Nothing is left to chance when I build an overland adventuremobile, as I have a depth of knowledge and experience to draw from. I lived on the road full time for nearly seven years, first in a 4×4 E350 Sportsmobile van and then in a RAM 2500-based custom expedition camper. Both of these vehicles taught me so much about what I need and what I might want for my style of travel. Add to it the fact that I’ve also been an automotive journalist in the overland and off-road space for more than eight years, which has allowed me to see and try a huge diversity of adventure vehicles. This combined knowledge from my personal travels and my work led me to build the ultimate overland vehicle for my current needs.
“While there is no perfect vehicle out there, there is always a vehicle that is best suited for your needs and desires at a specific time. This is mine—until my needs change.”
This 2013 Lexus GX460 is my latest adventuremobile. It is my daily driver, weekend adventure sports transport, and North American overland adventure machine. While there is no perfect vehicle out there, there is always a vehicle that is best suited for your needs and desires at a specific time. This is mine—until my needs change.
Buying a Lexus
I’ve been looking for a Lexus GX460 for some time now. The vehicle checks a large majority of the boxes on my personal adventuremobile checklist. It is reliable, extremely off-road capable, and comfortable cruising at highway speeds for long durations. It has enough room inside to sleep and a quality payload capacity of 1,472 pounds. It is also a vehicle that just recently became cheap enough on the used market to be popular among off-road and overland enthusiasts and for the aftermarket to notice. It is basically a fifth-gen 4Runner with a V-8 underhood, a comfortable luxury interior, and a uniquely sculpted body.
I found this no-rust, three-owner, full-maintenance-history, 85,000-mile, mildly built 2013 model in Atlanta through the GXOR Facebook group.
“I searched high and low for a quality bumper that offered solid recovery points, a winch mount, grille/light protection and improved entry angle, and was lightweight and looked good. I couldn’t find anything that met my standards, so I designed an all-new bumper with Dorian at TrailReady Bumpers.”
I bought it quickly, as there was a line of about 10 people trying. It came with bumpers, winch, lighting, snorkel, sliders, traction boards, tires, and a lift. A majority of those parts just weren’t up to my standards, however, and were quickly removed. While bling is always nice, functionality and durability are the main drivers to any modifications I have on my vehicles. I’m also adamantly against knockoff products, so the cheap copycat lights and traction boards were the first things to go.
The first thing that should get attention on any modified vehicle is the tires. Quality rubber for the vehicle’s intended use is key to optimal performance. For this overland-style build that sees lots of daily driver duty and time in snowy environments, the BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain is a great choice. I wanted to maximize tire size without having to do crazy modifications, which for this platform worked out to a 33.8×11.2 (285/75R17/E) tire.
Wrapping that quality rubber around a durable, good-looking wheel that has the correct offset for the application is also key. For this build I went with a set of bronze Evo Corse DakarZero (17x8x0) wheels from Main Line Overland. These wheels are forged and finished in Italy, are a superclean design, and won the Dakar Rally on the Hilux last year. If they can hold up to Dakar, then they should be fine for my ride.
Fitting that much tire wasn’t all that easy, however, and doing so included a good bit of wheelwell massaging and a body mount chop. It also required a quality lift and suspension package. I’ve been a big fan of the quality and adjustability of the Icon Vehicle Dynamics suspension systems for many years. I went with an Icon Stage 7 tubular system for this rig, along with 3-inch dual-rate rear springs and rear hydraulic bumpstops. Vince at Mach1 Motorsports in Portland, Oregon, did the full suspension install and body mount chop.
Now that I had the vehicle rolling right, it was time to address the front bumper. The aftermarket bumper that came on this truck had no real recovery points, gave the truck a cleft chin and had cheap knockoff intensity LED lights mounted. I searched high and low for a quality bumper that offered solid recovery points, a winch mount, grille/light protection and improved entry angle, and was lightweight and looked good. I couldn’t find anything that met my standards, so I designed an all-new bumper with Dorian at TrailReady Bumpers.
The now available TrailReadyGXplore bumper was created through 3-D scanning, CAD, and multiple prototypes. It is a truly refined piece of quality equipment that features an aluminum body, stainless steel swivel shackle mounts, and steel tubular guards. It allows for full winch access, from the front and top to the Warn Zeon 10-S winch, access not found on other bumpers for the Lexus GX460. This bumper also has a quality integrated 18-inch PIAA hybrid beam lightbar in the upper grille guard, as well as two PIAA amber LED foglights and two PIAA Halogen driving lights in the bumper body.
Transporting the Toys
I love my adventure toys, and many of them are quite large. I’m an avid whitewater kayaker, surf kayaker, skier/snowboarder, mountain biker and rock climber, along with just about any other outdoor action sport I get an opportunity to experience. The main reason I got into overland vehicles is because living in a van down by the river is the ultimate kayaker dream life.
“Besides horrible fuel economy on premium fuel, the Lexus GX460 is a vehicle platform that I’m extremely happy with and would highly recommend for overland travel.”
Because I carry around big adventure sports gear like kayaks, bikes, and skis, I need the roof of my vehicle to be dedicated to carrying gear. I also need a versatile and large rack system, which also offers up an elevated photography platform. Nothing on the market got anywhere close to meeting my needs, so I worked with Roambuilt to create the ultimate adventurer roof rack system. The rack is all aluminum, super lightweight, and as wide as necessary and as narrow as possible. It has lots of deck space that can support my weight, it holds five big PIAA LED driving lights, and it is completed with a Yakima Skybox 12 and a variety of Yakima rack accessories.
I Sleep Inside
Because the roof is for gear, I either need to sleep outside or inside the vehicle, but not on top. I travel a lot for work and regularly traverse the country a few times a year putting in big highway miles, so I find it essential to be able to stealth camp in my vehicle. This means a comfortable, flat sleeping area that is always set up or really easily deployed is part of the DNA of any adventure vehicle I own.
I worked with Goose Gear to create the perfect drawer system and sleep platform. The setup allows me to retain all my seats but also leave the sleep platform in place most of the time. It was an easy install after removing the third row of seats and putting in the custom Lexus GX460 Goose Gear plate system, to which everything mounts. There are two drawers, and they are designed to allow access to the passenger-side drawer when the MSA 4×4 drop-slide is deployed. The slide is mounted atop the drawers, holds a National Luna 50L Legacy Series dual-zone fridge/freezer and is caged in with an MSA barrier system. The drawers securely hold all my tools, STEP 22 recovery gear, Primus camp kitchen setup, and general camping gear.
My Broken Back
I broke my back about a decade ago kayaking off a big ramp and it’s never been the same. Long days on road trips are tough for me, as I usually end up in serious pain for quite a few days afterward. While the heated and cooled seats in the Lexus GX460 are pretty good, they aren’t very supportive, and the bottom cushion is really flat. By far the upgrade that makes me smile the most daily are the scheel-mannVario XXL seats I installed. They fit my body perfectly, have great lumbar support, have adjustable leg support, are heated, and look amazing. I do miss the cooling sometimes, but that is a small price to pay for comfortable long-distance touring.
This Lexus GX460 already had really nice custom rock sliders, Weathertech floormats, a snorkel, and a rear bumper when I purchased it. I did add a pre-cleaner to the snorkel, both for function and looks. I also added a Lifesaver water filtration/shower jerrican to the rear bumper, MaxtraxXtremes, and an MSA 4×4 bag to the rear bumper mounted spare tire. Inside I mounted a Cobra RoadWarrior radar detector/dashcam, Garmin Overlander GPS, Garmin inReach Explorer satellite communicator, and a Midland GMRS radio. Controlling all the vehicle lighting and electronics is the Switch-Pros SP9100, for which I cleanly installed the switch panel into the dash.
The one modification on this vehicle that is mostly just for fun is the custom graphics wrap. I did a ton of research, worked with some great designers, and then had it finalized and installed by the team at Canby Signs and Graphics. I needed something that would stand out and represent my brand, Exploring Elements, without being too much of a billboard. Instead of a big logo or something similar, I integrated the opposing “EE” design in my logo into a faded-in tire track pattern across the rear quarter of each side of the truck and put the words “Exploring Elements” in small print across the front door rub rails. These little branding elements complement the big bold satin orange stripe graphics. I have always wanted an orange vehicle, so I made it so.
I’m honestly really happy with how everything turned out on this build. I still have a bunch of wiring and electrical work to do, which will include a second battery, inverter, air compressor, and WeBoost cell phone booster. While the rig is really good as it is now, I would like to re-gear it and add lockers, a supercharger, a drop-down table to the rear door, blackout shades, area lighting off the roof rack, and possibly some skid plates. Weight matters though, and this truck isn’t light, so I’m trying to restrain from adding any more gear.
“Because the roof is for gear, I either need to sleep outside or inside the vehicle, but not on top.”
Besides horrible fuel economy on premium fuel, the Lexus GX460 is a vehicle platform that I’m extremely happy with and would highly recommend for overland travel. I’m excited to have been able to save this one from commuter and soccer practice duty. I’m looking forward to unlocking this truck’s full potential on some grand adventures soon.
I debuted this build at SEMA Show 2019, and it will be at a wide range of overland and outdoor adventure events across the country in 2020. For more information on this build, my travels, and gear reviews, be sure to check out ExploringElements.com.
UPGRADES: 2013 Lexus GX460
Platform: 2013 Lexus GX460 4.6L V-8
Suspension: Icon Vehicle Dynamics Stage 7 Tubular GX460 kit with 3-inch Dual Rate rear springs and rear hydraulic bumpstops and coilover covers
Wheels & Tires: 17×8 Evo Corse Dakar Wheels wrapped in 285/75R17/E BFGoodrich KO2 tires
Accessories Outside: Trail Ready GXplore front bumper, Warn Zeon 10-S with Epic Fairlead, Factor 55 Flatlink E, PIAA lights (RF18, two LP530, two 540 Halogen, five LP570 ), custom Roambuilt roof rack, Yakima rack accessories, custom sliders, custom graphics by Canby Graphics, Dobinsons rear bumper, Maxtrax Xtreme, Dobinsons Snorkel, Sy-Klone 9001R Pre-cleaner, Lifesaver water filtration jerrican, Fuel jerrican, MSA 4×4 spare tire bag, PIAA wiper blades
Accessories Inside: Goose Gear Custom Drawer System/Sleep Platform, Scheel-Mann Vario XXL Seats with Planted Technology Brackets, National Luna Legacy 50L DZ fridge, MSA 4×4 fridge slide and barrier, Optima Yellow Top, Switch-Pros SP9100, Cobra RoadWarrior Radar, Garmin Overlander and inReach Explorer, Midland GMRS, Step 22 recovery gear, 7P 4×4 Adventure Donut, Weathertech floormats, Primus Camp kitchen equipment
Enjoy this story? Enjoy the whole issue … for free! Click here to download your FREE copy of Tread March/April 2020.