For those interested in loading up an assortment of outdoor toys and heading for the blank spaces on the map, it may be time to consider a Sportsmobile. Providing an alternative to tent camping has developed into something of a specialty for Alan Feld and his crew at the Fresno, California-based Sportsmobile West. The group has been turning ordinary cargo vans into campers for four decades, offering Quigley four-wheel-drive systems underneath them since 1989. The result is a compact expedition-quality camper that achieves a combination of around-town maneuverability, open-road fuel-economy, serious off-road capability, and backcountry camping practicality matched by few other vehicles.

The Ultimate Project
As with all good extreme makeovers, the first step in our Ultimate Adventure Vehicle project was to tear apart a perfectly good vehicle, in this case a stock one-ton Ford Econoline E-350 cargo van. While the company will do conversions on GM vans, Sportsmobile only installs its four-wheel-drive system on Blue Oval platforms.

Underneath the hood, the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle uses Ford's 6.0-liter diesel engine. The motor's 235 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque provide ample grunt for off-road exploring and hauling trailers up to 10,000 pounds, while returning what can only be described as outstanding fuel economy--by full-size SUV or motorhome standards--of about 18 mpg. A 46-gallon replacement tank gives the van an 800-plus-mile range between fill-ups.

From the five-speed automatic transmission, power goes to an Atlas II all-gear-driven transfer case from Advance Adapters. The twin-lever design allows front and rear differentials to be engaged independently, giving the vehicle tremendous versatility. For example, a broken rear driveshaft, which might stop another vehicle in its tracks, is a temporary obstacle in this van--once the rearend is put in neutral, the Sportsmobile can front-drive its way out of the boonies under its own power.

As a finishing touch, the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle sports a set of 16x8.0-inch simulated beadlock wheels from U.S. Wheel. To balance on- and off-road performance, a set of 285/75R16 Bridgestone Dueler A/T Revo all-terrains were mounted.