We’ve pulled the trigger on our new rig but before I get to the “what”, I thought I’d elaborate a little on the “why”.
Over the years, we have been fortunate to have owned a variety of on / off-road vehicles, such as a sweet D-90, a couple of Range Rovers, a couple of Hummers, a couple of Jeep Grand Cherokees, an FJ Cruiser, etc. Over the years, we have rented and borrowed several Class A motor homes. A couple of years ago, while borrowing my brother’s 40’ diesel pusher for a road trip through the southwest, we decided that we wanted something that we could travel for extended amounts of time and travel to just about any destination on or off the tarmac. While rolling in the motor homes, we found ourselves always wanting to venture where the traditional motor home with severely restricted ground clearance, extensive overhangs and limited turning radius could not go. We wanted a small self-contained adventure vehicle in which we could “live” inside.
As many of you know, in 2008, we purchased a 2008 Sportsmobile 4x4 Ford E350 van.
It revolutionized our overlanding experience. It took us to so many great places over the two years that we owned it. In fact, during those two years, we were blessed to have logged close to 75,000 miles and spent well over 200 nights in it. Because of the way that the Sportsmobile met our needs, we seriously considered another Sportsmobile, probably an exact replica of what we had. However, with the high number of miles that we logged over the past two years, and with the strong desire to do the same if not more in the future, we started looking for a heavy-duty chassis that will theoretically last 1,000,000 miles or so. I guess one could make a Sportsmobile or a Ford F-550 go 500,000 miles, but I am not that person.
We have enjoyed our travels through the western states and I was able to enjoy a quick trip into Baja with the Overland Training Alumni. For now and the foreseeable future, our sights are set on travelling within the North American continent. Specifically, we are looking forward to exploring British Columbia, the Yukon, Alaska, Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the east coast of the US, not to mention continuing to explore and enjoy the incredible western states.
We have labored over this decision. It has not come without many hours of research, discussion and thought. I would like to thank so many here on Expedition Portal for all of their contributions and would like to extend a very warm thank you to Jay, Chip, Doug and kudos to Stephen Stewart who assembled “Choosing an Overland Campervan” http://www.xor.org.uk/silkroute/equipment/choosevan.htm. This is an incredible resource for anyone asking some of the same questions that we have asked.
My research indicated that there aren’t too many options when it comes to heavy duty chassis that are available here in the states that incorporate 26,000 + GVWR, factory 4 wheel drive and factory single rear wheels. I took an interest in the Mercedes Unimog U500 and the International 7500 WorkStar series truck.
When it comes to the Unimog, I have to admit that when I saw the Global Expedition Vehicles (GXV) Unimog U500 with their integrated camper at the first Overland Expo 2009 I refused to even get near it as I knew it would be just too tempting.
(I’m sure that you have seen them advertised over the years just inside the cover of Overland Journal.) Then GXV had another U500 unit in a similar configuration at the Overland Expo 2010.
This time, I was brave enough to wander over and have a closer look. I was impressed, to say the very least. So impressed that when my wife said that she wanted to see the second largest cross in the western hemisphere (19 stories tall) in Groom, Texas someday, I told her let’s do it and that from there we could just run on over to GXV in Nixa, Missouri. I know, you’re thinking that is pushing it, but I knew of no other way to find out about the Unimog and Global Expedition Vehicles.
We made the trip and really enjoyed our time at GXV. Mike and Rene’ opened up the place to us and Mike took us out in their Freightliner “Patagonia” rig and in the Unimog “Expedition” rig. We were really impressed with both rigs. The fit and finish was incredible. The interior of the cabin (living area) spaces were amazing. Our schedule left us a little pressed for time, but we were impressed by what we saw and felt quite welcome by everyone at GXV.
Since I was most interested in the Unimog (even though my wife said that it looked like a garbage truck), I wanted to drive it and experience it from the cockpit. I flew out to Springfield, MO and met up with Mike to drive the Unimog. My impression is that the U500 is “off the charts” when it comes to its off-road prowess with some compromise when it comes to the highway. I came away thankful for the experience, but knowing that I was interested in a little more highway comfort and more top-end power. I was willing to sacrifice some of the über off-road capability.
When it comes to the choice of an overland vehicle, we each need to decide what is right for us. We have to evaluate our needs and our wants. Where and how we travel is a significant part of that evaluation. I have determined that this decision involves some compromises. While we love to get away from it all, travel deep into the back country and spend time away from civilization, we also do not want to suffer significantly while getting there. Many of our travels, just to get to the place where we leave the tarmac, include up to 1,000 miles or more of highway driving each way.
We decided to purchase a new chassis, knowing full well that the cost will be more and the chassis incorporate extensive electronics, etc. We also know that any “new” U.S. legal chassis will require the use of Ultra-Low Sulphur diesel (ULSD). Since our targeted travels will be in areas that ULSD should be available, that is not an issue. Another benefit to purchasing a new chassis is the availability of extended warranties. Again, another additional cost, but this investment is acceptable because I don’t have the expertise, nor do I want to make the investment in time to upgrade and wrench an older chassis.
In terms of the cabin (living area), we considered the Earthroamer XV-LT, the offerings from Unicat and Global Expedition Vehicles (GXV). The Earthroamer XV-LT is currently only offered on the Ford F550 chassis. As mentioned before, that chassis is not of interest to us. We visited Avi Meyers who represents Unicat here in the states. We toured two of the Unicat Americas rigs. They were very nice but extremely expensive. When comparing between the Unicat and GXV offerings, I was surprised to see that the components are very similar. It turns out that a comparably equipped Unicat is almost twice the cost of the GXV. I also like the fact that the GXV is assembled in the United States.
We are excited to say that we have ordered a 2011 International 7500 WorkStar SFA 4x4 truck chassis and we have commissioned Global Expedition Vehicles to assemble and mount GXV "Expedition" body onto the truck chassis.
I have included some sketches that are pretty rough but might help to provide an indication of what we are working toward.
INTERNATIONAL 7500 SFA 4X4
Cab to axle: 114”
GVWR: 33,000 lbs
Estimated Chassis weight: 14,333 lbs
Engine: MaxxForce 10, 310 HP, 1050 lb-ft Torque
Transmission (Automatic) - Allison 3000 (Rugged Duty) 5-Speed, Overdrive, On/Off Highway
Front axle: Meritor MX-12-120, Single Reduction, 12,000 lb Capacity
Rear axle: Single Meritor MS-21-14X-6DCR, Single Reduction, Wide Track, 21,000 lb Capacity
Driver Controlled Locking Differential
Gear Ratio: 4.88
Tires: Goodyear G178 in 425/65R/22.5, load range L, 20 ply
Even with fuel, water, food and gear, we should end up weighing well below the GVWR. We have specified rugged duty service and off-highway components when possible.
GLOBAL EXPEDITION VEHICLES "Expedition"
The GXV cabin is made up of 2.36" structural composite panels of FRP clad polyurethane foam insulation (R20).
The following are the cabin dimensions:
Cabin Length: 15' 10" (190") exterior / 15' 6" (186") interior front-to -rear
Cabin Width: 96" exterior / 91" interior sidewall-to-sidewall
Cabin Height: 7' 4" (88") exterior / 6' 6" (78") interior floor-to-ceiling
Overall Length: 27’ 5” (329”)
Overall Width: 8’ (96”)
Overall Height: 11’ 4” (136”)
We anticipate that the truck will be built in late March / early April. We hope that the assembly and integration of the cabin will occur shortly thereafter.
I would like to, once again, extend my thanks to the Expedition Portal and the many who contribute so much information. I’ll update with more details, photos and information as we proceed ahead.
The waiting is the hardest part!