Choosing the Right Expedition Chassis
Now that we have decided to start this crazy adventure its time to start working on the truck. But before that we need to figure out what truck we want.
I knew when we started that I wanted to get a cab over truck. There were of course a couple of reasons; because it makes the overall truck length shorter and so forth but mostly because it looks way cooler. I know when it comes to Overland stuff the cool factor should not be the deciding factor but there it is. As I build my current truck (MB 917) and start looking for another truck. I have been updating this page, so these trucks will always be changing. Just make sure you get the right truck for you.
First we started looking at buying a brand new off the lot Mitsubishi Fuso 4X4. It has been used in Australia for many years and seems to have a good reputation. I went even as far as to drive to my local-ish dealership to test-drive one. I loved the way it drove, the MPG and top speed were very good. But then you start to really dig into the machine and the reviews. The problems start to pop-up. First is the Low Sulfur Diesel Fuel, which all new diesel vehicles have to use. The issue is most 3rd world countries don’t have LSDF, thus your new truck couldn’t use the fuel. The other issue is the computer in the Fuso has issues. There are so many different sensors related to the LSDF system that if one malfunctions the truck goes into “limp mode”. Not a very good sound is it. The truck runs on like 20% of its power so you can “limp” it home. The only person who can take the truck out of this mode is a dealer. Not a good option for driving through Africa.
So if not the Fuso then what? I started looking to see what other people were using for their Africa rigs. I say Africa Rigs as a term for Expedition Rigs that are truly built and do adventure in the true wilderness. Well I found there are a lot of options. In fact there were too many options out there. So I picked a few and started to research.
MAN trucks are driven throughout the world and their parts are relatively easy to find. They are popular in Europe, Africa, and Asia. A MAN truck will help you avoid a local repair shops “luxury vehicle tax” which you might find with Mercedes trucks.
The MAN 8.136 is a good option. Its rugged and a workhorse. It gets good fuel economy; I’ve read some people get 15MPG. I was unable to find a 8.136 that was not military surplus. There is nothing wrong with surplus, I just feel surplus has it’s issues. But the ones I could find were about $9,000 with low miles. I’d say it’s a very good option.
This truck is extremely popular. These trucks were re-badged as American military vehicles in the late 1980’s. This truck has a permanent 4X4 system which might be an issue if you plan on doing a lot of highway driving. I think for the single cab truck this would be a good one to look for!
MB and their parents company is the largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles in the world. You will find MB trucks in almost every corner of the globe. This means there is parts and service centers on 6 continents around the globe.
Mercedes Benz 917
We ended up buying a 1990 917AF. It was in great shape, low miles (20,000km), and the price was right ($20,000). It has 173hp and a top speed of about 110kmph . There are multiple people who use this chassis to build on, there is quite a bit of info out there. I feel very comfortable with our pick and can’t wait to see it in person!
Update: Ive had this truck for about 6 months now. Driven the truck about 800 miles, 500 of which was at 60mph on the highway going across the desert in the summer. Looks like the truck will drive at 100kmph all day long, and will get about 13-15 mpg. I was able to get it going as fast as 120kmph down hill. I think next time I will splurge and get a truck with a higher horsepower.
Mercedes Benz 1017
1017’s are one of the best chassis you could choose. Why didn’t I buy one? I couldn’t find one for sale that fit what I needed. The only 1017 fire truck I found was older and had a lot of miles. Why a fire truck? It’s free to import, read our “Buying and Importing” article for more information. The 1017 was made and shipped all over the world. Parts and service are widely available. It’s the right size and power. There are plenty of surplus 1017’s out there selling from around $10,000.
Mercedes Benz 1428
The 1428 is a high horsepower truck, about 280. The other trucks I was looking at were about 175 horsepower, so it was a lot more power for the money. One of my concerns with the other trucks is the top speed. I heard some people saying anywhere from 45mph to 75mph. So that freaks me out a little. My other fear with this truck is I could find zero information about it. I could not find one person who has built an expedition truck with the chassis, nor could I even find specs. Think it was time to pass on this one.
As an American I know virtually nothing about this brand, past or present. I know they have made trucks in Europe for a long time but I have never seen them around the world. Parts and service is an unknown. But if you are willing to jump into the unknown there are some trucks out there worth looking at.
All I know about this truck is what is says in the For Sale ad. 230HP and a longer wheelbase would be enough for a good size camper. Iveco has models with more and less HP and they are priced relatively cheap, about half the cost of a similar sized and powered Mercedes. I briefly spoke to a guy who was traveling the world in an Iveco. He told me the parts were not very hard to find and the truck seemed reliable.
Since the birth of my twins I’m in need of some more room. Well first, why a double cab? Why not put the children in the camper with a pass through? Well there is first the safety issue which may or may not be an issue for some, but for me, I wanted my kids to be able to get bolted in if needed. Also I wanted traveling with my family to be a family affair, I did not necessarily be separated, me in the cab and the rest in the camper, as we drove around the world. Believe it or not but finding a double cab that fits your needs might be difficult.
Really the only double cab trucks out there is any quantity are firetrucks, perfect for me! The issue is I only need a 5 person double cab, not a 7 or 9 person cab. Most double cab fire trucks are built for a certain amount of firefighters and their gear. Ok, well that just means you have more space while on the road. True. The issue as I see it, when they build these double cabs is they do not modify the frame or wheelbase. So you now have a huge cab and a small camper, like really small, 6-9 feet. There are different options such as stretching the frame and so on.
At first it was the Man 12S21. This is a Crew Cab truck, about 200HP. Seems like a nice enough truck. I found one for a good price (about $25,000). I wanted a crew cab because we have our daughter and big freaking dog. I wanted them to be able to sit with us while we drove through rough terrain. So it seems like a good idea on paper. But when you have a small wheelbase and a large crew cab, it limits the length of usable space for the camper. So the camper on the 12S21 would be only 9 feet long, not exactly the space we were looking for. Time to start looking elsewhere.
190HP and seats only 7. This is a very good truck for the length. No one has ever used one as an expedition truck, as far as I can tell, but there always has to be a first.
200HP and 23.7 feet long. This truck has the power. If you need more look no further than the next truck.
This is probably the most popular double cab out there. That means there will be parts available and people who work on them. At 218HP is has more power then some and has the space, seats 9. Reaching lengths of 25 feet, it is quite the beast. This truck is I think the best and smart option when purchasing a double cab. Yes it will have a smaller camper but make the cab into a bedroom at night which helps with camper space.
Renault S 170
Don’t worry, I had never heard of them either. No information online. No information anywhere. I know they are popular in Europe but I have no idea about anywhere else in the world. But I do know is that these trucks were built to drive off road. They stand tall at 10 feet and the cab sits up high on the frame. Its approach angle looks good and the clearance is nice. 170HP seems to be a good nice. Come standard with super single tires too.
Renault S 150
With a smaller cab this would seemingly be the perfect size truck. At only 17 feet long is a small little buddy. The downside, 150HP with a max speed of 50-55 MPH, you won’t be getting anywhere quick. The cab is just big enough to house the 5 of us and the wheelbase is just long enough to be an effective off road machine. I will be able to fit a 13 foot camper no problem but I’m considering stretching the frame to make room for a 15 footer. Which would put the whole truck at 23 feet long which is exemptible. The engine on the other hand is my main concern, power, reliability, parts, lack of info. I’m thinking I might do an engine swap for a more popular engine with a bit more power.
Iveco Unic 80-17
Now I was just looking around the dark corners of Autoline.de and found this little guy! Cab is slightly longer than the S150. But this Iveco is built like the Unimog. It has Portal Axles, which means you get about 6″ of extra clearance because the axle tubes are higher. This is better for off roading but is not so good for high speeds (55mph) for a long period of time, the axle gears can heat up and fail. There is also a hydraulic system on this truck, I’m not sure if this is a good thing or if it is one more thing to break! I think I’m going to stretch the frame so I can fit a 15′ camper on the back but I’m not totally committed yet. The cab is bigger, which is bad and good. A larger cab gives us the ability to create a better space for long days on the road. Maybe add a futon seat, fold out table, and a fridge? I’m not sure if having a 21′ truck is worth losing the extra room inside the camper. Is there really a difference between 21 and 23 feet?