By Dave Boyer.

Welcome back to Autoramblings “Specialty Vehicles” section.

The remaining portion will cover what options I ordered on my off road vehicle. Due its length it will be broken into parts. This will be the most opinionated portion of this blog and primarily reflects my views. From time to time I will discuss issues I have read about concerning problems that other owners have encountered. I have no way of verifying legitimacy of other people’s views on a particular issue, so it’s possible I might post some inaccurate statements. I will try to keep “rumor” to a minimum. It is the readers responsibility to determine fact in this or any other Web post. There are several owners that are more knowledgeable who have owned these vehicles longer than I have. Many of these people belong to the two Yahoo groups and are more than willing to answer questions.

In the past posts I discussed the major steps on ordering a Sportsmobile. As a kid my mom and dad told me there is always somebody bigger and meaner than me. I took this into consideration when ordering my van. I wasn’t after the biggest or best vehicle rolling off the line. If you were to try this, it would be necessary to buy a new vehicle every year and spend boo-coo bucks just trying to keep up with the Jones’s. But it was now time to actually request what I wanted on my new vehicle. Every time you visit the SMB factory, more than likely there will be a new van coming off the line that is better than yours. Not to say I didn’t make upgrades during construction, as seeing other vehicles did make me re-evaluate my order and add several items. The SMB options form contains a detailed list of items and what they cost installed. More than likely SMB has added new changes to their catalog by now, but most of their production items haven’t varied that much since 2005. The list I am going to base this article off of is the 2005 option form. So if you’re in the market for a new Sportsmobile, it would be wise to contact SMB to see what’s now available. Also going on line should take you in the correct direction. Besides, in a year or so this article might be a little outdated, especially since Ford has made some major style changes forcing SMB to make changes also.

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Just because I am having trouble with some items, it doesn’t mean you will have the same problems. See if improvements have been made and make your own decisions. Many problems I had were resolved and may no longer exist. Please remember that there are several options I didn’t order, so get a list from Sportsmobile, look over the optimum possibilities, and use the Yahoo groups to research your choices.

One of the first rules is, “never say never”. I am doing things periodically with my vehicle that I didn’t plan on when I made my purchase. I based my original order on a few things:

1. Where I planned to take the vehicle

2. The terrain

3. Length of time spent at a single spot

4. Storage

5. Towing

6. Daily driving

My views are quite different than when I made my purchase. Where I planned to take the vehicle and what kind of terrain I would go into changed dramatically once I found out what this thing could do. In the picture below, I was discussing a climb with Phillip, a forest service worker (on the right) who was having a recreational day himself. We followed him in and out of the area. The Sportsmobile climbed over rock better than his Jeep, but his vehicle took tight turns and narrow access such as the trees in the background much easier.

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Sportsmobile’s are so large that most pictures will not show the degree of difficulty involved in a climb. On the contrary, Phillip’s Jeep really shows what the terrain actually was. This was an easy climb for a Sportsmobile but required a spotter to be on the safe side.

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Off roading has become my main interest and unfortunately the van now sports scratches and dings as badges of honor to the 4×4 world. I wouldn’t have it any other way except for free body work.

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If you find something you don’t like or question in the writings below, ask SMB or research it. I might be misinformed or just plain wrong!

The vehicle:

This was not even an issue for me, but others might disagree. I went with Ford because I believe the frame is stronger, and a big heavy rig like this needs the ability to resist tweaking on adverse, off camber situations as much as possible. Even though I’m a Chevy dude, I prefer the Ford while off roading for the stated reasons. As far as SMB 4X4 conversions, I’ve been told that the Chevy ride is far superior compared to the Ford E-350. I have seen some 4×4 General Motors vans, but they are usually more suited to light off road travel. Check out this great looking GMC/ Quigley 4X4 vehicle.

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I decided on a white vehicle because I live where the summer heat is always over 100 degrees. I don’t know how metallic paints handle sun these days, but my rig will have to sit in full sun until I build a covered area to park it under, something I need to address soon. White stands up well to sun, stays cooler, is easy to keep clean, and more important, I like it.

The van’s length was a fairly easy choice also. First and most important was that I needed space for my astronomy equipment. The length between a regular body (RB) and an extended body (EB) is only about 20 inches, but it makes a big difference as far as inside storage, an advantage when traveling for extended periods. I am not sure, but it appears that the beds in the EB are longer (check with SMB) and at six foot, I wanted all the length I could get. The RB would be a better choice for heavy off roading but with a little finesse the EB does well. The EB has problems with departure angle (such as the lower rear bumper hitting the ground when driving out of a ditch) and tight turns on switchbacks. Usually you can calculate a drive into a gulch without dragging the ass end, but I have drawn a few lines in the sand with my hitch. As far as tight turns, the EB must make more multi point turns while driving on switchbacks and the like. So the RB wins here, but my rig gets the job done. The picture below required a spotter to help negotiate several very tight turns on a road in the eastern Sierra Nevada Range.

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I have been told that the SMB 4×4 conversions turn sharper than their Quigley counter parts. This can be important for an EB depending on what you plan to do with the vehicle. The only problem I had on my decision to go with an extended body was that the RB was better looking, but that just my opinion.

The power plant was also pre determined before I ordered my rig. A diesel was first on my list. I was willing to put up with the extra noise, although the noise of the fan surprised me. Before I made my order to SMB, I was issued a new aerial lift truck at work that had an International Diesel motor in it. I drove it to the job site with no surprises. The first time I operated the boom, the fan kicked on while I was up in the air. My co-worker looked down and thought the truck had caught on fire. Not a great feeling when you are 70 feet up. There was a loud roar as we looked down to see what appeared to be smoke engulfing the engine area. Of course it was just dust. I had no idea how similar the Ford 6.0 power stroke diesel was to my work truck. While driving my new SMB home it took about 10 miles before the fan kicked in and all I said to myself was “O-NO”. I felt like…well some major mixed feelings kicked in about as hard as the fan did. You got to here this thing before buying one. Dura-max diesels don’t do this. I know of people who were totally freaked out when the fan kicked in on their 6.0 PSD. One person said they returned to SMB thinking a problem had occurred. Dust is the worst part, and this fan will really kick up the dust on some trails. Unfortunately I am forced to deal with it. The noise is just part of the van now and less noticeable to me at the present. Our work trucks sit at high idle for hours at a time, not to mention that they run about 10 hours most every day. Many of the older gas rigs had problems with heat, so we switched to diesel motors on equipment that idles up for long periods. But the newer gas engines are a new breed. I don’t want to talk anyone in to or out of the power plant they choose to put under the hood. We still use gas engines in meter reader trucks and electronic meter technician vans which have thousands of hours put on them in some of the worst conditions. A gas rig might be fine for your needs. Because of the weight of these rigs, I would go for the largest gas motor available if that was what I planned to order. At this point in time I would still order the 6.0 diesel. Just remember I said at this point in time.

For those who are hesitant about the purchase of the 6.0, watch this set of videos:

http://powerstrokehelp.com/PSD_common/6vs7/1of6.asp

Some of the pros of a 6.0 PSD are:

>It handles heat during long idle times better. Personally I feel that diesels handle heat better overall.

>It has good torque for pulling trailers and heavy loads.

(Note: I have been told the E-350 van 6.0 PSD has been de-tuned which produces less power and heat than the Ford pickup counterparts. This is to combat of limited air flow around the engine compartment.  The horsepower of the Ford Power Stroke Diesel in the Econoline van series  has been lowered about 100HP to accommodate for heat. The total HP output on my E-350’s PSD is about 235 @ 3300 RPM. Because of the heat issues, re-programming or “chipping” the engine is not recommended. After the warrantee is up on my motor I might add a programmer for use in limited applications with close monitoring of EGT’s.

>It gets reasonable mileage. This is true especially when running a trail at slow speeds or on downhill grades. I have averaged about 13-14 MPG on a flat highway driving around 65 MPH. Driving slower speeds pushes up the mileage considerably. When traveling in the hills, I usually average 11 to 12 MPG. Pulling my SMB trailer doesn’t seem to make much of a difference on MPG in the hills.

>The motor should run longer before having to be rebuilt.

>Diesel is a by-product of gasoline and should be cheaper in price. I have no idea what happened here. New additives to fuel, hurricanes, and environmentalists give the oil companies an excuse to drive up prices on fuel. Conspiracy? It’s a bi-product for crying out loud.

>Diesel is actually more eco friendly than gasoline. (Don’t even think of arguing this point. Do your own research on it and make your own decision).

>Diesel fuel is much safer than gasoline.

<>This issue could be a pro or a con. Ford E-350 vans with the 6.0 PSD are used in ambulances all over the USA. I guess the best person to talk to would be a mechanic who works on fleet vehicles that run 6.0 Power Stroke Diesel vans. Don’t try to compare to a Ford truck. It’s a little different setup. Take a look under the hood of a Ford truck and then look at the van. Air flow is a major issue. Yet many times ambulance personal will keep their rigs running while sitting at their departure spot. They do this in all kinds of conditions, so the engines have to be somewhat reliable. I’m sure the major companies who utilize diesels have a reason why they use them over gas rigs, but who knows. I do know that the ambulance companies freaked when they found out the new ford 6.4 would not fit into the vans. The 6.0 is here to stay until a solution is found. A mechanic would be the person to say if a diesel is a pro or con, but even mechanics can be skewed one way or the other. Think about it. If a 6.0 is more difficult to work on than other engines, some mechanics will hate them even if they are better in the long run. Also remember the early 6.0 engines had major problems and I heard all kinds of bad reports. Bugs eventually get worked out as a rule. You always hear the bad because people complain and you rarely hear from those who have no problems. This is just human nature. I would rather not be a beta tester on a new motor though. You’re just rolling dice IMO. A very important fact is that people generally drive their work vehicles differently than their personal vehicles. Think about a Fire Department and how they use their rigs. Jump in and go. They drive them hard under heavy loads. More than likely they hit the road from a cold start. I believe strongly that cold short runs with a diesel aren’t a good thing.

Some cons:

<As I said, the 6.0 PSD has had its share of problems, most from the turbo charger. I have yet to have trouble with my motor (I’m knocking on wood as I write this), but I always pre-heat the motor to reasonable temps before heading out. In fact I usually pre-warm the motor before I start it in cold weather. (More on this later) IMO switching to synthetic oil will help with cold starts. I also watch the heat on long hauls and idle down the engine before killing it. It usually requires a 3 to 5 minute cool down before turning off the ignition after a hard run. On long steep grades, I periodically pull over and let it cool down. A pyrometer is a very valuable gauge. Too bad Ford doesn’t install these as a stock item, but they are in the business of selling and repairing. I plan to install a pyrometer soon.

<The motor is very expensive. Don’t think you will ever recoup the cost by fuel savings unless the oil companies go back to pricing fuel on what it really cost them to make it. We need to get some more refining plants going in the US. Diesel fuel subsidizes losses in other areas (IMO) or we are being ….well I’ll leave that out.

<The motor is noisy, hot, and smells like a diesel. The dog house (engine cover) gets really hot as does the front floorboard. The fan kicks up dust and sounds like a jet. If you don’t like diesel smell, take it into consideration. I never smell it in the van while driving unless I overfill the fuel tank. If that happens I will have to find a car wash ASAP. The exhaust isn’t that bad, but some find it irritating. Gasoline makes me noxious, but I actually kind of like the smell of diesel provided it’s not too overpowering.

<Diesel fuel is harder to find. But in a pinch, diesel might be easier to find around a farm or anywhere heavy equipment is being used.

<The motor holds 15 quarts of oil and is more costly to service.

<Repairs can be costly. I will say yes to extended warrantee when the time comes.

<Diesel fuel and extreme cold weather don’t like each other. The fuel can wax up and cause problems. When the Alaskan pipe line was built, they kept the diesel motors running 24 hours a day because of this. But this takes colder than average temperatures to cause problems. Special fuel blends plus strict procedures are required in colder climates. Synthetic oils are a big advantage because of their above average viscosity in cold harsh conditions. Getting oil to moving parts is crucial, and Synthetic’s move better than standard oil in freezing temperatures. Someone from a state like North Dakota could answer how they deal with this kind of weather. Another minor setback is that diesel foams up when pumping the fuel. A slow delivery is necessary to fill the tank. Some of this problem has to do with the aftermarket tank, where foaming is an issue.

In the upcoming post I continue on to some of the inside options.

See you on the trail.