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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello Promaster Experts!

Been looking over the forums for about a month and learned a ton. Have come to a crossroad and could use some perspective.

Our plan is to build a stealth rig. We were set on using a Ram Promaster Cargo Van 159" WB as the base. Having second thoughts now. Our main concern is that if any issue occurs (collision, damage, lemon etc.) most of the custom fabricated parts are permanently installed into the vehicle. Seems like a recipe for disaster, vehicles are not known to retain their value or be immune to damage.

We have considered making modular components, but thought, why not build a cutaway box truck so that it can be taken on or off if needed? This allows for more flexibility down the line. Yes if we take a direct hit to the box, or flip over then we are still screwed, but a bit less likely (and if we flip we would have more urgent issues I'm sure). Only thing is that most box trucks guzzle gas and are RWD. In comes the Promaster!

Our issue right now is finding a good box truck body to mount onto the Promaster cab-chassis edition.

Currently we are looking at importing a Meidai Balance Body Box and creating a camper from that (PICS POSTED BELOW):
If you want to see what I mean look here: meidai-net.co.jp/vehicle/balanceb.html

We are in contact with an importer to find out if it will fit a cab-chassis Ram Promaster. Especially like the side opening to allow for a small deck and awning setup when open. Allows for integration of the indoor and outdoor once built out.

To cut to the chase, can someone here shine some light on our path? Poking holes and calling out glaring problems is welcome. Anyone know of truck body manufacturers that make something with the swing open sides? Unsure if there are cab-chassis trucks in North America that get decent mileage. I lived in Asia previously and there are tons of light-medium duty trucks capable of 20-25 mpg. Cannot seem to find a good option here that can actually be maintained easily.

Our Current Plan
Ram Promaster cab-chassis edition
Mount a Meidai Balance Body to it.
Build out infrastructure on interior and exterior for off-grid capability.
Headaches
Back to Drawing Board
Ah-ha moments
Enjoy life in our creation!

Our basic requirements:
Fuel Economy
Under 80k budget for entire rig.
Stealth camper with ability to live in part time. Prefer 2 week length living time between restocking.
Can make it through somewhat rough terrain, 4x4 a plus but FWD of Ram Promaster should work well. Does not need to be as heavy duty as some of the expedition rigs made to take on the world.
Serviceable in North America without needing specialist for foreign vehicles.
Can be shipped internationally (box allows for disassembly and shipping in shipping container).


We have seen the drool-worthy Bliss Mobil, XPCampers, BiMobil, etc. Something similar but more DIY and budget friendly is what we are looking to build. Simply cannot afford that 100,000+ dollar price tag, and don't have the need for it to be a full on expedition vehicle. Also we love to get our hands dirty and enjoy the making process.

If this has already been covered elsewhere I apologize for spamming, simply have not been able to find something that specifically addresses this sort of issue.

Thanks in advance and happy travelling!

MEIDAI BALANCE BODY:

 

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2018 159 High Roof gas, BC, Canada
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I am drooling with interest! I've decided on a 159-inch gas PM and have ordered it. But there was an iteration of my travel vehicle ponderings that had me look into box trucks.

A question (and I'm no expert) re: your thinking that front-wheel drive is sufficiently good: If the box is sufficiently heavy, will it negate the benefits of FWD? I plan to outfit my PM very lightly. So I think I'll be fine. But if your box is heavy and you get ambitious with packing lots of stuff into your box (big tank full of water), then I wonder if more of the weight will be on the rear wheels--undriven wheels--if you go with a PM chassis cab.

Also, that wide opening looks really innovative. But will you use it that way a lot? I'm thinking environmental conditions (too hot, too cold, too windy, precip), bugs, could limit it a bit.

By the way, another iteration had me looking at Grumman trucks. So roomy! So boxy--everything is vertical and horizontal, you can get really creative about how you lay out your floorplan. Or cut out a big awing door on the side.
And apparently, they're very tough. But not super efficient gas wise (big V8s in the ones I saw). Cheap though. Maybe cheap enough to save you enough money to buy lots of gas. Also, it's bone-stock American drivetrains. Think classic 350 V8 that can be serviced by anyone, anywhere. I balked at them because I worried about how refined they were (noisy and rough-riding maybe?) not that crashworthy (maybe), etc.
 
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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Hey Travelvanvan appreciate the reply!

It seems the box would need to get extremely heavy in order to negate the benefits of the FWD considering the maximum load the different trim models are rated for. I have no way of knowing this, but considering they are cargo vehicles they are intended to bear weight along the chassis. The Meidai is a lightweight aluminum structure, especially light in comparison to the beefier boxes coming out of North America. Definitely a good question and worth thinking about!

The wide opening is exactly what we are looking for. It will remove interior width space but allow for the building of sliding doors connecting inside and out and create rainshedding/sunblocking eaves and a narrow deck to hang out on during the rare summer day. During the rainy winter here the awnings can be put out as rain sheds to enjoy a view of the rain running off. Even thinking about some sort of catchment system but that plan is even more halfbaked than the rest of this hahahaha!

Our inspiration for the transition between exterior and interior is based on Korean traditional homes called "Hanok" (pronounced Hahn-oak). They were often centralized around connecting interior spaces with a centralized courtyard. Part of this transition between space is a small veranda, swing up winter doors, and sliding interior doors. I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandparents in these type of homes and want to infuse some of the ideas developed within Korean architecture and carpentry. For functionality and nostalgia sake. Both things help make a cozy home.

Pictures to help:

Shot below shows the narrow veranda and doors. This shot is great because on the right side you can see that there is a sliding door behind the first set of doors with black handles. Similar intent for the swing open sides of the Meidai Box.

Can see the swing up winter door in this next one. Door is hung up during summer to allow for cross breeze through the home. Closed up during winter to retain heat.


Our stealth truck will not be anything as gorgeous as a real Hanok but the features to connect indoor and outdoor will function similarly. Anything to be able to break out of the closed off feeling inherent in van builds, while parked in a safe location. We live in Washington State near Seattle so fighting off the rainy day blues is a must. A key to that is enjoying the rain rather than hiding from it. The rear doors of the box will function as the main entrance.

I also checked out the Grumman and utilimasters! They are sweet and very tempting, but yea a real gas guzzler and goes back to the same issues of not being able to swap it off if anything happens to the rest of the vehicle. Check out the Isuzu Utilimaster Reach! That is a pretty cool one that solves a lot of the issues of the older ones. Not sure on the price though. Likely to be expensive.

Excited to hear about your build! Enjoy the process!
 

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Stealth? That camper is going to stand out like a Zebra amongst horses, unless you are at a truck stop which we find the WORST place to camp. Most builds here can be removed if they are bolted, rivenutted, and screwed to the van. Buy a 159” or extended diesel. You then get better drivability, 25+ mpg, a van that can look unmodified if that is what you want (I certainly wouldn’t) and if or when you get that bash-up take the insurance money, buy another similar van and move your conversion.
Advantages: Cheaper, standardized, less noticeable, better fuel mileage, easier to access (walk back from cab), resale, insurable, able to park in normal spaces and on street, etc.
Disadvantages: Less conversations of the sort “Why in **** did you do that when you could have used a van?”
Lastly you are doing what many posters tend to do here. You don’t really want feedback but affirmation. If you have decided why post this as a question? Just go do what you plan as our responses are not going to please you.
 

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I love out of the box thinking as much as anyone, so the idea is intriguing. I did once think hard about a Fuso based camper. The Expedition Portal forum is the place to look at those.

Check out this idea for box truck madness

http://www1.ttcn.ne.jp/~gyo/English/index.htm



But, there are reasons why most people end up doing something similar to what others have done. Not saying it is a bad idea, you just need to have the right reasons for going down your own path.

My first concern is weight. Second, that isn't very stealthy. Third, usability - where are you going to put a door? You can't use the back doors exclusively because they lock from the outside. Fourth - width.

As far as equipment attachments, most of the items in most builds end up bolted in. I've only seen a couple of builds where all the cabinets were glued to the shell. Even in that case all the expensive systems elements (plywood is cheap, energy storage and delivery is not) were still bolted to something.

As we finalize our design, we are ranking things by how many days per year feature x is important. That has helped us refine what we really want vs what we think would be cool.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Stealth? That camper is going to stand out like a Zebra amongst horses, unless you are at a truck stop which we find the WORST place to camp. Most builds here can be removed if they are bolted, rivenutted, and screwed to the van. Buy a 159” or extended diesel. You then get better drivability, 25+ mpg, a van that can look unmodified if that is what you want (I certainly wouldn’t) and if or when you get that bash-up take the insurance money, buy another similar van and move your conversion.
Advantages: Cheaper, standardized, less noticeable, better fuel mileage, easier to access (walk back from cab), resale, insurable, able to park in normal spaces and on street, etc.
Disadvantages: Less conversations of the sort “Why in **** did you do that when you could have used a van?”
Lastly you are doing what many posters tend to do here. You don’t really want feedback but affirmation. If you have decided why post this as a question? Just go do what you plan as our responses are not going to please you.
Hahaha this IS what I want actually! Many different perspectives. Glad to get the feedback! A bit of affirmation combined with being put through the ringer is a great mix! Invigorating. One part of your post really is interesting, is it not insurable if the van has a rear box attached that is third party? Is a typical promaster insurable for the interior contents if it is the cargo van standard type? The main reason for the box is to get more usable interior cargo space, less weird curves to work around, and ease of removal (a lot simpler than removing each bolt and screw individually, also less transportable overseas). Please reply back with your thoughts, they are appreciated!
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
I love out of the box thinking as much as anyone, so the idea is intriguing. I did once think hard about a Fuso based camper. The Expedition Portal forum is the place to look at those.

Check out this idea for box truck madness

http://www1.ttcn.ne.jp/~gyo/English/index.htm



But, there are reasons why most people end up doing something similar to what others have done. Not saying it is a bad idea, you just need to have the right reasons for going down your own path.

My first concern is weight. Second, that isn't very stealthy. Third, usability - where are you going to put a door? You can't use the back doors exclusively because they lock from the outside. Fourth - width.

As far as equipment attachments, most of the items in most builds end up bolted in. I've only seen a couple of builds where all the cabinets were glued to the shell. Even in that case all the expensive systems elements (plywood is cheap, energy storage and delivery is not) were still bolted to something.

As we finalize our design, we are ranking things by how many days per year feature x is important. That has helped us refine what we really want vs what we think would be cool.
Ya we have definitely checked out those high school prodigy's work! Tons of fun. At one point we were looking at wing bodys to do something similar but decided to scale it on back ahahah.

I'm curious about the weight issue, you are the second to bring it up. Unsure of it myself but please vet my logic. The Ram Promaster is made to take commercial box truck bases and be loaded up with all sorts of cargo and tools. It seems it should be able to take box and cargo considering it has been manufactured with that purpose in mind and has a comparable loading capacity to other vehicles that take on box truck bodies.

See here:


The locking from the outside is a good point! Glad we are discussing this on here! Won't know the width issues fully until getting the actual dimensions from the folks at Meidai.
 

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Hey I reread my post and I should have put a LOL or too in there to show I am not being unkind as I don’t want to offend. Thanks for taking it well. I have my dinky 136” modular conversion van insured as an RV by Progressive Insurance, purchased via the internet with a follow up conversation to get the assurance they understood what I have. I also spoke to one of their adjusters (in the white explorer) to ask how the process of assessing damage and value was done. All my contacts have been positive and I already have motorcycles and a house insured by them, all purchased over the internet. I was allowed to pick an agreed value for my RV which stays in force for 10 years. Think about this as most vehicles and RV’s (and box trucks with bathrooms) depreciate drastically in 10 years. I think insurance companies will be laughing around the water cooler about your idea.
 
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Volume of course does not equal weight, but it does make one wonder. That service body has a lot less usable volume than an open box. Systems (water, batteries, inveters) tend to be pretty heavy. Delivery trucks are not packed to the rafters with similar density. Lord knows Amazon sends me lots of boxes that don't weigh much. I pity the UPS guy when I order my batteries.

Weight isn't bad if it gets you something. That box looks like it is lined with sturdy plywood. That's a lot of weight that gets you nothing.

Search around for discussions (here and the sprinter forum) to see how much weight a typical build has. Then you can do the math on net capacity.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Hey RDinNHandAZ,

No worries and thanks for clarifying your intent. Just took a quick look at the progress you have made on your own rig! Looks clean and sweet!

Explaining the insurance hoops is very helpful. Was the determined insurable value of your build based purely on the stock vehicle value or does it include the rest of the built-in customizations you have made? I would assume they only cover the vehicle, and considering cab-chassis, and PM vans are similar value, I would only be taking the loss of the cost to acquire an outer box/body to mount to the chassis. Is that correct? My bad if I have misunderstood your reply.

I'm sure insurance companies will laugh about this idea, I am too! It's all sorts of crazy but seems to have many of the benefits, function, and value I'm looking for at a minimal entry expense with the benefit of longer term use if the vehicle fails and the living space needs to be swapped to another chassis truck. Your point about the vehicle decreasing in value is one of the main reasons we are thinking about how to swap the living space more easily than unscrewing every bolt and cabinet. I'm sure all the insurance companies find the surge of modified trucks as dwellings to be curious and entertaining. We just find them curious and entertaining for different reasons hahahah!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Volume of course does not equal weight, but it does make one wonder. That service body has a lot less usable volume than an open box. Systems (water, batteries, inveters) tend to be pretty heavy. Delivery trucks are not packed to the rafters with similar density. Lord knows Amazon sends me lots of boxes that don't weigh much. I pity the UPS guy when I order my batteries.

Weight isn't bad if it gets you something. That box looks like it is lined with sturdy plywood. That's a lot of weight that gets you nothing.

Search around for discussions (here and the sprinter forum) to see how much weight a typical build has. Then you can do the math on net capacity.
Great suggestions and follow-up thank you ThomD! I guess the marble spiral staircase might not make the cut eh? ;)
Also need to see how much the balance body weighs and if it comes in a trim that fits the PM chassis.

Any chance you know of any box truck manufacturers in North America or anywhere else making a side swing-open box truck body? Only been able to find the roll top ones used for beverage vendors.
 

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I think it's really cool and opens up possibilities. It will feel completely different from our vans--simply a different animal. Advantages and disadvantages. I guess you're really thinking inside the box instead of out of it. :)

I absolutely love the potential for embracing the rain.

Possibly ship just the box overseas and rent a chassis?

Legal issues appearing to be commercial?

Maneuverability?

You will lose one of the big advantages of the van--the ability to stop for the night in bad weather and never get out into it.

It will be like a house subject to frequent violent earthquakes, so although the build may seem more straightforward, you will still need to follow many of the rules for vehicle builds. For example, I question how well double-pane sliding doors would fare in this environment.

You will not be stealth. In campgrounds, you will attract a lot of attention. Other places, you will look like you have cargo for stealing.
 

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While I think this is a cool idea, I'm skeptical that's you'll be able to import the MEIDAI box affordably if at all.

Have you considered buying a chassis and building your own box? After all this is effectively how class C / B+ RVs are built. When first looking at RVs, I was confounded that many of the class C's were cheaper than their class B counterparts while having more interior room. I'm unsure how this might fit into your shipping plans, but I suppose if you're shipping something in a container it doesn't matter that much what's inside.

Maybe a flat-bed chassis like forum member Swoop has would be a good start for something like this.

 

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Our plan is to build a stealth rig. We were set on using a Ram Promaster Cargo Van 159" WB as the base. Having second thoughts now. Our main concern is that if any issue occurs (collision, damage, lemon etc.) most of the custom fabricated parts are permanently installed into the vehicle. Seems like a recipe for disaster, vehicles are not known to retain their value or be immune to damage.

We have considered making modular components, but thought, why not build a cutaway box truck so that it can be taken on or off if needed? This allows for more flexibility down the line. Yes if we take a direct hit to the box, or flip over then we are still screwed, but a bit less likely (and if we flip we would have more urgent issues I'm sure). Only thing is that most box trucks guzzle gas and are RWD. In comes the Promaster!
Recycling your build should you total your vehicle seems to be your main driving force.

Why not a travel trailer? It stays with you when tow vehicle drops dead?
Why not a truck bed drop in camper? You lift it out and drop into new truck after destroying first one.

As others have said, you can remove just about everything out of a PM build with few exceptions, insulation, flooring, etc.
Lots of expensive components and all sorts of parts are totally recyclable and will integrate into a new and better design.

Most important, unless the PM is destroyed soon after build, will you want that original build back ?
I know I would not keep an older design I came up with as I know I will always be improving that I did yesterday.
Your camper travel priorities will change over time, you will have learned what features work best and which you regret.
 

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Hey RDinNHandAZ,
CUT..... Was the determined insurable value of your build based purely on the stock vehicle value or does it include the rest of the built-in customizations you have made? I would assume they only cover the vehicle, and considering cab-chassis, and PM vans are similar value, I would only be taking the loss of the cost to acquire an outer box/body to mount to the chassis. Is that correct? My bad if I have misunderstood your reply.
CUT........
Since it is covered as an RV it includes the van and interior/exterior modifications. I am allowed to set the value for whatever I want. They then determine the policy cost, obviously higher if I set the value higher. It is possible they would inspect it or balk if I set a value that was clearly unreasonable. I do the same for my motorcycles. It allows one to have an older machine that might not book for as much as you would want back in a crash due to exceptional condition or low mileage or an unusual version of a model. Go to a forum for adventure camping vehicles and ask about insurance.
 
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Buy a 159” or extended diesel. You then get better drivability, 25+ mpg, a van that can look unmodified ...
I'm sorry, but can you clarify where exactly I can buy a new diesel Promaster? Or even a decent used one ? I've been looking and found two diesels with less than 40,000 miles. Both were priced the same as new, and both were reported as buy backs on CarFax.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
I think it's really cool and opens up possibilities. It will feel completely different from our vans--simply a different animal. Advantages and disadvantages. I guess you're really thinking inside the box instead of out of it. :)

I absolutely love the potential for embracing the rain.

Possibly ship just the box overseas and rent a chassis?

Legal issues appearing to be commercial?

Maneuverability?

You will lose one of the big advantages of the van--the ability to stop for the night in bad weather and never get out into it.

It will be like a house subject to frequent violent earthquakes, so although the build may seem more straightforward, you will still need to follow many of the rules for vehicle builds. For example, I question how well double-pane sliding doors would fare in this environment.

You will not be stealth. In campgrounds, you will attract a lot of attention. Other places, you will look like you have cargo for stealing.

Haha definitely thinking "inside the box!" You got it right on the nose :laugh:

The pros and cons you bring up are definitely food for thought, we discussed the lack of pass through and that disadvantage. Contemplated cutting but that seems like forcing it too much. Seen other box trucks that have done it but unsure of if it is too much of a headache getting it to seal nicely.

Yes definitely just ship the box overseas and rent a chassis. We plan to go back to live in Asia at some point in the future and this would make it that much more enjoyable and possible if we could just ship a tiny apartment there (Asia can be expensive! Especially Korea and Japan).

The issues of the sliding doors with all the movement is a good point. They would definitely need a "lock-down" feature for driving.

The stealth debate is hard to know. Although this particular body is never seen in North America, most people out of this "in the box" world will just look at it as a commercial truck. Only those "in the box" (in the know? ;)) aka other vanlifers, expeditioneers, etc. will pick up on it. Unsure of the attention it would receive from Law Enforcement. Does appearing to be commercial but not actually being commercial cause some sort of legality issue?

The ability to close down and open up is like switching between "stealth mode" or "welcoming neighbor mode." That will have to depend upon where we are and how safe it is. We plan to stay in some places for longer durations and want to open up and out to the environment when possible. I definitely agree that it could attract some unwanted attention looking to burglarize. Working on the security and ease of closing/locking up would be a must with the open side Box truck route.

Hmmm all of these replies is really appreciated! Helpful to re-think before diving in.
 

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"We plan to go back to live in Asia at some point in the future and this would make it that much more enjoyable and possible if we could just ship a tiny apartment there (Asia can be expensive! Especially Korea and Japan)."

This is huuuge argument in favor of your box.
 
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