Gentleman JackSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Used motorhome buying guides’ written by Gentleman Jack
A growing number of readers are contemplating an exciting off-road adventure in an expedition motorhome.
We're talking true, go-anywhere ’vans offering tantalising touring possibilities.
bimobil is a German coachbuilder whose ranges include permanently attached and dismountable motorhome bodies. The firm uses its own tried-and-tested designs and can bespoke-build on any suitable chassis.
What are these motorhomes?
Expedition motorhomes are quite different from a production one on a 4x4 chassis.
Although folk talk about going ‘off-road’, frequently they really mean going ‘off metalled roads’.
Usually they see themselves exploring down tracks and/or on poor-quality roads in developing countries, but don’t actually envisage crossing deserts and rainforests by penetrating into uncharted territory.
So for them, a tough motorhome body on a standard 4x4 chassis cab with diff-locks will probably suffice, providing the departure angles front and rear are good enough to avoid grounding, and there is sufficient axle articulation to avoid becoming stranded on rocky outcrops.
Global expedition motorhomes are quite different in that the tough unitary body is mounted on special pivoting fixings to allow the chassis to twist over very rough terrain without damaging the residential body section.
Depending on where you intend going, the body can be made to survive all manner of temperatures.
What's up to the job?
The most popular base vehicle for such ’vans has traditionally been the Mercedes-Benz Unimog, a very tough cookie indeed. This generation has been going since the 1980s and is virtually unbreakable.
When you factor in savings over a new equivalent, which can exceed £100,000, they make a good secondhand buy.
Having bought a secondhand chassis, it is worth travelling to bimobil in Oberpframmern to help with the design of the residential part or to tap into their network of pre-owned ones for sale.
Some owners sell the base vehicle but not the body after their global trip (usually at least a year), which is then transferred to a lighter chassis-cab for ‘normal’ adventures.
Popular transplant receivers are the Iveco Daily, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and VW Crafter… all 4x4. Mitsubishi’s Canter AWD would be our choice because it has a wider track.
- bimobil expedition and dismountable coachbuilt body on Mercedes Unimog chassis-cab
- Various build dates, both chassis and body produced in Germany from 1980 to present
- Overall length: varies
What to look for
So, if you want to make your extreme adventure holidays a reality, what do you need to know?
When buying a motorhome in two sections, ensure that one is a suitable match for the other.
Most folk check the basic dimensions, but it is easy to overlook things such as axle and tyre loads/weight distribution, centre of gravity, position of residential entrance relative to wheelarches and so on.
Always buy the base vehicle first. Hold out for one with high-speed axles (high is a relative term with the Unimog).
Low mileage is frequently not an indicator of engine wear because many are employed on PTO (power take off), where they are stationary but the drivetrain is powering ancillary equipment such as flood pumps, winch equipment and so on.
Before choosing a layout or adding equipment, make sure you read the Overlanders’ Handbook by Chris Scott (ISBN 978-1-905864-07-2, published by Trailblazer Publications, RRP £25).
Also, ensure that you measure each diagonal (corner-to-corner) on the rear panel to detect if it has been rolled.
- Planning and researching the trip(s)
- Living the dream
- Life-enhancing experiences off the beaten track
- Sense of achievement
- It's very difficult to hire before you buy
- Settling back into a previous 9-5 routine after the trip can be a real shock to the system!
What to pay
You can pay anything from £15,000 to £400,000!
We found an ex German military Unimog U 1300L (£13,995 + VAT). Its age was not quoted, but it's thought to be 1980s.
Or how about a used 2002 bimobil 465 (series) four-berth body for €53,000 (generator, fuel cell, air-con, desert kit, mounting kit all included, but the advert states ‘some superficial scratching to exterior’).
Or you could try a bimobil husky dismountable on a Land Rover Defender.
Similar global motorhomes are available from Action Mobil or Bliss Mobil.