What to use as my base vehicle?
This was probably the single most difficult decision I had to make with regards to the entire trip, which perhaps explains why it took me four years to come to a conclusion! Hardly surprising really, since the choice of vehicle determined how much space I’d have to live in, which terrain I’d be able to cross, whether I’d have limited access to areas due to weight or height restrictions, it set my cabin size, ferry charges, my fuel costs etc. etc. And of course, it also determined how much more this crazy project would (initially) cost me!
From the outset I knew that if I was to have a home, a work ‘studio’, a permanent double bed, plenty of storage space, a large water supply, small freezer etc, there was no way I was going to cram all that into a regular sized 4×4 and be comfortable, safe and roadworthy. I scoured through hundreds of travelers’ blogs and read of far too many overloaded Land Cruisers and Defenders, with heavily laden roof-racks (a definite off roading “no-no”), crushed suspension, poor handling and stressed drivers, and thought “I’ll get a 4×4 truck instead”. But the next problem was, which one?
So set out below is the rather long thought process behind my ultimate decision to buy an Oberaigner 6×6 Sprinter chassis. Of course every over lander has different priorities, may well be driving in different environments to those I’m crossing, is probably not traveling solo etc, so I don’t claim that my decision was ‘the best one’, only that is was the best one for me, for my circumstances, my driving experience, and my budget. If you come to a completely different conclusion, good luck to you – my only advice would be – don’t take four years over it, as I did…
Let’s go LARGE!
A Unimog is an awesome vehicle and it was the first one I thought of buying, but after speaking to a couple of owners (since borne out by other travelers I’ve met in Dubai, also driving Unimogs) they all said the same thing “Awesome off road, but too slow, too noisy, too uncomfortable over huge distances and too expensive, for such an old vehicle”. I flirted for a while with the idea of an ex British army DAF truck, even priced up a conversion with a company in the UK (which promptly went out of business just as I was thinking of placing an order!) but decided I’d opt for a Mercedes instead, due to their stronger global support network. For a long time I searched for a good 1017-AF, then realised that the 1222-AF, with its better power to weight ratio, would be a better option.
One of my primary sources of excellent advice about choosing and specifying an overland vehicle has been this very thorough and thought provoking page on Stephen Stewart’s Silk Route website. Here he mentions that in his opinion, the ideal vehicle for a two person overland truck would weigh between 3,500 and 7,500kg and have a GFRPS cabin. This made a lot of sense to me and the more I thought about it, the more I questioned the wisdom of using a chassis weighing 7 tonnes or more to haul around a cabin weighing maybe 2 to 2.5 tonnes. My 20 years of experience driving and racing off road, primarily in the deserts of the U.A.E., and my aircraft engineering background, have left me in no doubt that the lighter the vehicle, the better. A lighter vehicle is less likely to get stuck in the first place, easier to recover (try pulling a 1017AF out of thick mud with a Land Cruiser – it’s more likely to break the Cruiser), more fuel efficient, easier to drive, will stop faster in an emergency, etc. etc.
No, let’s go to Bad Kissingen..
So I started looking at an Iveco Daily as a base vehicle, since it was effectively a lighter ‘small truck’ chassis, and having priced up a few overland conversions, decided to go to the 2014 Allrad Abenteuer exhibition in Bad Kissingen, Germany, to make a final decision. I THOROUGHLY recommend a visit to this amazing show if you are in the market for an overland truck, an SUV, expedition equipment, or frankly just love to see beautifully built, amazing vehicles on display and being put through their paces. Wandering round the show for two days gave me many useful ideas and opened my eyes to the size of this huge industry – it’s a good thing the world is as big as it is, with that many overland trucks around. In amongst the spectacular, but frankly enormous MAN-KAT and Zetros ‘motor-villas’ were a handful of Iveco Dailys which I discussed in detail with their builders, but as I explored the rest of the show, I came across the Oberaigner stand – and had my Eureka moment!
Their Mercedes Sprinter based 6×6 conversion was, in my view, the perfect chassis – six wheel drive (so of course, more expensive and with a larger turning circle) but that meant it could easily handle a longer cabin (I’d already decided I wanted one around 4.7m long) and, more importantly, would spread the overall load over a greater area of tyre contact, for better off road performance. The vehicle has a maximum GVW of seven tonnes but the chassis weighed only three tonnes, which meant that at my estimated 5.8 tonnes kerb-side weight, fully laden and with full fuel and water tanks, the chassis and drive train would only be loaded to a little over 70% of its capacity, which is ideal in my view. And since I knew damn well I’d ‘keep adding stuff’, I figured the spare capacity would come in handy. I spent most of the second day crawling all over – and under – the Oberaigner, and, very satisfied with the build and engineering quality and after getting over the shock of learning the cost of the chassis cab, had made up my mind to buy one.
Now let’s go to Wahiba
Fortunately, soon after my first meeting, Oberaigner imported and registered a 6×6 chassis in Abu Dhabi as a demo vehicle, and in 2015, since I hold a U.A.E. truck license, I was asked if I would like to help them to produce a promotional video for their vehicles, to be filmed in Oman. I spent four days driving it on tarmac, rough tracks, across the Wahiba Sands desert, climbing mountains, and was really impressed by the way it handled. On the last day I ended up driving it for 20 hours almost without a break (long story), and yet experienced no back pain. After breaking my back in 2008, I knew that if my overland vehicle caused me discomfort problems, I’d never complete my trip, so that was the last piece of the puzzle in place – I’d found my perfect chassis.
Consequently I ordered my long wheel base, single cab chassis from Oberaigner in late December 2015 and it was ready just nine weeks later, then shipped to Southern Germany to receive its KrugXP built cabin.