Unimog expedition vehicle

jornvango

Member
Hoping to take off in the future on a trip starting in Europe > Asia > Africa and hopefully without an end date, we are researching which vehicle to buy. We currently have a 2008 Dodge RAM 3500 with the 6.7l Cummins diesel, dual rear wheel and 4x4. The truck has the diesel exhaust filter removed (DEF delete) so no (apparent) need to run ultra low sulfur diesel. On top of the truck sits a 2014 Livin Lite Camplite 8.6 truck camper (aluminium / fiber glass construction).

We've taken our current truck + camper into Mexico and Central America without issues, as well as up to Alaska. (we live in Arizona)

Now our question is: do we ship to Europe to start our trip or buy something (more suitable?) in Europe. The German mobile.de website seems to have many options available.
I have dual citizenship (Belgium + USA) and have family in Belgium. Buying something in Europe and registering it in Belgium is no problem.

Looking at the typical needs of an overlander: large fresh water tank, good/great 4x4 capabilities, solar / sufficient batteries / inverter, cold weather insulation, toilet / shower, reliable vehicle / 'easy' to maintain wherever we are / affordable parts if things break down ...
How would a Unimog with custom camper box work for these needs? The mobile.de website has several unimogs (all setup and ready to go camping) available in the 28K - 50K price range. These unimogs are usually from the late 70s to the late 80s.
How good/bad of an idea is this?

Thanks in advance!
 
Road-Mogs are suitable & up to the task. Plenty of people choose them, and score big on cool factor over the 'nadless chumps of non-'MOG 4x4s.
But they are almost too special for long distance & remote camper travel.
4x4 straight truck is generally more efficient, dozens of powerplant & drivetrain options over what 'Mogs offer & spares are not as specialised.
Realise bulk of your travel will be on road of somekind and good percentage will be paved or at least passable to most types of truck traffic.
I have a 'MOG camper. While I dont travel epic cross continent trips with it.
Even so, If a remote trail looks dodgy. I seriously hesitate traveling on. If I get a 'Mog stuck, (which I have a couple times)
There is crap little a lesser vehicle can assist with. Bonus points if stuck in remote area of Third World country.
I do drive cross continent
Anchorage to Halifax
Antwerp to Ulaanbataar
Ulaanbataar to Germany etc.
But I agree a Unimog is excessive 99% of the time. It was all I could buy in 2005 that was decent.
Getting stuck is bad/ Getting unstuck is usually DIY.

Charlie
 
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Joe917

Explorer
Mogs are great trucks but probably overkill 99% of the time. Also if you load them with a camper and all the gear that goes with full time living you will loose a lot of the trucks off road capability. Generally overlanding requires bad road trucks not off road.
There are a lot of great 4x4 trucks out there, Mercedes and MAN for starters.
 

Sitec

Adventurer
Mog or AK....?

Hi there.

I had this very dilemma, and decided against the Mog for several reasons... The cab has a small bonnet and therefore the chassis has a short platform for living, which in turn pushes the length of the body over the rear too much.. Secondly, they're very tall, so the weight ends up too high... And lastly, Weight full stop! They are limited to what they can carry..
Yes, they are awesome trucks, look fantastic, and will go some crazy places off road, but in reality, where are you going to take it? I have trucked the length and breadth of Africa, and been on some pretty average tracks, and a 4x2 always got us through... I drove for an overland tour company for a few years, and they ran (still do) Mercedes 1617's, 2421's etc and now the later Atego's. This is why I decided on the cab over 4x4 Mercedes 1222 A that I have now. 220hp V6 naturally aspirated diesel, 6 speed box, hub reduction axles, High and low box, front and back axle diff locks, and a comfortable decent highway speed and ride. Add to that room for an 18' body, tyres that are affordable, and parts that are on the shelf world wide. Just quote the chassis number.
Here's a link to a truck I looked very seriously at. Moneys right, length is right, good power, right axles, and tyres that will get you most places.. The only reason I didn't buy it was because of the work involved in converting it to RHD. There was a pair of them and they are ex Runway sweeper trucks, so have done minimal work. If you have the funds to get a simple body put on it, this is what I'd recommend buying. :)

https://www.vanvliet.com/vehicles/09020993/tractor-units/tractor-units/mercedes-1831-ak
 
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Iain_U1250

Explorer
A mog is not for most people, those who stick to the sealed roads or "good" dirt roads where a normal 4wd truck will be fine. Where a mog comes into it's own is going down the tracks that the normally only the Land Rovers and Land Cruisers dare to go on. We are lucky to have a lot of those places here in Australia. I am not sure if you need something like a mog in Europe, but once you get over to the more remote places, and especially if you are traveling solo like we do, having the extra off road ability just gives you the peace of mind to take the less traveled road.
 

Sitec

Adventurer
I'm interested to see where mine will actually go.. The few places we've been off road its not even worried about.. Creek crossings etc and a few very steep hills where stuff was falling off the top of the dash! Once the shed is built, I'll have time to get the crane off and think about an Overland Body that allows the chassis to really flex under it. We'd then be game to follow the Mog and see where we get.. :)
 

grizzlyj

Adventurer
Head or heart?

Hiya

Go for it! :)

Justifying a Mog is probably only really something that a big company looking at a twenty year payback period can sensibly do.

For any period of travel a Mog will be fine. Not as comfy as a new truck, not even as comfy as one of the more road based trucks from the same decade. Won't fit everywhere a Landy sized 4x4 will. And with that small bonnet you do indeed end up with less camper cabin length compared with something with the engine between the seats (noise?) and a flat front. I think a U1300l is supposed to have 3250mm of box length on the back according to Merc. If you add a pair of tyres and a motorbike on the back of that you may well overload the back axle.

Tall? Weight ends up too high? A U1300l chassis plus cab weighs about 5 and a bit tons, and with a max payload of another two ish you can't get enough of that two tons high enough to affect its ability much. With all that flex it will look and feel like it's top heavy when cornering but it isn't.

If you go for a heavier duty Mog it may have the same chassis as a U1300l but heavier axles, allowing 395 super single tyres instead of 365 at least as far as what the manufacturer allows from new. You can put bigger tyres on anything of course, but 395's on a U1700 as we had means nothing is beyond Merc's design. To get "any" other truck on 395's with the manufacturers OK you need to go up a whole weight category, maybe an 18 ton truck gross rather than our U1700s 11.5. So a much heavier bare chassis. A Mog then has more footprint and less weight but maybe a more compromised camper box.

We went from a U1300l to a U1700, 365s to 395s, six bolt axles to eight, 150ish hp to 200ish hp, both with working gears, U1700 had exhaust brake too. Same camper box that was a bit big for both volume wise. 99% of the time any truck chassis would have done. 1% of the time are the memorable bits though, so I wouldn't go for a different type of truck if I did the same again. We also were fine with the box layout built by the previous owner and accepted its compromises.

Our next truck is in Germany at the moment before we import to the UK. It seems to be true that the paperwork required for importation (export plates) need to be via a dealer, so buying privately however cheap may not work. I don't know what the consequences of buying in Germany and registering in Belgium are, but I think you need to have an address in Germany to register there?

Unless you have approaching 200Hp (or more!) a Mog will be slow compared to other trucks. We didn't have overdrive which I imagine would have helped a lot.

So in hindsight we should have had a U2150L38 on 395 XZLs, working gears, exhaust brake, central hydraulic winch, overdrive, CTIS, 1200km of range and a solid box of about 4m long and about 2m high for the two of us. If we could have included a shower that worked with all that wood we would have put an Alaskan on top of a strip of storage over the whole bed of about 300mm deep and still ended up at not much more than cab height. But now there are three of us and we think that would be too small.

One border monitoring post in Morocco had several ways up to its viewpoint. Some friends had already gone up but we couldn't see which route they used. They waved us past the first obvious one as being too dug out so we went up the second, wondering why they were still waving. It was a bit tricky, but we'd been aired down for two days and then locked up near the top so pootled up with no drama. Then we were told had we driven around the back we would have seen where everyone normally drives up. We later camped near the bottom to look for fossils, and for some reason at about 1am a group of modded Landcruisers tried to get up where we had. For about three hours. Then gave up and camped near us, walking up in the morning :)

A truck camper is just that, a Mog is an icon :)
 

rblackwell

Adventurer
Hoping to take off in the future on a trip starting in Europe > Asia > Africa and hopefully without an end date, we are researching which vehicle to buy. We currently have a 2008 Dodge RAM 3500 with the 6.7l Cummins diesel, dual rear wheel and 4x4. The truck has the diesel exhaust filter removed (DEF delete) so no (apparent) need to run ultra low sulfur diesel. On top of the truck sits a 2014 Livin Lite Camplite 8.6 truck camper (aluminium / fiber glass construction).

We've taken our current truck + camper into Mexico and Central America without issues, as well as up to Alaska. (we live in Arizona)

Now our question is: do we ship to Europe to start our trip or buy something (more suitable?) in Europe. The German mobile.de website seems to have many options available.
I have dual citizenship (Belgium + USA) and have family in Belgium. Buying something in Europe and registering it in Belgium is no problem.

Looking at the typical needs of an overlander: large fresh water tank, good/great 4x4 capabilities, solar / sufficient batteries / inverter, cold weather insulation, toilet / shower, reliable vehicle / 'easy' to maintain wherever we are / affordable parts if things break down ...
How would a Unimog with custom camper box work for these needs? The mobile.de website has several unimogs (all setup and ready to go camping) available in the 28K - 50K price range. These unimogs are usually from the late 70s to the late 80s.
How good/bad of an idea is this?

Thanks in advance!
I apologize to everyone for this lengthy entry and that it probably sounds a bit too opinionated -- I should probably just keep my mouth shut but I cannot help myself.
By way of credentials, you can read more of this on my website www.whiteacorn.com, but in brief:

- My wife an I traveled from the top of North America to the bottom of South
America and return in a Provan Tiger (Chevy Duramax 3500 with camper built on) in 2009 - 2010
totaling 60,000 miles over 18 months. This vehicle had a DPF delete (though not a DEF/AddBlue delete
as it was a pre-DEF/AddBlue vehicle). This is some sort of evidence that a DPF delete will make a vehicle tolerate
higher sulfur fuel. This is our Tiger
pict-50.jpg

- after that in a GXV camper on a U500 Unimog we traveled around the world between July 2012 and today.
In 2012 west to east across Canada, east to west across the US, down the Baja. In early 2013 shipped to
Vladivostok Russia departing from Vlad in April arriving in Istanbul Turkey for Christmas via Russia,
Mongolia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. Following that half
of 2014 in Europe, half of 2015 in Europe including Iceland. Now back in Europe for part of 2017,
shipping back to North America in May. We have about 70,000 of our own miles on this truck. So in
all we have done about 130,000 miles of "overlanding" over about 7-8 years in 2 different vehicles.

Our current vehicle is very like Charlies, a 16 foot Camper box on a North America U500 - why this truck?
The only decent 4x4 medium, duty truck available in NA (maybe),
and
I thought it qualified as a "Mercedes" vehicle - a mistake.

Also the European style forward-control truck makes much better use of length and wheel base
than US trucks that have engine in front of the driver.

After 70,000 miles I have a love / hate relationship with the U500. If I lived in Europe the box would now be on
a MAN or IVECO - but I don't. As a number of people have noted. Most overlanding is done on some form of road
and the U500s are not optimized for roads.

In all our travels we have only done a handful of miles where 4x4 was really necessary, and only a little
bit of that would have been such that the Tiger would probably have been stopped and the U500 would have got through.
But that in some ways is the real point. When driving across the steppes of Mongolia and you come to a swampy
creek crossing and there is no one insight you want to be able to get through, you don't want to get bogged,
or turned back.

pict-15.jpg

and just for interest sake

pict-46.jpg

On the other hand I would be the first to say that you "do not need a Unimog" to overland the world. Locals
in every country drive all over the place in little cars and Toyota style 4x4 vehicles.

You can certainly do it in a Dodge with camper.

The Westcotts (turtleexpedition.com) recently drove "the silk road" in a F550 camper. In central Asia we saw people in F250 with slide-in campers and Europeans in front wheel drive motorhomes, young couples from Europe in VW vans with their baby. We have read of guys driving to the Himalayas in a London cab and across Asia in a fire truck.

By way of a change of pace I am going to move away from "which vehicle" and pose a number of "other" issues.

Does you camper have a toilet and if so how are you going to emtpy it. In all our travels through Central America, South America, Russia, Asia and Europe we have only once seen an America style black-water connection. Usually one has to carry the contents of the toilet to a real toilet or in Europe "chemical toilet" dump to be emptied. This got to
be very smelly in our Tiger as it had a US fixed tank which had to be emptied with a bucket. Our current Mog has a
cassete toilet.

How much water ? The Tiger had 40 gals - too little, the Mog has 100 gals - more than enough. We shower, wash clothes
and dishes from that water. Usually drink and cook with bottled water - available nearly every where.

How are you going to fill with water. Water fittings are a problem, water pressure is a problem and in many 3rd world
places there are no faucets(taps) to fill from. In Russia/Mongolia/Central Asia we almost always filled from rivers and streams by putting a 110 volt emersion pump into a stream. In the Tiger we used a 5 gal plastic gerry can to carry water to the vehicle.

Electricity - between April 2013 and January 2014 we never once had a camp site with electricity. We relied on
solar, generator and alternator to charge our house batteries. These also (via a 3000 watt inverter) provided
power for our emersion pump that we used to get water and power drill and angle grinder which we used relatively frequently for minor repairs. I wont even start on what tools to take. Also the world has two different electrical standards 110V or 230V - you probably need to be set up for both. In the Tiger we used a transformer to go from 230V to 110V and in the current vehicle we have a world charger that accepts any voltage.

Tires ? What tires are you going to run and have you researched the areas you want to travel as to what tires are available. In South America our Tiger ran 265/75R16 rating E - a tire that you would think was readily available.
But in 2009-10 it was not. The size was available but the load rating - NO. See the following sign at a small Mongolian town. Whatever you do don't go with fancy odd-sized US off-road speciality tires without checking with local 4x4 clubs as to availability. Tires get destroyed by bad roads as well as simple wear so you need to plan on replacement
while traveling. Incidentally I broke this rule with the Mog - 395/85R20 are in no way readily available. But they
are also almost (but only almost) indestructible. If I had to make a choice for a 3/4 ton US pickup truck I would try to set up to run 10x20, 11x20 or 11R22.5. These ae some of the most common tires around the parts of the world I have visited.

I see a number of European overland vehicle makers are using 385/65R22.5 as being more available and robust than the 365/85R20 or 395/85R20 typical on a Unimog.

pict-8.jpg

How are you going to service your vehicle. Oil filters, fuel filters for you Cummins (and my Duramax) may not be available any where else in the world. They certainly were not available for the Duramax in Chile even though Chile sold Vortex (gasoline/benzine powered) Chevy Silverado 3500s. One of the benefits of the U500 is that is sports a relatively common OM906 Mercedes engine and service parts FOR THE ENGINE are somewhat available. Even so I carry 50,000 miles worth of service parts. And
the engine can go 20,000 miles between oil changes. Though fuel filters are a matter of "how dirty is local fuel".

Fuel range. In preparation for our journey across Central Asia we read many blogs .. one British group reported needing to travel 2800 km between fuel stops in Uzbekistan (diesel fuel is all used for tractors during the cotton harvest). Thus our mog carries 750 L. Uzbekistan was not as bad as that blog suggested but we still traveled 1000km between fuel fills at one point.

If your camper uses propane - carry a range of fittings to both gravity fill your tank and switch in a local tank.
Propane is pretty much available everywhere though getting it into your tank is a challenge - that challenge
is made easier if you do not use a US fixed tank. Think seriously about a diesel fueled heater like a Webasto,
you wont regret it.

Thats enough - you get the drift - there is a lot more to long term living on the road (overlanding) than what is the
right vehicle. Think about the "living" bit.

Go as small as you can live with. Our Mog is 7.95 m L x 2.4 m W x 4.0 m H. The length is OK but it is definitely too high and a little too wide. In terms of size
Europe has been the most difficult region we have traveled with it.

You are lucky if you can buy in Europe. There are a much better range of trucks on which to base a vehicle, MAN, IVECO both trucks and Daily van
and a lot more expertise on building the camper part, as Charlie would testify.

If you have not already looked .. check out expedition-trucks.com
and Eric at adventure-trucks.com if you need any help checking out or preparing a European vehicle,
and of course in Merex in Gaggenau if you finish up with a Mog.

Will a European vehicle in your name require a European license while driving in Europe ?
 
very good writeup
even though my 612L fuel in my U500 was more than enough for Siberia and Mongolia if I got rid of my generator I'd have 940L plus optional another 160L on the roof. I will be up to 650W solar capacity. But height is more important, I've removed the A/C on the roof and moved a spare unmounted tire to the back to get down to about 3.55m height from 3.83m. The tires ARE indestructible EXCEPT for driving at HIGH speeds on good roads, like well over 62mph. It is easy to carry common spares like filters. I had a no-start after lunch in the Gobi Desert: it was primary filter got loose! Tightened up and bled air, everything OK
I totally agree with getting a Webasto camper and hot water diesel heater, use propane JUST for cooking.
At that rate 2 cylinder will last 12-18 months, enough time to figure out how to re-fill them.
Water: One MUST have an immersible 110V pump (and inverter with outside outlet and extension cord) AND A BUCKET!!!!!


Charlie
 

rblackwell

Adventurer
very good writeup
even though my 612L fuel in my U500 was more than enough for Siberia and Mongolia if I got rid of my generator I'd have 940L plus optional another 160L on the roof. I will be up to 650W solar capacity. But height is more important, I've removed the A/C on the roof and moved a spare unmounted tire to the back to get down to about 3.55m height from 3.83m. The tires ARE indestructible EXCEPT for driving at HIGH speeds on good roads, like well over 62mph. It is easy to carry common spares like filters. I had a no-start after lunch in the Gobi Desert: it was primary filter got loose! Tightened up and bled air, everything OK
I totally agree with getting a Webasto camper and hot water diesel heater, use propane JUST for cooking.
At that rate 2 cylinder will last 12-18 months, enough time to figure out how to re-fill them.
Water: One MUST have an immersible 110V pump (and inverter with outside outlet and extension cord) AND A BUCKET!!!!!


Charlie
Wish I could get down to 3.55 m - that would have saved some parts of a Mulberry tree a few days ago in Cordoba Spain. I just did not think enough about exterior dimensions when this vehicle was being specified.

I read about your no-start incident some where - I dont carry a Gold Star so would have been a more difficult find for me.
Tires - read about another GXV owner tearing a side wall of a XZL 395 in the Australian outback - that story had me nervous all the way across Asia. Not only worrying about how to get a replacement tire but I also did not want to jack the Mog up and change a tire without a nice firm concrete pad to ensure it did not fall off the jack. Jacking our Mog on grass or sand would be a real worry

For all their imperfections seems some U500s certainly get around.

By the way congrats on your Russia/Mongolia trip. Have you recorded details on expeditionportal or some other site ?

Regards
 
I didn't need a Star computer to find and fix a loosened primary fuel filter, just a strap wrench attachment to a ratchet wrench.
I'd also like to add that a hose is necessary to transfer H2O from a bucket (filled by someone else's hose or faucet) to one's water tank(s).
No, I'm sorry, I just have a few pictures on my cell phone of the trip.
The truck is in Germany over the winter getting some upgrades at Unicat, going to pick it up next month, maybe go to S.Europe, ship back to Canada and drive home.
Shipping in/out of Canada is orders of magnitude easier than the US due to all the B.S. with US ports.
Not looking forwards even to crossing US border at Beaver Creek these days, even with Global Entry card, with passport with Russian visa and Mongolia stamp.
3.55m will allow me to squeeze under 3.5m obstacles with tires deflated to 33-40% with CTIS, which still works great.

Charlie

Charlie
 
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