Finding the perfect rolling home for an off-road, overland and adventure sports enthusiast who wants to travel the globe is no small task, especially when on the budget of a full time freelance photographer/journalist.
My search started with a two-year stint living full time in a used high mileage 4×4 Ford E350 EB 7.3L Power Stroke van, which had a full RV conversion by Sportsmobile. While this vehicle was exceptional in many ways, it fell short of meeting my needs in a few areas; it was too tall for tight off-road trails with my gear on the roof, the interior could not handle the abuse of off-road travel; the extended body design had a horrible departure angle; the engine was difficult to service in the tight van body, and the engine and driveline wasn’t widely available in many parts of the globe I hoped to travel. After an extensive search of the vehicles available on the market, I quickly discovered that I’d have to build something myself, both to meet my relatively unique requirements and to keep costs to a reasonable level. After much research, spreadsheets, mockups, CAD drawings, redesigns, cash, blood, sweat and tears, the EEXP Overland Adventuremobile was born.
The base platform for this build was really a no brainer. There is no other more prolific powerplant in the world than the 5.9L Cummins diesel. This engine is used in trucks, mining equipment, generators and marine applications around the globe. Because of this, and my lack of diesel mechanic skills, I went on the hunt for a low mileage, unmodified and good condition Dodge Ram 2500. More specifically, I wanted a short wheelbase for off-road maneuverability and an extended-cab for driving comfort. I searched high and low for this combination with a manual transmission in the older 12v format, but just couldn’t find one in my time frame that wasn’t highly modified, ragged out and selling for way too high a price. What I did end up finding was a 2001 Dodge Ram 2500 extended-cab 4×4 short bed 24v Cummins with automatic transmission truck, with only about 87,000 miles on it. The only issue with the truck was that it was from the northeast and had no service records. In the end, I chanced it and ended up battling some rust, but overall I got a solid truck at a good price to start the build with.
Once I removed the truck bed, cleaned up the rust and took care of some basic maintenance items, the truck was ready for the true transformation into a go-anywhere home. Reliability, parts availability and field serviceability are the major factors that dictated many of the modifications on this globetrotting build.
A 285/70R17 E-rated AT tire was chosen, as it is a readily available size in most parts of the world, provides a solid on and off-road capability balance and a sturdy sidewall that can be aired down significantly for better off-road traction. Rebuildable adjustable Icon Vehicle Dynamic remote reservoir shocks, Hellwig reverse overload helper springs and a Hellwig rear sway bar all combine to keep the entire vehicle under control, on and off pavement. In order to handle debris and obstacles, no matter the size, both on and off-road, a Buckstop bumper was fitted to the front of the truck; a custom pivoting rear bumper on the back, Bushwacker fender flares over the front wheels and an ARB front diff cover was installed. For extra fuel range, eight gallons of extra fuel storage was added to the back of the camper by way of four Roto-Pax, providing me a total of 42 gallons of capacity, offering about a 550 mile range. The engine and driveline has been relatively unmolested to provide the most reliability possible. Under the hood, the lift pump was upgraded to an AirDog Raptor pump, batteries to group 31s, and a full steering system overhaul, with Borgeson steering box and shaft and Synergy steering box brace. Under the vehicle, an ARB diff breather kit was installed, and EGR braided Kevlar brake lines were used. In the cab, an Edge CTS monitor is used to keep an eye on all the engine vitals and a 4×4 Posi-Lock front axle engagement system was installed to make sure the front axle engages when you want it to. To make sure the vehicle could handle any situation it encountered off-road, especially when traveling solo, it was fitted with the essentials: a Warn 16.5ti winch, Maxtrax recovery boards, a Hi-Lift Xtreme jack and PIAA off-road driving lights.
The camper build is really the highlight of this build, as it is a one-off custom design, and nothing like it is available in North America. I took influence from a number of overland camper builders in Spain, South Africa and Australia when designing this uncomplicated, durable and efficient living space. The construction of the shell is a structural foam core with fiberglass laminate, which has been seamed together into a monocoque structure. This camper structure is then attached to the truck with a three point pivoting mount, which allows the truck frame to flex under the camper when off-roading. The layout concept allows me to work at the table and sleep in the bed with the top down, making it easy to park up and “camp” wherever I find myself, without making a big scene. When the top is up, the awning is out and the stairs are installed, the vehicle becomes a comfortable base camp from which to launch other adventures. It features a huge top load fridge, 30 gallons of fresh water feeding a sink and outside shower, a diesel hot water and hot air system and a large solar system that keeps everything running…completely off-grid. Nearly everything in the camper comes from the marine industry, and the few things that don’t, like the windows, fridge and cartridge toilet, come from the expedition camper industry in Europe.
While this vehicle has only been on the road for about two years, it has already traveled to the far corners (and many remote areas) of North America. As a shake down trip, only four days after the build was complete, the vehicle traversed the 60-plus mile Lockhart Basin Jeep Trail near Moab, Utah. It then went up through BC and the Yukon on it’s way to explorations around Alaska, including the Dalton Hwy. While it’s also been nearly all the way across Canada, down the east coast of the US and all over the southwest, it is the many off-pavement journeys along the way that really showcased what this vehicle is capable of. A highlight of its travels so far has to be a 1,200-plus mile, mostly off-pavement, loop through northern Baja over a week’s time. The EEXP has proven that it is truly suited for whatever terrain you put before it, whether that is laying down the miles on the interstate, crawling over tough off-road obstacles or cruising high speed forest roads and sandy desert washes. DW
THE EEXP BUILD
Vehicle Dimensions: 8’7″ tall, 22’5″ long and 7′ wide
AVG MPG 11-14
Exterior- Buckstop Bumper, Warn 16.5ti Winch, Factor 55 ProLink XXL, PIAA LED off-road and fog lights, Bushwacker Pocket Style Fender Flares, Hi-Lift Jack Xtreme, Custom Jackcover.com Hi-Lift Cover, Icon 2.5-inch Remote Reservoir Adjustable Shocks, Hellwig 3,500 lb. Overload Helper Springs & Rear Sway Bar, General Grabber AT2 285/70R17 Tires, 17” Method “Standard” Wheels, ARB Front Diff Cover, Borla Exhaust, Maxtrax, Four 2-gallon Roto-Pax Diesel Duel Cells, Adjustable Custom Rear Aluminum Bumper, Locking Under Camper Storage Boxes, Security Lug Nuts
Interior- Edge CTS Monitor, Locking Contractor Box Replaced Rear Seat, Heated Wet-Okole Seat Covers, 4×4 Posi-Lock Front Axel Engagement System
Under The Hood- AirDog Raptor lift pump, Borgeson Steering Box & Shaft, Synergy Steering Box Brace, EGR Braided Kevlar Brake Lines, Two Group 31 Batteries, ARB Diff Breather Kit, Engine Block Heater
Weight- 1,289 lbs.
Construction- Fiberglass & Structural Foam Core Panels seamed together to create a monocoque structure, on a 1-inch steel frame (in order to attach it to the vehicle)
Mount- 2 solid mounts up front (at original bed mount locations) with a custom single central pivot in the back (this 3 point system allows the vehicle to flex under the camper while off roading)
Camper Amenities- Reico Titan electric actuator roof raising system on remote control (provides 6 ft. 5-inch interior height when lifted), Pop-top tent features zippered windows/bug screens/Velcroed privacy covers, Two-way Maxxfan roof vent fan, Full sized (54”x75”) bed (3-inch thick cushions feature a 1-inch memory foam on top), 3 sided dinette, 30 gallon fresh water tank with electric pump feeding a Spinflow interior sink system and exterior shower, 3.8 gallon Dometic top load fridge, Dometic cartridge toilet, 255 watt solar panel, Blue Sea solar charge controller, 150 amp/hr house battery, Blue Sea engine battery isolator, 1,000 watt inverter, Webasto Dual-Top diesel hot water and air heater system, LED interior lighting, Dometic exterior legless awning, Seitz dual pane windows & skylight with integrated privacy and bug screens, Six 12v USB outlets, Torklift Glow Step accordion camper steps