Designing and Building an Expedition Vehicle
With the fully fabricated body shell complete, except for the back, work began on fitting out the interior to exterior fittings, the previously made access panel mouldings were lined up and the body shell was cut to accommodate these, using the router. These were all bonded in and drilled for the fittings which they would accommodate, 10mm copper pipe was standardised for the diesel feed pipes and water pipes for the heating and hot/cold water feeds. 3/8th BSP ends were soldered onto the copper pipe and fitted into the access panels, then bolted from the back, they were painted in colours to match their colour coding for their specific applications, large tails were left inside the vehicle to allow them to be trimmed back. Much of the wiring was installed at this stage, wiring looms were made up and connected to waterproof bulkhead connectors which were crimped and soldered, and the bulkhead connectors were installed in their access panels, and firmly attached.
With the mounting plinth installed it was decided to install the heating system, this was basically made from 22mm copper central heating pipe, one end was formed into a U shape and soldered to the two lengths of copper pipe to form one unit. Pieces of copper pipe were cut into 90mm lengths and slit lengthways and flattened out to make the fins, they were drilled with two holes of 23mm diameter and a punch was made of the exact outside diameter of the copper pipe. This was used to punch through the drilled holes to form a slight flare on the fins and ensure a tight fit to the copper pipes, these were pushed on and individually soldered, a time consuming job but well worth it, mounting pieces were soldered to four of the fins. This was done by cutting four lengths of copper pipe at 150mm long, and has enough spare to form feet which would screw to the wooden floor. This heating tube was installed in the plinth and divided into three areas with timber, in each of the three areas was fitted a computer fan which blew cold air over the heater pipe and hot air out of vents cut into the kickboard of the plinth.
With the heating tube and computer fans installed the ends of the heating tube were fitted with 22-10mm step down adaptors which were soldered on, and this was complete except for the diesel water heater.
Work continued on fitting all the permanent fixtures and plumbing and wiring them in, and once mounted on the mounting plinth they were solid, everything was tested as far as practically possible, and this was left.
With nearly all the internal fixtures and fittings in place it was time to make the water heater for the heating system, this was basically a home designed unit made from an old commercial diesel heater, but designed to heat water rather than air. This was predominantly made from stainless steel and fixed between the chassis rails, two 3/8th BSP armoured hydraulic hoses were attached, two T pieces were screwed into the bulkhead nipples and the pipes attached. Two more pipes connected the engine manifolds to the remaining unconnected ends of the T pieces. With it fully installed the water feed valve on the manifold was opened and the return pipe was removed to bleed out air, and obviously its valve was closed to prevent the engine losing water; the header tank was filled with a water/anti-freeze mix. As the system filled air was blown out of the return pipe, which was quickly connected to the valve on the return manifold, the engine was run to temperature to test the system, and the diesel heater was also run to test it fully.
Designing the heating system took into account many parameters, mainly the use of the vehicle in very hot and very cold conditions, during colder, but not freezing conditions the manifold valves could be closed and the diesel heater only heated the vehicle body. In very cold or freezing conditions the diesel heater could run the heat for the body, and by opening the manifold valves it would also heat the engine to keep it warm, and supply the cooling system heated items such as the diesel tank heaters with warm water. This would prevent them freezing, and make the engine much easier to start.
With the diesel heater running in automatic mode it would only fire up when the water temperature dropped, this thermostatic control ensured a minimum temperature, and saved fuel by not running when it was not needed.
With most of the fixed items such as the fridge, diesel cooker, sink, and most other equipment installed it was time to cut the vehicle body to install windows, and we looked around for suitable double glazed units which were 40mm thick to allow flush fitting. We didn’t want anything such as trim or rubbers protruding beyond the body, this was for practicality and aesthetics. In simple terms any trim protruding beyond the body could be ripped out or get snagged on overhead branches and damaged, and having a flush fitting unit prevented this, and looked much better.
Salvation came quite by accident, on one site on which we were working had a number of small double glazed units incorrectly made, these were small flush fitting units designed for a wages office, they were Reactolite and darkened during bright sunlight, but not by too much. These were free, and free are always good when they are 40mm thick, exactly what we wanted, and they had a special flexible mounting system. We asked for them and were given them free and gratis, but the news got better as the void was gas filled for extra thermal efficiency, and their framing was designed to be bonded to composite boards just like our vehicle body.
Careful studies were made of the mounting system and the body was very carefully cut, the windows framing was installed in the tapered section of the roof and the frames bonded in, with the window frames bonded in the higher level storage could be constructed, and was. The glass was left out at this stage as the body needed completing and painting before they could be installed.
Designing the air conditioning unit proved a little tricky as this was to be sat as low as possible in the tapered rear section of the body, and being tapered gave another vehicle air conditioning specialist friend a few headaches. With a little input from me we designed a small and compact air conditioning unit which was superb and with a little jiggling we connected it to the roof mounted outlet trunking, the real surprise was it only consumed 1.3 amps at full load: result.
With all the bulky interior items fitted it was time to close the back up, and the rear body outer skin was fitted, and it had to be carefully marked as all the air inlets and outlets were at the rear of the body to keep the smooth lines. Basically nothing exited through the side of the vehicle, so all the installed trunking for various items of equipment had to be connected to the air inlets and outlets at the rear of the vehicle.
As the vehicle was to be used in very hot or very cold extremes it would undoubtedly be very dusty, so it was designed to have filters on both the air inlets and outlets to prevent or limit the amount of dust entering the vehicle. To do this we obtained four commercial filters as these were cleanable and only wanted cleaning and oiling to remain effective. Cutting the apertures for the housings was straightforward and the housings were bonded into position and removable grills were made which could be removed externally for replacement of the two filters as they became clogged. Cut outs were also cut for the air conditioning unit which required two small apertures, and there grills were fitted.
With the back done except for the drop down door with its integral steps the body was ready for painting, it was wet sanded with 400 grit paper until it was perfectly smooth, two coats of special etch primer for glass fibre were applied by roller. Once this was allowed to cure for the recommended 24 hours work began by spraying the body with three coats of industrial high build primer which was allowed 24 hours to go off, wet flattened, and four colour coats of marine epoxy paint were applied with a roller.
This was left for a couple of days then it was cut with cutting compound and a compressed air buffer, and used progressively finer compounds until the paint gleamed, the finish was like a mirror, it was left for a week them repeatedly polished with Auto Glym super resin polish. The finish was so good you could shave in it.
With the body sprayed the windows could be installed into their frames, they were cleaned with a recommended alcohol based cleaner and the bonding agent was applied, the windows were dropped into their housings and the glue was allowed to cure.
Work moved onto fitting out the rear tapered panel and the lights were fitted into their moulded housings, two Bosch fog lights were installed into their housings in the lower tapered section, as were the LED lights for the door assembly. Fog lights were selected to act as reversing lights as they spread a wide angle of light immediately at the rear of the truck, and lit up around 20’ (6.5 metres) at the rear of the truck, and around 6’ 6” (2 metres) at each side.
On the flat section at the upper part of the rear section the mouldings had to be cut out, new mouldings made, installed, and painted as the upper reversing lights were changed, smaller lights were to be installed and it was one mistake at the planning stage which was overlooked. Even the best planning sometimes goes awry.
The upper reversing lights were designed to give a much longer distance of illumination and were manually controlled, and once the lights were installed they were changed for xenon light bulbs and the ballasts were suitably located in the body.
As the rear cross member had been removed and a bespoke item made to replace it, the rear lights were missing and new LED units were made, these comprised of red LED’s for the rear lights, brighter and more red LED’s for the brake lights, and orange LED’s were used for the indicators. Additional orange side marker lights were to be installed so these were made at the same time, one other modification was to have every other side marker light flash when the indicators were switched on, so basically a row of indicators down the truck.
Reversing lights were made from white LED’s, but were more for use as an indicator to other vehicles to show the vehicle was in reverse.
Rear, brake, and indicator lights were also made for the top of the body and were smaller units mounted in their own mouldings, and these high level lights also included a high level LED brake light.
These were manufactured to fit the apertures, and comprised a clear polycarbonate lens for the modern look, and used a Lexan square tube for the housing, which was cut and shaped to fit the rounded tapering bumper/cross member. Forming the polycarbonate lens meant cutting a wooden profile to the exact curvature of the bumper, the polycarbonate being clamped to it at one end, and heat being applied from a heat gun; this softened the polycarbonate sufficiently to form it round the mould. Making the lights inners was as simple as forming more clear plastic to the same shape, bonding a piece of thin chrome plated steel to it, drilling it, and inserting the LED’s through the plastic backing and soldering them together in a series/parallel configuration. With this done the resistors were installed and the entire lamp assembly was tested, the exposed components were covered with epoxy to seal then and insulate them once the wires were soldered in, this gave a waterproof light assembly with no bulbs which would require replacing. The chrome plated reflector was given several coats of polish to ensure they were at their best and the light unit was bonded into the housing, the void was filled with more epoxy and the lens was bonded on.
Much the same applied to the manufacture of the body upper lights, the only difference was they were an oval shape and flat instead of curved, but made in the same way as individual lights, tested, and bonded flush into their body apertures. Side marker lights were also made as the upper body lights, but, were smaller and rectangular in shape and installed on the ends of the body mounting cross members which had been fabricated to incorporate them, flush. Every second unit had an additional wire installed to make them flash when the indicators were turned on.
With all the rear and side marker lights installed, there waterproof multi plugs were fitted onto the wires and plugged in to form all the body exterior lighting which was virtually indestructible and fully waterproof.
With this work done a couple of changes were made, it was decided to fit two bulkhead connectors to each side of the chassis, these were for external power when living outside for lighting, and for allowing external lights to be plugged in for maintenance work at night. In the event of a flat tyre in a remote location two work lamps could be plugged in to provide light on that side of the vehicle. These were sourced and fitted.
In addition to this a small concession to old age appeared, as the owners were getting older an air line was run from the main air tank with a standard PCL connector on each side of the vehicle, this allowed an impact gun to be used to remove wheel nuts, and air tools to be plugged in. The owner had several air tools, and this change was thought to be a good idea, practical, and he bought a lightweight air/hydraulic jack which could be placed, then operated remotely to jack a corner of the vehicle up.
Work then turned to the inside of the vehicle body, specifically the electrics, a 240 volt socket was mounted in its housing to power the charging system for the batteries when the vehicle was to be stood for several months of the year. Two fuse boxes complete with indicating fuses which light up when they blow were installed, one for the main battery pack, and the other for the auxiliary battery pack due to the split load configuration which was to be employed.
Fate intervened again, many regular visitors to the site will know I own my own businesses, the owner of the vehicle does also, and we are both members of local business guilds and the conversion became the hot topic of conversation once they found out about it. One new member who had only attended two meetings, and was a rather quiet and reserved chap introduced himself and explained about his recently set up company, he was an electronics expert specialising in electronic systems for fire and rescue organisations vehicles. Another result.
He offered to do some very durable electronics systems for the vehicle at cost price for his future development work; this was on the proviso he could use this vehicle as a durability test bed for his new products which was agreed by the owner. He designed and built the most fantastic battery charging system, this was an eight channel system which charged each individual battery with variable charge rates to ensure they were all balanced, and this even included the system shutting down when required. These were a true plug in and forget system. He built a superb charging system for all their rechargeable items such as lights and lap top points, and once again they self regulating and fully sensed, plug in any item from 1.2 – 24 volts and it charged it. He built two of these systems, one was for Ni cad/Ni Mh, and the other was for lead acid batteries; he even put in a function monitoring LCD screen for all the systems so they could be checked with the vehicle running, or powered from the mains.
In addition to these systems he installed two additional channels for charging removable leisure batteries, and once again they were fully monitored and the charge rate varied according to type and battery size, and it shut off when they were charged.
He did much the same for the cab as emergency torches and lanterns were carried in there, he also built a charging system for up to 20 individual AA or AAA Ni Cad or Ni Mh cells as these were their standardised cell sizes in their battery powered items. In addition he built a superb Sat Nav system and this was totally bespoke, and apparently superb, much better than commercially available systems on the market.
With all the body electrics sorted we connected all the waterproof electrical plugs to the cabling and connected them wherever possible.
Work moved to the cab, initially it was to remain on the vehicle, but the amount of work being done to the cab meant it was better removed, and about an hour was spent removing it, and it proved the better option as work progressed. First we ripped the instrument binnacle out and stripped it, the only remaining items were the Speedo and tacho, and these were going to be fitted into a new binnacle, and all the wiring to the various lights was removed. Each bulb/bulb holder was marked with its function for future reference, and the dashboard was removed, and bracing for the steering column was made to replace the rigidity the dashboard gave it.
New mouldings were made for a much smaller instrument binnacle which housed only the Speedo, tacho, and basic light functions such as headlights, sidelights, indicators, for lights, and glow plug lights, and LED replacements were made to replace the bulbs. The remaining instruments and warning lights were also replaced in another binnacle along with various gauges for the additional functions in the new dashboard.
New steel pressings were made to house the new dashboard and these were fitted onto the cab and spot welded together to form a complete new frame, this gave more room and was designed to house the new functions lights and gauges, and be visible from both sides of the vehicle.
With access to the heater matrix, this, along with its plastic housings were removed and replaced with a much higher output unit which was only slightly larger but gave much more heat out, and new ducting was installed to better heat and defrost the windscreen. In addition two ducts were run to each side of the vehicle and two holes were cut in the A pillar and two matching ones in the doors, and ducting was put in the doors along with a small grill to defrost the side windows.
Work began on the mounding for the centre of the new dashboard and this was carefully moulded and temporarily installed, and trimmed to make it a perfect fit, a unique feature of this was its cascading stepped design to house all the additional instruments and monitor. With this section moulded and installed the warning lights were installed in a specific order, the most common ones were in the upper step for easy visibility, and working down in order of priority, the same applied to the gauges.
New warning lights were installed for items in the new body, when the heater was in use it has a warning light, the same applied to the internal lighting, air conditioning, etc.
New gauges were sourced; these were the two function split type. Charging systems were treated to a gauge and one half worked on the engine alternator while the other half worked on the auxiliary alternator to show the output of both alternators on one instrument gauge. One voltage gauge was installed which monitored both alternators outputs, and the air tanks had a three way gauge installed, the new fuel gauge was installed and showed the capacity of each tank, and a water contents gauge was also installed. Many other gauges and warning lights were installed as required.
Work commenced on the passenger side of the dashboard, and once again a moulding was made, fettled, and fitted into position, this incorporated two drawers and a battery charging station for AA and AAA batteries, and an LCD screen to show the individual charge of these cells. It also incorporated a pull out table for the passenger to work on and was large enough to house maps folded out much larger than normal and LED lighting to read these maps.
With the passenger side moulding made, the driver’s side moulding was made and this was fairly simple, this was also installed and the three sections were bonded together to form one complete dash, and this was removed once all the wiring plugs were made. This new dash was much smaller than the original dashboard, but utilised all the space, and gave much more room in the cab to driver and passenger.
Now the rest of the interior was removed and everything was kept and marked, and the roof pressing was marked out for cutting, this was cut with a plasma cutter down each side and along the back, the back section was lifted up to form a tapered roof. New metal was added to the rear and sides of the roof and this was finished and primed, this additional space was to be used as storage for everything from maps to the two way radios, and even the torches and lanterns they normally kept in the cab of their old vehicle. With this all marked out the space was divided and attached to the new reinforcing members put into the new roof assembly so everything they wanted storing up there had a place and everything would be in its place. Even hooks were installed to hang wet clothes and coats on; this was the level of detail we worked too.
Doors were removed and everything inside was checked, examined, and lubricated, in addition sound insulating pads were stuck to the outer panel to reduce noise and help insulate the cab, and the insides were sprayed with corrosion protection. New door seals were obtained and fitted; these were smaller twin seals instead of one large seal and offered more protection if a door seal became damaged, with a twin seal it still seals.
New suspension seats were installed and tested, and these were top of the range, leather items which were extremely comfortable.
At the rear of the cab a new heater was made, this was basically the same configuration as the body heater, but made from 10mm copper micro bore pipe instead, this was installed in a 100mm X 100mm square plastic pipe and mounted at the rear of the cab. This had another computer fan installed in the top of the pipe, this took the cab air and blew it through the plastic pipe, over the heater tubes, and out each end, and this was connected to the engine water manifolds. During cold expeditions this heater would warm the cab prior to setting off, and could be run off engine water, the diesel heater water, or simply shut off altogether.
With most of the cab installed, and removed, the 14” monitor was installed in the front section of the now tapered roof, and 4 cameras were installed on the vehicle, two were fitted to the rear as reversing cameras, and one to each side of the vehicle.
Everything was removed from the cab to allow more bodywork to be done; this was the removal of the original steel pressings for the round headlights and install new fabricated steel housings for new items which were to be fitted. These were to include new headlights, LED sidelights and indicators, and additional driving lights in the one binnacle as individual items; in the event that one got damaged, so could be quickly and easily replaced out on the road. This also made the dated frontal aspect of the truck look more modern.
LED lights were made as the rear lights were, but obviously used LED’s in white for the sidelights and orange for the indicators, in addition marker lights were made to fit the top of the cab, and secondary LED indicators were fitted to the top of the cab. With the new lights made and installed a set of additional driving lights were to be fitted just below the windscreen which were to be high powered xenon lights for long range use. With this work done the front bumper was ditched and a new one was made from much heavier steel profile and was strong enough to push other vehicles without damage, and incorporated rectangular Bosch fog lights into recesses cut out for them.
With the interior of the cab removed and everything once fitted into place to ensure it fitted, and all the brackets installed for mounting, cabling and wiring looms, pipe work, and ducting; the cabs interior was fully painted. Painting it was easily done as it was bare, and this was with a heavy duty corrosion inhibiting primer, then several topcoats to give it maximum protection, the doors were also painted as they were removed from the cab. With the painting complete work began on soundproofing, being an ex military vehicle the cab was Spartan and had little in the way of comfort, and the soundproofing material was applied to every part of the cab, this also acted as insulation. Carpet was obtained and this was fitted over the soundproofing and really finished the cab, the removed door panels were replaced by using the original paper types as templates to mark Lite-ply and this was cut and temporarily fitted to check it fitted properly. Foam padding was bonded to the plywood and it was covered with off cuts of carpet to ensure it matched the rest of the interior, and they were installed back onto the doors.
Most of the interior fitments were refitted back into the cab and all wiring and pipe work was installed into its various clips and plugs before the carpet was permanently fixed, and all the new wiring plugs had coloured sticky dots attached during dismantling to ensure they were fixed back into the correct position. Only the dashboard remained and this needed covering, a decision had to be made as to what it was to be covered with; while the owners deliberated the lower section of dash was moulded as this was to support the dash in the middle and house the music system. Once again a decision had to be made on what sort or type of system to have installed.
Once again a chance meeting decided the covering for the dashboard, our local saddler is obviously an expert in leather and has a nice sideline repairing and refurbishing old leather car seats and leather upholstery on leather settee’s and chairs. Much of his work is cash and this benefits him and lowers prices for us.
While the vehicles owners had come to do some work on their vehicle he also came to pick up a pair of leather seats from a vehicle I was restoring, and all three of them ended up in conversation about the possibilities of a leather interior to match their leather seats. He quoted them a price and they nearly dropped through the floor in surprise, they thought the quote for covering the dashboard was low, when he told them it included the engine cover, door panels, and the steering wheel, they were gobsmacked. Decision made.
With the panels out of the vehicle it was easy for him to see their shape and size, the door panels and steering wheel were quickly removed, and these along with the dashboard sections were loaded into his van, along with my seats. Several days later they all returned, the colour match to the seats was so good they could all have been sprayed with the same batch of paint, and they were fitted to the cab, our saddlers other hobby; woodturning also produced a lovely horn push for the steering wheel.
With the cab installed it was refitted to the body, the front lights were finally installed and the remaining items removed from the vehicle were installed; and the vehicle had its first shakedown test, which revealed a couple of faults. Both ammeter’s were not working, this was diagnosed as the cabling on the shunts had not been tightened, and a series of electrical faults found one of the through body waterproof connectors was defective, it was replaced under warranty, and everything worked.
With a successful shakedown test the rest of the body was installed, the under sink holding tank was installed to hold 25 litres of water for the sink taps along with its filters, these were located at the front of the cupboard for ease of changing. Apertures left for the through vehicle connections were foam filled and the wooden floor was replaced and bonded in, and items like the washing machine were fitted, as was the all important coffee maker which had been permanently tested throughout the build. I can testify the coffee machine worked well as it produced thousands of cups of coffee for me. For those who know engines, they know they excel and thrive on good oil, those who know me know I thrive on plenty of lubrication from coffee.
Decisions were made on a toilet, it was to be a portable type and not a plumbed in affair, in the event of a failure it could be pulled out and replaced with a new one, and an integral toilet, shower, washroom was built to house everything. Being located at the rear of the vehicle meant the tapered rear could be utilised for maximum special efficiency, and this was fitted with a folding sink and shower to maximise space; and meant we could finally locate the diesel water heater. With the heater installed and run and fully tested we now had hot water, and the shower was run up to test it, although the diesel heater took some initial bleeding of the fuel lines, but once bled it was fine.
LED lighting was installed in the shower/washroom, toilet and its extractor fan was fitted, a vinyl floor was laid and the walls received a vinyl floor covering as this was a heavier duty item to wall covering, and the floor and wall vinyl were seam welded to form one unit.
Work began in the living area, the seats were made as were the other fixtures such as tables, the bed, and all the units which were previously not made, curtains on Velcro were used for the windows, and when everything was fitted it was removed. Carpet was fitted to the front half of the vehicle and carpet tiles to the rear half of the vehicle, the rear half was the living accommodation and subject to more wear, with carpet tiles they can be lifted and cleaned anywhere and changed round or replaced if damaged.
At this point the rear of the vehicle was boarded out and the cavities filled with foam, and the remaining uncovered tapered section and upper flat section were kitted out for storage, bulkier, but light items such as outdoor chairs and tables were stored here.
Work now turned to the rear access door, as this was to be on the tapered section of the rear, and house aluminium steps it had to be strong yet pliable to move with the body in rough terrain, insulated, and hold the steps securely enough to climb. One friend owing me a favour (or several) co-owns a composite moulding company, he manufactured a rear door to my exact specifications, this has 8 mounting points for the aluminium ladder, yet enough room for insulation. The ladder was made and checked for location on its mounting points, a Lite-ply wooden lining was made and the located, the cavity was filled with thermal expanding foam to form a composite SIPS panel, and the wood was finished before the ladder was screwed on. It was located on its hinge assembly and it needed a little adjustment to make it fit properly, the triple seal door rubbers were fitted, as were the double locks for security.
With the body complete we turned to the exterior storage, as the body sat above the chassis we has the depth of the chassis, plus gap to play with for external storage compartments on the outside of the chassis where nothing else was fitted. At this point another change was suggested by the owner’s wife, she had seen the boy racers with lights on the underside of their vehicles and thought it might be a nice touch to have to identify their vehicle on a crowded site, which sometimes they were forced to visit. These were duly designed in a range of colours so she could have a choice, and appropriate LED’s were sourced in these colours from my usual supplier, but hubby put his foot down and refused to have pink LED’s for this lighting.
These were installed into the chassis temporarily and powered up from a temporary supply and left until dark, they were positioned, repositioned, and adjusted until she got the affect she wanted which was a gentle glow under the vehicles outer edges. With the settings and positioning known they were fixed and permanently wired into one of the numerous spare circuits and connected to the smaller auxiliary battery pack as they were another peripheral or non essential item. Interestingly, they only drew around 200Ma of power, so one amp consumed every 5 hours of operation.
As it was approaching winter and freezing nights had imposed themselves on our part of the world, and the weekend was forecast for lower temperatures, they decided to spend the weekend in it, so it was parked in my rear field and they stayed in it. This was revealing as several issues were raised, the main one was the water tanks electrical heaters only drew around 2 amps each, despite temperatures of -7 degrees centigrade. Using the insulated body meant they were very warm inside the vehicle and the insulation was very effective at these temperatures, and the diesel heater for the body and fuel tanks only meant a fuel consumption of around 0.25 litres per night. Battery consumption was not excessive, and below what was predicted, despite the diesel heating being used for the body and diesel tanks, and everything was as they wanted it, they were even walking around in shorts and T shirts with the heating on manual.
Fridge consumption was higher than anticipated, but not by much, and the rear door could be easily and quickly operated by either of them in the light and dark, when lowered the illumination around the doors came on so the micro switches needed no adjustment. Filling the water tanks was a cinch as being able to fill them from either side benefitted them in all practical senses, and filling them using the inbuilt pumps meant they could fill from containers without lifting them, bear in mind they are getting older.
While they lived in their new truck for the weekend we carried on making the new skirts for the side of the truck, these were the semi circular mouldings we had previously made, these were for the bottom, and L sections were moulded for the top. These were measured and cut, then bonded together and inserts were glassed in for additional strength, they sat flush with the bottom of the chassis and were to be hinged at the top so they would fully open to give access to the sliding drawers they would cover.
With the skirts now made they were gives 7 additional layers of CSM to give them thickness and strength, and being nicely rounded meant the body looked sleek and modern, they were cut to length and end pieces were made and glassed into position. They were sanded, primed with glass fibre etch primer, primed with high build industrial primer, then sprayed a contrasting colour to the body, aluminium concealed hinges were fitted and they were fitted to the body and looked very nice with no visible hinges, and really finished the truck off. Fitting them was fun in the middle of a frozen field, thank goodness for infra red lamps for curing paints.
Careful design work had gone into designing the aluminium storage trays under the side skirts as these could not be bolted directly to steel without isolators to prevent steel bolts coming into contact with the aluminium. Instead it was decided to anchor them to the body cross members where they could float and flex with the flex of the vehicle, the base trays were installed using rubber mountings and the inside trays were made, these came out on ball raced runners which were made in aluminium. Using aluminium meant the balls for the bearing assemblies were made from a material called Nylon 66 which is an industrial nylon loaded with graphite, with the trays and their lids made, they glided out as if on air.
Each tray was specifically designed for specific or specific items, least used trays housed least used items such as the spare tent and camping gear for the family visits and the most commonly used items were housed in the most accessible trays. Everything had its place, and would remain in its place; over the next few weeks these were manufactured and fitted and every item was placed in their correct place and a plan was made of what was where and printed off, laminated, and dropped into the cab.
With these installed and the kit placed into them we installed the twin locking mechanisms for the side skirts, which were placed underneath the truck for aesthetics and to keep the sides of the skirts as smooth as the body, and prying eyes of thieves away.
With the vehicle almost complete attention turned to the final accessories, these were the satellite radio system and the fixed exterior LED lighting, the lighting was fixed in position and the satellite radio system was selected. Reasons for selecting a satellite radio system was purely for information, when in remote areas it could be accessed to obtain specific area traffic information, weather reports, forest fire information, severe weather warnings, and any amount of other potentially useful information
With the lighting installed on the rear of the cab, it was prepared and sprayed, this was a contrasting colour to the white body and complimented it well, and decals were designed and cut in vinyl and applied to the finished body and cab. Doors were refitted and rubber bellows were installed for the heater vents to connect from the A pillar to the internal door vents for demisting the side windows.
Attention turned to the wheels and tyres, these were removed and replaced with wider rims with Michelin XCL tyres which were less aggressive then the military treaded tyres which came with the vehicle, and made it quieter on road. Tyres were removed from the rims and they were stripped and repainted to match the truck, they were lacquered heavily with successive coats of lacquer, buffed to a mirror finish and heavily polished with car polish to help prevent dirt sticking to them.
While the vehicles wheels were removed the brakes were stripped and new front pads were fitted, the discs were skimmed to remove very slight pitting, and anything not in contact with the brakes was removed and painted in epoxy paint. These included the brake back plates, the calliper mounting assembly, calliper, and the disc inner which bolted to the hub; this made it easier to view the brake pads for wear, and also much easier to clean them. On the rear the drums were removed and found to be new, as were the shoes and self adjusting assembly, they were also painted and refitted and adjusted.
With the new truck nearly complete and with a few shakedown’s to test the living compartment in cold conditions, and all the systems were working, we manufactured new underbody protection from a titanium alloy. This was re-designed to better protect more of the underbody, and was mounted using insulating spacers, it had various slots and access apertures cut into it, and various grilles installed to protect vulnerable areas, yet still allow airflow.
With the vehicle now ready for a serious test it was onto our low loader and up to a friend’s old abandoned quarry for a real shakedown run, here it encountered water up to 1.5 metres deep, hills up to 60 degrees, rock, mud, and some very severe terrain. This tested the vehicle to its limits, its flexibility proved the body’s ability to withstand such flexing without distress and to test that all the fitments stayed solid and without cupboards shedding their loads.
Off road ability of the truck was never in doubt as this was an ex military vehicle, but the most surprising was the Michelin tyres ability to perform nearly as well as its old military bar grip tyres off road, but on road they were considerably quieter and handled much better. These tyres are more akin to an all terrain tyre in appearance, but their performance in all off road conditions impressed us all.
With a full day of quarry testing the vehicle was confirmed and passed every test and terrain we threw at it, we went through what fuel was on board and measured the consumption at around 9MPG which was good for a day in full off road terrain. At least it drained the tanks of the red diesel we had been running it on for shunting around and it could be filled up with road diesel now.
With the vehicle now complete it was filled full with diesel, water, and everything for a trip to get it to full operational weight, it was trailered to a local weighbridge where it weighed in at 6204 Kg which was slightly less than anticipated or planned for. Its design weight was anticipated to be 6450 Kg so we were all impressed with its full operational weight being so far under its anticipated weight.
Now came the task of re-registering the vehicle as a camper, apparently unscrupulous people had been registering commercial vehicles as campers, so they wanted to fully inspect it at their nearest centre, and even had an expert motor home examiner to come for the inspection. Upon inspecting the vehicle he was impressed with both the design and build quality, and conformed it was a camper which couldn’t reasonably be used as a commercial vehicle, and this process was completed.
Next came the insurance, as it was a bespoke vehicle the insurance company came and inspected the vehicle with a valuer, he valued the completed vehicle at £240,000 and insisted it would need to be insured at that value as parts would need making. Being a bespoke vehicle meant you couldn’t buy body parts so they would need making, and this could be expensive if it was severely damaged. Not bad considering it only cost £52,287 for the entire project.
Other additional costs were the cost of an engineer’s inspection report which was done at the same time as its MOT was undertaken, and was a stipulation of the insurers to ensure the vehicle was safe, complied with the Construction & Use Regulations. As part of this the Police also examined it to ensure it contained no stolen or illegal parts, this information is stored on the Police computers. This is very useful when building a bespoke vehicle, particularly as the body, chassis, axles, gearbox, and transfer case had their own numbers electronically etched into them, in the event of any theft the Police could instantly trace the parts.
With the vehicle completed it went on the road on the 1st of February 2009 and has (at the time of writing) been used for just over three years; during this time it has been across deserts and to the Arctic Circle, and has proven all its design criteria. It has remained cool in the body in hot temperatures and the bespoke air conditioning, although small, has worked well to keep the body cool. In cold climates it’s been equally effective. The insulated body retains heat very well and this proves just how a carefully designed and insulated body can be, and how it can reduce the heating or cooling with its associated fuel and cost savings.
In extreme cold the engine and cab heating systems have been used and have also proven very effective and relatively fuel efficient, particularly when you consider most vehicles leave their engines running all night to keep them warm so they start.
Mechanically the vehicle has been very reliable with all the problems coming from poor fuel which has been heavily contaminated, this was mainly with water, and the agglerometers have picked it all up and have simply been drained frequently instead of switching fuel tanks. Punctures are a usual problem, although the Michelin tyres seem more puncture resistant than most, but with compressed air it’s easy to jack the vehicle and change a wheel, or fit an inner tube with the wheel still on the vehicle. No other issues have been forthcoming, although the vehicle is well maintained and serviced; the underbody protection has taken a battering but still serves its purpose.
Fuel consumption is around 15 MPG on road, but this is achieved by sticking to lorry speed limits of 56 MPH instead of using its full speeds in the high 70’s as it is capable of achieving with its 6 speed overdrive gearbox. Off road in low range this obviously drops, but a range of nearly 1900 miles on a full tank of fuel is not to be sneezed at.
Water consumption is well catered for and the installed water tanks deliver the three weeks originally stipulated, with a total of 265 litres on board it caters for three week away from water and offers above the 6 litres recommended per person, per day.
Battery capacity is well in excess of the requirements of the equipment, this, combined with using energy efficient equipment and a split load system ensures all vital equipment is kept running without topping up the batteries from engine or mains power.
Filtering all the air entering or leaving the vehicle has proved worthwhile, none of the ducting’s have any signs of any ingress of any material which is obviously good for the life of the equipment which needs an air supply.
Some additional work has been carried out on the vehicle, an additional spare wheel is carried, and was allowed for in the original design, and the interior is now so quiet with its new and very effective sound insulation that wood veneer was fitted to the cab. With its swathes of leather and barely audible engine it was felt appropriate to fit this to make the cab a nicer place; it now sports a nice walnut veneer on every metal surface. With the second spare wheel fitted the additional space is often taken up with four 20 litre jerry cans of fuel, a fuel pump powered from the water tank power supply is used to power a pump to decant fuel from the cans into the fuel tanks.
She has been named “Emily Jane” after their first Grand Daughter so if you see her anywhere in the world, go and say hello, and you will be welcome to have a look around her for yourselves.
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