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.

Inside, we chose Sportsmobile's most popular floorplan, the RB-50, because of its abundant storage space and open layout. Incorporating the company's 3.5x8.0-foot popup/fold-down roof provided a more aerodynamic profile for improved fuel economy when driving on the highway and a lower center of gravity off-road. When it's time to make camp for the night, the top's built-in electric motors raise the roof at the touch of a button to provide a full 6.75 feet of stand-up height. With a roomy upper bed and fold-out sofa, it can easily sleep four adults.

All the comforts of home are here, too, including a two-burner propane stove, microwave, 2.7-cubic-foot refrigerator, kitchen sink, electric-flush porta-potty, propane furnace and water heater, 10-gallon fresh-water tank, and 115-volt AC power. After a long day on the dusty trail, swing open the rear doors and attach a bow-shaped rod with privacy curtain, and you can enjoy a hot shower.

Because engine, tire, and wind noise can wear on occupants over the long haul, the crew at Sportsmobile added several hundred pounds of sound insulation to walls, floors, ceilings, doors, and the inside of the engine cover.

Communications are handled by a Midland Radio 40-channel CB with seven NOAA weather channels. A custom-installed Beltronics RX75 Plus remote-mount radar detector helps keep the driver out of trouble when trying to make time. The job of protecting all these goodies falls to a Viper alarm with GPS tracking capability.

Adventure Hardware
Outside, the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle sports lightweight aluminum bumpers with locking storage compartments perfect for stowing recovery gear. A 12,000-pound winch wrapped with 100-foot plasma winch cable adds peace of mind for off-pavement excursions. The rear-mounted spare-tire carrier opens up space for an under-floor storage compartment, while rear baskets carry jerrycans (two for water, two for fuel).

In addition to interior storage, a Yakima roof rack with a Blacktop Pro 21 cargo box gives camp chairs, kayak paddles, and other messy outdoor hardware a place to call home.

We've spent years looking at numerous ways to get from point A to B, and have used that research to make sure our vehicle will thrive in a variety of situations where SUVs and other RVs would fall short. When do we get to go on the road?

What's Next?
What's your idea of adventure? Kayaking with killer whales? Wetting a hook under the watchful eye of Bigfoot? Tackling gnarly off-road trails outside Moab? We'll do it all in the next issue as we take the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle on the ultimate adventure road trip!



Sources
ARB USA
206/264-1669
www.arbusa.com
Locking differentialsAir compressor
Beltronics
800/737-9393
www.beltronics.com
Radar detector
Check Corporation
800/927-6787
www.checkcorp.com
Seat heaters
Crutchfield
888/806-6858
www.crutchfield.com
Head unit, DVD, monitor, nav system
Dagger
www.dagger.com
Kayaks
Directed Electronics
www.directed.com
800/876-0800
Viper GPS tracking system
Dynamat
513/860-5094
www.dynamat.com
Soundproofing material
Expedition Exchange
310/618-1875
www.expeditionexchange.com
Recovery gear, Hi-Lift jack, straps
GG Bailey
866/644-2245
www.ggbailey.com
Custom floormats
Hella USA
877/224-3552
www.hellausa.com
HID, fog, and backup lights
Keyston Brothers/Fresno
877/800-8801
www.keystonbros.com
Upholstery fabric
KVH Industries
888/584-4163
www.kvh.com
Satellite TV, antenna
Midland
816/241-8500
www.midlandradio.com
CB radio
Perception
800/595-2925
www.perceptionkayaks.com
Kayaks
Rearview Systems
800/496-1590
www.rearviewsystems.com
Backup cameras
Right Away Fleet Graphics
805/987-4780
www.rightawaygfx.com
Paint/graphics application
Rosen Entertainment
951/898-9808
www.rosenentertainment.com
Video installation
Scepter Military Products
800/387-6018
www.scepter.com
Four jerrycans
Sherwood Dash
800/286-1674
www.sherwooddash.com
Carbon-fiber dash overlay
Sportsmobile West
800/827-3071
www.sportsmobile.com
4WD & interior conversion
Tim Barker Studio
714/850-1935
www.timbarkerstudio.com
Illustration/design
The Tire Rack
888/981-3953
www.tirerack.com
Tires
Transport Graphics
951/689-7545
www.transportgraphics.netm
Paint/graphics application
U.S. Wheel
800/669-4808
www.uswheel.com
Wheels
Warn Industries
800/543-9276
www.warn.com
Heavy-duty winch
Xantrex Technology Inc.
800/670-0707
www.xantrex.com
2000-watt inverter/charger
Yakima
888/925-0703
www.yakima.com
Cargo box, kayak stacker, bike carrier
 

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