Last year at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, visitors to RM Sotheby’s auction preview were treated to a typical spread of sports cars neatly arranged on the front lawn of the Ritz-Carlton resort. But in the background of that bucolic scene, parked on a hill was the proverbial spoilsport: a 1988 Lamborghini LM002. Over the weekend, the “Rambo Lambo” earned much appreciation from the auctiongoers, inspiring a list of fascinating off-roaders in time for RM’s Online Only: The Palm Beach Auction later this month. From comfortable resto-mods to original-condition SUVs, these off-roaders appear equally suited for a weekend in the woods as they would be parked in front of a posh restaurant.
The headline car that kicked off this entire category, the 1992 Lamborghini LM002 available at the Palm Beach auction on 21–22 March 2020 is undoubtedly king of its own hill. Fitted with two different flavors of V-12 power (including a massive 7.2 L unit derived from marine use), Lamborghini’s off-roader certainly did not lack in power. While it was originally conceived as 1981’s rear-engined prototype LM001, Lamborghini’s engineers discovered that the placement of the engine above the rear wheels produced some “unfavorable” handling characteristics. When the production LM002 was released in 1986, the engine was in a typical place, but nothing else about the LM002 seemed traditional. The so-called “Rambo Lambo” rode on custom-made Pirelli run-flat tires, packed a 45-gallon fuel tank, and cossetted its passengers in soft, upholstered style. Only 328 were built between 1986 and 1993. A quintessential example of the ultimate off-roader.
And now for something completely different. This 1974 Volkswagen Type 181 “Thing” may play the mouse to the LM002’s bull, but the orange-colored off-roader appearing above is no less appealing. Though rumors about the VW’s waterproof cabin are regularly repeated among casual car fans, the Thing’s main draw isn’t as a replacement for an Amphicar on the water as much as its no-frills capability off-road. Inspired by the popularity of the Beetle-based rear-engined “Dune Buggies,” the rear-wheel-drive Type 181 was originally developed as a stopgap in 1968 for the West German army while the more complicated four-wheel-drive Europa Jeep was developed. In the meantime, starting in 1972, Volkswagen began offering the Type 181 for civilian use. Only available in the USA from 1972 to 1975, the Thing has become a cultural icon ever since.
Interest in vintage Ford Broncos has spiked in recent years, so much so that the Blue Oval brand has been rumored to be developing a next-generation version. Other than a few spy photographs of the camouflaged pre-production model driving in snow, scant evidence exists of the new model; Ford has yet to officially announce the Bronco’s return. For those who desire a retro-looking Bronco but don’t want to wait for Ford, this lovely 1976 Ford Bronco Sport 4x4 Custom is available. With plenty of modern upgrades and an odometer reporting under 1,500 miles since the restoration, the “Custom” additions on this modernized Bronco make it a worthy option.
Part of the reason why vintage off-roaders have been growing in popular appeal is also part of the reason why they are increasing in value: Jonathan Ward’s TLC and ICON 4x4 companies. For those unfamiliar with Ward’s work, both of his brands find vintage Toyota and Ford off-roaders, some of them even in “derelict” condition, and exchange vintage chassis, suspension, and drivetrains for modern components. The resulting resto-mods are worth more than the sum of their parts—typically an order of magnitude more, and that’s not factoring in the multi-year wait list.
For those who want a vintage off-roader without paying Ward’s prices (or waiting for his work), there are still spectacular examples to be found—and not in completely unloved conditioned, either. This 1978 Toyota FJ40 was restored in August 2019 by NC-based Land Rover specialists Ageless Motors, LLC using authentic OEM parts. The body-colored interior has been cleaned, its seats reupholstered in a tan color, including two side-facing seats. An opportunity to score a refreshed Toyota Land Cruiser at sub-TLC prices.
By 1982 Toyota’s iconic Land Cruiser was the brand’s most popular model worldwide. Coined “Land Cruiser” in 1953 by Toyota technical director Hamji Umehara, the iconic J40 series was produced from 1960 to 1984—an eternity in automotive production. The final years of the J40 series saw technical advancements with each year, with the 1982 version benefitting from front disc brakes and an optional 4.2 L, six-cylinder diesel engine, codenamed 1HZ, paired with Toyota’s four-speed manual transmission. Painted a rare, desert-friendly scheme of tan over a dark grey interior, this Land Cruiser is practical enough to use off-road, yet original enough to consider preserving.
The designation on this Land Cruiser makes it unique–the “43” in FJ43 referred to an extended wheelbase and lengthened cabin, an increase of 5 inches and 18 inches, respectively. Land Cruiser owners report the additional wheelbase makes for a more comfortable ride, while the increased cargo capacity improves both luggage capability and passenger legroom, though not as much as our next entry…
Another example recently restored courtesy of Ageless Motors, LLC., it is immediately obvious how this Toyota got its “Troopy” nickname. Debuting in 1977, the first batch of 77 FJ45s were designated for the Irish army. To be a true “Troopy,” this FJ45 is not only riding on a longer wheelbase than the “regular” FJ40 or FJ43 versions, but it eschews the rear doors in place of twin bench seats, much like one would find in a troop transporter. To pull off the added weight, the Toyota’s suspension has been revised, with Australian Old Man Emu components paired with BFGoodrich tires so new they appear to still be wearing their original sales stickers.
If your family clan is a bit tinier than the Toyota “Troopy” warrants, this lovely 1990 Land Rover Defender is ready for your next adventure. With seating for nine, this Defender 110 has been fitted with several modernizations, including a new exhaust system made of stainless steel, folding steps to ease entry, upgraded coil springs, and an aftermarket front bumper fitted with an American-made Ramsey winch.
Our off-road list is all about mixing it up—today, an Alpha appears at the end. Another brand with a military past, Hummer’s parent company, AM General, sold the rights to its civilian-friendly off-road brand to General Motors in 1999. Interestingly, AM General was under contract to build its HMMWV-derived off-roader for GM, endowing each Hummer H1 with a genuine connection to its military counterpart. Perhaps with an eye for irony, the H1 Alpha came at the end of H1 production—the model was phased out after 2006 because of increased emissions requirements. Sought after for their top-of-the-line 6.6 L turbocharged Duramax diesel engines, the 2006 model actually was rated with the best gas mileage of any H1 model. Who says high-end off-roaders can’t be practical?