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Expedition Patrol 70 Series Land Cruiser dual-cab Toyota Hilux USA Dodge RAM Offroad Van/Camper Back to Our Vehicles
Dodge Ram 5.9 litre Turbo Diesel Dual-cab Pickup and Four Wheel Camper
Back in 2014 we bought a second-hand 2005 Dodge Ram, 5.9-litre turbo diesel dual-cab pick-up. It had done about 140,000 mile when we picked it up for US$20G. What a great truck!
It had a few accessories we didn't really love too much as the young buck who owned it previously thought that a truck like that had to sound loud, sit on big wide tyres and have a suspension that was lifted but the ride was rough, especially before we put the camper on it.
The straight-through exhaust was way too loud, so that was the first thing we had done – now we can talk to one another across the vast expanse of the cab without yelling too much!
We changed the rims and tyres to something a bit less radical and fitted 285/70R17 Cooper ST Maxx tyres (www.coopertires.com.au) on 17x8 'Fuel' alloy rims.
While we were near Sacramento to pick up our camper, more of which later, we fitted an ARB steel bullbar (www.arb.com.au ) and a set of IPF driving lights to the Dodge. This was done by Shaffers Offroad (www.shaffersoffroad.com ) - an ARB dealer in the area and the place is a specialist 4wd place with lots of race buggies and rock crawlers being built and modified.
At the same time we got ourselves an ARB compressor, a set of MaxTrax recovery tracks (www.maxtrax.com.au) and a few other odds and sods for the big rig. In fact, we've had to buy a lot of stuff – setting up a camping and touring rig from scratch is expensive - tools, recovery gear, camping gear, stove, etc, etc.
Back at Flagstaff in Arizona, where we had bought the vehicle, and at the local Flagstaff 4x4 Centre (www.flagstaff4x4.com) we had a big service and a set of wheel arch flares fitted. Then more recently we have lowered the truck - it's still 2-inches above normal, and that is with it loaded. We've fitted Rancho shocks all round (a fair but not great shock, I reckon) and fitted Firestone airbags to the rear to keep the rig level, without upgrading the rear leaf-spring pack.
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In early 2015 we were back in the USA and had fitted to the Dodge an Aluminess rear bar (www.aluminess.com ) and swing away tyre carrier and full size storage box. These are a beautiful bit of kit but they are bloody expensive! We had them fitted at Adventure Trailers in Prescott, AZ (http://adventuretrailers.co), who not only make great equipment and trailers, but also done a top job with the fitting of the rear step.
These Dodge Rams, I've since found out have a great engine, and an almost indestructible transfer box and diffs. The auto boxes aren't great (only good for 200,000 mile by all accounts) and the front end steering and linkages leave a lot to be desired. We've spent a fair amount of money doing the front end up while the gearbox at the 165,000 mile mark is still doing fine.
Inside the spacious cab we haven't done very much. We've got a Garmin Nuvi (www.garmin.com/en-US) for street navigation and an iPad running Hema US Maps, or Pocket Earth Pro, the latter being a favourite with us as it includes detailed world mapping.
Cruising at 60-70mph on the freeway we regularly achieve better than 14L/100km, or better than 20mpg, out of the big Dodge with the camper on the back. Wish I could get that performance and economy out of the Patrol!
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Four Wheel Camper 'Hawk' slide on
We went looking for a well-made camper when we bought the Dodge and soon found ourselves on the Four Wheel Camper website (www.fourwh.com).
Four Wheel Campers had come highly recommended by people from Overland Journal (www.overlandjournal.com) and Overland Expo (www.overlandexpo.com), both of whom have used them extensively in touring and offroad situations, so it was hard to pass the recommendation up. And, once we had checked FWC out and visited the factory just outside Sacramento, we knew we had found the camper we wanted.
The basic idea of Four Wheel Camper, which have been in production since 1972, is a fairly simple, but very strong, cage like aluminum frame fabricated from aluminum tube and extruded channel. Much like an airplane frame, it has the ability to flex, providing greater strength and durability, therefore longer life and the ability to handle the torque experienced on mountain and desert roads, far away from pavement.
The aluminum skin also helps keeps the camper light and durable. Understated cabinetry, made of mahogany plywood, provides lightweight simplicity and a greater feeling of spaciousness in a very compact living space.
Optimum off road capability demands the lowest center of gravity and the minimal height over the cab of the truck is essential, and as much weight as possible is on the floor of the camper.
The roof lift mechanism like no other in the market. Instead of a complex lift arm apparatus with difficult linkage and geometry, he devised a simple articulated lift panel at the front and back, spring loaded the piano hinges, and provided a shear wall effect for exceptional stability in high winds. This also provides support for a snow load on the roof – not that we want to test that out!
You can get a number of different size models with a long list of standard features and options.
We opted for a 'Hawk' pop-up model which has a floor length of a 6'6" and suits a short bed pick-up. This unit fits on the bed of the Dodge without very much overhang and weighs less than 900lb (408kg) dry.
It features front dinette seating, quite a bit of storage, and has a 110-litre fridge/freezer, a 2-burner gas ('propane' as the Yanks call it), which is fine for small meals and the occasional times we use it – we cook outside on a Coleman stove generally.
A gas/elec water heater system and an external shower and a powered roof vent to name the major features.
To keep all the electrics running, we had fitted two deep cycle batteries, an axillary battery charger system along with a 100-watt solar panel. We also have a 'porta-poti' for those times we need a chemical toilet and a very useful 'Fiamma' awning on the side.
There is a 20-gallon water tank and two 10lb gas bottles so we can be 'off the grid', as the Americans like to term it, for a fair while. Still, I think we'd need a back-up solar panel to keep the fridge/freezer going for more than three days in hot/cloudy situations.
There are plenty of bigger, heavier slide-on campers around and there are bigger units in the Four Wheel camper range than the hawk we bought, but we are used to camping and campervans and this is luxury. We do most of our cooking and living outside, but when the weather is cold or there are heaps of insects we retreat to the inside of the camper where we are pretty snug but can work, cook, eat and sleep without any great issues.
It is perfect for the travel we want to do and after 25,000 miles we haven't had an issue with it and it still looks as good as new!
See you in the bush.
Ron and Viv.
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Equipment and Accessory Suppliers
ARB, ph: (03) 9761 6622
Berrima Diesel, ph: (02) 4877 1256
Bushranger 4WD Accessories, ph: 1800 654 767
Cooper tyres, ph: (07) 3272 98886
Creative Conversations, ph: (07) 3881 0577
Engel Fridge/Freezers, ph: 1300 302 653
De-Bug Australia, ph: 03 9798 1145
GME Electrophone, ph: (02) 9844 6666
Garmin, ph: (02) 9844 6666
Hema Navigator, ph: (07) 3340 0000
Kaymar 4WD Accessories, ph: (03) 9870 4419
LightForce, ph: (08) 8340 2766
Long Ranger Fuel tanks, ph: (02) 4953 3288
Marks 4WD Adaptors, ph: (03) 9793 3388
Mickey Thompson tyres, ph: (07) 3272 9888
MSA 4x4, ph: (08) 9248 1111
Milford Cargo Barriers, ph: (08) 8294 5955
MTQ Engine Systems, ph: (03) 9794 2888
Nissan Australia, ph: (03) 9797 4111
Outback 4WD Centre, ph: (03) 9720 6226
Piranha Offroad Products,, ph: (03) 9762 1200
ROH Wheels, ph: (08) 8468 4140
Safari Automotive, ph: (03) 9720 4211
VKS-737 Network, ph: (08) 8287 6222
Warn winches, ph: (03) 9761 6622