Choosing a suitable vehicle

Posted 5 January 2020 by Vegard

Unimog spashing through the water at a Danish beach

It is almost five years since be bought our Unimog. Before the purchase we had been looking for a suitable vehicle for overlanding for some time. At that time we had already been looking at other overland vechicles in magazines and online. Based on our previous travel experience we had some ideas about what we wanted and not for our camper. Before deciding on the type of vehicle we listed the specific preferences and criterias.

Criterias for the overland vehicle:

  • Seating for minimum three persons (preferably four)
  • Fixed bed for two persons (additional bed(s) can be a foldable solution)
  • Front facing passenger seats in camper
  • Bathroom with shower inside the camper
  • Kitchen with oven, cooktop, sink and storage solutions
  • Dining area with seating for minimun four persons
  • Large storage compartments accessible both from inside and outside
  • Heating solution for camping in cold climate
  • Water and food supplies for 10–14 days
  • Diesel for min. 1500 km range
  • 4×4 and sufficient ground clearance, prefferably diff-locks on both axles
  • Walk/crawl-through from camper to cabin

It was obvious that if all these critireas were to be met, we would need a truck. Our budget limited us to old trucks from the 70s or 80s. This meant that we would be looking at simple mechanical vehicles without any fancy electronic which probably would be easier to maintain and repair ourselvs.

In Norway, the market for this type of vehicle is quite limited, and due to the hard winters, most old trucks are in bad conditions, and suffering from severe rust attacks. After a short while of searching for a base vehicle in Norway, we realized that we had to widen our search area. We extended the search to various web sites in Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands, but quickly learned that the German website had the best spectre of trucks to choose from.

Abenteuer & Allrad Exhibition in Bad Kissingen, Germany

During this stage we attended the Abenteuer & Allrad Exhibition in Bad Kissingen in Germany a couple of times. The inspiration and motivation we got here by viewing the incredible amount of great overland vehicles really helped us choosing a suitable truck, and gave us the extra boost to get started with our own build.

Our aim was to find a complete working truck chassis that could be imported and registered in Norway for a total cost of no more than 10,000-12,000 EUR. After doing some research we narrowed the alternatives down to Magirus, MAN and Mercedes. All were known brands with capable chassis that fitted within our limited budget.

The Magirus trucks where quickly ruled out due to the fact that parts availability is some how limited in many parts of the world. Body corrosion is also a severe issue on older examples, and it can be difficult to find one in reasonable good shape.

The MAN KATs are cheap to buy, but have a terrible fuel consumption and also limited parts availability. Additionally we find them a bit too large and clumsy for our preferences.

When it came to the Mercedes trucks, we mainly considered 3 different types;

  • MB 911 / MB 913 / MB 1113 “Rundhauber”
  • MB 1017NG
  • MB Unimog 435 series

All of them fitted with the reliable OM352 inline 6-cylinder diesel engine in various configurations. Although the Rundhaubers are friendly looking and tough going, we found them to be a bit on the slow side and way over on the noisy side inside the driver’s cabin. In addition, the cabin with its front mounted engine, takes up a lot of space, which then again makes for at longer total length.

The MB 1017 NG were available in high quantities at reasonable prices from the German or Dutch armies. With a wheelbase at 3500 mm it would make the perfect base for a 4.5 m long camper box. Reliability and parts availability are also very good, and made this truck a perfect candidate.

So why did we not end up buying one of those? Well, the answer is probably that we simply found the Unimog 435 to be even more awesome in every way. As we already owned a Mercedes Geländewagen, it seemed like a straight step-up from the G-class. However, if we were to choose again we might have ended up with a MB 1017, as it probably would have ticked of all of the right boxes, and saved us from some headache and a whole lot of money later on.

The Unimog we ended up buying, was an old crane truck that seemed like it had seen it’s best days. Despite the low mileage, it had been used and abused for more than 35 years, and although tall the important things were intact, it was in desperate need for a complete overhaul. Nevertheless, it was in driveable condition, and best of all, it was within the budget!

Unimog crane truck at the beach