Rattling Down the Pan-American Highway In the ‘Spacegear’ Mitsubishi Delica

Jordan and Candice are two 30-somethings from Canada who years ago decided they wanted to travel, explore, adventure, take risks, make mistakes, meet friends, make memories—you know, the good stuff—while they were relatively young, and that they needed to “live life to the fullest while our knees still work and our gray hairs are easily countable.”

So, they saved money for a few years, found themselves a van, kitted it out, and set off to drive the Pan-American Highway. Not just any van, but the beloved Mitsubishi Delica. In Canada, especially western Canada, Delicas are not particularly unusual. In the States, the plucky little off-road van, with its diminutive but boxy size, charming can-do attitude, and rugged looks, they’re kinda the dream vehicle for thousands of van life and overland dreams.

Jordan and Candice maintain a website chronicling their travels, “Be Old Later.” A fitting name for a website dedicated to them living their lives accordingly. They have a curated list of all the mods they made, both inside and out, as well as photos of the build, and even concept sketches on their website. It’s a wealth of information. We caught them back at home in Canada last week to learn more about this incredible van.

AJ: What is your vehicle’s year, make, and model?
1997 Mitsubishi Delica L400 “Spacegear” Chamonix.

How did you get it?
We were looking to replace our Subaru Outback that we had originally purchased for a cross-country road trip then hung onto for a few years. The Outback was great, we built a platform in the back and it was a solid vehicle, we just wanted a bit more space, similar to a van we had owned in New Zealand. We had wanted a Delica for a few years, but started leaning toward a 4×4 Sprinter for the extra room it would provide to stand up — the only problem was the price tag. We decided that taking a loan out to get a Sprinter would put a damper on our plans, and opted for a Delica from a local dealer in Vancouver. We thought they had way more personality anyway.

Does it have a name?
Bagheera, like the character in the Jungle Book. We thought it was fitting as he would be our guide and protector taking us the length of the Pan-American Highway, and when you start him up, he kind of purrs like a panther if you flex your ears just right.

“We still sleep better in the van than our current apartment.”

How have you modified it? You do all the work yourselves?
Yea, we fully gutted the van — it started out as a run of the mill family wagon: 7-seats, not much clearance, ground effects, the whole lot. We knew we wanted to camperize it for weekend and month-long trips (this was before we set our minds on the Pan-American), so we took inspiration from several van builds and websites to pick and choose exactly what we wanted and started doing sketches of layouts. We were super lucky to live just across the street from a collaborative wood and metal shop, so with a basic membership, I could use all the tools known to man 3-4 times a week for a few hours each session. We did all of the woodwork, interior, cushions, window covers, electrical, snorkel, and fan installs; basically everything except lifting the van (2″ body lift) and welding up the bumpers. Candice is an Illustrator, so she designed our rad decals on the outside of the van that we had cut in vinyl and slapped on.

Our build was mostly done with purpose in mind — we wanted the van to be a bit higher as we often travel off major roads, so a lift and bigger tires made sense. But then the spare wouldn’t fit in it’s original spot, so we needed a rear tire swingout … and so on with other modifications. We added to the look of the van (but all with a practical purpose) and made it feel more comfy and homey on the inside, like our home away from home — we still sleep better in the van than our current apartment.

Is this van a full-time home? If not, where do you call home?
Currently, the van is not our full-time home. We lived in it for two and a half years when we drove the Pan-American Highway (left from Vancouver, B.C. –> up to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT –> then down to Ushuaia, Argentina –> then about 6 months driving through the States returning to Canada afterward), but now we live in British Columbia, Canada, close to the river and a bunch of our favorite climbing crags.

How many countries/states have you visited?
That’s a tough one… There’s probably about 7-10 States in the USA that we haven’t driven through. The states we have driven through have all thoroughly gotten a chunk of our time but there’s always more to see and do. We have been to many corners of BC Canada, and through the BC/Alberta Rockies, but we feel we’ve barely scratched the surface. We are planning another trip out that way this summer to climb, hike, and play in the mountains that we missed our first time around.

During our Pan American trip we visited 12 countries in total; Canada, USA, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. We had to skip over a handful of the Central American Countries due to Right-Hand Drive temporary import issues. Costa Rica has strict restrictions on right-hand-drive vehicles entering their country, and they put pressure on Nicaragua to do the same. Our best bet there was to ship our vehicle from Guatemala to Colombia and continue the trip from there, unfortunately missing a chunk of central america, but avoiding the headache of trying to sneak a RHD vehicle in and out. Prior to leaving Vancouver, we had laid out the places we really wanted to experience and dedicated our time to those particular countries.

Seems like you must have funny, in retrospect of course, repair stories.
Yea, we have many. Too many, probably.

1. Our first major issue on the Pan-Am trip was in Anchorage, Alaska. The van started blowing white smoke when we started it up one evening, and after some online research, we narrowed it down to the glow plugs or the head gasket. We checked the volts on the plugs, and all seemed good, so braced ourselves for the worst. It took a day to find a mechanic who would look at an import vehicle that was also a diesel — most would only look at imports if they were gassers, or diesels if they were domestic. The diagnosis was the worst scenario, the head gasket. And on the Delica, often when your gasket goes, it’s unfortunately a cracked head. It would be 2 weeks to get the work done, so we ordered up the parts from Vancouver. The next two weeks were spent walking miles and miles around Anchorage each day, living out of our backpacks, spending stretches of 3-days at a time in the mountains to come back down and switch out our gear from the van. The van was our home, so with it in the shop, we (us and our dog Nugget) lived out of our tent — sometimes in the mountains, sometimes at a campground for $29/night as that was the cheapest option in town, literally feet away from an active train track.

Even better news, was that during this time in Anchorage, there was a grizzly bear problem — a bear had killed a local man running on a popular trail the week before. Everyone was pretty concerned about what was going on, so it made it harder to find a place that would allow a tent in a campsite. It was a wild couple of weeks. We met a guy in a grocery store parking lot that had followed us out of curiosity and then after polite conversation around 11pm had then offered to let us borrow one of his unregistered guns for protection. We met a brewery owner who had seen us wandering the roads with our dog and giant backpacks and kindly gave us a ride to a trailhead 18 miles away that we were planning on walking to. We were approached by a guy at a lake deep in the mountains where we planned on camping for a few days to wait out the van repairs. He stood outside of our tent asking us if we would mind walking back down the trail with him (and his baby on his back) as he saw a Brown bear chase some hikers just an hour ago and he’d feel a lot safer walking with a bigger group; mind you he also had a gun strapped to his side. All in all we met really great compassionate people, always willing to help, and we experienced some of the challenges of relying on a vehicle for a long trip in an unfamiliar place. It was an incredible learning experience early on in the trip that helped us tackle other problems down the road.

2. In Mexico, a hinge popped off our bumper lock. I pulled over to a local hardware store (basically a window on the street with someone who sold metal), bought a threaded metal rod, then went across the street into some guy’s work yard and asked if he could help me bend it to the correct dimensions. He looked at me funny with my broken Spanglish, bent the rod, and wouldn’t accept money for the 5 minutes of work. The fix worked great, and we were on our way.

3. In Bolivia, we had to re-do the full front suspension. All of our ball joints and tie rods were pretty beat, and there was an awesome hostel owner who was also a mechanic, so we talked to him and decided to stay a few days if he could help us out with the job. We stripped the van down the next morning, then went into town in the afternoon. We bounced from shop to shop on the automotive parts street, each shop owner pointing us to a different place to find all the different pieces we needed for the rare Mitsubishi Delica suspension. We found almost everything, and only had to modify a few pieces (mostly cut off grease nipples), and cut a generic tie rod to fit. We were super lucky to find the parts and the beautiful place to stay and help with the fixes, and even more lucky that some of our best friends from the road were staying there at the same time (also using the space for repairs) — it made our maintenance pleasant and gave us the ability to have some group meals and beers with friends at night.

“You just budget into your time that whenever you stop somewhere, you’re probably going to have to talk about the van for 15-30 minutes.”

How do you financially support yourselves on the road?
Before our trip we had consciously saved for two years, creating a category in our joint banking account and putting a percentage of our paychecks into it. That chunk of money was around $30,000 CAD that we had estimated would support us for a year on the road based on research from others who had done it before us. In addition to saving, Candice picked up a lot of art freelance jobs that she could do on the road creating logos and stickers for businesses and other travelers. This side gig gave us the extra cash we needed to go a bit more than a year. It was pretty rough trying to find Wi-Fi to send files; sometimes entire days would be spent in a tiny cafe in the middle of nowhere waiting for the uploading bar to finish sending. It was not ideal working crunched up in a tiny van either but we made it happen and it helped a lot. We did also take a break in the middle of the trip to go back to the States for a few best friends’ weddings. In order to pay for that break, those plane tickets, and storing the van, Jordan picked up a job in Montreal for the summer. It was winter in Patagonia which was where we were heading next on our trip so it was ideal to wait that out and make some cash to actually support us to Ushuaia and back up to northern Argentina.

How did Covid impact your travels?
When Covid hit in March of 2020, we were in Uruguay with some friends preparing to ship our cars together in a shared container back to the States. We had gone to the bottom of South America and worked our way back up to the shipping port in Uruguay to send the rigs back and then were to spend about 3 weeks in Buenos Aires before officially going back home. Plans of course changed when the borders closed around us. A lot of other travelers were stranded and in limbo of what to do next. No one really knew how long the pandemic would last, so at the time we were all just very confused on what to do. We literally saw businesses in Montevideo, Uruguay, closing their doors and shutting down indefinitely as ordered by the government. We needed to change our flights to get home quicker and not be stuck in an Airbnb for who knows how long. We ended up waiting on the phone for several hours with a bad connection battling everyone else trying to do the same. At this point we were thankful that the cars were all set in the port to be shipped. We had sorted that out a day before the official border closure so we got lucky there.

We ended up leaving on a plane the next day taking 2 flights to get back to the States. Our first flight was a packed plane from Montevideo, Uruguay to Sao Paulo Brazil. When we arrived in Sao Paulo they packed all of the passengers onto a crowded bus and drove us from the runway to the airport. Then we boarded a Boeing 777 with only about 20 other people on the entire plane that normally seats close to 400. The stewardess was giving us multiple dinners and several glasses of wine saying that we could have whatever we wanted as they will probably have to throw everything away. It was a surreal feeling to look around and see so many empty seats. We knew a lot of other travelers who had way more difficult and crazier stories trying to wait out the pandemic until their only option was to inevitably go home. It was definitely a strange ending to our incredible journey.

We spent the next 6 or so months slowly working our way back to Canada, exploring South Dakota, Idaho and Wyoming — with a minor detour to work with some friends mapping roads for the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado and Wyoming.

We definitely got lucky with our trip coming to it’s planned end just as Covid kicked in, and that we could have time to visit family then live off-grid in our van and away from people while we slowly made our way back to Canada.

How often do Americans pester you about trying to get a Delica in the US?
Surprisingly less often than you would imagine. I think there are a handful of importers now — we even stopped by one in Idaho when we were driving through as we saw a Delica in front of a shop and were like, whoa, no way. Those guys were super nice and helpful and we’ve talked to them a ton through emails and social media since then — the Delica community is pretty friendly and stoked on getting out and exploring with these vehicles.

When we drive the van outside of Canada (they are a dime a dozen in Western Canada, so no one really cares here) you just budget into your time that whenever you stop somewhere, you’re probably going to have to talk about the van for 15-30 minutes. People will just stand outside the van and stare at you until you get out and answer their questions which usually start with: “what the hell is this thing?” But that’s part of the fun of driving an interesting vehicle. It’s definitely unique and has been an excellent conversation starter allowing us to connect with new friends we might not have met without it. One time in Argentina, a couple of guys came into a bar and asked if that was our van. We said yes, and it turned out he had a Hyundai H1 (Hyundai version of the Delica) so he invited us to his house and we stayed up to the wee hours sharing food, beers and stories. The same thing happened in the Northwest Territories of Canada, and several other times where we’ve met Delica owners and traveled together for stretches of the Pan-Am — all of these instances ending in amazing nights and new friendships.



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