When we set off from California in Glenda, our 1991 GWagen last October, we were not sure what the future would hold. We loved our 4x4, and the prospect of its simple engine and sturdy chassis made us excited for whatever was in store. Aside from a couple hiccups in the USA and Colombia, things were going great. And then the smoke started. Between Bogota and Quito, Glenda became harder to start, less powerful and continued to blow more and more white smoke. Something was wrong.
Four weeks and one engine rebuild later, we decided to send our beloved truck home early and continue to Patagonia without her. While we’d love to have continued with our truck, we have lost too much time to make it to Patagonia before winter at a reasonable overland pace.
Our new project: travel by plane, train, boat, bus, SUV, foot and horse down the Andes and into Patagonia. Overlanding is still a big part of the journey. We hired a “Glen,” a 2001 Landcruiser to get most of the way across Bolivia, and a Ford Escape named “Belinda” to carry us down Chile’s Carretera Austral
Elise and I have spent a long time discussing our experience driving something as unusual as a GWagen through South America and we hope to share a few thoughts here:
The Good: Driving something weird brings energy into a trip
It is so much fun getting to drive a car that we’ve dreamed about. We love the look, functionality, shape and character of Glenda. It was truly special to build out the exact truck we wanted.
What’s more, driving Glenda turns heads and piques curiosity. It is a great way to meet locals and fellow travelers. People have stopped us in every country we’ve visited to ask about about our truck and share their enthusiasm and experiences.
Most importantly, as we discussed in this blog post, The GWagen community is unlike any we’ve met before. From James and Jessie, to Mark, William, Scott and Alyson, Stefan, Ernst, Gunther and all the contributors to clubgwagen.com, other folks who drive weird cars clearly get their appeal and are so helpful whenever someone needs a hand. You all have been one of the most special and unexpected parts of our trip.
The Bad: Driving something weird can take energy away from a trip
As we understood it, our 300GD has the same engine as many of the Mercedes sedans of the late 80’s and early 90’s, making parts readily available. While that is mostly true, we learned that there are slight differences in key components of the engines (OM603.931 vs. OM603.913) that can make sourcing spares difficult. Coupling these quirks with Ecuador’s import duties and customs delays proved to be a real headache and time sink. It could have been avoided with a more common vehicle (and us understanding these differences better). While it has been incredible learning about how to fix issues from some truly skilled mechanics, our timeline did not account for the weeks required to source these few special parts.
The Conclusion: go for it, but strike a balance between the good and the bad.
For every gear head, petrol head and curious tinkerer out there, go for it. You’ll learn so much, have a blast and meet the friendliest, like-minded people on the way.
When your time is precious, however, and a few week delay can throw a wrench into your larger plans, perhaps consider driving something a little less weird ;)
Jeremy, Elise and Glenda