Now we’re trucking!

Text: Danie Botha
Photographs: Jannie Herbst, Wimpie Doman

When it came to camping, Wimpie Doman and family started out relatively small, with a BMW X5 3.0d and a Jurgens Safari Oryx trailer. But they soon tired of the Oryx, wanting a holidaying option that provided more space. So the Oryx made way for a massive Jurgens Exclusive double-axle caravan, still towed by the BMW.

But although the Exclusive is the last word in on-road caravanning luxury, the family didn’t always want to stick to paved roads. They swapped the Exclusive for an Echo 4 off-road trailer. Nice, but not quite perfect yet. They itched for something that could really provide them with the ultimate camping experience.

Next in line was the self-propelled Motorhome-World Discoverer 6. The Echo 4 was sold in favour of the six-berth motorhome. But alas, still the Doman family longed to go and see the Richtersveld and other wild places. The Discoverer was great, but it wouldn’t have appreciated being driven over rocks and boulders.

“By that stage I knew exactly what my family and I wanted and needed, after experiencing all the other products. None of them were really bad in any particular way, and all offered some great features and abilities, but there was always something we felt could have been designed more Doman-friendly. Or something missing, like a washing machine, for example. So it was time for the next step… the ultimate all-road camper, designed and kitted out the way we wanted it,” explains Wimpie.

And what better way to go “ultimate” than a brand new MAN TGM 18.240 4×4 chassis cab? The MAN’s six-cylinder, 6,8-litre diesel engine with common-rail technology, turbocharger and intercooler produces a handy 177 kW of power at 2400 r/min, and a whopping 925 Nm of torque from only 1200 r/min.

Add 334mm worth of ground clearance, massive wheels, a selectable four-wheel drive system, and centre differential lock, and you have a 4×4 that’s pretty close to being unstoppable.

Okay, so the 18-ton TGM 18.240 was bought, but there was still a long road ahead before Wimpie and his family could take it camping.

So Wimpie approached a company called Serco, which specialises in the design and manufacture of insulated and refrigerated trucks. Serco supplied an insulated shell for the MAN’s open chassis.

For the next six months Wimpie spent nearly every available hour working on the shell, kitting it out to his heart’s desire. So a full-size washing machine was fitted in the rear of the body, and a living room complete with leather furniture was added in the front, along with a table. A kitchen with all the appliances any cook can dream of followed, as did a bathroom, with chemical toilet system, shower and washing basin. A 200-litre on-board water tank supplies enough water to keep the Doman family content for several days.

More luxuries were added, like a plasma screen television, a full surround-sound system with DVD player and, possibly the coolest of all, an Alden satellite dish system. A cool satellite dish system, you ask?

Oh yes. No matter where he is in the world, Wimpie only needs to press a button on the control unit, mounted inside the camper body. The dish itself then emerges from its compartment where it safely travels. But it doesn’t stop there… it keeps on whirring and turning automatically until one hears a beep-beep, beep-beep.

And presto, the system has automatically located the strongest satellite signal, and Wimpie and family can watch the Tour de France, even in the middle of the Namib Desert! At about R20 000 this system is not cheap, but for Wimpie his ultimate overlanding vehicle would not have been complete without a bit of DStv.

Sleeping quarters were added on “a second level” inside the body, and one simply has to climb up to this level using a ladder to get comfortable in a cavernous sleeping area. It’s about the size of two queen-sized double beds, so there’s plenty of space for Wimpie, his wife, and their two primary school children.

Although the insulated Serco shell keeps the interior of the camper body remarkably cool, even in searing heat, Wimpie also added a state-of-the-art split air-conditioning system.

Electricity would be a problem in the middle of the desert, of course, but Wimpie had a plan. He fitted a heavy-duty generator, as well as a 3kW inverter. This ensures that no matter where the truck takes the Doman family, all they need to do is start up the gennie, and there is power for everything.

“The truck will get us almost anywhere, but once we arrive at our destination and set up camp, it will obviously be a schlep to then run around at the destination with the truck. So the truck comes complete with a ‘parking garage’ in the back,” says Wimpie.

A tiny Hyundai Atoz can be housed here, or alternatively, his Russian Ural motorcycle with a sidecar, which can serve as a runabout at destinations.

To get the Hyundai or the Ural into the camper Wimpie fitted an industrial-type Skyjack hydraulic rear lifting mechanism. At the press of a button, the lifting mechanism drops to ground level, and the car or the motorcycle can be driven into the camper. Press the button again, and the Skyjack’s hydraulics whir it back into place, at the rear of the MAN truck.

Another extra is an on-board compressor system.

“One of the biggest aims with the truck was to be fully self-sufficient anywhere in the bush, but with most of the creature comforts we are used to at home. And that’s what we have managed to do,” beams Wimpie.

So how about fuel consumption then? Surely this beast must have a huuuuge appetite?

“If I cruise at a comfortable 90 km/h on the open road, she uses about 30 litres of diesel every 100km. But with the standard fuel tank of 300 litres, that still equates to a range of about 1000km between refills,” says Wimpie.

And driving this big machine?

“You obviously require a Code 10 licence, as well as professional driver’s licence (PDL). But the MAN is pretty straightforward to drive. It’s got eight forward split gears, an exhaust brake to supplement the normal braking system, and it rides real comfortable over the rough stuff. All the extra weight on the back obviously helps in this department,” says Wimpie.

There’s also air conditioning up front, an air-sprung driver’s seat, power steering, sound system, and lots of space. So it’s not a bad place to spend long hours in at all.

Okay, so here’s the million-dollar question: how much?

“About R1,2 million. But one has to put that into perspective. We go camping at the very least once a month, so the truck is paying its dues, and is certainly not a white elephant gathering dust. In a very short space of time we have already put 2000km on the clock, so it gets a lot of exercise.”

And any serious off-roading yet?

“Not really, no. But it wasn’t intended to be a vehicle with which we could tackle serious 4×4 obstacles. It won’t for instance enjoy being driven over Namibia’s dunes, where the MAN’s size and weight will count heavily against it. Instead it allows us to go to places like the remote Richtersveld without having to worry about ground clearance, getting stuck or worrying whether our vehicle will fall apart on a particularly bad dirt road. And once we arrive at our destination, it’s got everything we need, including ample space. So it’s the complete package, rather than just its 4×4 ability, or just its comfort,” says Wimpie.

Complete package is one way of describing this machine.

But “ultimate overlanding vehicle” probably works even better.

Custom MAN TGM 18.240 4×4 motorhome
Engine: 6872cc, straight six, common-rail, turbo, intercooler
Power: 177 kW @ 2400 r/min
Torque: 925 Nm @ 1200 r/min
Gearbox: Eight-speed manual (with split-gear system)
4×4 system: Selectable 4×4, with centre differential lock
Suspension rear: 11,5-ton Parabolic spring suspension with stabilisers
Suspension front: 8,5-ton Parabolic spring suspension with stabilisers
Wheels and tyres: 20-inch
wheels, Michelin X 365/85 R20 tyres
Fuel capacity: 300-litres
Average consumption: 30 litres/100km
Range per tank: About 1000km
Price: R1,2 million