There are, broadly, three classes of offroader.
These are the driver, the builder, and the tourer. The driver enjoys the challenge of manouvering the vehicle across difficult terrain. The builder enjoys the challenge of creating a vehicle that can handle the terrain. And the tourer just wants to get there and doesn’t care how.
Two of these classes are under threat from the advance of technology as modern cars are becoming easier and easier to drive, and harder and harder to modify. These advances erode the pleasures of the driver and the builder, leaving only the tourer happy as their focus is on an easy ride to their destination.
Most of us are alternately drivers, builders or tourers depending on our mood, stage in life and finances. My personal bias is towards the driving side of things, and the reason technology is eroding my pleasure is because it is eroding the challenge. There’s satisfaction when you get a difficult manouver right – as an example, my Toyota 86 is manual, and I derive huge pleasure from a perfectly timed heel’n’toe downchange, a skill modern automatics make entirely redundant. On the 4WD side my cars don’t have have 35″ tyres because that makes life too easy on almost all forest tracks, you just drive anywhere you want, any which way you like. It’s simple – no challenge, no satisfication of achievement.
There is no reversering this trend of modern cars, and it is necessary to reduce the road toll as like it or not, the ultimate goal of self-driving cars will see a much safer transport environment than today’s human-driven vehicles could ever provide. Yet for the drivers and builders the options are narrowing with every new model released. There’s the odd holdout, such as the Jeep Wrangler and the aforementioned Toyota 86, but nevertheless the automation trend is clear.
This is why I was so excited to drive a Tomcar. While designed very much as a working, commercial tool, the thing is even more fun in a state forest than a Wrangler, and that’s high praise from me. It’s fast, rewards skill, is simple and light. It’s hard to kill, there’s no panels to bend, it’s light so recoveries are easy and safe and a new one costs less than $25k. In short, it’s less risk and less cost than a 4WD, but more fun.
I can see a real market for the car amongst recreational offroaders – you could buy a junker GQ for say $5 or $10k, drop more $ on tyres, winch and all the other gear you’ll need for fun, then spend your weekends fixing it. Or get a Tomcar which is ready to roll out of the box, will be reliable, cheap to run and unlikely to be broken.
The road-legal version can’t come soon enough for me!