My grandfather lived in Louisiana and for a little while he had a dolphin. One summer he drove it out to where we lived in Michegan and took us all on a big road trip. Of course, I mean the Toyota based cab over recreational vehicle, not the marine mammal. And while that RV was downright tiny compared to others of it’s day, it was huge to me. And being able to sleep, or eat, or pee while rolling down the interstate was amazing. The freedom, the possibilities, the heck, No TV?!?!?! It was the early 80’s. Only the coke dealers on Miami Vice had TVs in their cars.
Years later, I finally came home to the road when I rented a 24 foot rear-bed Coachmen for a family trip to Bodega Bay. It’s big, and slow, and makes wide turns and drinks like a fish. But stopping at a park and making lunch in a real (ish) kitchen was pretty nice. As was having a fully contained vacation home that was wherever we needed it to be.
When we rolled into a forest service road neat Nevada City at 10:00 PM after a long haul from the coast through towns and hamlets blacked out from the forest fires, it really became clear to me. I fired up the generator to thaw out some frozen nuggets and browned them in the oven. This is why you RV. All the comforts of home, at least the ones that are really important, right at your fingertips, wherever you coast to a stop.
As soon as we got home I started looking for one of our own. year later I finally found one I could see myself driving, the price was just a little out of my range. Although $140,000 is not an unreasonable price for something so awesome.
Autarky Expedition Vehicles
Autarky Expedition Vehicles is a company is custom adventure RV shop in Reno Nevada run by Zach Reinitz. Zach has built several 4×4 expedition campers including two built on Ford Shuttle van chassis and his most recent build on a stout Ford F-450 Ambulance chassis. When I found out Zach had this up for sale I asked for a tour. We met on a chilly, but beautiful day out at Moon Rocks, near Reno.
AMBULANCE RV OVERVIEW
For this project Zach started with a Ford F450 Single Cab Ambulance chassis running the Ford 6.0 Diesel. The first set of upgrades necessary were a full “bulletproffing.” If you’re not familiar with these diesels, the 6.0 is notorious for some critical failures and widely maligned as garbage as a result. Once corrected through a process called bulletproofing, the engine is quite powerful and reliable and well regarded by those who either can afford the process, or can do it themselves.
Zach had performance heads and a new turbo installed and did an EGR delete. The work was performed by McDiesel Repair in Reno, NV (https://www.mcdieselrepair.com/) and Desert Diesel Repair in Phoenix, AZ (https://www.desertdieselrepairllc.com/).
With these repairs and tuning completed they have had no issues with the engine. Zach says it has no shortage of power and can pull up to 14 MPG cruising, and 9mpg when towing their samurai. That’s not bad for such a heavy vehicle.
In case the weight of the vehicle, or Zach’s off road decision making gets them dug in, the Ford has am ARB Winch bumper holding a Smittybilt 17,500# winch. For lighting the truck has Hella Rallye lights, Baja Designs s2 Pros and a Rigid Industries 40″ Light bar.
The 20 year old RV we rented for our fall break trip to the beach had exterior cargo doors that were warped, flimsy and barely functional. The former ambulance body Zach used to build this expedition vehicle has a number of sturdy compartment doors with steel latches, tube reinforcement and insulation built in all around the body of the camper section. Zach has repurposed the compartments to cary accessories, gear and equipment. The doors provide access to the water tanks, power systems and batteries of the house. To keep the ground clearance high, Zach has mounted the grey water and fresh water tanks above the frame inside these compartments. This not only keeps them out of the rocks and grime, but ensures that they won’t freeze in cold weather.
The water is heated by an Isotemp water heater that heats with engine coolant or an electric coil. The air is heated with an Espar D2 diesel heater. This is a tiny little unit that runs off it’s own diesel tank and provides ample heat to the interior. The heater, as well as the ambient heat in the house keeps the Battle Born Lithium batteries warm.
For suspension, the truck has upgraded Atlas leaf springs in the front to effect a lift to fir the 41 inch Continental MPT tires. The fenders are cut out and fitted with Bushwacker flares to make room. In the read, the ambulance air suspension was replaced with custom Atlas springs as well http://www.atlassuspension.com. Damping is by custom valved Icon 2 inch shocks. To stabilize this 12,500 truck, he has Hellwig swaybars front and rear.
To run the Continental tires in a single wheel configuration, Zach got custom wheels from First Attack Engineering.
Mounted to the top of the ambulance body is a Turbo Cool evaporative cooler and two 330w solar panels. A Dometic skylight provides access to the roof.
The interiors of compact campers like this are usually cramped and inefficient. It’s my main complaint with 4 Wheel Campers, which function poorly as living spaces and are barely more than a bed when in sleep configuration. Vans are largely the same with a living space designed more for seated traveling.
The Autarkey Ambulance Camper however has a layout that makes it very nice for living with minimal compromises when in sleep mode. Zach has laid it out with a bathroom, kitchen, and fridge that are accessible when in sleep or living mode. The bed covers the Dinette, but you don’t have to break down the dinette to open the bed.
Inside is a surprisingly spacious room with baltic birch cabinetry with marine latches, a stainless steel sink, an induction cook top in the kitchen. An Isotemp fridge keeps the food cold. The dinette is upholstered in green vinyl as is the mattress of the king size bed. The dinette has a marine table top that hides two clothes drawers under the bed. The dinette seats hide storage in the backs and bottoms for additional clothing or gear.
Lighting in the space is with Lumacoin touch dimming lighting as well as RGB LED strips. 110 and USB power outlets charge phone and run devices throughout.
The bathroom is a really smart design. The house as a fairly big pass through into the cab of the truck and Zach made great use of that space for the shower. A stainless steel pan lines for floor here and sliding vinyl doors from Stoett Industries hold in the water from the stainless shower fixture. Off to the side is a Thetford toilet below an exhaust fan with integrated LED lighting.
All in all the Autarkey Ambulance camper is a great design and build for an expedition camper. While it was for sale when I made this video, it has since sold. If you want to ged a hold of Autarkey to talk about a custom adventure vehicle build, check https://www.autarkyev.com/.