Our Two Cents: Safari dreaming?

Pat Brollier/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images

For this week’s installment of Our Two Cents, we asked the staff here at Hagerty Media to give us their hot take on the renewed interest in the phenomenon known as the safari car. It seemed like a timely question, inspired by Nissan’s Safari Rally Z build for the SEMA show. Perhaps lower-riding vehicles—made to sit as high as a crossover and fitted with tougher tires—helps people enjoy their cars in different ways. Whether its a fad, a fashion, or a style that’s here to stay is tough to determine.

Pontiac Bonneville Wagon Safari Ad

Below are the safari cars we wish we had in our driveway. Somehow, sadly, nobody mentioned turning a (Pontiac) Wagon into a safari car. (We came close, though.) Here are our outstanding choices for rising above the crowd and getting dusty.

Volvo PV544

Safari Rally in 1965, a Volvo PV544
The winning car from the Safari Rally in 1965, a Volvo PV544. The car was driven by brothers Joginder and Jaswant Singh who represented the host nation, Kenya. Volvo

“I want the PV544 Volvo, which was a Safari Rally champ in 1965. These cars are mechanically and structurally durable, with a simple four-cylinder/three-speed powertrain. A two-door Swedish gangster saloon traipsing over dirt mounds with a cloud in its wake? Sign me up!” – Eric Weiner

Rolls Royce Phantom

@Matt Tuccillo: Rolls Phantom, but make it like Jules from 1981!

@Sajeev Mehta: Not the Cullinan? Yeah, I guess that’s too easy and obvious.

Chevy Tahoe

chevrolet two door blazer suv front three quarter
Maybe they shoulda never stopped calling it a Blazer? Chevrolet

“A GMT400 platform Chevy Tahoe. They are readily available, cheap, have lots of ways to gussy it up, and its American. And I’m American!” – Joe DeMatio

BMW “Clownboot”

2001 BMW Z3M Coupe clownshoe S54 manual
BMW | yourfriendsyd

“I’ve always thought the 2002 BMW M Coupe, the “clown shoe” model, had the off-road look already. I’d love to lift one and see what it could do off-road. Not sure how well it would work, but it’d look great.” — Steven Cole Smith

Toyota TRD Pro(?) Minivan

toyota sienna trd minivan
Brandan Gillogly

“You’re really gonna make me bring up minivans again? Just give me a full Baja/Safari lineup of every generation of Toyota van! We can just forget the first-gen Sienna exists since it’s the only one without available 4WD or all-wheel drive!” – Ben Woodworth

BRZ Outback Edition

2012 Subaru BRZ front three quarter driving action

“I’d give a Subaru BRZ the Safari treatment. Two in lift, rally flaps, small wheels, and knobby tires with gobs of sidewall. You’d catch me out there wagging my tail through every dirt corner I can find! Come to think of it, winter is fast approaching northern Michigan …. that might be the most fun I could have up here.” — Nathan Petroelje

High Riding Hot Rod Lincoln

This Lincoln that participated in the Gambler 500

“Yeah I know, big surprise, right? The guy who won’t shut up about Lincolns would Safari a Mark VIII in a heartbeat.

Just a few days ago a dude in a work truck chased me down to get a closer look and gush over my own 1995 Mark VIII. He knew a fair bit about the car and did a great job putting it into historical context, which was a nice reminder of just how awesome these cars were back then and continue to be as a modern classic. And that Mark VIII, pictured above, that was heavily modified to run in the Gambler 500? Yeah, sign me up for that. All day, every single day.” — Sajeev Mehta

A badder Volvo V70 Cross Country?

volvo V70 xc wagon front three quarter

“The safari theme is a little too car-cosplay for me. Though a few voices I trust talk up the added comfort that longer suspension travel and more sidewall provides, the look is just too try-hard if you’re keeping it on pavement or don’t live in a crazy climate.Mecum Auctions

However, if forced, I’d find a 2000 Volvo V70 XC, beef up the suspension and Haldex AWD, add some bigger brakes to help with the heavier rolling stock, add a 19T turbo and put some snow tires on it. I think it’d have to be dark green.” — Eddy Eckart

GM A body… or a GM Dustbuster?

1972 NORRA Mexican 1000 Off-Road Race
Pat Brollier/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images

“Ben’s Safari van idea is sweet! I would use a Pontiac Minivan, though. Would give a whole new meaning to the Dustbuster nickname. Well that’s not entirely true.

My actual dream safari ride would be an off-road take on late 60s/early 70s GM muscle, like that old Baja class. James Garner knew what was up with his 442 Olds back in the day. Here’s a similar car from a 1972 NORRA race. While we’re dreaming, I’d chop up a ’68 Chevelle for my desert driving.” — Cameron Neveu

hooptie x mini van
Cameron Neveu

@Ben Woodworth: Safari-ize ALLLLL the dustbusters!

@Nathan Petroelje: Well dang, now mine looks dull. Tell you what, let’s safari-ize a 427 Cobra and then hold on for dear life and dig 2-foot trenches through every trail we charge down.

A dirty, lifted Brat

Subaru Brat 2019 Dirtfish Olympus Rally front three quarter high angle driving action
Flickr/Jim Culp

Subaru Brat. Small lift, not a huge tire. Will look great with some auxiliary lights and already has a good bit of off road prowess so soft roading to a nice camping spot should be no problem”  — Kyle Smith

GMC Safari, or a Rose by any other name?

gmc safari

“I’m of two minds here. On the one hand, it would be completely appropriate to safari a GMC Safari. The AWD version would do well with that look. There’s probably already an Instagram account for one. On the other hand, the challenge of safariing a lowrider has its appeal. Could the Gypsy Rose be safaried? Ohhh, probably.” — Stefan Lombard



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    Top Gear made me believe Mercedes was the vehicle for Safari, if you can’t buy a 911 (etc.). Although the Grand Tour with the lifted Caterham did make me wonder if I should lift my Lotus 7 (ish) car.

    There was a video out there a few years back of a guy who took a bone-stock mid-70s Caddy (with knobby tires of course) and did some fairly respectful off-roading with it

    “Could the Gypsy Rose be safaried?” – Stephan Lombard
    Yeah, that’s gonna be my daydreaming theme for at least a week, I’m sure. My mind is racing with images and ideas, but in a day or two, it’ll slow down enough for me to actually grab onto some of the ideas.
    Meanwhile, the wing on top of the Olds is just about the coolest (and silliest) thing I’ve seen lately.
    To expand on the Pontiac van idea, why not look at an Aztek? I mean, no one is going to fault you for despoiling a classic beauty, and, by bolting all sorts of external stuff – lights, spares, spoilers, roll cages, (wings?), racks, fuel cans, etc. – on it plus stickers galore, it might disguise the gawdawful OG looks.

    I’m not really feeling many of these. Not sure how a Tahoe isn’t already safari, especially in Z71 form.

    If you’re going to do something stupid to a vehicle to make it safari-ready, maybe start with a mid-engine platform. 🙂

    Any of you remember the 55 Chevy that competed in Baja races? It was a 2 dr sedan, all custom suspension and big tires. Not just a slightly lifted stock vehicle.

    Great to see the Singh brothers 544 at the top of the list. Great inspiration for those who followed in Volvo’s next two generations – the 122 and 142 series.

    My very first car was a Volvo PV544, bought in Bremerhaven, Germany in 1962 where I was stationed in the Air Force. I was a 1961 with 1600cc engine, four speed gearbox. Brought it home with me in 1963 and kept it for about two years. Would love to have it again. Easy to work on and it would be a great rally vehicle. Thanks for the memories

    My very first car was a Volvo PV544, bought in Bremerhaven, Germany in 1962 where I was stationed in the Air Force. It was a 1961 with a 1600cc engine, four speed gearbox. Brought it home with me in 1963 and kept it for about two years. Would love to have it again. Easy to work on and it would be a great rally vehicle. Thanks for the memories

    Garner’s team modified 10 (some think there were actually 12…) SC/Rambler spec vehicles. I say “spec” because I’m not sure if they were in the original run of SC/Ramblers. Some believe that’s why 1512 were made though — a late order by Garner’s team (but no proof of that!). They had two converted to 4×4 (one of which survives), the others were beefed up RWD. See https://www.motortrend.com/features/1207or-garners-ground-pounder-1969-amc-sc-rambler/.

    Sidney Dickson from Maryland ran a 68 American in the London-Sydney Rally in 1968 (an independent entry!) and again in the retro run in 1993 in another 68 American — might be where Garner got the idea to use a Rambler American (just called Rambler in 1969).

    I downloaded a photo from a European publication that someone had photoshopped a Ferrari 250GTO into an off-road vehicle. At first I had a heart attack, until I realized it was a prank.

    how about safari a 1994-1996 Buick Roadmaster estate wagon, stock they have the style suspension you usually see in the 2 wheel drive baja trucks, solid axle four link rear suspension with independent front suspension, so just jack it up, and if you get one with the optional posi it would be a plus, and with the LT1 under the hood stock on the buick you would have the power and torque you need.

    I had a 94 Buick Estate Wagon and I/m going to go against the norm. I do not wish I still had it. Rear wheel drive and all that torque. It was precarious in the snow. Worst of all it was GM junk. Heads had to be replaced, trunk motor/lock. water pump, alternator etc etc. GM ended up sending a factory rep to New England to try to make me happy. I have never even thought of buying GM since.

    currently own one and have had no problems with it and according to the records from the previous owners the engine has never been touched other than maintenance. Though I do have to agree that with the torque it can make it a bit exciting to drive in poor weather conditions especially in snow or icy conditions, but out of the 7 vehicles I’ve owned only one was front wheel drive, though the Buick is the only one I can confirm has posi, so that might be why it has been more squirrely then my 80’s gm crewcab pickups, and my old 80’s suburbans.

    Pontiac Safari station wagons from the 50s and early 60 would not make great rally cars. The long x-frame left large floor areas exposed and unprotected under the door sills at center of the X. My desert-find ’58 Poncho had a huge indent in the passenger seat floor presumably from hitting a rock mid-wheelbase.

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