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i have a dilemma. should i get a long wheelbase defender and convert it into a camper or an old 1990 mercedes 609d camper van?
it will be used primarily in the uk for the next three years for long weekends and 1-2 weeks at a time.
in three years my wife and I are planning an overland trip to OZ.
I really want a landie so that we can go 'anywhere', but realistically do we need that extra capability. a lot of online information says that the merc campers are fantastic and can be fixed pretty much anywhere.
also i've seen that a lot of people go overland across asia and africa in fairly standard looking campers across dirt tracks etc. i suppose the landie will be better at fording rivers and really knackered terrain but will we really come across this travelling across the world on what are by now (and in three years) probably well travelled roads?
i've seen a pair of vehicles and the merc is £3000 cheaper than the landie and has a shower/toilet fridge, oven. the landie will need a lot of work.
i know you guys in the 4x4 section will be biased but i think in writing this i may have made my decision to buy the merc.
You probably have just asked the one million dollar question! And I'm afraid it does not have a correct answer as everyones views and needs are different.
As to travelling for weekends, I dont think it makes much difference. It's all over so quick, you could put up with anything, and will be busy enjoying whereever you are that it's not that big of a deal.
however, once you get on the road for a longer space of time (anything over a month I would think) then having a vehicle that you can live inside comfortably makes a big difference. I'll give some examples why this is my opinion.
1. Weather. It's never good all the time. You'll get some cold days, and some wet days and when your really unlucky some cold wet days. It's those times that being able to live 100% indoors is great. Being able to pull up for the night, get into the back, cook dinner, check out the hubb online, go to the toilet, shower, update your journal, go to bed, have breakfast and hit the road without getting cold or wet. This for me is the biggest advantage of larger vehicles.
2. Free camping. Financially, long term travel (usually) burns from a single large pot of money you have saved until it's all gone, then your back to work. (big generalization I know, but bear with me). So, the travel costs quickly get looked at on a "cost per day" basis. if your pot of money is a fixed amount when you start, then the lower your cost per day is, the longer you can travel for. I'm talking time here, not distance. So, if you need to go into campsites all the time, it does 2 things. 1 - costs money every night, and 2 - causes you to plan your route and times around campsite schedules. a vehicle where you can just park, stay the night without putting or doing anything outside means you now have the option to stay in a lot more places for free, including car parks at shopping centers, motorway service stations etc. - it's a big list. These places will accept "parking", but not "Camping" - bbq's and chairs and tables and what not.
3. Living Vs Surviving. For us, we like to live on the road and to enjoy ourselves while doing it. We're making this trip for fun, not as a pilgimage. So, we like to have a laptop each, we like to have a selection of clothes, we like to have a fridge AND a freezer. We like to have cameras, selections of books, spare towels, a few different sets of footwear etc. All this stuff is not essential, but it does make it feel like living, not surviving. I have the greatest respect, admiration and probably envy of the bike travelers who manage to put their lives into just a few pannier bags, but I dont think that's for me. So: You'll need space!
As to the 4x4 aspect, yup, that can be great fun. And I'm a bit of a 4x4 nut myself. We had a 110 with rooftent and loads of the bits and pieces to be able to make long trips, but decided not to go that route. We have rented toyota and landrover "camping trucks" in a good few african countries and loved those trips, but for a longer trip - anything over a month - I think a camper type machine is better.
note: I did'nt give up the 4x4 stuff, so we went with a unimog camper, best of both world but we have probably sacrificed a lot to use a unimog, mainly due the cost of the fuel bill. but that's another whole story!
If I were you: I'd rent a camper for a weekend the same size as what you are thinking of buying. Then decide. You'll go with the merc :-)
i think the real question is - is it possible to overland through russia, mongolia, china, india, far east perhaps even africa and south america in a 4x2 RWD camper van?
i know people have driven across the world in all sorts of vehicles from 2CVs to black cabs etc.
my wife and I have spent 4 weeks on ONE motorcycle travelling to the north cape from the UK. the roads were easy but it was the packing and unpacking the tent that was the biggest drain. especially in the rain.
we then went down the camper route and bought an old london taxi and converted it into a camper. only a bed and a camping stove though. so we needed to stay at camp sites. again the roads were fine in europe and we drove to istanbul and back in 4 weeks.
we were going to drive it to OZ but a group of lads have just beaten us to it! Grr
we've just come back from india and nepal (flying) and the roads there seem passable in a van. i've been to malaysia and thialand and again the roads seem passable with a van. i think the far east and asia should be ok.
i'm not familiar with russia, mongolia and china. is a 4WD really necessary or is it overkill?
No personal experience of campers, but we did meet these two German lads a few times in Mali.
They were having a ball traveling together with thier young black Lab in an old Merc, they were heading to Gabon.
Judging from the places we bumped into them, they certainly weren't shying away from moderate piste driving. IMG_2 (459) | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
The later T1 Mercs (308/309) and all the Sprinters have a difflock option available - I'm not sure about the 609s - but would assume that Mercedes also had difflocks for them - although they would be quite rare nowadays.
A 4x2 with difflocks will go most places that a 4x4 can go - its only when you get into really serious 4x4 country that you need it - rocks or sand. Mud will stop most anything without appropriate tyres or cat tracks. Taking waffle boards will get you out of trouble - or in further!!
The downside of the 609 is the long rear overhang which can get you stuck in fairly easy country - a deep gutter on a road can snag you.
I've seen a German website with a couple who did S America in a 309 automatic with a difflock - I think i found it via www.busfreaks.de
The advantage of the earlier Mercs is that they have pre electronic injection engines and are very rugged, any competent diesel mechanic outside of Europe can fix them.
Without 4x4 difflocks etc , then you just have to be prepared to do what the locals do (in most places they are only 2wd) and thats sit and wait untill conditions improve . In OZ if the roads get real bad (mud) they close them with stiff fines for anyone caught on them , as it causes considerable damage travelling on them when the surface is like porridge!! If you plan your travels for "the dry" then you should not have to be expecting hold ups , as its when things get wet/snow that most difficulties are encountered.
Living "in" a space the size of a 110 or troopie for any length of time will really test relationships even more so than when you can cook etc outside. JMHO
I was in the same position as yourself however i already own a landrover, & know that anything over a few months will be trying.
& as the wife insits on being able to stand up to cook.! a pop top on the landy was not going to happen.
last year we took a trip to the Allrad show in germany looking at the off road options for campers, that gave me plenty of options however it's a shame i could not afford them,but ideas are cheap.!
In all reallity I was looking for an All road camper not an off road camper and the abillity to stealth camp is a big plus.
btw the allrad show is on in bad kissengen germany from the 7th - 10th june.
its a show dedicated to "overland vehicles & camping" worth a trip if you can get there.
I'd agree with Mervs comments, and also add what vehicle speed do you think you'll travel at? I think a Landy will speed up more quickly and have a higher cruising speed over a wider variety of roads if thats important to you. We hooked up with a 130 for a week in Morocco and it was annoying to me at least in the slower vehicle that we kept having to try to keep up, tarmac or piste. We also hooked up with an experienced couple in a Bremach who were keen to explore with us, knowing we would both travel at the same speed. That worked well.
Living in or beside is also affected by travel speed I think. If you wanted to drive UK to Cape Town but were only allowing 6 weeks then a bike or a Landy and rooftent would be OKish. A slow truck or van would probably annoy! If you wanted to take your time and explore, like a year or more, I'd like to be able to park up anywhere we came across that was nice regardless of facilities there or what the weather was doing. I know people travel for years in allsorts, but I don't think I'd like that. Blend in when you want, but also shut the door and have your own space when you want.
I also like 4x4s though, so would like to explore where a 4x2 won't go.
Location: Leicestershire,UK, or in my Iveco Daily 4x4
Iveco 4x4 is the answer
OK maybe not for all , but I had the same dilema, so eventually went Iveco as I needed a more comfortable vehicle and needed a bit more comfort due to health issues I've had.
The iveco cruises at the speed of an old landrover (55-60) and has the ability to do sand etc but most of the time its a 4x2 campervan.
I'd echo others point of view that diff lock in the rear of a 4x2 can be a great compromise between outright 4x4 and the availability and cheapness of a 4x2.
Other things to think about is the climates you travel thru. A comfortable (read warm) camper can be a great asset in cold climes, my partner would say no to an extended tent camping trip but loves the idea of going anywhere in the camper
i managed to find a hymer 550 van on a 1982 merc chassis that needs work doing so is cheap.
i've bought that for the time being with a view to fixing her up and then using her for a couple of years and seeing what happens. if we are able to travel round the world, then perhaps i will look out for another merc 4x2 van (with difflocks).
1. Weather. when your really unlucky some cold wet days. Being able to pull up for the night, get into the back, cook dinner, check out the hubb online, go to the toilet, shower, update your journal, go to bed, have breakfast and hit the road without getting cold or wet.
3. Living Vs Surviving. For us, we like to live on the road and to enjoy ourselves while doing it. We're making this trip for fun, not as a pilgimage. So, we like to have a laptop each, we like to have a selection of clothes, we like to have a fridge AND a freezer. We like to have cameras, selections of books, spare towels, a few different sets of footwear etc. All this stuff is not essential, but it does make it feel like living, not surviving.
but for a longer trip - anything over a month - I think a camper type machine is better.
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