There are a few vehicles that come to mind that rank high in one category or another. The Sherp is an absolute workhorse, but it's incredibly eye-catching and maintenance will be a pain, requiring specialized tools and workspace and parts that are difficult to get. A Baja Bug is about the simplest thing on earth to maintain, and tough as it gets (they quite literally run the Baja 1000 in them), but they aren't much for getting work done, especially if there's a load to haul.
So, here's what I need:
- A truck for the cargo capacity
- 4 wheel drive would be a huge benefit, especially where I am.
- A diesel engine allows for some home-brewed fuel (more on that later)
- A common American vehicle gives me lots of aftermarket parts support as well as junkyard parts for repairs.
With that spec sheet in mind, I present to you the 1991-1993 Dodge Ram pickup with the 12 valve Cummins turbodiesel engine.
It's not much to look at, but it's still on the streets in every farm town and wide spot in the road in the USA. The 12V Cummins is tough as nails , if a little underpowered in factory condition. There are minimal electronic controls, so fewer specialty tools are required for maintenance. They also came with an excellent manual transmission, which further simplifies maintenance.
As they came from the factory, they're really not bad trucks. However, they leave plenty of room for improvement, and can really benefit from a bit of work. My list of modifications is as follows, in order of priority:
- A larger turbocharger, intercooler, and associated tuning. The factory turbo is small, and provides a limited power boost; a larger system makes more power, dramatically improving performance all around.
- A Winch. Winches are useful for moving the truck or obstacles in the way of the truck. Warn is pretty much the gold standard in portable winches, but others will do as well.
- A hard sided bed shell with a locking door. The ability to cover and secure cargo is a must.
- Good tires and suspension. This is a lower priority item, and can be added during regular maintenance. Quality A/T or All Terrain tires are expensive, but worth every penny, and upgraded shocks, struts, and suspension hardware improve ride, load handling, and performance.
- Biodiesel engine. I mentioned the benefit of diesel allowing you to make your own fuel, and simple old diesels like this are among the easiest to run biodiesel in. Swap some hoses, and you're good to run fuel made out of a variety of plant oils.
It's common, it's bland, and it will work forever.