Vintage Explorers: 7 Adventure Vehicles for the Perfect Off-Road Trip

Steep slopes, muddy trails, river crossings and scree slopes turn a garden variety trip into a journey. Adrenaline junkies, take note: off-road excursions are just as exciting as transcontinental road trips, if not more so.


Few things say adventure like hitting the open road in the latest sports car or super sedan — unless you want to take your adventures off of the beaten path. Steep hills, muddy trails, river crossings and scree slopes turn a garden variety trip into a journey. Adrenaline junkies, take note: off-road excursions are just as exciting as transcontinental road trips, if not more so. Set yourselves up with any of these great vintage off-road adventure cars and you’ll see why. They might not boast the creature comforts of modern off-roaders, but they’ve made their mark on history, and they’re sure to make exceptional memories too.

Land Rover Defender 110

Debut: 1983


Engine: 3.9L V8
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Horsepower: 182
Torque: 227 lb-ft
Weight: 4,840 pounds

Modern Alternative: Ford Sportsmobile

The Land Rover Defender, much like the Jeep Wrangler, is a more refined (barely) version of a no-nonsense military vehicle. Derived from the original Land Rover Series I, the Defender remains one of the most rugged off-roaders ever built. But off-road prowess aside, it was built to be stupidly simple; some say the Defender can be fixed with just a hammer if the need arises. (Which it might, being a Land Rover and all.) And, with its cavernous interior space and long roof that’s perfect for racks and tents, the 110 is an ultimate overlanding machine.

International Scout 80/800

Debut: 1960


Engine: 4.4L V8
Transmission: Three-speed manual
Horsepower: 154
Torque: 227 lb-ft
Weight: 3,053 pounds

Modern Alternative: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

To the ignorant, the International Scout may seem like a ripoff of the more iconic Ford Bronco; actually, the International Scout predates it by five years. It was designed as a competitor for the popular Jeep CJ, and was available as either a pickup or wagon with either two- or four-wheel-drive and a removable top. The original 80 was most similar to its Jeep competitor, with a bare-bones interior and flip-down front windshield; the later 800 was refined with more creature comforts. But whatever the configuration, the Scout proves that going topless is one of the best ways to experience the outdoors.

Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Debut: 1962


Engine: 5.9L V8
Transmission: Three-speed automatic
Horsepower: 144
Torque: 280 lb-ft
Weight: 4,514 pounds

Modern Alternative: Land Rover Range Rover

Today luxury and utility go hand in hand among SUVs. You can thank the Jeep Wagoneer for that: it was the first true luxury SUV long before the term “sport utility vehicle” was coined. The Wagoneer debuted in 1962 and soldiered on until 1991, and, despite periodic updates and tweaks, the original design remained mostly unchanged. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There are few better old-school, off-road luxury options than the ultimate Grand Wagoneer version. If you ask us, a model with exterior wood paneling will feel particularly at home lurching through the forest.

Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60

Debut: 1980


Engine: 4.2L inline-six
Transmission: Four-speed manual
Horsepower: 135
Torque: 210 lb-ft
Weight: 4,246 pounds

Modern Alternative: Toyota 4Runner

Off-roading “purists” may object to calling the FJ60 a great adventure vehicle, as the 60 series was the first Land Cruiser to offer elitist amenities like power steering and air conditioning. However, the FJ60 was arguably the most handsome generation of Toyota’s Land Cruisers, and it certainly has the right amount of comforts for a long off-road excursion without making you look like a yuppie. Besides, its history as a U.N. workhorse speaks for itself.

Dodge Power Wagon

Debut: 1945


Engine: 4.1L “Flathead” inline-six
Transmission: Four-speed manual
Horsepower: 111
Torque: 192 lb-ft
Weight: 4,975 pounds

Modern Alternative: Toyota Tacoma Quad Cab

If you’re an adventurer with a ton of gear (or maybe even a couple dirt bikes), an SUV just won’t cut it. You need a classic pickup with plenty of off-roading prowess: the military-proven Dodge Power Wagon. Based on 3/4-ton Dodge trucks used in WWII, the 4,975-pound Power Wagon was eventually offered directly to the public with a 4.1-liter “Flathead” inline-six engine and became a favorite among those in need of a reliable work truck. This 111-horsepower beast can handle trench warfare; it can probably handle your weekend biking trip.

Audi Quattro

Debut: 1980


Engine: 2.1L inline-five
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Horsepower: 156
Torque: 181 lb-ft
Weight: 2,838 pound
0-60: 7.5 seconds
Top Speed: 128 mph

Modern Alternative: Subaru WRX STi

If you’re not so sure about spending your entire adventure off the beaten path, something that dominates both pavement and gravel is in order…a rally car, for example. The Audi Quattro was developed when all-wheel-drive was first allowed in international rallying and turbos were king, laying the groundwork for great AWD sports cars to come. The Quattro’s 7.5-second 0-60 time may seem sluggish today, but unlike other performance cars, it can reach that figure on gravel and snow. Oh, and 23 WRC race victories isn’t half bad either. Speed isn’t always everything, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.


Debut: 1980


Engine: 800cc two-cylinder “Boxer”
Transmission: Five-speed sequential
Horsepower: 50
Torque: 41 lb-ft
Weight: 409 pounds
0-60: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 104 mph

Modern alternative: BMW R1200GS

Proving that not all great off-roaders need to be 4x4s — or even have four wheels — the BMW R80G/S is one of the greatest off-road motorcycles ever built. The R80G/S proved its worth as an off road-capable bike by winning the Dakar Rally four times (with varying displacements); but the BMW is as quick and agile on the road as it is rugged off road, hence its rightful title as the original adventure bike.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Buying Guides