Slower Rider: DAF YA-4440 Expedition Truck
DAF'S expedition truck can take you anywhere -- if you aren't in a hurry
At first glance, the pictures here might spark the question, "What the heck is a DAF?"
Owned by PACCAR in North America, DAF is in the same family as Kenworth and Peterbilt. The truckmaker dates back to 1928, when Hubert "Hub" van Doorne founded the company as Commanditaire Vennootschap Hub van Doorne's Machinefabriek in the Netherlands. Production started in a small workshop on the grounds of a brewery. Today, DAF manufactures trucks in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United Kingdom for sale throughout Western and Eastern Europe, and exports them to Asia, Africa, and North America.
The YA-4440 you see here is one of 7000 vehicles delivered to the Royal Netherlands Army between 1977 and 1983. The all-steel tilt cab of the YA-4440 is reinforced for a ring-mounted light machine gun. Purchased used in 2005 in the Netherlands by a Dutch couple, its DAF "universal shelter" had been modified for family travel. The couple traveled around Scandinavia, the Middle East, South America, Mexico, and the United States, ending up at the 2009 Overland Expo in Arizona, an annual event that brings together like-minded self-reliant back-country travelers. They put it up for sale, and Steve and Sharon Russell of Sun River, Oregon, saw it as their dream overland travel camper, and purchased it on the spot.
Powered by a 6.2-liter six-cylinder turbocharged direct-injection diesel, it has an estimated 168 hp at 2400 rpm. That's not much for a truck that often tips the scale at around 24,500 pounds fully loaded. Compression ratio is 16:1. The engine will run on anything that's even close to diesel. The standard fuel tank holds 56 gallons, and there is a 110-gallon reserve tank behind the cab, next to the spare tire. Average highway fuel economy is about 11.5 mpg at its most comfortable cruising speed of 50 mph. Though it does have a maximum speed of 65 mph, it is seldom reached, which Steve and Sharon admit could annoy other drivers on long narrow backroads where there is no way to pass and no turnouts.
The driver must really work the five-speed gearbox and two-speed locking ZF transfer case to match the torque to the speed and load conditions. The DAF beam-type axles/differentials are both open. Brakes are air-powered, with a front-axle parking brake and air trailer brakes. As one might expect from such a vehicle, it operates on a 24-volt/positive-ground system that is splashproof and radio suppressed.
The truck's suspension is made up of leaf springs and Koni shocks, and we weren't surprised to find that it rides like a truck. It rolls on 1400/R20 Michelin XZL tires, so every rock in the road can be felt unless you air down. The air tank has a high-pressure hose for airing back up.
The camper box, or universal shelter as it is called, is a standard DAF option by Fokker. It was modified in the Netherlands and modernized a bit in Oregon. Basic necessities for an expedition camper include an 87-gallon water tank, propane hot-water heater, and propane three-burner stove fed by two 36-pound tanks. A Webasto diesel heater provides heat, and German Seitz dual-pane windows keep the warmth inside. Its refrigerator is a 12-volt compressor type. The large bed is located over a huge storage compartment. An enclosed bath includes a full shower and a Thetford cassette toilet (with removable waste tank on wheels), standard in all European RVs. You mostly don't find RV dump stations outside of the U.S. and Canada.
As with all expedition campers, something must be done to keep the box from twisting and tearing itself apart. The unique DAF system has large pivot points front and rear, and huge rubber suspension pads allow the bed and camper to actually lift off the frame in extreme twists.
Up in the cab -- way up -- the Recaro seats are fitted with Sparco safety harnesses. The dash is straightforward. Its warning lights for various systems and an air-pressure gauge are things you might see in a commercial or military truck. Clearly this is not your standard F-350.
A walkaround turns up some interesting features and accessories. Tie-downs for just about anything are standard, including a shipping container if the universal shelter is removed. A shovel and a branch trimmer are handy, and the vise is a tool that's never missed until you need it. The emergency tow bar bolted to the undercarriage fits the same size pintle hitch as the one on the rear. Lockable outside storage compartments are a necessity for tools and service parts. A full awning rolls out from the side, and there are light guards and a brush guard, of course. Four auxiliary lights are mounted over the cab just ahead of another storage compartment. Finally, a motorcycle fits snugly on the front bumper.
Steve and Sharon say they don't mind the lack of power, but don't like to inconvenience the people following them.
They try to pull over whenever possible. They had their DAF up to Canada's Northwest Territories, following the Dempster Highway as far as Inuvik, about 60 miles from the Arctic Ocean and 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. They've also done some exploring in Oregon's back country. Steve loves that the tilt cab puts him right on top of the front wheels, so he knows exactly what he's driving into. The DAF's low gearing and high clearance have proven very capable off-road. Unfortunately, the couple missed out on DAF's ring-mounted light machine gun. It didn't come as standard equipment on all YA-4440s.