Overland Expo West 2017 – Part 3
[The following video in this post weighs in at 300MB, so those on limited cellular data plans may prefer to not click on it in order to save their bandwidth for higher things.]
On the last day of the Expo, Land Rover opened up their test track to other vehicles, and three remarkable rigs showed up to take advantage of the opportunity. One was some kind of huge, ex-military truck, one was the little Pinzgauer (also ex-military), and one was an Earth Roamer XV-LT, a model no longer in production. (The XV-LTS “luxury expedition vehicle” that replaced it boasts 1,200 watts of solar, a 90-gallon freshwater tank, and a maximum range of 900 miles. It also carries a battery pack rated at about 1,000 amp hours capacity. Yow.) This is the rig that starts at some $438,000 and change, being based on a highly modified Ford F-550 chassis. Due to its personalized license plates, I am convinced that this particular Earth Roamer is owned by the president of the company. Who was actually behind the wheel at the track, I do not know.
You’ll notice a few things about the footage. First is that each vehicle tends to stop and start, and even reverse at times. This is done as tires leave the ground, locking differentials are engaged, or for various and sundry reasons. Some parts of the video have been sped up to twice their normal pace. This stands out for the military behemoth and in particular for the Earth Roamer, which even then still appears to crawl along very slowly. That’s because of their high center of gravity and the rocking momentum created by tilting the vehicles over at a severe angle. Proceed slowly, and all you have working against you is a high center of gravity. Go too fast over a suddenly-tilted surface, and the rocking side motion of the vehicle can get too much weight shifting too quickly too high up, toppling the rig onto its side. Impatience can get very expensive, and each of these drivers is obviously aware of that.
You may also notice that the two modern Land Rovers on the track do just fine, despite having all the suspension articulation of a cast iron stove lid. That’s because of the sophistication of their drivelines, applying and disengaging power to each wheel automatically, when needed. Under most surface conditions (being carefully limited by the design of the test track), going along on two or three wheels does not pose a problem. The decrease in tire surface in contact with the ground leaves the remaining tires with enough grip to power through the momentary overload. On a few surfaces though, it’s better to keep all four tires in contact in order to maximize traction. 4,000 pounds on two tires is not always as effective as the same weight spread over four, but that gets technical and I won’t go into that here.
The other reservation that old-school overlanders have with the modern trend in design for small vehicles is the sheer complexity in electronics required to properly control the drivetrain. Complexity breeds opportunities for failure, which in the lonely outback can prove to be a dangerous liability. In their view, simple systems are less vulnerable to malfunction than complex ones, particularly when exposed to vibration, dust, and water incursion. It’s an issue of trust. In practical use, modern 4×4 systems can handle trail conditions that earlier systems cannot, but the phrase that must be added is “as long as they are working properly”. This particularly applies when the modern trends of intentional handicaps like low-profile tires with street treads, mediocre ground clearance, and brittle suspensions are added to the mix. Take the home run star out of the lineup with an electrical connector vibrating loose, and you’re left with a team having no other remaining strengths to rely on.
As for the Earth Roamer driver, he’s got guts, I’ll say that for him. I thought I might see a YouTube moment a couple of times, but he got the big XV through by going at a very slow crawl and picking a less hazardous line at some points. It made me grateful for rigs having an inherently lower center of gravity. Risk management. The Earth Roamer is a large vehicle, though certainly not quite as large, wide or long of wheelbase as some others at the Expo. It may drag its butt at the start of the hillclimb and threaten to topple over on the lumps, but it is equipped to handle the less spectacular features that put a tire into the air, something which I cannot claim for the stone-stock Mighty Furd with its tired limited-slip rear diff. Once again, it comes down to your needs, your money, and your preferences.