Inside Kyrgyzstan's border zone with China
2007 Mitsubishi Pajero (‘Shogun’ in the UK).
V98 Chassis (4th Gen)
3.2 litre common rail 4m41 diesel engine.
Now with 200,000 plus km and going strong
As purchased - stock standard
Photo: London, England (October 2012)
As prepared for our 2014/2015 expeditions
Photo: Poland (August 2014)
As used in New Zealand - 2016 to early 2019
Photo: New Zealand (September 2018)
Ready for our Russia & Central Asia trip
Photo: New Zealand (April 2019)
Off-Road & Capability Modifications
2” lift on extra heavy duty coils with Koni HT RAID shock absorbers - huge oil reserves.
17” rims with 32” Cooper STT Pro mud tyres
Israeli made ASFIR 6mm aluminium bash plates for intercooler/engine and transmission. Self-made steel rock sliders.
MCC steel bullbar with Runva 11,000lb winch
TJM Airtek snorkel. Extended breathers for diffs, transmission and transfer case
Harrop Eaton ‘E-Locker’ in the front diff – able to operate in conjunction with factory traction control on the rear axle.
Two fuel filter/water separators. Primary 10 micron Racor, followed by secondary 3 micron Donaldson
Auxiliary fuel tank made by Long Range Automotive allows for total diesel capacity of 170 litres and gives a touring range around 1,200 kilometres depending on terrain
Engine bay mounted air compressor
Engine tuning module for tuning of diesel injection and turbo boost
Manual torque converter lockup control
Rhino-Rack Pioneer Tray roof rack with luggage bag, recovery board holders and various accessories
Custom built drawers, fridge slide and two slide out tables
Waeco CFX40, 12 volt compressor fridge
43 litre water tank down low in chassis
Two 12volt water pumps (12 litres/min and 4 litres/min). Bigger pump plumbed via a heat exchanger to provide hot water for showering or washing dishes. Smaller pump plumbed via 1 micron filter to a tap. Bigger pump is controlled via a series of valves to draw water from tank, or from external source, or can replenish tank from external source such as a clean river or well.
Rear LED strip lighting and flood light
AGM 120amp/hr battery powers fridge, lighting, pumps and inverter. CTEK Dual 250 controls recharging via either alternator or 200 watt solar blanket.
240 volt inverter and numerous 12 volt USB charging points
Rhino-Rack Batwing 270 degree awning with zip in walls
Other items carried: Delorme/Garmin GPS tracker/communication device with satellite access to emergency search and rescue. Comprehensive mechanic tools, computer diagnostic equipment, ample spare parts and a jump starter.
Russian Far East
Why a Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun)
‘Old school’ 4wders tend not to favour independent front suspension (IFS) and so may not be impressed by the the front and rear independent suspension on Pajeros since 2000. But with both diffs tucked up nice and high a Pajero with just a modest 2’’ lift easily tackles deeply rutted tracks without needing especially large tyres to accomplish it. I have minimum 300mm ground clearance on 32” tyres.
The all independent suspension design tends to cause wheels to lift off the ground sooner in very rough terrain than would occur with some solid axle setups. But wheel lift affects all 4wd’s when the terrain gets sufficiently tough and is quickly addressed by the Pajero’s traction control system, which has been one of the best calibrated traction control setups around for some time. There’s no fancy terrain mode dial, it just works, and it works very effectively. It works so well that my E-locker (selectable locker in the front differential) is seldom needed, though is good to have for some of the most demanding obstacles. The E-locker is also there as a mechanical backup in the event that the electronic traction control system is ‘off’ for any reason. (I’ve no idea why, but in 2014 a Moroccan mechanic chiseled off my front wheel speed sensors, leaving us without traction control!). The bottom line is that I can attest that the Pajero is very off-road capable.
Long travel rear control arms permit reasonable articulation for an independent suspension design
Me, checking out the all independent suspension design on this old Humvee on display in Belgrade, Serbia
An advantage of the Pajero's monocoque chassis, with independent suspension all around, is that it gives relatively sporty handling dynamics to a fairly large and tall vehicle - these things don't typically go together. This isn't only of use when on road, but on gravel and dirt roads the Pajero feels like a big rally car and is capable of making quick progress.
All of the build and modification work described on this page has been undertaken by me. Although it has been a lot of work, it's also been an immensely enjoyable project and I've learned a great deal from doing it.
I was initially drawn to the Mitsubishi Pajero (‘Shogun’ in the UK) when I was researching 4wd reliability statistics, having decided early on that 'reliability' was one of the most important attributes for an overland vehicle. Quite a number of 4wds can make it onto anyone’s shortlist in terms of their off-road capability, but if you review reliability statistics for various makes and models, across the years, a handful of manufacturers consistently appear in the top category. My research at the time indicated that Mitsubishi, Toyota, Suzuki (I'm fairly certain Nissan fits somewhere in this top group too - notably all Japanese) were the manufacturers of the most reliable real 4wds. By ‘real 4wds’ I mean those having a dual range transfer case and locking centre differential at minimum, this being a commonly accepted quick method for distinguishing genuinely off-road capable vehicles from the many ‘soft roader’ SUVs on the market these days - many of which, truth be told, would struggle to get over a patch of damp grass!
Ultimately, I narrowed the field down to either a Toyota Prado or a Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun). Either would likely have been fine, though seven years on I have no regrets whatsoever in choosing the Mitsubishi. The 3.2 litre ‘4m41’ diesel engine in the Pajero has proven long term reliability. First produced around 2000, from 2006 onwards these engines were upgraded to common rail fuel injection, which is also very reliable subject to being fed good clean fuel... but this cannot be relied on in many of the countries we will visit! I aim to control for variable fuel quality with additional layers of fuel filtration/water separation, plus the use of lubricity additives - more detail on this is given below (this isn’t Pajero specific and such precautions apply equally to any modern common rail diesel engine). The Pajero drivetrain is very robust and long lasting.
The debate continues concerning whether a modern 4wd with plenty of on board electronics is the best choice for a remote touring vehicle. This is a fair concern, especially looking at the poor reliability scores of some European and American vehicles. This prompts some people to prefer older purely mechanical vehicles. My view is that Japanese made vehicles remain in contention owing to the well-established reliability of their electronic systems.
Custom rear build
These photo shows the latest iteration of the custom module for the rear of the vehicle. I built the first version of this as part of the original vehicle build and it served well for several years. But it’s quite a task keeping a growing family of five in a single 4wd wagon and eventually I recognised the need to reconfigure the original design to ensure every square centimetre of available space was efficiently utlised. In early 2018 I stripped the original unit down and rebuilt it with custom drawers – each drawer length meets the shape of the sloped seatback of the rear seats, thus maximising space utilisation. Each drawer slides on heavy duty ball bearing slides.
The auxiliary 120 amp/hr AGM battery now sits on a custom welded steel tube frame at the rear of the fridge cavity. This both holds the battery and provides structural reinforcement for the overall module.
You can see from the photos below that there is a water tank (43 litres) situated down low in the chassis beneath the custom module, together with a pair of electric pumps. The smaller 4 litre per minute pump feeds a tap via a 1 micron filter. The bigger 12 litre per minute pump feeds a shower head type outlet via a heat-exchanger and is mostly used for showering and washing dishes. The heat-exchanger utilises waste engine heat to provide low cost heated water.
A series of three valves permit the 12 litre per minute pump to either: (1) draw from the onboard tank; (2) draw from an external source such as a clean lake, river or desert well; (3) replenish the onboard tank from one of the above external sources. If we need a shower and also need to conserve the onboard supply, but are passing by a clean river, we have the option of drawing water from the external source through the heat-exchanger. If it’s an ice cold river then the water will need several passes through the heat exchanger to reach a comfortable temperature, but it works very well.
Instant slide out fridge and table
Huge pantry drawer on 125kg ball bearing slides
Deep middle drawer for kitchen items and surplus food
Twin electric pumps
She's got a great rack...
Recovery tracks and shovel firmly secured yet accessible
We necessarily rely quite heavily on our roof rack for storage. Since our family of five occupies the Pajero's interior fully, all our bulky camping gear has to go somewhere and the obvious place for it is the roof. We're not new to the Rhino-Rack brand and have on all our previous travels used their steel mesh basket mounted on their heavy duty cross bars. That setup has continued to perform very well but for one issue, which is that it was ultimately mounted to the original Mitsubishi roof rails - those weren't intended for extended heavy duty use and they've finally had enough. Luckily for us, Rhino-Rack has come to the rescue!
We now have a new Pioneer Tray, mounted on Rhino-Rack's 'Backbone' mounting system. It certainly is a good looking product and I like the fresh appearance it lends to the overall vehicle. But more importantly, I'm impressed with how solid this setup is. I commonly get up on the roof when loading the vehicle - it's never felt so sturdy up there as it does now. The Backbones bolt to the roof in the same positions as the factory roof rails did, these being structurally reinforced areas. But unlike the light duty factory roof rails, the new Backbones are made from heavy duty folded steel. These in turn support the Pioneer Tray at six points, distributing the load evenly across the Pajero's roof.
The bottom line is that this is a very solid setup that I'm confident will prove robust for our intended purpose. We also have the new Batwing awning, which I'll review here once we set off from Russia and I'm able to get some pictures of it in use.
We've had an older style Rhino-Rack luggage bag previously, but their new design is considerably improved. It's made from a 'poly-canvas'. This new material is inherently waterproof, but best of all it allows for seems to be welded rather than stitched and taped. I believe this is a superior construction method that will prove durable and waterproof over long term use. I'm also thrilled to find that there is no wind noise from either the Pioneer Tray or the luggage bag. You wouldn't know it's up there.
The 500 litre luggage bag swallows our gear nicely
Long Range Fuel Tank
Especially for the 2019 trip I've added a second fuel tank. This would have been a useful addition on previous trips, but I think it will prove even more essential with our 2019 trip in mind. It's a rugged design, made by Long Range Automotive in Australia and built for the 4wd market. Their fuel tanks have been powering 4wds across the Australian Outback for many years and have earned a solid reputation. The tank is shaped to maximise clearance and can withstand the sort of bashing that the underside of a 4wd sometimes must endure - mine already has a few battle scars, but is holding up fine (rear suspension has now been uprated (again) to better suit the final weight of the Pajero as it is equipped for the Central Asia trip).
The Pajero can now carry a total of 170 litres of diesel and should have a touring range exceeding 1,000 kilometres; more when on good roads. I look forward to the peace of mind this product will give. On our 2019 route I anticipate that we may reach a known fuel source only to find it's either temporarily out of supply, or the fuel looks too dodgy to risk. As part of my strategy to avoid filling the Pajero with bad diesel, which would pose serious risk to the engine, this tank should permit us not only to travel further, but also to choose to drive past a dodgy looking fuel source to the next village or town.
One surprise was just how much I enjoyed using this auxiliary tank in New Zealand in the lead up to shipping to Russia. You don't technically need extra fuel capacity in a country like NZ, but with fuel pricing in NZ now highly variable I enjoyed always having sufficient range to fill only at discount sources.
Primary 10 micron filter
Secondary 3 micron filter
Anyone contemplating an overland trip such as our shouldn't underestimate the importance of this modification. A single fill with bad diesel could bring our trip to an end before it barely gets underway, curtailing months of planning and coming at great expense - and leaving us stranded somewhere remote. Whilst fuel quality wasn't such a concern in the countries we explored on our previous adventures and we managed fine with the factory fuel filter, there is likely to be plenty of bad fuel about in the countries we will be exploring in 2019/2020. This was the final modification I made to the Pajero just before shipping it to Russia.
The new primary filter takes the place of the original factory fuel filter. It's made by Racor and originally intended for marine diesel engines, though not uncommonly fitted to 4wd's undertaking trips like ours. It has a 10 micron filter cartridge and a very large transparent bowl on the bottom to trap separated water and contaminants. It also has a wired in water detection probe that will ring a buzzer in the vehicle cabin if it detects the presence of excess water before I notice it (i.e. by visually checking the transparent bowl daily). This is our first line of defence.
The second line of defence is a similar and physically slightly smaller unit made by Donaldson and rated at 3 microns.
I'm reasonably confident that these filters, in series, will ensure the engine receives no contaminants above 3 microns in size (3x 1,000th of one millimeter) and no water. The main unknown is how long the filters will last before they clog up and hence how often they will require changing. I've packed a few spare primary and secondary filter cartridges.
The final part of my strategy is to add a lubricity enhancing additive to each batch of fuel. This because filters won't remove chemical based contaminants that act to reduce the lubricity of the diesel. Modern common rail fuel injection equipment is lubricated by the diesel that it pumps - below a certain lubricity threshold the fuel injection supply pump will suffer a catastrophic failure without advance warning.
There is one additional line of defence - the Mr Funnel shown to the right. It features 50 micron gauze with a coating that will not permit water to pass through. This is intended for use as a first line of defence product, as it's clearly better to avoid adding contaminants/water to the fuel tank in the first place. I'll likely reserve use of the Mr Funnel depending on where we're filling, as it may be too slow to hold people up at a non-suspicious fuel station. This will be used if we have to fill somewhere rural/remote or where we have no choice but to fill at a potentially risky looking source.
Primary 10 micron filter
Secondary 3 micron filter
Selected photos from the build process
Likely more detail than most would care to know, but for anyone interested in setting up an overland 4wd vehicle and/or curious as to why we choose to fit into a single 4wd wagon rather than tow something, my further thoughts on various platform considerations and alternatives suited to families may be of some interest; it can be found here.