The Birth of The Beast – How To Source & Spec. an Overland Truck

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Big Blue and Kismet have served us well. They bore us across the Carpathian mountains & along a footpath in Romania, but we’re not sure they are up to the Gobi Desert

With the election of Boris Johnson and the prospect of Brexit becoming inevitable, we formulated a Brexit Busting plan.

“Let’s go to Mongolia!”

With Big Blue & Kismet, we truly did courageously split our infinitives and ‘Boldly Go Where No Van Has Gone Before’ – across the Carpathian mountains and along a footpath in Romania. However, we need something more substantial to ensure our safe conduct across the Gobi desert, so we started our search for a 4×4 overland truck.

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The ideal overland vehicle. Does it exist?!

What We Wanted

Our rough specification was;

  1. Four-wheel drive essential.
  2. Something large enough to live in full-time, with the ability to be self-sufficient off-grid for weeks at a time.
  3. Ideally, a vehicle that could carry a quad bike for sightseeing, shopping and as an emergency form of transport, should we get stuck anywhere remote.
  4. Ten tonnes is the suggested sweet spot for overland trucks. Above that, the possibility increases that the vehicle won’t be able to access some places, cross certain bridges and is at risk of getting bogged down in soft ground.
  5. It must be mechanically simple, easy to repair and with good availability of spares worldwide.
  6. Doesn’t look too threatening militarily, when driven in places like the Pamir highway, along the border of Afghanistan.
  7. Our budget is flexible within reason, but not unlimited. To maintain our state of retirement, we have to watch our pennies – but The Beast is a lot cheaper than buying and running a house!
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The Pamir Highway in Tajikistan – too much of a challenge for Big Blue and Kismet

The Decision Process

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Britain; surrounded by Schengen!

Freedom of Movement is scheduled to end with the Brexit Transition Period on 31st December 2020. So long as his pants are not on fire, Boris Johnson has stated that there will be no extension. On previous form, it would appear that our Prime Minister’s pants are made of asbestos, but if he has not lied to the electorate once again, Brexit will instantly limit our ability to spend time in the whole of the E.U. and the Schengen area.

As such, we wanted to avoid a lengthy conversion, so that we could use the truck straight away to travel outside of countries with 90/180 Schengen Visa restrictions.

We considered the following;

  1. Off the Shelf – We looked at trucks for sale that had already been converted, since this would be by far the quickest route to getting on the road. The ones we saw were relatively expensive and none had anything like a perfect layout or specification for us. We did like an ex-army ambulance and German army fire engine, particularly on the basis that they might not get shot at. However, all the off-the-shelf vehicles we saw would have required considerable additional expenditure to set them up to our requirements. We have toured in Caravan Kismet for four years, so we have a clear idea of what we need. Mark is also a genius at configuring small spaces and has some stunning ideas on how to create multi-functional areas to maximise the space available.
    old-car-1226663_1280
    We rather liked an old ambulance conversion – particularly since it might not get shot at, but it was expensive & we didn’t like the internal layout
  2. Self-Conversion – if we fitted out the truck ourselves, we could not only have our preferred layout, we could specify top-of-the-range fitments, such as solar panels, which would be capable of delivering the off-grid capability that we require.
  3. Other Considerations
    • Closed Box Truck – We decided to purchase a truck with a box already fitted on the back, to avoid the hassle, expense and time required to source and fit one ourselves. It is not the easiest thing to do, since there are technical aspects to take into account such as torsional strains etc. Although there are suppliers who will design and fit a box, eg Zeppelin de and Bespoke Bodies, they are expensive and this would potentially add months to the build. Few closed-box trucks were available for sale and most were smaller than we wanted; with boxes 4 to 4.5m long.
    • Quad and Trailer – If we did purchase a smaller truck, we considered having a trailer to carry the emergency quad, but our research suggested that towing has the greatest potential to present issues when travelling overland on rough terrain. In addition, an expensive quad in full view on a trailer would be less secure and the cost of a trailer sufficiently robust to carry a high-spec quad off road was considerable; around £8,000.
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We want to carry an ’emergency quad’ for sightseeing, shopping – & in case of emergency!

Why We Chose The Beast – A Volvo N10 Truck

OUR Volvo N10
‘Even Bigger Blue’ seemed like serendipity – but when we found that the price advertised excluded VAT, she started to look a little expensive
  1. 6 Wheels on our Wagon – A chap we met in Romania was in the process of upgrading his 4WD truck to a six-wheeler. When we saw the Volvo N10, she looked like a good solid, robust option. She is a 6 x 4 – a six-wheel truck with four drive wheels – and can allegedly be driven on the moon!
  2. Is She Too BIG?!
    • Weight – With her twenty-four-and-a-half tonne gross weight, The Beast is way over the ten tonne sweet spot, but we will not be running her at full capacity. Her tare weight (unladen) is ten tonnes and realistically, we expect her to weigh in at around fifteen tonnes when converted, including her full complement of water and fuel; enough to keep us self-sufficient for at least a month on the road.
    • Length – Her train length of 32ft (9.6m) is four feet SHORTER than Big Blue and Kismet.
    • Width – she is only slightly wider than Big Blue; 2.5m compared to 2.35m.
    • Height – this might be more of a problem in some places. At 3.7m, she is within the legal height limit of 4m for Europe. However, for driving on rough roads, we need the height to give us ground clearance. We also need the internal height to accommodate Mark; a 2m tall (6’6”) bloke.
    • Full Spec – click here for her full specification.
    • The Coca Cola Rule – wherever I have been in the world, however remote, there has been Coca Cola. How did the Coca Cola get there? The answer is almost always, “In a truck.” While there may be some places that The Beast can’t go, I think we’ll manage.
  3. Does She Look Too Militarily Threatening? – She’s going to get a paint job!

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    Mark & I don’t agree on this paint job (guess which one of us likes it!) but The Beast will be getting a once-over.
  4. Price – Her price was alluring, particularly when we took into account the cost of purchasing and fitting a box (she already had one) and the fact that she is large enough to accommodate a quad, saving us the cost of a trailer.
  5. Time Saving & Security – Having the box already fitted and it being large enough to keep the quad inside was a definite plus.
  6. But What About Her Fuel Economy? – We offset her poor fuel economy against the savings on her attractive purchase price and the fact that we won’t have to pay for a trailer or fitting a box. Against our projected mileage, it will be five years before The Beast costs us a penny more than if we had bought a smaller truck. (Click here to hear me getting self-righteous about her carbon footprint!)
  7. Payload – The Beast can be laden up to 24.5 tonnes, giving us 14.5 tonnes of payload. She also has a towing train weight of 44 tonnes, so we have absolutely no concerns about carrying everything that we need to be self-sufficient for long periods. Caravan Kismet has a payload of just under 1500kg – or ‘not a lot’, so Big Blue’s extra couple of tonnes have come in handy!
  8. Spares – Volvo spares are less widely available worldwide than those for other makes of truck, although there is availability on our proposed route, particularly in Iran. However, we are in no hurry to get anywhere, so if we do get held up waiting for spares to be delivered, we will just enjoy where we are. As an obvious precaution, we will replace all perishables, such as hoses and ensure that we carry a stock of the most useful spares, such as filters.
  9. No Compromises – She is big, but we felt that the pros outweigh the cons for what we want to do. Like the perfect dog, there is no such thing as the perfect overland truck. It all depends on your plans and your lifestyle!
  10. But You Haven’t Seen Her – Yes, this is a risk! We have bought her ‘off plan’, as it were. We have some reassurances of a mechanical check from the dealer. However, being an army truck, she is both mechanically simple and over-engineered, so we’re hoping that this will work in our favour. Comparable trucks, which had been painted and tarted up were several thousand pounds more expensive, so we have gambled that she won’t need several thousand pounds worth of work. If she does, we still won’t have lost. If she doesn’t, we’re in the money. If she turns into a financial black hole, we will take it on the chin and choose better next time!
  11. We Love Her – C’mon, she is a proper, retro truck and is as sexy as hell. We are in love. She is to be our permanent home, guardian and accomplice on scary adventures – it needs to be love.

If you want to see a video of her in action, click here. The incorporation of dancing girls and anacondas is a little peculiar, but the video shows off what creatures like The Beast can do. I haven’t yet got tired of watching!

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If you’re buying a truck as your permanent home, she needs to be SEXY!

Where to Source an Overland Truck

There are surprisingly many options. Here are a dozen of the options that we investigated:

  1. Dekker bv – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. Expedition Truck Brokers – Eindhoven, The Netherlands
  3. Globalxvehicles in Springfield, MO, USA
  4. Jacaranda Trading bv – Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Brendan, the lovely owner, supplied The Beast
  5. Lys-Tout Terrain – Northern France
  6. Mascus – UK
  7. MOD Surplus – UK
  8. MOD Auctions – UK
  9. Nene Overland – Peterborough, UK
  10. The Overlander – UK – offers a forum, advice & sales. Run by Steve Wrigglesworth who wrote the highly recommended Haynes ‘Build Your Own Overland Camper Manual’
  11. Transautomobil – Brussels, Belgium
  12. Unicat – Dettenheim, Germany

A few Truck Body Builders, from Alloy Bodies to Zeppelin!

  1. Alloy Bodies 
  2. Bespoke Bodies
  3. JC Payne
  4. Supremecorp
  5. Truckcraft Bodies
  6. Zeppelin de

And some excellent additional reading, The Overlanders’ Handbook by Chris Scott.

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4 thoughts on “The Birth of The Beast – How To Source & Spec. an Overland Truck

  1. Preaching to the converted here. When we were in South America we saw some beasts not as big as yours will be, but we had road envy nonetheless. Considering how big some motor homes are and the problems they can incur, I think you are going to have a lot of fun in your vehicle. Just watched a video on youtube where an American couple drive around Iceland in a beast before driving it back to Germany to their owners.

    Liked by 1 person

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