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Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 12:40 p.m.

We're thinking about buying/rehabbing/building some type of motorhome. The primary uses would be:

  1. Visit our kids
  2. Hurricane evacuation
  3. Travel to more distant autocrosses

Other/future uses would be:

  1. Visit the west/southwest
  2. Go to national parks
  3. Possibly drive the Al-Can highway

Why a motorhome vs. other modes of travel/lodging?

  1. We have critters. They're all small, but can't really be left in the care of anyone else. 
  2. We can't exactly get a hotel room anywhere with our traveling menagerie. 
  3. "Roughing it" isn't our thing. 

Desires:

  1. Solar/off-grid capability. 
  2. Capable on unpaved roads/light trail use. 
  3. Ability to tow. 

Current thoughts/ideas:

  1. A used class-A or class-C motorhome is probably the easy button. I can find them sub-$10k & could be on the road for a few grand more. However, the layout of all the ones I've seen doesn't really suit our needs with the critters. Also, many of them are too long for access into some national parks. 
  2. Schoolie/mini-bus conversion - we could build one out the way we want, but they have several drawbacks: not typically geared for highway use, still too long for some national parks, some campgrounds won't allow them, difficult to insure, etc. 
  3. Ambulance conversion - most of these would be too small for us & the critters. Otherwise we really like them. 
  4. Box truck conversion - this could work, although the deck height of the box would make ingress/egress more of a hassle. I did some sketching & I think we could fit what we need into a 16' box. 
  5. Build & outfit our own box on the back of a bare chassis - I have some ideas for a reasonably cheap/light box that would be better insulated than starting with an existing one, but I've not done too much research down this path. 
     

A couple other random thoughts:

  1. Sticking with a Ford E-series chassis would be convenient since I'm kinda familiar with them already.
  2. 4-wheel drive might be nice to add at some point, if we discover we want to go further off-road than 2wd will take us. There are a couple options to convert the E-series to 4wd, so that's another plus for it.
  3. I wouldn't turn down a diesel rig, but I'm not sure there's enough value to search one out either?
  4. I can work from anywhere with internet service & I've seen several reports of cell boosters being able to get good consistent service from 50-100 miles from the nearest tower depending on terrain. SWMBO will be eligible for retirement in a few years, so that would allow us to spend indefinite time traveling. 
     

So what does the hive think? What have I overlooked? Does anyone know much about Mitsubishi Fuso or Isuzu NPR trucks? 

spacecadet (Forum Supporter)
spacecadet (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
1/5/21 12:47 p.m.

I have no actually useful input, I just wanted to say that the idea of "Gossett's Wild Kingdom" as a traveling roadshow with all your critters in an RV is both awesome and hilarious.

 

Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter)
Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter) Dork
1/5/21 12:51 p.m.

I love my Dodge Class C and so do my dogs. 

Of course you have the maintenance requirements of both a truck and a small house, and I am a little crazy. 

rslifkin
rslifkin UberDork
1/5/21 12:56 p.m.

If I were building one, it would be a skoolie.  One of the big 35 - 40 footers.  I'd particularly love an old tandem axle Crown Supercoach.  Re-gear if needed, gut the interior and build it as desired.  I wouldn't want a small rig.  At that point, I'd just drive a pickup or large SUV and bring camping gear...

But for at least the forseeable future, we're sticking to the floating variety, so I doubt I'll be building one of these any time soon. 

captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
1/5/21 1:18 p.m.

Is build one on a chassis that's previously been a shuttle vehicle. I imagine many shuttle vehicles are being retired prematurely due to the current climate. I'm not sure how their gearing will be for highway use, but rear ends aren't hateful to do. Obviously their interior design won't work, so it'll be a build a box proposition onto the chassis. 

What sort of towing capacity would be required? 

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
1/5/21 1:21 p.m.

In reply to Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) :

Pete,

Off road and house just do not work. Plumbing wiring, cabinetry etc.  just aren't good bouncing around.  Not to mention most Motorhomes are built as light as possible rather than durable. 
Finally the main reason not to do it is getting stuck. Nope AAA won't go miles out into the unknown and pull you out. You may just have to grab what you can and walk away. 
    Conversions seem straightforward but are seldom very satisfactory. There are so many considerations to consider. Without practical real world experience  you may not understand why the waste tank is over here and what are good trade offs.  
     There is a reason a Prevost costs 2 million dollars and it doesn't have anything to do with ego.  
If you closely follow the high end Motorhomes like Prevost you might find something in the area of $50-75,000 privately owned ones usually have age related problems but the mechanical bits are still good for many decades. Do not select one that has been used by musicians/bands. They really are just traveling bunk houses. When the bands give up on them mechanically they typically need everything done.  
       Experience  with one model of chassis doesn't help much if you are  not near a major metro city with an abundance of  parts available. Rural areas don't stock those parts. Or have mechanics skilled in dealing with those.   

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
1/5/21 1:22 p.m.

Yeah, you know, that's something I've been thinking about, but for me it may be a bridge too far.

As was said, a motorhome is like combining all the maintenance of a house AND large vehicle, in addition to other things normally taken for granted, like: the entire electrical system, all the plumbing, fresh water supply, and the entire waste system. It'll really challenge you as an all-knowing handyman, that's for sure.

Money-wise it makes the most sense to buy something used, preferably lightly used. The problem there is there are so many subsystems that they're a bit like a  large boat, degrading even when simply sitting there unused—rats and mice, I'm looking at you. I like building stuff from scratch, but even I'm daunted by building one completely myself in a old commercial bus, keeping in mind now in addition to all the above, you're essentially building a house except for the framing and roof: a ton of woodwork, paneling, finishing, painting, stain, plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling, stove, oven, refrigeration, waste system, water, and on and on. Are you okay with that? At the end of the day, you'll have spent (probably) a lot more than just buying a used RV, but granted, what's it worth knowing that everything is new, works, and that you know it inside and out?

Here's the real question: Do you want to buy a solution to your travel requirements, or buy a project that'll take years to make into one?

Summed up even shorter: When do you need a fully functional solution, because your answer pretty much dictates your choice(s).

golfduke
golfduke Dork
1/5/21 1:23 p.m.

Personally, for me the 'goldilocks' solution for you is to find a cheap-but-mechanically-sound Class C that suits your size requirements to get into/out of places you desire, gut it and outfit the interior to your needs, and go exploring. 

 

Benefits- 

- You can outfit it just like you could a skoolie, with nowhere near the buy-in, since all comfort systems are already there and ready  (heat/water/etc).   Hell, lots of them even have generators on-board. 

- Ford V10s are a dime a dozen and will last forever

- Towing, check! 

 

That's my biggest hangup with ambulance and bus conversions-  They require huge undertaking to basically get to the same place that an RV gets you.  

 

 

RevolverRob
RevolverRob New Reader
1/5/21 1:42 p.m.

Let's start with something simple. Off-road overlanding is a whole different kettle of fish compared to RVing, though they get lumped in together frequently.

If you want to overland - you need to start with a dedicated 4x4 rig and modify it to suit overlanding, which means minimizing convenience in the name of performance and minimizing space and weight. Overlanding is about spending weeks, months, or even years driving far away from folks and things. It isn't a traveling hotel, it's taking the things you need for an extended, roughing it-type experience.

It sounds like you want an RV - not an overland vehicle.

Buy the largest used RV you can reasonably park at home and try driving it around.

If you've not done a lot of RV'ing it's easy to think that stuff is easy. It's compromises upon compromises and you're better off starting with something that someone who was paid to build it, built. Then figuring out what you would change (as necessary). You can upgrade easily and sell your existing RV.

Don't bother with conversions, unless they're driven by a specific mission.

Personally, I hate RVs, all the troubles of a house amplified by the fact that houses aren't meant to be vibrated around on roads. I hate towing even more. So, my solution is to drive the car where I want to go and sleep in a hotel. Obviously, this might not work for you given the traveling menagerie. Though, you might more easily (and cheaply) find someone to house sit for you during vacations and traveling than buying an RV.

Ian F (Forum Supporter)
Ian F (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 1:46 p.m.

Budget? Timeline? How much do you need it to tow?  It's not easy to find an RV that can tow more than 5000 lbs. 

This is a subject I've spent an inordinate amount of time researching and thinking about, but my wants/needs are a bit different so  I haven't found any ready-made solutions other than "maybe" the new Winnebago EKKO and even those aren't quite perfect and are serious money to buy. 

I'm still planning to build out my E350 van, but I know the task will be daunting and far from cheap. Far, far from cheap. 

If you want a decent off-grid solar set-up, plan on a budget of around $10K give or take depending the battery bank size. This is assuming you want to replace an onboard generator and need it large enough to run an A/C unit for some number of hours per day.

I debate on 4WD.  While part of me thinks it would be cool to have, other parts of me don't want to take my "house" - that has a fair amount of delicate, low-hanging systems - on any trail/road that requires 4WD.   I see a number of 4WD RV's around here, but that is also because there are a few parks in NJ that allow them on beaches as long as it has 4WD.

A Sportsmobile "Classic" may be an option for you (based on a new E350 cut-away), but again - really not cheap - and last I heard they have a two year back-log. But they will build pretty much anything you want.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
1/5/21 1:50 p.m.

You said trail use, and you didn't say a budget, so I take this as an opportunity to post the 8x8 HEMTT camper.  You're welcome.

 

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 1:51 p.m.

In reply to rslifkin :

We really like the idea of a schoolie, but the limitations of were we could take one are really a turn off for us. 
 

In reply to captdownshift :

I've been checking those out too, but like a schoolie the entryway door makes it difficult to have a front passenger, and their are campgrounds that don't allow them. They typically have way too many windows too & im not sure what common lengths they're available in, so they may be too short.

In reply to frenchy :

You're completely right in regards to typical used class-A/C motorhomes, which is definitely a concern. However, modern RV systems(or at least the ones for conversions) seem to handle rugged terrain well, and most of the build-out is up to you regarding how durable you want to build it.

I've researched Prevost & other coaches, but ultimately something on a medium-duty chassis is going to be better suited for us size-wise. 

In reply to kb58 :

I think we'll be ready to buy something(cheap) soon, and if it's not a major build/rebuild, have the maintenance caught up & ready to use by the end of summer. Though we don't have any immediate deadline to "need" it ready for.

In reply to golfduke :

That's kind of where I'm at too, but most of them are a bit longer than I'd like(under 30' total length). Though it may be a case of buy the first class-C that's in budget & in decent condition, use it a few years, then buy/build something else.

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) Dork
1/5/21 2:16 p.m.

Pete, when you said go to National Parks I have to say YES!!!!

That is truly one of the best family things to do.

I have collected all the US Mint national park and monument 5oz silver coins.  I have the National Park Atlas as my coffee table book.   The National Parks foundation is one of the few charities I believe in as well.

We actually took kiddo to Disney this year.  After I said maybe every 5 years.  Next year is Utah National Parks.  Kiddo picked based on photos and her love of rocks.

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
1/5/21 2:20 p.m.
lotusseven7 (Forum Supporter)
lotusseven7 (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
1/5/21 2:20 p.m.

Crew cab dually with a slide-in camper would be the avenue I would explore. I went the Class C route with a 31' Rockwood years ago and just going around turns it was a wee bit tippy! If the road was cambered at all it was pucker-time for all passengers. Off road would be a BIG NEGATIVE good buddy. 

BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter)
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 2:28 p.m.

Light off road, box truck?

I would recommend not typing the words "M934 command center surplus" into your favourite search engines. Because if I had, I would know that these are what's called "squaddie-proof" in the UK and some of them even come with slide outs.

BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter)
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 2:31 p.m.

In reply to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ :

Apparently some of the consumables for these like tires are surprisingly cheap, too.

Shavarsh
Shavarsh New Reader
1/5/21 2:39 p.m.

We really enjoyed our 21ft class C. Bought for less than 4k and sold above that. We took it across the country to as many national parks as we could. The only place we ran into a length issue was a tunnel you can take to leave Zion. It was 2wd dually and had no trouble getting us into and out of any BLM camping areas we visited (rain/snow may have caused a different outcome).Small block chevy meant side of the road fixes were relatively easy and there was never a part we needed that wasn't in stock at the parts store even in the middle of nowhere. 

 

If the goal is to use the camper I would buy a used camper. If the goal is to build a unique project, we can all understand that. If you do decide to look for a class c beware of any water damage especially in the overcab as this can be tough to properly fix. Also beware of anything that has sat for an unreasonable amount of time. I thought I got a great deal on the first one we bought, but after freeing up the brakes and getting it out of where it was stuck we blew the headgaskets an hour later on the drive home. A camper that has had a long distance trip recently (< a year) is worth significantly more in my book.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
1/5/21 2:40 p.m.

In reply to Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) :

One final comment. 
Make sure you're in this for the really long term. RV prices at higher than Ive ever seen them and I've been following them since I was selling New GMC Motorhomes.   
    In a year or so when Covid has been vaccinated enough for the world to return to normal. Then prices will start thier downward plunge.  I can't say when normalize prices will resume but a lot of owners will have tired of the need for constant upkeep and issues of storage will become overwhelming. 
  Maybe shortly after Musk comes out with a Tesla Motor home powered by solar panels on the roof? That or gas again hits $4.00 a gallon? 
    Whatever, do be prepared for the difficulty of selling a conversion motorhome if that is the route you take.  It's actually worse then trying to sell a modified car.  You may use premium everything and have it completely sorted but if the new buyer can't pull into a dealership and have it worked on he's not going to get a loan so his cash is going to want to stay in his pocket.  That and there is no book value. 
 People like to back up their spending with guide books. ( as do banks) 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
1/5/21 2:49 p.m.

I have a friend living the van life right now in a 144" WB Sprinter.  His is a 2WD diesel, but there are lots of 4x4 models running around as well.  I'm not sure my sphincter could handle off roading in one.

The difference in build quality between a sprinter, promaster, etc. with a stamped steel body vs. your typical RV is truly astounding.  Most RVs are garbage and are not meant to be lived in full time.  Is there such thing as a class C with alminum skin/framing?  Obviously the build out quality beyond the basic structure is usually significantly different as well.

 

 

 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
1/5/21 2:51 p.m.
frenchyd said:

    Whatever, do be prepared for the difficulty of selling a conversion motorhome if that is the route you take.  It's actually worse then trying to sell a modified car.  You may use premium everything and have it completely sorted but if the new buyer can't pull into a dealership and have it worked on he's not going to get a loan so his cash is going to want to stay in his pocket.  That and there is no book value. 

#vanlife build-outs actually hold their value pretty well, despite very few of them coming from any sort of dealer and almost all of them being custom to some extent.

 

Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter)
Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter) Dork
1/5/21 3:04 p.m.

Everybody here is going to make the same old jokes about boats, motorhomes, Jaguars or Free Lotus Europas being the road to financial ruin. 

Everybody has a different opinion. Everybody says don't buy anything, rent everything and stay in hotels instead. But there are some places hotels don't go and your dream could be waking up in such places. Sometimes the vehicle you dream about isn't rated by the bank, reviewed by Consumer Reports or approved of by polite society. 

Sometime you have to decide what you really, really want and then pull the trigger. 

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 3:05 p.m.

In reply to RevolverRob :

I've been seeing more & more DIY & partial DIY off-road RVs that are really nice. Though I'm sure there's a variation of motorsports "good/fast/cheap - pick 2" mantra for RVs too.

In reply to Ian F :

Budget is always a tough one. Let me say this - if I found the right project fairly close for $4k or less I'd probably be on my way to buy it. Though we could probably spend $9-$10k for a decent used RV by summertime. I could see spending ~$5-$10k/year building our dream rig though, if I can actually settle on what that would be.

If you check out some of the overland build vids, while they have many of the features & comforts of home, unlike an RV they're not built like a house(well not the good ones anyway).

I still want a generator, but I'd like to be able to power most things off solar as much as we could. 

In reply to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ :

Check this E36 M3 out!

In reply to AnthonyGS :

Although it was a relatively quick trip, our week loop through CO/UT/NV/AZ several years ago was enough to let us know that we need to spend more time out there!

In reply to John Welsh :

I really think something like that is about 2'-4' too short for us, but otherwise would be a great start. I bet someone will pay close to the asking price though.

In reply to lotusseven7 :

I've not found any slide-ins that have enough room for us. They also rarely turn up used around here.

In reply to BoxheadTim :

I'll check out the M934. I did find this conversion, which is cool, but I think totally overkill for us. 
 

 

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 3:09 p.m.

In reply to Shavarsh :

Great info, thanks!

This has sort of been my inspiration for a class-C rehab. 
 

 

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/5/21 3:10 p.m.

In reply to Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter) :

Very well said <3

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