EarthCruiser – an Extreme Off-Roading Motorhome

With the growing popularity of off the road four-wheel drive class B vans, this week, we decided to take a second look at a serious off the road motorhome from Overland Cruiser. Later, with more and more folks opting to purchase a used motorhome or trailer, we asked Mark and Dawn Polk from RV Education 101 to show us what's involved in remodeling and upgrading a used RV. This week, we bring you part one and two of this five-part series.

Jeff Johnston: RV adventure comes in all different types of sizes and shapes and intensities. Some people like to take their adventure a little bit farther than others. They go over the hill, they kind of push it to the edge. Or for that matter, they push it right off the edge and keep going beyond that.

If you're going to take that kind of an adventure, you need a vehicle that's custom built and specially equipped for that sort of activity. And the new EarthCruiser four-wheel drive adventure vehicle is just one such vehicle. The EarthCruiser is a unique breed of vehicle designed and build specifically for long-distance, long-term, self-contained, overland travel and expeditions.

Although technically a motorhome, it's as far from the average RV as a vehicle can be. Its design originated with the company's Australian factory, but is now also manufactured in its Bend, Oregon facility. That's where we spent some time and caught up with company owner and vehicle designer Lance Gillies. His worldwide travels in other vehicles provided the inspiration for the EarthCruiser.

Lance Gillies: We started EarthCruiser in Australia. And the reason behind it, my wife and I just love to travel. We have been fortunate to go and see some great places. And you want to sometimes go back and you want to do that in a little bit more comfort and style. There was nothing out there to buy. And my background and experience is in specialty vehicle building, that's what I do. And really that's where EarthCruiser came from.

And so, we started the company in Australia. Australia has very strict rules when it comes to what is called second stage manufacturing. You can't just build one of these in Australia. It has to be tested, it has to be proven to the minute detail and the modifications we make to the vehicle. So, we have a legitimate product. EarthCruisers are registered as EarthCruisers, not a Fuso truck. They are a vehicle in their own right in Australia.

It became apparent that there was an opportunity for us to build EarthCruisers in the United States approximately four years ago. We registered a company here, and just a little over three years ago, we started to manufacture them in the United States. So, right now, we have 17 people in our fabulous workshop here in Bend. And I got to tell you the quality of work that these guys and girls put out is absolutely phenomenal. It is a great pleasure of mine to go to work every single day.

Jeff: When you need to travel some seriously bad roads, you need a four-wheel drive, and the Fuso chassis does the job. This rig has driving capabilities well beyond those of most any conventional RV. Our video shoot didn't include any genuinely gnarly terrain, but we caught some of the flavor. There's no need to shy away from that truly memorable campsite due to bad roads.

Lance: The base vehicle for us in the United States is the Fuso factory four-wheel drive system. So, a six-speed auto, diesel engines, very economical. They're a commercial based vehicle, which we like, makes sense for us because we want them to be robust, we want them to be relatively simple in this modern world for maintenance. I mean, that's a bit of an oxymoron, I know that. But our intention is for the base chassis to be as robust as possible. So, what we have here is the Fuso, which is--the parent company is Mercedes-Benz.

Jeff: A look at the beefy transmission and transfer case revealed the heavy duty overkill nature of the powertrain. A custom roll cage protects the cab from tree branches and other hazards. A 16,000 pound winch up front is matched by one out back because you want to be able to back out of trouble as easily as you got into it. Tow hooks and other recovery hardware are standard. Sand mats and recovery tools are conveniently located on the rear bumper.

Tucked away in its own corner storage bay is an electric air pump for inflating the tires after a low tire pressure run through the sand, or after a flat repair.

Lance: Fuel economy for us on this particular one is between 15 and 17, which is kind of average, again, with the newer vehicles as well. You are not going to enjoy the huge horsepower of, you know, a great, big 7-liter diesel whatever, but interestingly, just go and have a look at the torque curve between those larger V-8 diesels and some very fuel efficient 4-cylinder diesels. You might be surprised.

The body is double-wall molded fiberglass, with a structural foam laminate to provide strength and insulation.

Lance: Our limit for the size of an EarthCruiser was to making sure it fit inside a shipping container. So, that was the first critical thing to talk about. And so, with those dimensions sorted out, the next thing we wanted to do is keep the profile of the vehicle, of the cab itself. As a driver, you know fatigue is the biggest killer. And if we can make it that the driver is more comfortable and has less things to worry about, and two can enjoy the view, and two can enjoy the experience, that counts. You'll notice that the EarthCruiser cabin is the same profile as the cab. The angle is almost identical. So, when you are driving through those trees, and you want to duck into McDonalds or Starbucks to grab a coffee, if the cab fits width-wise, you fit. And with the raised roof model, the roof of the camper is identical to the roof of the cab. And so, you have--it's just more comfortable for the driver.

This particular vehicle, the floor plan and the system is based around comfortable travel for two people. I want to get across the point that this vehicle has just come back from Malaysia, and that's why the raised roof. That's why you can see there's so much light that comes in here because we are looking for a vehicle that gives us the opportunity to enjoy the outside.

The floor plan, the way everything works, the systems, everything is based around one simple premise. And the premise is that we want to get out and enjoy the world as much as we possibly can because what matters to us is that we want to be able to maintain the vehicle quickly, simply as possible, and get on with what we really want to do.

The bed is out the back, and it's just a little under a queen size for the bed. Tons of storage underneath the bed. With the roof down, you can still comfortably sleep. And this is important because some people like to stealth camp. Some people lift the weather-- for whatever reason that makes sense. So, from when the roof is down, it's 24 inches from the top of the mattress to the bottom of the bed. And that will be very familiar for a lot of people with truck campers.

Drawer storage is the most efficient. Cupboard storage we find inefficient. This is an off-road vehicle, so we pay a lot of attention to making the drawers shut and stay shut. You'll notice there are no drawers forward facing, where they could open and then become a hazard when you're off-roading. Those sort of things matter to us.

The forward dinette, we have the heating system underneath one seat. We have a laundry under the other for just to dry your clothes out as you're traveling. Kitchen bench is--again, it's fiberglass. It's with a hard surface, easy clean. You'll see there's no sharp edges. Rubbish bin in behind it, twin sinks. Silly things, but we think they matter. Twin sinks with the plugs at opposite ends, so if you are a little bit out of kilter, it still drains. Purified drinking water, not just filtered, but it is purified so we can pick up water from anywhere, critical for what we do. The refrigerator we use is marine fridge, stainless steel. It has some inherent features that work for us, being a marine style compressor fridge. So again, it's 12 volt. Most importantly for us, it'll work at a level-- out of level at a very low current draw.

Jeff: Overhead, there's a microwave oven attached to the ceiling. And like other 120 volt appliances, it's powered by the inverter. A central system panel contains most of the vehicle's electrical circuit and appliance controls, and monitors for the furnace, solar charger, and so on. Dometic, European style windows include vertically deployed shades and window screens. And the window's hinge at the top to avoid water intrusion in bad weather.

Lance: What we also have is access through to the cab. And so, what you can do with an EarthCruiser, there's a row of switches beside the door. You can close the roof, pull the awning in. The catch on the outside of the door is internal. Well, kind of internal. So, you can grab the door and close it. So, you don't have to exit the vehicle to leave. This matters because the security aspect is enormous. We can easily jump through if we want to, start the truck, and be on our way. It doesn't matter if it's crocodiles, kangaroos, and mosquitos out there that you don't want to have to deal with. Everything can be closed up and gone in about 27 seconds, and you're out of here. And that's why we have access to the cab, it's critical.

Jeff: The EarthCruiser is not for everyone. It's a comfortable, but serious vehicle with every feature chosen for its intended use, which is long-term adventure travel with no restrictions on getting there.

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