The overland truck build is now in full swing, and it’s hard to believe the whole thing was a mere idea just a few months ago. Moored in the cold and overcast wilderness that is Northern Holland, we’re currently working on the Mastodon – our 1971 Mercedes LAF 1113B firetruck – and trying to figure out the ins and outs of the whole insane process.
Don’t worry, we’re not actually naming it Mastodon – it’s just that driving the truck feels like wielding some massive, ancient, but vaguely benevolent beast. The first time I drove it, I nearly took out a lamppost and a neighbor’s storage unit before promptly getting the clutch pedal stuck (luckily, Lennart resolved this with clever use of a sledgehammer). When that engine starts rumbling and the truck jolts forward, it’s like sitting high atop the world on the back of a giant woolly mammoth that moves forward with so much power you pretty much trust it’s got your back.
Still, we’ll need to name the Mastodon properly soon – if you’ve got any cool name suggestions, post them in the comments below!
Starting the Overland Truck Build
Names and ancient beasts aside, the overland truck build has officially begun. We already talked about why we’re building the expedition rig in the first place, and now, it’s getting all too real.
First off, we picked up our truck in Belgium, where it sat indoors for quite a while. The fact that it was a firetruck explains its fairly pristine condition: the rig has 60,000km on the engine with 5000 running hours. The engine itself is an OM352, a 6-liter Turbo Diesel engine with 160 horsepower. Not too shabby for a four-wheeled elephant that’s older than either of us.
Once in Belgium, we had Smeets & Zonen (the company selling big trucks) take off the firefighting equipment and the original box. It’s a really weird feeling to part with a large chunk of cash for a truck, then tear the thing into pieces using an angle grinder – but since we want to build a custom box, it was inevitable. Off went the old stuff, the firefighting gear, and the water pump.
Next up, Lennart’s friend Tim drove the truck down to the Netherlands – Lennart is still working on getting his license – but we had to be somewhat clandestine about the siren claxons, as it’s illegal to drive with the siren thingies on. We duct-taped them over and hoped for the best…and snuck stealthily right back into the Netherlands.
Safely back in Brabant, we parked it at Atelier Van Dongen, a miraculous place of steel, art, and truck parts. It belongs to Paul, a welder, a blacksmith, and an artist who has built multiple Dakar service trucks for the Dutch Dakar team. In other words, the truck is definitely in great hands, and Paul is thankfully going to help us weld and build the box.
Although we showed up with a partly stripped truck and a collection of our own ideas on how to build it, Paul is insanely helpful giving us some solid advice, and we’re forever grateful we’ve got him on our side!
Treasures in the Truck
As we slowly dismantled the beast, we kept discovering all sorts of old but cool stuff hidden beneath the frame or the seats. Authentic door hinges and a Webasto diesel heater were an interesting find, and we’ll share the stuff with whoever may need it for their own rig.
Overland Rig Box
Now that we had a place and a rockstar welder on board, it was time to roll up the sleeves and take off the remaining water tank, the subframe, and the storage boxes. This is so we could take a close look at the chassis and inspect the brakes, the suspension, and everything else before we start building things on top.
The Beast’s innards look pretty good for its old age, but we’ll need to replace the suspension, repair a few minor things on the chassis, and replace the entire brake system. The good news is that the truck is old, which means it’s beautifully simple mechanically. There are almost no electronics, it’s built as solid as they come, and once we’re done with the bakes and the suspension, it’ll be time to start building the box.
The plan is to construct it from 40×40 steel beams with insulation in between, with enough space for the bikes on the back and a living room between the garage and the cabin. A little later on, we’re also going to take off the transmission box to replace the clutch (not my fault, I swear) and do some standard service on the engine.
Expectations vs Reality
As the overland truck build is taking shape, we’re slowly realizing just how much needs to be done before we can start working on the interior. We won’t have a lot of living space as we’re hauling two dual sport bikes inside; we’re keeping the double cabin, part of which we’ll transform into an office – reception area – party zone – navigation headquarters.
We’re hoping to stick to a minimalist design with light colors inside, and I’m already rubbing my paws together envisioning a coffee bean grinder and a minibar inside – plus all the nights we’ll spend looking up at starry skies and sleeping on the roof.
It’s not to say that everything’s rainbows and roses: to be able to afford the Mastodon project, we’re currently residing in a borrowed campervan, Wim Hoffing our way through cold showers, dumpster diving, and working our butts off to make the dream a reality. The vision is beautiful, but the road to get there is bumpy (and rainy as hell. Thanks, Dutch winter); we’re doing our best to keep zen and building on, battling the blues of not being on the bikes, and plotting and scheming our next escape.
We’ll post the progress of the overland truck build as we go along – and in the meantime, help us figure out the name for the Mastodon! If you’re building your own overland rig, do share the good stuff – we’re super curious to see what you’re up to, and we’re all ears for good advice.
Cool to see you’re building an overlander truck! I hope you don’t do stop riding your bikes though.
Are you coming to an overlander event or some other event when it’s finished?
Love to see it in real life and meet you guys too!
Have a good build and all the luck with it!
I hope to see more pics in the near future of the progress… 🙂
Thanks Paul! We will definitely not stop riding our bikes 🙂
The idea is to do an at least 2 week tour on the bikes in every country we cross!
Events definitely, but first we will be busy with building this rig in The Netherlands for a year or so. Looking at your surname, you might also be from/ in the Netherlands? :-p
In only saw your reply just now… I’m indeed from the Netherlands 🙂 I’m very curious te see how the overlander truck is coming along!
Will you post more pics or do another video on YT?
Hey you two what a wonderfull project!
Glad that you have an experienced Engineer on the crew.
Designing such a rig is a complex challenge for sure, with such packaging constraints and of course the budget too. A stimulating challenge.
You are probably advanced with your concept, but in case the design is not firm perhaps these thoughts might add some value.
Take a look at motorhome design to experience how very different the same space can be with minor packaging changes. This will also inform minimum space requirements for living and working functions.
Also look at architecture of small.space living. I expect you are aware of this movement. The use of height and length can be astonishing in the way it adds useable space and provides a sense of light and freedom.
Looking forward to seeing your progress and best wishes
Excellent tips, thank you!
Is there any news on the progress??
Not yet – we’ve had to put this on the backburner for a while.
All the best. Cool build. We have a Mitsubishi Fuso with a box. Love it. Our tiny house can go most anywhere reasonable
Our experience in most every category is that buying one done is considerably faster and always cheaper than building our own. Maybe because we have to hire out most of the work. You guys are an inspiration.
Update when you can.
Hi Ken, we’ll post an update on the build very soon – we’re hoping to have it done in a few months! And it seems we’re learning the same lesson…:)
We have a common friend in Belize who’s ears must ring everytime I mention her name. She is the reason my husband and I sold our cruiser bikes for dual-sport bikes. My first time off-road was using her bikes to do a tour with my brothers back in 2015! Yes, Emma hooked us right up! I’ve been obsessed with learning new skills off-road and think about her and the experience we had while living in Belize. A couple of years ago, she mentioned an all women tour, I think possibly you, but I was not ready yet for the terrain. Since then, I recently watched Vanessa’s video highlighting your trip! I’m so glad to see Emma get away from the desk to join the group! Now I’m recovering from a complete ACL reconstruction and working hard to get back on my bike. Happy to say I can handle pavement and light off road at the moment. It would be such a full circle experience to join one of your Belize tours once I’m completely recovered!
Congratulations on your new addition to the family, Ziggy is so lucky to have found you both. Now the hard part is leaving him behind as you explore by bike. We find that hard since our husky loves to go hiking and those are the places we end up at while seeking out beautiful waterfalls. Looking forward to seeing more of your adventures! Would love to see how the truck fits all of your needs, like where does Ziggy sleep and how do you tow the bikes! Anyways all the best, hopefully we get the opportunity to meet some day!
Hi Viv, wow, what a small world! Belize is truly an exceptional place, and if you’re curious about more women-only adventures, we have several trips planned in the Himalayas, Spain, Croatia, and Thailand this year:
We’ll definitely post more stories about Ziggy – so far, we haven’t left him alone yet as we think he needs some more time to fully acclimatize and get comfortable, but long-term, we hope to enlist friends for help or perhaps use dog hotels. Or we’ll go out riding in turns – right now, it’s all about making the doggo healthy and happy, and then we’ll see. We’ll post an update on the truck soon, too!
So cool to connect with you – hope to see you on the road somewhere, someday!