Downsides to ambulances

nhbubba

New member
Greetings.

Registered to ogle the photos from all ya'll's build threads. Big thanks for posting them. Consider this a blanket thank you to all that share your work and results on these forums. :bowdown:

I am ambulance curious. I ride motorcycles, a lot. Last year I started road racing. This means I go to a race track for a weekend, spent mind blowing amounts of cash in exchange for an opportunity to ride around in circles with a bunch of other egomaniacs and maybe just maybe win myself a plastic trophy. Well, still working on the trophy thing. Right now I roll in towing my "race bike" on an open utility trailer behind my FWD econobox commuter car. I sleep in a tent and eat whatever horrible concessions are available in the infield all weekend. This experience is unhealthy and uncomfortable. I'm in the market for an upgrade.

Prevailing wisdom is to either hook a 7x14 enclosed utility trailer up to a pickup and SUV.. or go big and buy a toy-hauling camper. I'm aiming to be a cheapskate and get this done with a van. Someone recently tipped me off about ambulances. Seems like a viable option. After reading a couple threads here I'm fired up about the idea.

Talk me out of it. Save me.

Goal would be to build a low-buck, undersized class B motorhome of sorts. Except there would be no running water. No custom upholstery. And no matching throw pillows. I need a vehicle I can fit a racing motorcycle, some spare parts, and a weekend worth of beer in. Once at the track I would unload the machine, consume half the beer and use the reclaimed space to roll out a cot or air mattress and sleep in luxury up off the ground, away from the mosquitos and rain.

I like the late 90's and early 00's Type I and III ambies. All in my area seem to be Ford F and E-series based with the well regarded 7.3l powerstroke turbo diesel and 1-ton dually rear axles. I have virtually no experience with full size trucks or diesels. But everyone I talk to seems to think this setup would cover my needs and then some. Most in my area seem to have 100-200k.. which I understand to be mid-life for these drivetrains. Even if an engine or trans rebuild were required, prices seem to accommodate budgeting that. These things are considerably cheaper than clean work-vans. I'd toss a receiver hitch on to optionally hook up a trailer when needed. I like that ambies all seem to have aluminum boxes and are wired for external shore power (available at the track I go to most).

I have no plans to do any 4wd conversions. I would want to use this vehicle primarily for traveling to a destination, setting up camp, and then unloading a 2-wheeled machine to go play. I am more interested in road manners than off-roadability.

Tell me I'm wrong.

Other options I am entertaining are the much (much, much) more expensive Sprinter vans and the newer high-roof Nissan NV2500.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
You're talking about a motovan. Great idea. Not a new idea. The ambulance would allow standing up which is a bonus.
 
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flightcancled

Explorer
My thought is that you may want to put the bike on a hitch based rear platform rather then putting it all the way up in the back. A rig with rear air bags would let you drop the back for loading and unloading.

A lot of the decision goes towards YOU personally. Do you have the time and patience? Are you willing to admit that your budget will probably get totally blown?

Let me ask you a question. I've been thinking about putting together a FAQ thread where we can pool info better for those getting started or trying to decide if they will take the plunge. Would that help?


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nhbubba

New member
I know vans + motos are old news. But the idea seems incredibly passe these days. 99.999% seem to favor a fire belching stupid-duty pickup instead.

I do know one that runs an ambulance for this use. He speaks favorably about it. I always saw his rig and thought he'd done it just to be different. I'm starting to think maybe he is onto something though.

It's like I tell my friends, I have way more time than money. Patience.. well, sometimes I have that too.

I'd read a faq. Most definitely. I've been working through a lot of build threads. I made it all the way through hobitony's excellent build thread as my first exposure to this site. Following a couple currently active build threads here as well.

What I'm interested in is a discussion of pros/cons of ambulances vs traditional vans. Most notably the E-series based rigs vs their cargo van cousins. What I find interesting is a couple build threads end in "well, this was fun, but we're selling it" and such. Why sell? And what's the trade up?

I'm in the rosy cheeked stage of lust right now. Looking for some grounding. What are the major pitfalls of these conversions?
 

nhbubba

New member
My thought is that you may want to put the bike on a hitch based rear platform rather then putting it all the way up in the back. A rig with rear air bags would let you drop the back for loading and unloading.
I'm open to a trailer. Another appeal of a 1-ton van/truck based build is tow capacity is more than enough to handle a 2-2500 lbs open utility trailer with bikes on it. I've been advised that putting a stinky, dirty, leaky motorcycle in your living room isn't the hottest of ideas. Far less secure though.

Ambulances still seem like a better route than your average class B motorhome or pickup with a drop in camper. Probably because those options have plumbing and such niceties, which I'd be willing to forego in a custom DIY conversion.

Basically what I really want, but am not willing to pay for is an Outside Vans Sprinter conversion. They make a model called the 'basecamp' that I think would do nicely.



I like this as it is minimalist and multipurpose. Throw in some modular furniture including a cot/bunk and some modular storage and I think you're cooking. Wired for shore power and maybe a cabinet with a dorm mini-fridge and a small microwave secured with some cleats.. I dunno, thinking out loud at this point. Maybe a bank of fixed cabinetry on one side with a fold up or removable bunk on the other. Cleats on the ground for securing large loads (motorcycles).

Seems like an ambulance can do all of this too. For way, way less. The late 90's/early 00's Ford E and F-series 1-tons with the 7.3l seems like a really robust platform worthy of investment. Far more attractive price point than the Sprinters.
 

ert01

Adventurer
I can't speak of ambulances in particular, but this is my observed .02 regarding why people sell off their "pride and joy" expedition vehicles...

I think the major pitfall is that to do everything "right" and in a timely fashion, it gets expensive. Fast.

If you are willing to settle for a home built interior without ALL the creature comforts of a house, then you should be a lot more capable of staying on budget and on time. I think people just get frustrated with the level of effort and money they put it and over such a long time that it just wears them thin.

Do you really need a microwave in your vehicle? And the associated solar array and massive battery bank and inverter setup that goes along with it? Probably not.

How about a fancy sofa that converts into a bed at the touch of a button that runs some motors and pneumatic cylinders and has limit switches and a $1000 mattress on it? Probably not. I'm ok with a cot and a sleeping bag that I can set up myself.

People get caught up in building the VERY best... And I find myself doing it too... Because they think "hey, I'm talented and I have tools, so I can build something that's better than what you can buy". And while it very well may be true, it also eats up time and money and adds frustration.

There's a reason sportsmobiles are so expensive and an ambulance can be bought so cheap... It's because you need to build the ambulance yourself. To get it up to sportsmobile comfort and fit and finish, you will be putting in an exuberant amount of time and money and you will probably be sick of fixing it and building it before you even get a chance to use it.

BUT if you can control your spending, and your urge to make everything perfect and top-of-the-line, then an ambulance might be the ticket.
 

Petrolburner

Explorer
I'd opt for a 10' box van instead. More room inside the box, lighter weight, single rear wheel, has a low floor height etc. Nice ones available for sub $10,000. Get one with the aerodynamic thing above the cab for better highway mileage. Injectors and pumps on those old diesels can be expensive. For as many miles as you would put on it annually, the fuel cost would be about the same as a diesel. Compare the mileage vs cost of diesel vs unleaded. I've spent a lot of time making the same decision as you and I'd shy away from an ambulance because of the overall weight of the rig and the fuel mileage. I think the best of all would be a high topped wheel chair van with tall rear doors. It's normal width, easy to drive and park, but you can stand up inside and the tall rear doors make putting a moto in the back easier.
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
I'll put in a vote for a used Sprinter Van. The ability to stand up inside is huge, and they are much better to drive than an ambulance and some will break 20 mpg. With adaptable funiture, you can have a bike hauler and an RV without too much trouble.

There are several substantial build threads about moto-hauling Sprinters over on the Sprinter-Source forum, covering conversions of everything from beater T1Ns to new ones. Edward (Geek on the forum) probably has the most elaborate build thread:

http://sprinter-source.com/forum/showthread.php?t=17258

 

njtacoma

Explorer
This is pure speculation, but echoes what has been said earlier. I wonder if people get worn out with the build, before they get to enjoy it.
In the domestic section there was a guy that realized he wanted to camp more than build so he sold his army ambulance project and purchased a diesel truck and a 4wc. And I think Herbie (I apologize if I misquote) talked about the build of his astro and the amount of time and money it has taken would have better spent traveling.

I sold a Land Cruiser after a v8 swap because I was just done with the truck (frustrated, not finished).

My next "build" will be super simple, just enough to be reliable and useful.
 

flightcancled

Explorer
Well to that point the nice thing about an ambulance over a box truck is that it comes in a state where you can quickly build a sleeping platform and use it.

Generally speaking all our builds fall into two categories: full gut and rebuild and modify as needed. Typically modification builds focus on rebuilding the bench are on the right side. You can strip it down and put in a bed setup in 1-2 hours if you want to be completely minimalist. From there you can chip away at things as you wish. This leaves the rig usable at all times for light weekend use.


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nhbubba

New member
There are several substantial build threads about moto-hauling Sprinters over on the Sprinter-Source forum, covering conversions of everything from beater T1Ns to new ones. Edward (Geek on the forum) probably has the most elaborate build thread:

http://sprinter-source.com/forum/showthread.php?t=17258

He's posted that van on a motorcycle site I read (advrider) as well. I've read every damned page of it. It's what got me started on this whole idea. And god, can he take a photograph. Or maybe it's just that beautiful west.

Very close to exactly what I want. Although he's now doing a "redesign" to accommodate a shower, and I can't understand why. My goal would be something similar to that, plus/minus a more single guy, road racer slant.

A sprinter would be excellent. Lower load deck. Higher roof. Less conspicuous and easier to hide in the driveway without annoying the neighbors. But it is considerably more expensive of a place to start. "Beater" T1Ns do not exist here. Not without serious body rust. I've spent a fair amount of time looking. I'm nearly prepared to admit defeat and go Nissan NV2500 high-roof instead. The Nissan is a waaaaay better deal. And the savings would buy an awful lot of gas.
 

86scotty

Explorer
I would keep an open mind at this point and keep looking for a T1N Sprinter, a shuttle or handicap van, or a box truck. I would also just make sure it's a 1-ton (E350 or 3500) if it's Ford or Chevy, and by all means don't bother with a diesel domestic. Too much money for your purposes sounds like. A 5.4 Ford would be great for you and they are everywhere. I would steer clear of the Nissan because they get horrible fuel mileage I've heard, plus the cost of a new vehicle.
 

nhbubba

New member
The draw of the Nissan is it is a hi-top without having a fiberglass top ready to leak or coming with German repair bills. All things equal I'd rather have a domestic V8 or diesel. The Nissan would be my 2nd choice. And the Sprinter my last choice. I hear the repair bills can get nasty.

Still, that high roof. Ooooh..

The appeal of the ambulance seemed like it was because of the aluminum box and stout drivetrain. Seemed ripe for conversion. Doesn't seem like a huge difference between a class B motorhome and an ambulance.

Sounds like the GVWR kills it.. which is critical for my application. I need payload and tow rating. Guess I'll re-think some options.
 
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