearly new high tech Chevy or Ford might be the worst choice, but always have a low tech truck on hand if one needs or already has such a vehicle. As a retired fleet manager, I suggest keeping it simple. – E.L

Upon reading the recommendations about a “survival vehicle” by OddShot, I see you posted about turning off airbags. I believe that the author was speaking about supplemental airbags for the rear suspension in pickup trucks, not the vehicle passenger protection-type airbags.

He had mostly sound advice, but I’m not sure an automatic is really a liability, a properly maintained automatic is trouble free and will last a long, long time. With an automatic you’re pretty much guaranteed that someone can hop in your rig and drive it effectively. In contrast, with a manual transmission (especially truck transmissions), a person has to have manual transmission experience in order to use it. Things like this most likely would never come into play, but an automatic is a lot easier for an injured or inexperienced person to use. – A. Friendly