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Old 30 Jun 2008
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Pardon me, does this bus go to africa?

Ok, so over the last week large amounts of alcohol have been consumed, past travel stories recounted (and slightly embelished!) and dissatisfaction with the big city expressed... The result of this being the death of my Dodge 50 festival camper... and (hopefully) the birth of the African Dodger... my overland expedition vehicle!

In 2009, all going to plan, I and three mates will abandon our jobs, friends and sanity and embark on an overland trip from South Africa to Tanzania. Although i've travelled southern africa before i've never driven it, so this will be an entirely new adventure for me.

With the intitial excitement settling down and the practicalities being addressed I'm suddenly having a moment of panic over whether my vehicle is up to the job, and decided to consult the experts (i.e. you guys!)

Our intended go-anywhere home is a converted 1989 Dodge 50 welfare bus. Its a perkins engined turbo-diesel automatic with power steering. It has a rear twin wheel axle and uprated vacum brakes. The body is fiberglass and hence she only weighs 3.5t

She looks identical to this:

As for the terrain, I'm expecting the bus to cope with typical southern african potholes, dirt roads, small mud baths and steep inclines. I also have an urge to climb the Sani Pass but depending on the reaction I get here I may need to through that out the window (though to be fair I watched a rolls royce manage it on you tube!)

In short: am I mad? Should I sell up and look for something more suitable or dispel my fears and whip out the drill and sander?

my own thoughts:
  • The perkins diesel is indestructable and simple. Bush mechanics should be able to fix it.
  • Perkins parts are relatively common, hopefully the same goes for africa
  • The auto box and powersteering will make it alot less tiring to drive especially on the long slow bits.
  • the ground clearance is poor (20-25cm) under both axles.
  • the fairing can be cut back to improve groundclearance under the center section (can probably get about a foot)
  • It does not have a diff lock and got stuck in a modestly damp field a few months back after losing traction on one side (on road tyres)
  • The suspension copes excellently with bumps.
  • The stiff chassis should prevent the fiberglass cracking under severe twisting forces
Thats all i can think of at present. Opinions, fears, niggling thoughts, gut feelings? The more the merrier, though would be best if they were based on experience rather than personal preference, cheers all!
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Old 30 Jun 2008
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the dodge 50 is indeed a robust vehicle but the welfare body you have would, I imagine, pose difficulties.

I travelled fairly extensively with a friend who has a doge 50 welfare bus and off-road it gave us a fair amount of hassle. The departure angle was a nightmare even on well constructed forestry roads in Europe, often involving the construction of less steep departures with wood and earth.

The fibreaglass is pretty flimsy and got damaged easily.

At the very least I would remove all of the belly lockers and skirting, it is largely unneccessary and is cosmetic, however you cannot get round the fact that you have a very large overhang and a body designed for tarmac use. I expect you will get stuck lots and the body will be in a bad way by the end but the mechanicals will cope.

Having said this I have never driven through africa.

If you like your dodges (as I do), the RB44 would be a better choice of vehicle.
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Old 30 Jun 2008
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cheers nick, thats really usefull info. What kind of surfaces what your dodge travelling on? compacted dirt or wet mud? Also did the body take a battering from impacts (trees / rocks etc) or suffer from fatigue?

more views and advice welcome!

Last edited by Tass; 30 Jun 2008 at 14:14.
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Old 1 Jul 2008
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we were largely on tarmac road (we didn't go any further east than czech) but we were parking up anywhere from car-parks to forest clearings and tracks and so we often had to go down some pretty poor mud tracks to get to our park-up

The body didn't suffer too badly from fatigue except on the belly lockers which started ripping themselves off their mounts. However small impacts just made the fibreglass crack and it rapidly started looking rather sorry for itself.

I'll see if I can get more info from my friend. He is currently refurbing the bus in preparation for selling it so he might be able to shed more light the damage (literaly).
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