What Cheap Vehicle Should Wandering Frenchmen Buy To See North America?

Yesterday, our DAF-photographing French friend Franzouse sent me the kind of question that takes quite a bit of thought to answer:

Two very good friends of mine just quit their jobs to go on a 6 month road trip along the Pacific, from San Francisco to Panama; Their plan is to buy a vehicle in SF, drive through the American west, Mexico and Central America documenting their trip, and then sell the vehicle in Panama. Both dudes are serious drivers and have asked me for advice on finding the right vehicle and the right way to purchase it. Do you have any tips, ideas? Their budget is about $4000.

Of course, they could be all practical and get themselves a nice reliable '83-86 Tercel 4WD... but my advice was that they'd need to ship a Dangel Peugeot 504 4x4 over here... and that they'd need to start their epic road trip in Alaska, not San Francisco. Could there be a better choice than a Dangel? If so, what?