Another two Sportsmobile design failures.

Explorer 1

Explorer
#1

On a recent trip I creased the drivers side rear panel against a tree. I took the SMB to a friend who is "old school" when it comes to body work meaning he uses little or no bondo. While at his shop he pointed out that the two rear door hinges has sagged from the weight of the spare tire and the swing out storage tray. The weight of these when driving off road pull the hinges toward the center causing the door to not seal properly. This would explain the excessive amount of dust sucked in from the rear when driving on a dusty road. He has a fix in mind but first must either straighten out the bent hinges or install new ones.












#2
I chose to have SMB, when building my vehicle, install a side awning. Interesting enough it has only been used once early in our ownership. Recently, when hand washing the vehicle I noticed some body cracks coming from the attachment points where the awning was installed. SMB when installing the awning did not install any reinforcement to the attachment points, they just pressed in rivet nuts and screwed in the awning. With time the weight of the awning was too much for the thin sheet metal and you can see the results.







Thanks,
Fred
Explorer 1
 

Railvan

Adventurer
Looks like an Aluminess rear bumper. The weight of the tire and tray are carried on hinges mounted to the bumper, not the rear door hinges. I've had the same rear bumper with a tire and tray on mine for 11 years and the rear doors don't look like that. Might have your friend look for other reasons for the doors to be that far out of whack.
 

chet6.7

Explorer
Sorry to see that,there is a guy on Youtube that bought an All Terrain Warrior from SMB,he is not happy either.
 

Explorer 1

Explorer
Looks like an Aluminess rear bumper. The weight of the tire and tray are carried on hinges mounted to the bumper, not the rear door hinges. I've had the same rear bumper with a tire and tray on mine for 11 years and the rear doors don't look like that. Might have your friend look for other reasons for the doors to be that far out of whack.
You're right in that they are Aluminess bumpers. However, if you look closely at the top of the bumper support for the spare tire, it is held in place by a bracket attached to the top of the door hinge. I'd send you a close up but the SMB isn't at home now but at the shop. Early on in my ownership experience, the spare tire support welds started cracking, I was sent to Aluminess for repairs. The cause of the cracks was to much weight leveraged on the arm. They added a support to the upright by attaching it to the door hinge. When you open the spare hinge arm you can feel and see it drop from the weight, so much that the arm scrapes against the top of the bumper.

I'm sure that here are dozens of SMB owners that haven't had this problem. The vehicle is marketed as an off road vehicle. Most SMB's that I see don't get much beyond dirt roads. These design failures are just two of the many I have experienced with my SMB. I understand that SMP and Aluminess no longer installed my size tires and rims on latter sales, however, that doesn't solve my problem. I noticed that SMB has made improvements on some of my failures in later models, I would hope they would rectify their prior design failures by correcting them with past customers, however, it would appear that current owners end up doing their field testing at the owners expense. (Sorry, I trying not to sound too disappointed)

Thanks,
Fred
Explorer 1
 

stormlover

Adventurer
How long have you had your SMB? Both of these design flaws have been addressed. Well, at least the first with a re-designed aluminess bumper. Weight limit is 150lb which can quickly be exceeded if carrying a generator, etc. There are other options for mounting the awning but yeah that was a dumb one.

Overall I think they do a decent job especially with their 4x4 conversion. But two design flaws there are actually letting a rear semi-float axle go out the door and the initial design on the shock/spring mounting plate. Most of us with a rig from the 2000s have broken this plate, since redesigned with a stronger gusset.
 

Explorer 1

Explorer
Joe,

I'm the original owner. It was built late in 2007. I do long range trips where extra fuel may be needed. SMB designed the rear storage tray to carrying 4 - 5 gallon gas cans. 5 gallons of diesel with a metal can weigh about 40 lbs each. 4 of them would be 160 lbs. Usually, I only carry a small Honda generator and one 5 gallon can. The tray has sagged and the side welds have also needed to be re-welded.

My tire size is a 35 x 13.50 with rims SMB purchased and sold in the original build.

My rear axle is a full float so I'm not familiar with the axle problem you mentioned.

As long as I'm typing, another design flaw is the side barn doors. my rear one, closest to the rear axle came with an attached cabinet. Within the first two years of ownership I had three visits to the Ford dealer because when driving on a bump road the rear door would loose it latching and start rattling. After three dealer attempts to fix it I was told by Ford that the door was never designed to support the weight of the attaching cabinet and they could not guarantee any fix.

All the cabinet in my unit are made of MDF which is very heavy and also prone to breakdown under bumping and shaking as is usual off roading. Beside the weight issues I have had to replace a number of screws in the cabinets because they have worked themselves out of the MDF leaving a larger hole. There are lighter and much stronger materials that could have been used to make the cabinets. Out the door my unit was just under $130,000. I would have expected a better quality and researched unit.

Thanks,
Fred
Explorer 1
 

southpier

Expedition Leader
yeahbut ... buying something expected to take the rigors & dynamics of four wheeling demands customer research & education. seeing anything made from MDF (except for ikea-style, sit in the corner until we can get some good stuff furniture) should raise an eyebrow. especially at that price point, which is how much in 2018 dollars (for replacement value)?

at 10 years old, I don't think SMB is interested. there's only one place you're going to get perpetual care, and even then, it's iffy.
 

Explorer 1

Explorer
yeahbut ... buying something expected to take the rigors & dynamics of four wheeling demands customer research & education. seeing anything made from MDF (except for ikea-style, sit in the corner until we can get some good stuff furniture) should raise an eyebrow. especially at that price point, which is how much in 2018 dollars (for replacement value)?

at 10 years old, I don't think SMB is interested. there's only one place you're going to get perpetual care, and even then, it's iffy.
Thanks,

I gave up with years ago with SMB. When I addressed the quality of the workmanship on other items their response was that it was difficult to get good labor when you have to make a competitive product.

My point is that if your going to use your 4x4 SMB for anything other than graded roads, the buyer needs to be aware or (buyer beware) that although it's sold as a off road vehicle their is neither the craftsmanship, quality or research put into the build for the additional strain and demand of anything more than pavement and graded roads. Please understand, SMB uses some quality parts such as Dynatrack, ARB, Exteme air, Atlas II and the Ford E-350. but their install of these items and the fit, finish and quality of the interior built in is inferior.

Thanks,
Fred
Explorer 1

 

EMrider

Explorer
I would agree with the OP about the durability and quality of the factory SMB interior finishes.

After about 8 years, I completely rebuilt my interior. This was largely because the original eb51 layout did not suit my needs, but I was also tired of fixing stuff that broke.

I also upgraded the leaf springs and shocks after about 8 years and the ride quality was much improved.

That said, the drivetrain has been great.

IMHO SMBs are too heavy for any challenging off roading. Don't even try. But I've put thousands of miles on mine all over DV, Mojave and the eastern sierras with no trouble. The going is slow, but it always gets me to and from my destination.

No doubt, they are an acquired taste.

R
 

Explorer 1

Explorer
I would agree with the OP about the durability and quality of the factory SMB interior finishes.

After about 8 years, I completely rebuilt my interior. This was largely because the original eb51 layout did not suit my needs, but I was also tired of fixing stuff that broke.

I also upgraded the leaf springs and shocks after about 8 years and the ride quality was much improved.

That said, the drivetrain has been great.

IMHO SMBs are too heavy for any challenging off roading. Don't even try. But I've put thousands of miles on mine all over DV, Mojave and the eastern sierras with no trouble. The going is slow, but it always gets me to and from my destination.

No doubt, they are an acquired taste.

R
Agreed,

I too removed the suspension that SMB placed on the vehicle. They used the standard "truck" rear leafs and then had someone make leafs that were also too stiff for the front. I had Deavers make a custom 15 leaf pack which allowed for more articulation and a much smoother ride over the washboard type surfaces. We relocated the leaf perches and changed out to a Bilstein shocks.

So there is no confusion, my complaint isn't that the vehicle won't make it on the intermediate and occasional difficult trails, it's what condition it ends up being, when finished.

I found a couple of pictures of the rear storage tray and spare tire arm.







Thanks,
Fred
Explorer 1
 

stormlover

Adventurer
I can't say I'm too impressed with the mdf interior either but mine is decently put together. It is what it is. There are a number of new outfits doing camper conversions but ...for a price. I wonder what SMB's margin is? It's a big enterprise, I doubt anyone is getting rich.

But, since it's a gripe thread about SMB the springs on the mid 2000s conversions did suck. The rear were stock and the front made by ARB. Mine were reversed arched and the ride sucked so bad I was more than eager to pay Deaver $4k for their spring package with custom-valved Bilstein shocks. That didn't last 20,000 miles before I broke the lower mounting plate. In the process of getting the shocks rebuilt I also discovered that Deaver had misled me. The Bilsteins are not custom-valved at all. Oh yeah, and no warranty. Guess that's a Deaver thing and not SMB related but I think they now source their springs from Betts.

shock mount1.JPG

shock mount3.JPG

And I do find it rather odd that they spec 30 spine axles on the front Dynatrac ProRock60 axle. Sure it's probably fine for most applications but no 4wd enthusiast in their right mind would do that. According to Dynatrac it's not a cost thing so why not spec 35 spline especially if you know folks might put a locker in the diff.
 

Explorer 1

Explorer
Looks like an Aluminess rear bumper. The weight of the tire and tray are carried on hinges mounted to the bumper, not the rear door hinges. I've had the same rear bumper with a tire and tray on mine for 11 years and the rear doors don't look like that. Might have your friend look for other reasons for the doors to be that far out of whack.
I have the van back now. Here are the braces I mentioned that mine have that attaches the bumper arms to the rear door hinges.



Now that we have taken the bumper apart we can see that the strain on the door hinges has bent them. Looks like we may need to replace the Ford door hinges in addition to re-engineering the bumper to hold the weight of the swing arms instead of transferring the strain to the door hinges.

Thanks,
Fred
Explorer 1
 

RockRash

New member
*Warning written by someone with ADD might go back and forth but will make sense at the end*
I have hemmed and hawed about getting these bumpers because if this reason, my concern with aluminum is the long term stress without that bracket.
First thing i have owned a number of econoline vans for my buiseness and i have seen this happento the hinges , not to this degree, with one driver in particular that did not like slamming the car door so he drove around with them not fully closed most of the time. 100k milesin drivers side door no longer lined up properly and both rear doors also touched at the top.
The side barn doors also tend to have sticky hinges and if they are not lubed and perfectly smooth operating they will bend the hinge, required constant attention.
Also had one guy tried slam the door with the broom handle sticking out of the left upper corner the door didn’t shut and bounced open and bent the hinge almost as much as you doors are out of alignment.
This condition with all of the off road riding could also be from not fully closing the door and the weight of the doors is on the hinge , not on the latches within the door frame.
Also, the next time you have you van in deep articulation try to open and than close any of the doors in the van and they will hit different parts of the body, especially the rear doors you can see complete misalignment . This can also be part of the door issue.
I have bent many a cromoly or steel bike frame, only one needing welding for cracks, every aluminum bike from bmx, full suspension mountain bike , cruiser, has developed crackers at weld points and one cracked a main tube , all with much less abuse than the steel bikes took.
I have a warn steel rear bumper on a 96 cherokee with a 36” super swamped on the tire rack that has 1 hinge point on the right and a latch on the left, along with the matching front winch bumper.
I have come off a ledge or a large rock, run into tree’s and boulders or whatever repeatedly and landed on the bumper with the full weight of the vehicle plus countless miles of trail rides over the last 11 years , and other than some minor dents and lots steel and paint scraped off, other than a minor bend in the front bumper from a tree at the top of a hill climb there is no cracking , bending or signs of fatigue from the leverage from the tire or failure of any kind.
While the weight of a steel bumper is the downside i believe the for anyone doing serious off Roading with the van steel would be the way to go, articulation will flex the frame causing these brackets to transfer the load sideways to the hinge, i have pictures of my van, and you can find many on this site where the side of the bumper , where the tire is compressed up into the wheel well , is closer to the body than the tire that is drooped away from the wheel well.
An occasional non extreme off reader will most likely have no issues.
When i fanally get off the pot it will most likely be steel for me.
 

brushogger

Explorer
We're having a local fabricator build us a rear bumper with swing arms from steel. Long term, I just can't see aluminum holding up with as much weight as will be on it. I'll be posting pics after it's complete. We're going aluminum up front where weight is more of a concern.
 

sourdough

Adventurer
For what it's worth. IMO, the issues discussed are RV Industry wide. My Provan Tiger Ram 4x4 suffers from the same design/build quality failures. I have Aluminess products front and rear. The typical industry suppliers for all the rest of the bells&whistles. Quality is hit&miss due to research and development but the worst is the basic installation of products. I have been very disappointed in every type and make of RV I've owned. That's camper shells, camper slide-ins, a class "B", couple trailers and now my class"C". That being said, I still enjoy getting out there, the upkeep does blow !
BTW, the cracks on the Aluminess bumper pic's are from the stress of flexing. Gussets would have added strength to those butted joints. Heat from the welds also played a roll on the failure due to the aluminum being made brittle. I am not impressed with the engineering of my Aluminess bumpers.
 
Last edited:
Top