The first stage of the conversion was the removal of the flat hose storage to expose the chassis cab in preparation for cleaning and spraying. We had decided have it painted grey and it was exciting to see the first stages of the paint job as it transformed our vehicle from the bright red fire and rescue truck to our new expedition vehicle. Our choice of colour was unobtrusive and would blend well into the any background
Whilst the sub frame was being fabricated the truck was off to the local Mercedes dealership who were more receptive than the MAN dealers to carrying out the bespoke alterations we required. To achieve a good fuel range we fitted two fuel tanks totalling 900 litres (200 gallons) which would give us a range of approximately 3,000 miles.
March 2018 and it was time to visit Poznan and take a look at our new truck after its initial alterations and we were delighted how it looked. We had altered the twin rear wheel setup to single wheel which then had to be offset to align with the front wheels.
We returned to Poznan in time to collect the truck from the company who were doing the exhaust modifications and were delighted with the new stainless steel roof height exhaust. The Manager spoke excellent English and stood by when Tony carefully backed the vehicle out of the workshop.
By May 2018 they had started working on the inside of the habitation box. It was agonisingly slow progress and we realised that the new truck wouldn’t be ready until at least September.
The box has 80mm thick walls and all windows are Outbound double glazed with toughened glass with built in pressure system suitable for high altitudes and also incorporate black out and insect blinds.
The fit out of the living box meant a myriad of final decisions needed to be made and one of the most important was that of what type of toilet to fit. We have spent many years with the standard cassette type which has worked very well, however as we intend to spend more time off grid this didn’t provide the solution as where would we empty it !! so the alternatives were investigated. Firstly the composting toilet seemed a good solution but on more investigation it seems that the partial compost waste is collected in a black sack and then deposited in normal domestic bins or skips, not very satisfactory as we didn’t feel this was a real solution. Next was the option to fit a 140 litre black waste tank, read sewage tank, which would have to be emptied down a sewer, this system originated in the USA and is fitted to most RVs there as all campsites have pump out facilities but not so in Europe or for that matter any other country. Another drawback with this system is the amount of water it uses which has to be introduced for effective operation of the macerator pump.
Water is a valuable commodity when off grid for long periods and as we can only accommodate some 400 litres it has to be preserved.
We spent a lot of time trawling the internet and eventually came upon the Cinderella Incinerator Comfort Toilet which does as it says on the tin incinerating all waste and liquid to ash which is easily disposed of and best of all no use of valuable water. These toilets are manufactured in Norway being originally designed for out of the way log cabins and have since been developed for many applications, the incinerating heat can be generated by either gas or 220 volt electrics. We chose to go with the electric one as we have no gas in the living box. There are only a couple of other campers in Europe using this model so it will be somewhat experimental but a great solution if it works. www.cinderellaeco.com
The trucks electrics are 24 volt so we have tried to keep most ancillary equipment at this same voltage although a few items will need a 12 volt supply.
The 220 volt supply is provided through two 3.5kw Mastervolt invertors from the bank of four Lithium Ion batteries at 24 volt. They are charged from the MAN truck engine fitted with a Mastervolt 100ah alternator when running, roof mounted photovoltaic panels providing 1.5kw, land mains supply 220/110 volts through a battery charger and lastly all supported by a diesel generator of 3.5kw. Have decided to try and keep all mainstream electrics under the Mastervolt umbrella as it can be difficult diagnosing faults with different suppliers all blaming each other and to assist in this we have fitted a Mastervolt Amperian system which enables the manufacturer and operator to gain access for fault diagnosis the operator can also view and adjust settings remotely through Wi-fi.
HEATING & COOLING
Heating systems are wet type through an Eberspacer Hydronic Diesel unit which will provide all hot water to heat underfloor pipework, radiator in shower cubicle, convection heater with fan fore and aft which assists underfloor heating as floor area is minimal, heating engine cooling water systems in cold climates and provision of hot water to all taps and shower. When the truck engine is running this will also heat the water Calorifier ie hot water tank. The living box will also contain a Dometic climate control system which will cool and in reverse cycle mode, heat, this runs from the 220 volt supply. The truck cab also has the same Dometic system although a smaller size but again drawing power from 220 volt supply. Cab heating is from the standard MAN engine driven system.
GALLEY & COOKING
The living box is gas free so we have fitted a Wallas diesel oven and single plate ceramic hob which also has a warming plate. It has a lid which incorporates an electric fan so can be used for heating the living box should other systems fail. We decided to dispense with the Combi Microwave when we saw the limited storage around the galley.
There are three refrigerated drawers in this area together with a top load freezer. A Nespresso coffee machine is also fixed in the galley area.
All water supply is heavily filtrated and a separate tap supplies direct drinking water through an even finer filter.
Grey water ie waste shower/washing water will be collected in a 140 litre tank which we originally wanted mounted in the living box where it would be protected against freezing in extreme conditions, however we had to think again as we were running out of storage space so had no choice but to mount it externally will just have to remember to keep it empty when travelling in very cold conditions. The other option would be to fit a heating element, still under discussion.
A gas tank will be mounted under the truck chassis to provide for the external BBQ. Gas can be difficult to find in many countries so in case we run out we will carry a conventional charcoal BBQ.
WINCH & HYDRAULIC MOTORCYCLE/SPARE WHEEL LIFT
A 9 ton hydraulic winch will be mounted through the front truck fender which will be powered by the existing hydraulic power take off already fitted to the engine, this was used in the trucks former life as a fire tender to feed out the 3kms of flat hose it carried. After some discussion we decided to mount the winch at the rear as it could be conveniently housed in the base of the hydraulically operated motorcycle/spare wheel lift which meant all the engine driven hydraulics were in the same place and a rework of the front fender would not be needed.
We have fitted a CTIS central tyre inflation system which runs off the truck brake compressed air tanks. A coiled hose is mounted by each wheel and when connected to each tyre it can be controlled to set front/rear pressures from a remote control panel. This is often nessecary to ensure best traction on different surfaces ie in loose sand pressures can be lowered to 1.5 bar and this provides a greater footprint thus more adhesion.
CAB UPGRADE AND MODIFICATIONS
The MAN truck is a “cab over” in other words the cab sits on top of the engine unlike trucks in the USA where the engine is normally in front of the cab which does make for longer overall length and hence not too popular this side of the Atlantic. Access to the engine on the “cab over” trucks is by tilting the cab forward which is facilitated by a hand operated hydraulic jack, currently trying to find a electro hydraulic solution for this as it is a bit laborious. As one is sitting on top of the engine it is important that there is sufficient insulation and noise dampening so these areas will be supplemented with the nessecary sound/heat deadening materials.
All the internal linings on the cab will be replaced and at the same time additional insulation added, all existing seating is to be replaced with four air suspension seats two in front and two in rear which will leave enough space between the two rear seats for the door into the living box, door sounds a bit grand it is probably better described as a hatch or crawl through which serves as a security measure in event that you might want to depart somewhere in a hurry without exiting the vehicle it also serves as access to the living box when weather is poor, saves going outside and getting cold or wet.
A single fold up bunk will be fitted behind the two rear cab seats for occasional guests or a tired driver. A Dometic climate control system will provide air conditioning for the cab whilst the cabs own engine driven heating provides additional warmth. The Dometic system is 220 volt driven and is adequately supported by the trucks system.
A large roof rack fitted to the cab provides extra storage if needed and also serves to protect the cab from direct sunlight and excessive cab heat, the rack will also incorporate LED spotlights for improved forward vision at night.
The cab will incorporate an all round camera system with a screen monitor, various satnavs and laptop navigating aids on Ram Mounts, CB with SSB radio and handhelds,YB3i Tracker which operates through Inmarsat system, iBoost Wi-fi boost retractable omni directional antenna, compass and fire extinguisher.
The truck is fitted with an HPC hydraulic self levelling system which is controlled from the cab. This system incorporates four hydraulic rams of 10 ton each which are chassis mounted close to each wheel, not only will this level the vehicle it can lift all wheels off the ground to facilitate wheel changing and puncture repairs.
An Electrolux 6kg washing machine will be fitted into the end of kitchen worktop adjacent to the habitation door. When not being used it will be hidden behind the foldaway worktop flap which makes best use of working surface by providing additional worktop in front of door. When the machine is in use the flap folds upward and is secured.
PROGRESS DELAYS AND REASONS
The end of November 2018 in sight and still a long way to go as the living box has not yet been placed on the subframe/chassis as the truck has been delayed at the fabricators where the hydraulic rear motorcycle lift is being made. We have lost some 10 weeks out of the schedule due to us being unable to move the truck because of this work with this contractor as they will not allow any other contractors on their site and won’t release the truck until their works are completed “elf an safety init”. All very frustrating but such is life !!
In the meantime I have now taken and passed my motorcycle test which allows me to ride any size machine but will be limited to the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 that will mount on the trucks rear lift so looking forward to that. In late January we would normally head out to Goa to shorten our UK winter but had cancelled it due to the imminent completion of said truck, however due to the delays we decided to reinstate this trip and have five weeks there departing 12th December never spent Christmas on a beach before so looking forward to that.
APRIL 2019 PROGRESS UPDATE
Hey ho they say all the best things in life take time, let’s hope they are right as we are now looking at a late May completion the main reason being that the truck now has to return to the company who made the rear hydraulic motorcycle/spare wheel lift as it is now ready for fitting, after galvanising and painting, together with the 10 ton hydraulic lift. This same company will also make up and fit 4 mounting brackets for the hydraulic rams that operate the self levelling HPC system. To facilitate the movement of the truck it had to be moved outside and loaded on transport as it is not road legal without mudguards etc, they seem to be a bit touchy about this.