THE BIGGEST BEHEMOTHS OF THE 2019 OVERLAND EXPO

by MARK VAUGHN

There’s so much to see at the Overland Expo, held last weekend in Flagstaff, Ariz.: pop-top tents, zillions of clever new coolers and a $500 standalone stainless-steel sink supported by mahogany legs. But just like boxing, the biggest draw is always the heavyweights.

When we were kids, a slide-in camper for a pickup truck was considered luxury, at least where I came from. Anyone remember the Gypsy Weekender? Nowadays that’s just a starting point. Now you can take a former military truck like the M1078 Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) and convert the back half to living space that would make the lowliest private proud. The Ford SuperDuty chassis is also popular. And many others, some of which I couldn’t identify. They all looked as roomy as the nicest motor homes but sat jacked up for ground clearance and off-roadability that a motor home couldn’t hope to have. It’s true most prices start at $150,000 and can go up to half a million bucks – one rig stickered at $1.5 million – but many buyers have sold their homes to purchase these for a lifetime of overlanding and discovery, so compared to many houses, these rigs are a relative bargain. And if you decide you don’t like your neighbors, or the weather, you can move out at a moment’s notice.

That’s the difference with overlanding, you can go anywhere and drive over anything to get the serenity all campers seek. Here are our top 12 or 13 favorites from the show.

Rheinmetall MAN HX 6x6

These trucks are built by Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles in 4x4, 6x6 and 8x8 configurations for the German military and for other military uses around the world. Over 11,000 have been delivered to armies so far since about 2002, so there are plenty being mustered out of service and ready for someone handy with a wrench to refurbish for civilian use. Power comes from a 10.5-liter diesel making 440 hp and 1549 lb-ft of torque, enough to move the 37,479-pound brute down any dirt trail it wants to move down. This one was cool because of the handy spare tire hoist in the back and for its impressive departure angle.

Acela Monterra XL 4X4

Acela Monterra XL 4X4

This Montana-based company takes surplus U.S. Military M1078 LMTVs and refurbishes them down to the bones so they’re better than new.

"Typically we don't have to do either rebuild or replace (on the engines), given that almost every truck that we get has less than 10,000 miles," said Acela's director of sales and marketing Louise Rainone. "In fact, last week, we got a truck in with 400 miles and 15 hours of use. Taxpayers love knowing that. We do a full diagnostic of engine and transmission before a truck can go through the reset process. It has to be a good candidate. We have to ensure the engines aren't going to have any issues. It's not good for our customers, and it's not good for our company (if they do). We replace all the seals and fluids and connect it to CAT ET to ensure that we know if there have ever been any error codes and that we have the correct odometer reading. We find that odometer readings on the dash can be incorrect so CAT ET really allows us to know what has really been done to the truck."

Power for these big rigs comes from a like-new 7.2-liter Caterpillar diesel making 330 hp. While many get kitted out for mining, oil field, construction, road-building and telephone pole-installation duty, you can also get an overlander with living quarters on the back. The box on the back of this one was built by Bliss Mobil in the Netherlands. Bliss usually makes yachts, so think of this as a yacht for the road. Or the off-road. You can get a Bliss box as small as 11 feet long or as big as 20 feet. The cab on this rig seats three across, so you can bring your spouse AND your mistress!

With 46-inch tires and a 23-inch ground clearance, there isn’t much that will get in your way. In 6x6 configuration, it’ll climb a 60-degree hill and traverse a 30-degree side slope. They’ll never take you alive!Acela trucks, minus the living quarters, start as low as a hundred grand or so.

"Complete price of the truck (from the Expo) is $372,000," Rainone said. "It sounds like a lot but this is really midrange for a truck and body of this size."

If you get enough friends together, they’ll give you a fleet discount.

BoXmanufaktur.com

BoXmanufaktur.com

Now is the time on Sprockets when we box! This German company, located between Hamburg and Bremen, specializes in building living-compartment boxes that go on the backs of big trucks.

“BoXmanufaktur produces high-quality, individually planned aluminum or FRP composite panel kits and fully assembled RV boxes of superior craftsmanship – made in Germany,” the company states.

BoX adds all the features and components you’ll need to have a real motor home, including a full electrical system, 8-kW diesel generator, 200-gallon fresh water tank, 50-gallon waste water tank, a bathroom and a water purifier. In back are bunk beds and/or a queen-size bed with a “garage” underneath, presumably for AYVs and dirt bikes. They can add fully insulated double-glazed skylights and a connector door between the cab and the box.

The one you see here is sitting atop a MAN TGS 26.480 6x6 expedition truck powered by a 480-hp 12.4-liter V6. Ach du Lieber!

There’s even a sales office in the U.S., in Clovis, California, a couple hours north of L.A. near Fresno.

Bailey Cooper @5TONBAY

Bailey Cooper @5TONBAY

This is cool. And, it turns out, affordable, at least compared to the half-million-dollar trucks also present at Overland Expo.

"The Cooper’s truck is based off of a M934a2 Military command center," said Plan B Supply's Dan Coleman. "We heavily modified the truck, completely building a new cab and stretching it to accommodate six adults instead of two. We built a pass-through from the cab to the expanding box to allow for RV title and status and to make it convenient to move back and forth. The box comes standard with the expanding/folding sides. We modified the electrical system to modern standards, installed a roof hatch to access the rooftop tent system that can go on top and modified the front box to allow for storage and the new cab system.

"The truck is powered by a highly desirable Cummins 12-valve full mechanical engine, (no electronics needed to operate) and a fully mechanical Allison MT654 five-speed automatic transmission that gets the 30,000-pound beast a top speed of 73 mph after some adjustments at our shop. It comes with heavy duty Rockwell 5-ton axles and a divorced Rockwell high/low transfer case that can really make the 6x6 drive system crawl the truck through some impressive terrain.

"It is fully EMP resistant, runs on multiple fuels, and can be set up to sleep up to 20-plus people in the box if needed or set up to accommodate different needs such as a mobile kitchen or restaurant, mobile office or command center in a disaster area, a repair and maintenance support vehicle, a very capable nice expedition vehicle for camping and exploration off the beaten path, or the ultimate Bugout Vehicle."

Four months ago, it was in a couple of big pieces. The owner bought it in Sparta, Wisconsin, and drove it west to Plan B Supply in Salt Lake City, where work began four months ago to convert it to overlanding duty. First thing was to build that larger crew cab; two months ago, it got paint, the roof rack and all those lights. Four weeks ago, they drove it to the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab.

Plan B Supply can do these rigs cost-effectively, too.

"They start around $28K-$30K and can be upgraded from there," said Coleman. "Bailey’s truck came around $70K-$75K I think."

So check ‘em out before you commit several hundred grand elsewhere. Looks like a fun, solid setup.

1978 Mercedes 508D

1978 Mercedes 508D

This big red fire truck of a motor home served in the Feuerwehr in Germany for 25 years. It was a mobile command and control center and still has the big telescopic antenna mast on its right rear corner with the words “Einsatz Leitung,” operational command. When it retired from service in 2004, it went into private hands and its new owner spent five years working on it. When the current owners, a couple named Colin and Sofi from Maine and Argentina, saw it, the then-owner refused to sell.

“My husband saw this rig parked at a house,” said Sofi. “The guy is like, ‘No, the rig is not for sale, I worked on it for five years.”

They kept after him, though.

“We felt like the vehicle spoke to us,” said Sofi.

They bought it for $30,000 and went to work making it a home. Now they are driving it with their two young boys from Maine to Argentina. How are they financing the trip?

"We produce content and experiences for brands and publications amongst other hustles to make this happen," said husband and father Colin Boyd.

I gave them 10 bucks and wished them well.

1996 M1078

1996 M1078

Randy Wefel’s M1078 served a tour of duty in the second Gulf War. Now it’s converted to civilian use. Look at all those lights on the front!

Everlanders F550

Everlanders F550

Jason and Kara had been car campers, then trailer campers then finally decided they needed something more substantial. So they found a 2003 Ford F550, swapped in a rebuilt 7.3-liter International turbodiesel V8, ZF six-speed, two-speed transfer case for their 4WD and went to work designing the camper box for the back. They designed and built everything, including the racy spacey camper, inspired by stealth fighter shapes. Now they travel all over North America, shooting videos you can watch on the Everlanders YouTube channel. Watch the one on Baja. It’ll make you quit your job and hit the road.

Sportsmobile Ford Van Conversion

Sportsmobile Ford Van Conversion

I have borrowed a couple of Sportsmobile products over the years from Sportsmobile West in Fresno, Calif. and always had a good time in them. Sportsmobile has been around for almost 60 years, converting vans into campers. The company’s current lineup of 4x4 van conversions includes the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, Dodge Promaster, Chevy and Ford E-Vans and the Mercedes Metris. There was something of a reunion of Sportsmobiles at Overlander Expo, with maybe 25 or 30 parked together.

“This Overlander thing in the last five or six years is unbelievable,” said Sportsmobile West founder Alan Feld.

EarthCruiser

EarthCruiser

I got to drive one of these last year, and it sure seemed like it could stomp over anything that got in its way. EarthCruiser come in four models, from the relatively affordable $22,000 MOD (My Own Design) slide-in camper that fits in a wide variety of pickup trucks, to the full-boat, loaded-for-zombie EXP model that sits on a 4x4 Mitsubishi Fuso medium-size commercial vehicle and stickers for over a quarter million bucks. They were originally built in Australia but are now also built in Bend, Oregon. The big EarthCruiser I drove two years ago sat on a 2004 FUSO FG 4x4 powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel four. That engine made 161 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The cabin was connected to the front seat area and when parked, extended skyward by several feet for greater comfort.

Somewhere in the vast spectrum of Earthcruiser prices is a ride that’ll be perfect for you.

EarthRoamer F-550 LTS

EarthRoamer F-550 LTS

This is the one all the crazy yuppies are clamoring for. Pictured here is an Earth Roamer F-550 LTS, which you might think is about as fully furnished as a pickup truck-based camper can go. It’s four-season, all-weather capable, all solar-powered so you don’t need propane or a generator, holds 85 gallons of fresh water, 95 gallons of diesel, has a 1320-watt solar power system that feeds a 12 kWh battery pack (a Mitsubishi iMiEV has a 16 kWh battery), and has a cruising range of 900 miles. But for the Warren Buffets of the world, there is the EarthRoamer HD. It rides on a Ford F-750 SuperDuty chassis, holds 250 gallons of fresh water, 115 gallons of diesel, has a 2,100-watt solar system and a 20-kWh battery bank. You – and Warren – may never come back. But the HD is the one that costs $1.5 million. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but there are ski cabins in Telluride that cost $25 million. Is that ridiculous?

Global Expedition Vehicles

Global Expedition Vehicles

These guys make all kinds of overlanding vehicles on all kinds of chassis, from pickup truck-based rigs to monster cruisers capable of circling the globe (hence the company name). Based in Springfield, Missouri, GlobalXVehicles produces everything from cabover campers to mighty 6X6 battleships. Pictured here is the Patagonia, a 4x4 that can be put on any number of trucks, from Kenworth to Unimog. Box sizes range from 17.5 feet to 29 feet. Options abound for the buyer. Price is listed on the GlobalXVehicle website at $465,000. But as we said, there are many options from this maker.

Hunter RMV Predator II

Hunter RMV Predator II

This one is also built on a converted LMTV military truck powered by a 6.6-liter Caterpillar diesel making 225 hp. The interior layout can include a slide-out section dinette, queen-size bed and a fully-loaded bathroom. There’s a nice one on their website right now listed for $178,500. Who’s in? We can take turns, like a time share!

XP Camper

XP Camper

This is another one that can go on any number of trucks. The one shown here is a V4 XP Cube, a smaller version from XP. There is also a V2 Compact and a V1 Full Size. The V1 is a pop-top that extends to allow a full 6.5 feet of room inside.