Glenda is a 1991 Mercedes 300GD (the G is for “Geländewagen” - how great is that??).  Mechanically, she is completely stock except for 31” tires and a modest brush guard on the front bumper.  On the inside, we have built out some simple shelves to hold our kitchen kit, food, personal belongings, backpacking gear, and spares/recovery equipment.  We have also removed one of the three rear seats to make room for a cooler and additional water storage.  On the outside, we have fitted her with a small Autohome Columbus roof tent, space for two jerry cans (one for diesel and one for water), a 48” Hi-Lift Jack, and a 2x2.5m awning from ARB.

After a year of discussion about how to make our intercontinental rig, we settled on a few key principles.

  1. No vans, no sinks.  We wanted our trip to feel more like camping and less like RV’ing, so we opted to find a SUV that could work well on rough roads.
  2. Simple and efficient.  After several discussions with mechanics, we decided to find a vehicle with as simple of an electronics system as possible.  Glenda’s 111hp OM603 diesel engine has no complex electronics and is used on countless 80’s-90’s Mercedes sedans around the world.  Spare parts are relatively inexpensive and available.  Coupled with a 5-speed manual transmission (5th gear is overdrive), she is also reasonably fuel efficient for a large vehicle.  Fully loaded, we’ve averaged 19mpg so far.
  3. Keep it stock.  We decided to look for a vehicle that could handle the roughest roads without needing complex customization.  G-Wagens come equipped with locking differentials, tons of ground clearance, and a low range.
  4. The cool factor.  If you’re keeping score, Goals 1-3 (and general practicality) should have pointed us squarely towards an older Toyota Land Cruiser or 4Runner.  We opted for a Mercedes because the old ones are very reliable and totally cool.  The driving position is also great! Imagine driving an aquarium.   Finally, Otto’s 549,000 mile 26-year journey is a huge inspiration.

We bought Glenda used from the Netherlands with the help of a third party.  Being a used truck, we budgeted $3-5k in maintenance/overhaul.  For us, we had the steering rebuilt, replaced the front springs and did a range of small electrical repairs.  Aside from one blown glow plug, the engine and transmission have treated us very well so far

Our favorite gear:

Power: Having a second power source is key - both for keeping devices charged and giving us the ability to self jumpstart if necessary.  We have the NOCO Genius Boost HD GB70 on board which provides ample power for many laptop and phone charges and sufficient current to cold start a diesel.  It can be recharged from a running engine, an AC outlet, or a small solar array we keep onboard. (Thanks William!)

Water Storage: Short Term: MSR 6L Dromadery, used around camp day to day. Backup: Frontrunner’s NATO-style water can with Brass spigot.  Used when we’re away from water for multiple daysSkip the plastic spigot and upgrade to brass.

Sleeping: Autohome Columbus Roof Tent.  We’re carrying a normal tent as well for backpacking, but day to day, sleeping in this wedge-shaped wonder is a total kick.  Recommendation for overlanders on a budget - while expensive new, folks sell these used on Craigslist! We were seeing about 1 posted every week for 25%-50% off MSRP.  Boat fiberglass patch kits and marine adhesive can reseal minor scrapes and scratches. (Thanks Dad!)

Software: Motion-X GPS iPhone/iPad App.  Whenever we head off a paved road (on foot or on wheels), we’re sure to have a paper map, compass and downloaded topo maps on our GPS app to help us navigate.  We’ve used Motion-X GPS for years, and it continues to serve us well around the world.

Moving forward: 

We have had Glenda serviced regularly and continue to do so in South America. We are carrying key spares and fluids to expedite any repairs that might be needed on the road.  Thanks again to our families for the late nights helping us with the modifications, Collie Autoworks and OCD Custom Cycles and Auto Repair for working their magic, Monumental Workx for their help with windows and electronics, Scott for the pre-shipment check, and the community at for the great advice and connecting us with resources in the US and South America.