April 2018

Handover was on April 18, 2018 and we were very happy to drive Benny to its new homebase in Switzerland.

Before the handover, Benny received some technical improvements like stronger shock absorbers, a better oil drain plug and a diesel filter. Furthermore, Woelcke did some test driving in the green:

We also completed our video documentation about the completion process. Please see Videos.

 

March 2018

End of March our Benny was 99% ready. Woelcke finished its work and our vehicle went to another company for the chassis optimisation (stronger shock absorbers) and other work.  More pictures on Completion.

 

February 2018

February started with the wedding of the chassis and the body. More wedding pictures on Subframe/Body After the wedding, doors and storage compartment doors were installed. Also the furniture production started and technical equipment was installed inside the body.

 

January 2018

Paintwork on the driver cab and the body completed. More pictures on Subframe/Body.

 

We visited the CMT caravan trade fair in Stuttgart and got some ideas for our travel trips in the summer.  Because we wanted to combine our summer trip with an offroad training in Germany, we plan a tour through the Normandy in France.

 

Sidenote: After a while we found a barn, where we can park our Benny when he his ready. Only 8km away from our home.  The search wasn't really easy, as our vehicle has almost 7m in length, 2,37m in width and 3,55m in height.

 

December 2017

In the last two months we had been at Woelcke almost every week to review the progress made. So far so good. Time for a winter break in Andermatt / Switzerland.

 

The construction of the body was now finished. More pictures on Subframe/Body. The chassis and the body were brought to Brixner in Ilsfeld for the paintwork and the remaining chassis work, which lasted until end of January 18. Furthermore we finetuned the interior layout, as the furniture construction started in January.  However, our basic Floorplan remained unchanged. 

 

November 2017

The subframe was galvanized and finally mounted on the chassis. Also the body construction started and the bottom plate  as well as the side walls were ready. More pictures on Subframe/Body.

 

Furthermore we took decision regarding our toilet system. Because it makes no sense to flush filtered water through the toilet, we decided for a Kildwick composting toilet instead of a water-flushing toilet. This not only saves electricity, water and weight, but also facilitates the dumping process. 

 

October 2017

The subframe (not yet galvanized) was ready and testwise mounted on the chassis.

Despite the ongoing conversion work we didn't forget to travel. We made a 2-week road trip through Israel and visit Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias, Arad, Eilat and Jerusalem, enjoying the nice autumn temperatures.

At the Caravan Salon in Berne we didn't get many new inspirations for our Benny. Purchased some accessories (grill, pots, etc.). We also saw a nice Vario (not 4x4), which was for sale and looked quite similar to our Benny. However, this Vario is significantly longer (8,20m) than our rig (7m).

 

September 2017

The anti-corrosion treatment and the paint on the chassis is finished and the larger tires are mounted. For more pictures see Preparation and Chassis/Tires.

 

August 2017

We received the cost estimate for the chassis work and work started.

 

July 2017

Our new "Benny goes overland" logo is finished and implemented. It was created by Michael Quadflieg of www.herman-unterwegs.de. We recommend working with him.

 

To gain some experience with an expedition vehicle, we made a three-week trip with an Exploryx Impala on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis (3,5 tons) through the Pyrenees and the beautiful Dordogne valley. Great vehicle and a high quality built, but for us a bit too small.

 

June 2017

After having contacted several truck dealers for their interest in buying the flatbed, the flatbed went for little money to scrap dealers. The aluminum can still be used.

 

The 4x4 trade fair in Bad Kissingen offered lots of new information for us, but unfortunately we have not seen many converted Varios. The following Vario is a beautiful example of a self-built. Vehicle length is 6.50m and height is 3.20m. The super single tires with size 285/70 R19.5 on Gabo wheels are a real eye-catcher, but unfortunately not allowed in Switzerland.

 

For us, the 4x4 trade fair brought some clarity in several aspects:

  • First we wanted a gas-free design and an induction cooker. Cons: power usage, no oven (too much power consumption), high battery capacity (weight and cost of lithium batteries), special induction cookers, and the Omnia oven does not work with induction. So at the end we decided for a gas solution.
  • Fridge: A compressor fridge by Kissmann is first choice.
  • Shock absorbers: Due to the vehicle's height, the vehicle is more exposed to swing movements while driving. The original shock absorbers are not appropriate to handle these movements. We therefore decided to install stronger shock absorbers from Marquart.  
  • Windows: There is still no alternative for the very expensive and heavy KCT windows. So we have to accept these costs :-(. But the quality is outstanding! 

Still in discussion:

  • Blackwater: tank versus cassette versus composting toilet
  • Awning
  • Spare wheel: under the chassis (as installed now) versus inside or at the back of the vehicle

May 2017

We visited the Swiss Travel Festival in Meierskappel and listened to some exciting presentations on the PanAmericana. Unfortunately we still have to wait a few years to start our own PanAmerican adventure :-(.

 

April 2017

We already made some investments in our equipment. This included on the one hand a new camera (Canon EOS 80D) to become better in travel photography. On the other hand we purchased the new Garmin navigation device 770 with some additional features for traveling with motorhomes. Both devices to be tested during our Pyrenees trip in summer 2017. 

 

We visited the Bimobil expo in Oberpframmern (near Munich), to confirm again that the Bimobil interior design is not our cup of tea and that the decision for Woelcke was right. However, the presentation of the Iveco Daily 4x4 with the new long wheelbase was exciting, and at the 4x4 trade fair in Bad Kissingen Bimobil presented a cabin for this longer wheelbase. 

 

In April the work on Benny started. The flatbed was removed and the double driver cabin was shortened. For more pictures see Preparation. This is how our shortened Vario looked:

 

March 2017

Not much happened in March, apart from a few discussions regarding the tires and transmission. To get already a taste of the PanAmericana and to bridge the 12-15 months waiting period, we made a two-week motorcycle trip with a Harley on the Baja California peninsula and drove 3'800km from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas and back again. We experienced best weather and temperatures around 30 degrees.  We discovered beautiful desert landscapes and beaches and enjoyed excellent Mexican food and hospitality. It became so clear for us to come back to Baja California with our own 4x4 vehicle.

 

February 2017

Now the conversion work started. First task was to bring Benny to Woelcke in Stuttgart.  Benny survived the winter break without any damages. Ignition key was turned, and: The engine started after 6 months winter sleep without any issues. What a sound and a feeling!

The next morning we made the ride to Stuttgart. At the border we handled the customs formalities, as the Vario will now be "improved" in the EU for the next 12-15 months. Here you have to be very careful to avoid any tax consequences when bringing the "improved" vehicle back to Switzerland. There are import/export agencies at the border to help you with these complex procedures. And sure, you have to pay them for these services :-).

After a 250km drive we arrived at the glory halls of the Woelcke company in Heimsheim (near Stuttgart). We discussed the  work to be performed and left our Benny with Woelcke.

Still trying to sell  the flatbed. Because the flatbed has a width of 2.55m, it is too big for a Mercedes Sprinter, so we did not have too many sales options.

 

January 2017

We completed the to-do list for the chassis work, the floor plan and the cabin construction.  Here you see the Floorplan. The book by Ulrich Dolde "Motorhome - self build and optimisation" really helped us and we recommend it.

 

December 2016

We fixed the rough timeline with Woelcke for 2017: End of February 17 the chassis work would start and the cabin construction was planned for winter 17. Completion of the vehicle scheduled for April 2018.

 

October / November 2016

We visited the expo of Exploryx in Isny (D) and Tartaruga / Bimobil in Kleinandelfingen (CH), looked at beautiful and less beautiful expedition vehicles and listened to an exciting travel presentation about the PanAmericana. Again we took home some new ideas to rethink our concept.

 

Out of curiosity, we checked with Achleitner about the Iveco Daily offroad version and why no prototype was shown at this year's IAA trade fair. Answer: The project was cancelled. So good that we decided for the Mercedes Vario :-)).

 

Winter was near, so we installed a battery charger  in the barn.  

 

September 2016

We took over the Vario in Stuttgart and drove him back to Switzerland. The 260km back home was a first great experience with the Benz: A real truck feeling, combined with a good overview on the street and a powerful engine. The registration formalities at the border were easy. We directly drove our Benny to Mercedes in Lucerne to prepare him for the Swiss vehicle inspection.

 

After more than two weeks Benny got his "Swiss citizenship". The vehicle inspection was carried out without any issues. Not surprising, after being checked by (1) TÜV Süd, (2) Mercedes in Stuttgart based on a 100 items checklist and (3) by Mercedes in Lucerne to ensure all Swiss standards. But importing a truck to Switzerland is an expensive exercise. We paid more than EUR 4000 for the EU conformity declaration by Mercedes Switzerland, the preparation for the vehicle inspection and the border procedures. Now Benny was ready for the winter break in a barn until the transfer to Stuttgart in spring 2017 for the start of the conversion work.

August 2016

We looked forward to the IAA trade fair in September and the presentation of the Achleitner offroad prototype. But we still hoped to find a good Mercedes Benz Vario 4x4. And then we surprisingly found a very well maintained ex-army vehicle in the internet, with little mileage in the Stuttgart area. This Vario 4x4 had a double cabin (which we did not need) and a flatbed (which we could sell). We scrapped the plans with the Iveco and purchased the Vario 4x4 immediately.  What we never did before: Buying a vehicle on the phone only based on pictures. Our confidence in the Mercedes Benz dealer was endless :-). Now the task was to import the Vario to Switzerland. For more pictures see Purchase.

June / July 2016

We made our driving lessons on a Mercedes Sprinter bus with 17 seats and a total weight of 5.3 tons. We passed the practical driving test in the first attempt. Such a truck driver licence is quite expensive. We paid over EUR 3'200 per person for everything (learning material,  medical examinations, theory test, practical driving lessons and final test). That is Switzerland :-).

 

May 2016

We visited the 4x4 trade fair in Bad Kissingen / Germany (the largest offroad trade fair in the world by the way). Always good to see other vehicles to get new ideas and to rethink / reevaluate your concept.

 

May 2016

Achleitner announced that in 2017 a new 4x4 offroad version of the Iveco Daily would come on the market, with larger single tires and more ground clearance (see prototype photo below). The vehicle would be presented at the IAA trade fair in September. We were excited and changed our plans from the Achleitner allroad to the offroad version. But there was one major problem:  The offroad version would only allow for 6 tons because of the single tires. That would probably limit our layout plan.

March / April 2016

We prepared for the truck driving licence. For vehicles over 3.5 tons to 7.5 tons gross weight, you need a European driver license C1 / D1. In April we passed the theory exam.

 

March 2016

The Iveco Daily was still our our first choice for a new chassis, but our dream is to have a real 7.5 ton vehicle like the Mercedes Vario 4x4. But production of the Vario ended in 2013 and the chances to find a good used Vario are low.  Of course, there are some heavy trucks available downsized to 7.5 tons, like a Mercedes Atego or a Unimog. But it is not possible to realise an alcove with these vehicles. In addition, the payload is low, as these vehicles  are built for over 7.5 tons.  The search for a good Mercedes Vario 4x4 is extremely difficult as 4x4 Vario's with little mileage are rare.  On the Internet you find Vario's with very remarkable mileages of more than 500'000 km. Then we got a call from Mercedes in Lucerne: They had a Vario 4x4 for sale. But: 160'000km mileage in only 3 years, because it was in daily use as a milk truck (see photo). Moreover with a short wheelbase (3.7m) and in very poor condition (lactic acid can be aggressive). In addition, the chassis was very stressed by the swing movements of the liquid tank. We estimated total conversion costs -including wheelbase extension to 4.25 m - and then scrapped this idea.

 

February / March 2016

We visited several manufacturers within a 400km radius (Bimobil, Exploryx, Woelcke). When construction starts, several on-site discussions will be necessary, so it is good to have the builder in 3-4 hours reach. The Woelcke company in Heimsheim near Stuttgart was the best choice for us.  The quality and the experience is impressive. But we would need a lot of patience. Woelcke had over 2 years waiting time until delivery (today it is even more). So we had to step back to the end of the queue. But this has its advantage: The construction started in autumn 2017, so we had enough time to optimise the cab concept and did not need to decide too quickly.

 

The choice of the chassis was made quickly. From the currently available new chassis on the market, the Iveco Daily was the best option for us, as it offered a weight of up to 7,2 tons. However, the 7,2 ton version was only available with 4x2, so we would be forced to buy the very expensive 4x4 conversion package from Achleitner. Our vehicle would have looked similar to that on the photo below. The Achleitner 4x4 conversion has a higher ground clearance, but the offroad capabilities are still limited due to the small tires. Furthermore, the overall impression was not so convincing for us, as the vehicle would still look like a "normal camper". 

January / February 2016

We invested a lot of time in building concepts and layouts and finding potential vehicles. There are many websites with useful information, so we quickly came to an idea how the whole thing should look and what it may cost. 

 

December 2015

Finally infected with the expedition vehicle virus through the beautiful book "Off the road", followed by many discussions about the concept, the pros and cons and the costs. It is an important phase because you decide on our future home for a timespan of 5 - 10 years. 

In 2015 ...

With the motorbike we traveled many countries for over 25 years. At some time the following dialogue happened:

 

He: "In a few years we make the Silk road on a motorbike"

You: "No way, on the motorbike I will not do this long trip"

He: "Ok, so we have to look for a more comfortable alternative to the motorbike"

 

And so the idea of an expedition vehicle was born.