On The Road Home, Gelandewagen Ambulance Build Thread

McBride

Adventurer
Devon,

What a cool build platform.

I picked up a G camper a few years ago and have learned a thing or two about not just keeping the weight down but paying close attention to how it's distributed, inside and outside the vehicle It originally had two spares on the roof above the cab and removing those made a huge difference in how it drove. You just can't have that much weight up high. There's nothing like spending a day on a rough dirt road flopping around. It's not only fatiguing but much harder on the vehicle. G's are tough but they have weight limits. Exceed them and something will break.

I'm sure you know this but it's important to keep the weight low, and put the heavy stuff between the axles, and close to the centerline of the vehicle when possible. The latter is pretty hard on a camper build bit the first two are easy.

Upper cabinets and the weight that goes in them are a performance killer. So are 3/4" plywood box type cabinets, counters and lazarette lids. Drawers are heavy and a serious waste of space. Metal slides are too heavy.

With good design and engineering you should be able to build out your interior and keep it all under 300lbs. 250lbs would be better and 200lbs would be very impressive. Lemme know if you need any ideas regarding that.

I was lucky that the guys who built mine used their heads and were able to keep the total vehicle weight pretty close to 7000lbs. It's nimble, has a low CG, drives flat and while the 5 cylinder turbo diesel is wound up at 55mph, it pulls the weight easily.Yeah, I'm a slow guy too! It's slow but it's suprisingly quick. There's a difference between slow and underpowered.

Do you know the current weight of the ambulance? Is the box insulated? What is the inside of the box skinned with? Do those side and rear windows open? Does it have the factory rear sway bar setup?

For all things mechanical JTrein is right in mentioning Clubgwagen and PointedThree Forums. Their is a ClubG member out of Germany who sells Gparts worldwide. He is the king of the 250GD. You'll definitely want to know him - first class guy.

Oh, and for heating, I tried several things over the years and ended up with a Cubic Mini wood stove. It suits my camping style perfectly and it's some serious heat. Most of my camping is in the winter. I remove it in the summer.

Anyway, looking forward to watching your build. Are you going to drive around Europe before you bring it home?

William
 

devonojas

Member
Devon,

What a cool build platform.

I picked up a G camper a few years ago and have learned a thing or two about not just keeping the weight down but paying close attention to how it's distributed, inside and outside the vehicle It originally had two spares on the roof above the cab and removing those made a huge difference in how it drove. You just can't have that much weight up high. There's nothing like spending a day on a rough dirt road flopping around. It's not only fatiguing but much harder on the vehicle. G's are tough but they have weight limits. Exceed them and something will break.

I'm sure you know this but it's important to keep the weight low, and put the heavy stuff between the axles, and close to the centerline of the vehicle when possible. The latter is pretty hard on a camper build bit the first two are easy.

Upper cabinets and the weight that goes in them are a performance killer. So are 3/4" plywood box type cabinets, counters and lazarette lids. Drawers are heavy and a serious waste of space. Metal slides are too heavy.

With good design and engineering you should be able to build out your interior and keep it all under 300lbs. 250lbs would be better and 200lbs would be very impressive. Lemme know if you need any ideas regarding that.

I was lucky that the guys who built mine used their heads and were able to keep the total vehicle weight pretty close to 7000lbs. It's nimble, has a low CG, drives flat and while the 5 cylinder turbo diesel is wound up at 55mph, it pulls the weight easily.Yeah, I'm a slow guy too! It's slow but it's suprisingly quick. There's a difference between slow and underpowered.

Do you know the current weight of the ambulance? Is the box insulated? What is the inside of the box skinned with? Do those side and rear windows open? Does it have the factory rear sway bar setup?

For all things mechanical JTrein is right in mentioning Clubgwagen and PointedThree Forums. Their is a ClubG member out of Germany who sells Gparts worldwide. He is the king of the 250GD. You'll definitely want to know him - first class guy.

Oh, and for heating, I tried several things over the years and ended up with a Cubic Mini wood stove. It suits my camping style perfectly and it's some serious heat. Most of my camping is in the winter. I remove it in the summer.

Anyway, looking forward to watching your build. Are you going to drive around Europe before you bring it home?

William
Hi William,

Thanks for all of the input! I've actually spent a bit of time on your build thread and it's great. One thing I haven't seen is the wood stove installed. Are there pics of it somewhere?

I All of your points ring very true to my experience living in our Four Wheel Camper. Weight distribution is extremely important. That's why I put all of our cabinetry and appliances in the front of the box, and will keep the area behind the rear axle light with seating and light storage. The water tank is the heaviest component, so I'm relocating the diesel heater that's in the front/center location and replacing it with the water tank.

Yesterday I did decide to forego the convenience of an onboard hot water heater. We will have to figure out a way of heating water on the stove and using it to bathe when necessary. By ditching the Webasto dual top evo and keeping the current diesel heater I save about 45 lb and $2000. It also saves enough interior space that I can easily fit the batteries inside of the camper. Seems like the obvious choice, especially considering that the hot water heater in our FWC was broken for the majority of our ownership and we've made do just fine.

I'm doing some load calculations to determine if I need two deep cycle batteries like in our current camper, or if I can get away with just one. We boon dock for weeks or even months at a time and nothing is a bigger bummer than losing all of your food because your fridge doesn't have enough juice. This is a deal breaker. I'm hoping that the top loading fridge is so much more efficient that we can get away with one good house battery. That's a lot of weight and space saved as well.

Regarding lightweight cabinetry: all of the verticals in the FWCs are made of 1/2" plywood. I assume that I'll do the same unless I can come up with a better system that I like. One huge advantage of doing this build in Europe is Reimo. They have all kinds of camper specific building supplies including lightweight furniture panels. 200-300 lb sounds ambitious, but it's a good goal to keep in mind.

I haven't been able to get a weight reading on the vehicle yet. One of the first things we're going to do is strip what I'm guessing is about 200 lbs of ambulance equipment out of the back. The box itself does not look light, but it is well insulated and very strong. It's an aluminum skin sandwiched onto insulation foam. The corners are all steel angle with rivets holding the panels in place. The structure must be very strong because the whole thing can be craned off with anchor points in the corners of the roof. It's way overkill and I'm sure that I could drop substantial weight by replacing the box with fiberglass skin and extrusions, but that is not in the cards for aesthetic and financial reasons. This is supposed to be a budget build! One really cool thing about the wall panels is a two T channels that run all the way around the interior. I can use these to hold cabinetry in place. Right now they hold cantilevered benches in place.

The current widows are not operable, so I'm planning on replacing them with Dometic / Seitz windows with built in screens and shades:

https://www.dometic.com/de-de/de/produkte/climate/fenster-und-türen/fenster

Thanks for contributing to my thread. I would love to continue to hear your thoughts as the build progresses.
 

devonojas

Member
There is a guy on here that grafted a hard shell rooftop tent onto his ambulance to gain both a sleeping area and headroom. Might be something to consider. The guys username is Abiti or something like that.
I've been thinking of doing this exact thing with either an AluCab tent, or something like a James Baroud tent. I would love to see another one and talk to the builder. Do you remember where you came across this?

Thanks
 

McBride

Adventurer
Devon,

Here are some pics that might help. Sorry I haven't posted any camper pics for quite a while.


Sounds like you are on the right track.


First is the Cubic Mini wood stove - 16,000 btu. Burns wood or coal. High quality construction with lots of accessories including a stainless heat reflector setup. Double wall stainless flue fits Dickinson Marine thru hull fittings and chimney caps with the adapter. My experience so far is that I'm in my socks and short sleeves in 5 degree F temps. One 5 gallon bucket of wood will last over 24hrs in extremely cold conditions. You need to dump ash every 12 hours or so. Glass door is nice. Its catalytic and has excellent flame control. Its a real stove. One of my favorite mods to the camper so far. I made a mount that sits it over the sink. I don't use the house water system in really cold temps - I put RV antifreeze in the tank. Instead I carry Arrowhead gallon jugs and melt snow or boil stream water in a kettle on the fireplace as needed to replenish my supply. Oh, and I got one of those fans that sits on the stove and is powered by the heat of the stove - it works great and keeps the camper evenly heated throughout.



Second pic is about the cabinets. All facades are 1/4" plywood. Cabinet face surface is formica - laminated to the 1/4" ply. Support framing is 1"x2" with the occasional 1"x3" at the corners. Visualize laminating 1/4" plywood to a face frame and then routing out the desired openings, then attaching the doors to thru the ply and into the framing - the resulting structure will be light and very strong. The cabinet rears are the interior skin of the camper (no backs) - just a ledger mounted to the outside wall to support the shelf and countertop. The outside cabinet corners are aluminum trim for durability. The countertop is 1/2" ply with formica with a 1 1/2" front edge. They did use 3/4" material for the doors. I figure I could lose 25 lbs by replacing those doors with a lighter, thinner material. In the end you can stand on these cabinets but I'd bet they don't weigh more than 200lbs, slide out bed mechanism included. Add the cook top and 20lb propane tank, fridge, cushions, 7 gallon water tank, pump and faucets, electrical and lighting and its in the likely in the 300lb range, dry and not including batteries. I'd bet you can do better. With 1'x2's, glue and 1/4" ply you can build a box that is extraordinarily strong, light and rigid - like a shipping crate. Veneer it with anything, including fabric or vinyl and it'll look good. Try it and you'll see. Also, the cabinets and counters aren't deep. The rear counter is about 13" deep and the side counter with the stove, sink wood stove is around 16" deep - a lot of counter space for a vehicle camper. All my food and cloths go into wire frame, cloth covered super light baskets. I can fit 12 of these pretty big baskets within the cabinets. Under the bed/seat cushions are lazarette lids and that is where propane, batteries, compressor, fridge (door type) go - with tons of room for other gear, boots, laundry, packs....


Third pic is of a common 12v water pump with a filter - cheap and available everywhere. In my rig its housed in a compartment accessed by removing the shelf bottom below the sink. If you were to put a 3 way valve on the intake side of the pump you could have a hose that you could run into a pot of warm water and have a pressurized shower. The other side of the 3 way valve would go directly to your house water tank. Put the valve in the middle position and it would act as a tempering valve. It doesn't take much water to have a good bath but having the water pressurized with a shower handle on a hose makes it much easier to be efficient and thorough. Make sure you get a shower handle with a push button valve. I'd expect the weight of the shower system could be kept down to a pound or two. No comparison to the complexity of an in house system, just a little more effort.


The last pic is of my rig as she stood about a year and a half ago. May improvements have been made since then, many more to come.


I'd go with 2 good capacity deep cycle AGM batteries - more capacity is needed in the winter and when you are far north or south and in precipitous, overcast weather. Redundancy is good in some cases. Especially since you are living in it - do it right now and you just won't have to deal with power issues. Skip any roof mounted solar panels if you are planning on that - too much weight up high, the sun, weather and branches will wear them out before anything else does, roof penetrations suck and the panels will always be dirty cause they are flat mounted, reducing their efficiency. Who wants to climb up top to clean them. Orienting the vehicle correctly for adequate gain means you'll always be parking in the sun. Instead, I'd suggest a tri-fold setup from Overland Solar and travel with it well protected inside the vehicle in the nice rigid case that comes with it. It comes with its own charge controller so its plug and play. Pick a spot in the shade and get their extension cord and you can put the panel 50' away in clear sun. You can take 15 seconds here and there throughout the day and position it for optimal gain as needed. I put a small Anderson Power Pole on the outside of my rig that is connected directly to my Aux battery so set up of the whole system takes about 180 seconds. Overland Solar uses excellent Bosch cells. You can stay parked for years with fridge, computers, chargers and radio running and not have any power supply issues. For trickle charging when you are away I could see a very small panel permanently mounted somewhere - maybe 5 or 10 watts - something you won't need a charge controller for. I do have a simple Blue Seas system 4 way battery switch so I can charge my battery and power the fridge off the alternator while I'm driving. More importantly, I can isolate my starting battery when at camp. I don't like the "smart" solenoid chargers. There more complex and expensive, I just don't trust them like an analog, heavy duty switch. Lot's of different size alternators are available for G's. Maybe get a new 95amp new factory unit - it won't even work hard and will charge the starting and aux batteries quickly. Don't skimp on an off brand, get the Bosch and make absolutely sure it has the clutch on the pulley - for diesels.


Anyway, hope you find some of that input useful. It's served me well so far.
 
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devonojas

Member
The pics didn't load!
The pics didn't load!
More useful input. Thanks!

I've been considering something really similar to what you're describing for the cabinetry. Good to know that others are using 1/4" successfully.

The only difference of opinion that I have with you is on the rooftop solar. In the 2.5 years that we've had our camper we've never had do anything to set up or maintain our solar panel. It just sits there and keeps our two AGM house batteries charged. We have a 160W panel permanently mounted to the front of the roof. We also frequently park somewhere where it would be either impossible to have panels on the ground, or I would worry about getting them stolen. For these reasons I think rooftop solar is the only option for us, but I definitely agree that roof penetrations should be avoided. I've had a roof leak and it is a total trip ender if there's rain in the forecast. If I end up with a roof that doesn't have some kind of mounting tracks I will have to consider the glue down flexible panels.

Will definitely consider upgrading the alternator. Thanks for that tip.

The solid fuel stove is a dream of mine. We need the diesel heater anyway, since most of the time we're just using the heater for 10 mins at a time to help take the bite out of getting out of ben on cold mornings before we break down camp. I think that it's going to have to be a, maybe one day, thing for now. Sure is dreamy though! Have you seen the wall mounted stove 73G1 uses in his G Ambulance:

http://forum.expeditionportal.com/threads/45652-300GDN-Ambulance-conversion/page2
 

McBride

Adventurer
Yes, I've,gone thru that thread many times. He has a great sense of all things aesthetic. Such a nice space he has created, in both iterations. I could never dream that up - my brain just doesn't work well in that way.

His stove is a Dickinson. They make the same stove in a diesel burner. I looked at those but went with the cubic mini due to higher BTU and the shorter height - it's what my space could accommodate height wise.

I total get you on the panels. On the remote, unmaintained overgrown trails I frequent while traveling solo a roof mount unit would get beat up in short order. My solar panel is my plan B starting solution so I can't risk it. Beyond the weight up high performance drawback, being in the sunny, hot Southwest parking in the sun is most often extremely uncomfortable - remote panel capability was a must. I just hated the thought of you being parked in a good morning sun position with that dark box - mine is white and in full sun its a total oven - even with all 7 windows open and the Marinco day/night fan going. I don't have experience with thin film panels but they might mitigate the weight issue.

I'll be interested to see what you come up with regarding your lightweight interior. Endless possibilities.

One last thing. Being a military box vehicle, I'd expect yours has the rear sway bar. It has a linkage rod on each side of the bar that connects it vertically to the shock mount. One just right flop/bump on the rear axle with a heavy load and the linkage rod can bend. When the vehicle levels out it will straighten out and snap - carry a spare rear linkage rod - they are cheap and the rear sway system is critical to drivability.
 

devonojas

Member
Yes, I've,gone thru that thread many times. He has a great sense of all things aesthetic. Such a nice space he has created, in both iterations. I could never dream that up - my brain just doesn't work well in that way.

His stove is a Dickinson. They make the same stove in a diesel burner. I looked at those but went with the cubic mini due to higher BTU and the shorter height - it's what my space could accommodate height wise.

I total get you on the panels. On the remote, unmaintained overgrown trails I frequent while traveling solo a roof mount unit would get beat up in short order. My solar panel is my plan B starting solution so I can't risk it. Beyond the weight up high performance drawback, being in the sunny, hot Southwest parking in the sun is most often extremely uncomfortable - remote panel capability was a must. I just hated the thought of you being parked in a good morning sun position with that dark box - mine is white and in full sun its a total oven - even with all 7 windows open and the Marinco day/night fan going. I don't have experience with thin film panels but they might mitigate the weight issue.

I'll be interested to see what you come up with regarding your lightweight interior. Endless possibilities.

One last thing. Being a military box vehicle, I'd expect yours has the rear sway bar. It has a linkage rod on each side of the bar that connects it vertically to the shock mount. One just right flop/bump on the rear axle with a heavy load and the linkage rod can bend. When the vehicle levels out it will straighten out and snap - carry a spare rear linkage rod - they are cheap and the rear sway system is critical to drivability.
Good point on the dark color in the sun. Our current rig has a white roof and silver sides. We usually park in full sun and I’m always surprised how not-hot it is in the daytime. I really want to maintain the military look, but I’ll consider using the desert colors when we repaint.

I believe that we do have the tear away bar. I’ll definitely talk to the GfG guys about adding one to my spare kit.

Thanks,
Devon
 

PHeller

Adventurer
Bill,

Because I enjoy your G-Wagen so much, I'll throw out a picture I took of it back at the muddy and miserable 2015 Expo West:

 

devonojas

Member
Wow. It's hard to believe that 11 months have past since I started this build thread, and just as long since I last looked at it. As you might expect, this build was waaay more demanding than I expected in terms of time, money and physical abuse. In the coming weeks I should finally have some time to unpack some of my build process through a totally unexpected spring and summer living in Berlin building this rig. In fact, I used up more time than my legal limit on the build, so our actual travel time in the Wagen thus far has only been a couple of weeks.

To kick things off (again) I'm going to post some photos of the rig in its current state. I managed to get everything from my plans into the truck—a lifting roof, pressurized hot and cold water, outdoor shower, diesel cooktop, diesel heater, 80l fresh water, 50l gray water, 190 watt solar, universal voltage battery charger, LED lighting, HiFi stereo, cassette toilet, 50l fridge AND storage for 3 surfboards up to about 7'6"--all inside of the 6x8' box. I have sooo many trials and tribulations to discuss here, but for now I'll just add that I have fallen deeply in love with this truck and I expect to own and continue working on it in some capacity for the a looooong long time.
 

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devonojas

Member
As I'm starting to recount this process in my head, I'm realizing that virtually every aspect of this project has at least one failed attempt before I got to where I am now. I considered just sharing the successful parts of my build, but I think that anyone who's actually interested in doing something similar will learn much more from all of the failures along the way so I'm going to include them. Sometimes it felt almost humorous how much could go wrong, so I hope that it's at least a little bit funny here.
 

devonojas

Member
Pop Top

Late last year I came across this pop top kit for FRP boxes, manufactured in Australia by a company called StyroMax. This looked like a really interesting solution for my ambulance box, but after several failed attempts to contact StyroMax by phone and email I gave up. Then I found a YouTube channel by a guy calling himself English Nomad in Oz. He was using this same product on his 70 series build. I asked him where he got the extrusions and he referred me to aussietraveller.com.au. Phil is their international guy and he hooked me up!

https://styromax.com.au/products/styropop-top/

https://www.aussietraveller.com.au/

I ordered the kit to the shop I would be working on in Berlin and started pouring over any info I could find on these extrusions. The walls of my box are a total of 50mm thick, and these profiles are made to slide over a 28mm panel, so I would have to build a curb on the roof out of a square aluminum extrusion. The second issue was that AussieTraveller doesn't sell any lifting mechanisms, but I figured that I could kick this problem down the road a bit. I would also have to find a panel manufacturer to make the actual roof panel. I connected with Andreas @ Box Manufaktur and he agreed to make me my roof panel. Since he builds full scale adventure vehicles I also asked him to mount my solar panel and cut out the hole for my Fantastic Vent Fan as well.

My first trip to Berlin was in late March. It was only about two weeks long. My goal was to get the pop top installed and all of the equipment from Reimo ordered. Sounds like a slightly ambitious, but reasonable goal, right? Well, spoiler alert, it was a total failure.

The trip started off alright. My pop top kit arrived just about a day before I did... perfect. My shop mate / landlord / host / new best friend and all around savior, Jakob, and I quickly determined that the chop saw at the shop was not tall enough to cut these huge aluminum profiles, but Jakob had a great relationship with a metal fabrication shop nearby and they would be able to easily cut the profiles perfectly to size. I dropped off the profiles and the measurements at the shop and returned a few days later to pick them up. As soon as I unwrapped the parts I found that two of the lengths of the top were shipped in the wrong color. Damn! Okay, I'll have to just spray paint the whole thing. I then got to work on a really long day of glueing (Sika 221i) and riveting (with a hand riveter) all of the pieces together. It was way more work than I expected. I thought it would be a finished by lunch situation, but I was struggling to get everything assembled by about 21:00 (9pm). Finally finished, I wanted to admire my work by stacking the top and bottom profiles as they would be on top of the truck. This was when I really started freaking out. They just didn't stack right! Moving the top and bottom corners flush in one place would always pull them apart somewhere else. The way these profiles join together kind of ensures that they're square, so I couldn't figure out how my work could have screwed things up. When I measured all of the sides I found that the metal shop had cut two of the sides at incorrect lengths, both within 1-2 cm of where they should have been. There was no way this was going to look okay, and no way that I could get replacement parts on this trip. As you can probably imagine, I was FURIOUS. That night I called AussieTraveler and to my amazement they agreed to send me replacement parts for the top profile since they shipped the wrong color. I would just have to pay for the shipping. With a cooler head I went back to the metal shop and told them about the problem, and the solution: they would have to receive the next shipment of parts from Australia and cut them correctly. They fessed up to the mistake and agreed. It took a lot to not lose it on these guys, but I have to say, they ended up being a huge asset to the project and in the end I'm really glad to have had them on board.

I told Box that they would have to hold off on delivering my roof panel. I had to return home to New York to get some work done and I wouldn't be back for almost two months. All that we could really get done on this trip was the new windows. I'll do another post about that.

NEXT TRIP

I returned to Germany in early June. The metal shop had already cut all of the replaced parts and confirmed that they were the right size. I also had Box scheduled to deliver the panel about a week later and I was feeling pretty good about the way things were lining up.

I also solved the missing lifting mechanisms by using the scissor type lifters I saw other people using online. I still don't know why, but I can't find anyone selling these outside of Australia, or anyone in Australia that will ship them internationally. The only other people I can find using this kind of mechanism is Sportsmobile -- maybe they have some kind of patent in the US?

I had the metal shop make the 25mm square profile "curb" that I mounted the pop top on. I wanted to keep the hoist rings on the corners of the ambulance box. As I've said before, I wanted to change the appearance of the tuck as little as possible and I think these rings are a key detail on the Zeplin made box. So we made the curb 40cm shorter than the box is front to back.

The new top and bottom came together perfectly, as they should. I decided to spray paint the whole thing the period correct german army green (RAL 6031, Bronzegreen), total matte with a brand of spraypaint called Sparvar. This is significant info, as you will see later if you keep reading.

We installed the lifters and the roof panel. It was looking so good!

Now, time to install the vent fan. I wanted to use FantasticVent becuase it's worked really well for us in our FWC and parts are really easy to come by around the world. However, the fan is WAY more expensive in Europe and was backordered at the time. Simple solution: I would just buy one at home and install it in the pre-cut hole in the FRP panel. Andres and I both decided this is the obvious solution. So I bought the fan on Amazon for $160. Great! I carried this fan to JFK, and then from the airport in Germany to a bus station, on the S-Bahn, then in a taxi to the apartment where we're staying and the the S-Bahn again to the shop. That was a lot of work to save a few bucks, but then when I went to install it, IT DID NOT FIT! The hole was too big for the fan. Of course, I'm thinking that Box Manufaktur screwed up and I get Adreas on the phone (Andreas is really great, BTW and I would gladly refer him to anyone). Andreas says that they install these all the time and he knows off had that the mounting hole is 400x400mm. I Google the fan and the website also says 400mm. So I measure the hole and sure enough it's 400x400mm. After a little more time on the Dometic site I cound that if you I figure out that Fantastic (now Dometic) makes this fan in two different sizes, a 12" (350mm) for the US market and a 400mm size for Europe.

With impending rain I needed to solve this quickly. At one of the local Reimo dealers I found only one fan in stock. Of course, it was the top of the line (with functions I don't want) fan at the European price of 380 Euros! Now that I'd spent quadruple on the fan, I had to have what I wanted, so I disassembled them both and assembled my original fan with the bigger 400mm flange from the Euro fan. This would unfortunately end up being par for the course.

Cutting out the roof out was relatively straight forward. Andreas told me that I could literally just glue everything together, but I added some sheetmetal screws, to clamp everything together more than anything else. After months of preparation, it came together pretty quickly. I Sika'd all around the bottom and inside of all rivets for waterproofing and I was ready for my first weekend trip: the GFG G Wagen Festival a few hours away. I'll post some pics from there next as a little build break.

Edit: I wanted to add another great resource if you're in Europe. I bought the hold down latches and a bunch of other great hardware for this build from https://www.ganter-griff.com/en/home
 

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