Most heavy-duty eight-lug trucks have a function in life—they are either used for work or play—and if you’ve followed The Turtle Expedition over the years in publications like Diesel Power, Four Wheeler, Off-Road, 8-Lug, and other truck and RV magazines, you have seen that we’ve tried to make work and play synonymous. For The Turtle Expedition, work has been to travel to some of the most remote parts of the globe.

The concept of expedition travel is not new. Europeans have been exploring the world since Leif Ericson, who is regarded as the first European to land in North America, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus in 1492. And we can’t forget Marco Polo, who traveled through Asia in the 1200s.

Today, if a German, Swiss, Austrian, Italian, or anyone from that part of the world wants an adventure, there are choices. They could climb Mt. Everest and die in a crevasse or just freeze their toes off. They could sail around the world. That’s a bit scary and expensive, and besides, some people get seasick looking at a glass of water.

Then there is overland travel—which seems to have caught on. While it can involve four-wheeling, overland travelers follow roads. They are sometimes very bad roads, but from two-tracks across Mongolia to ice roads up frozen rivers, they are roads nonetheless.

If you live in Europe, there is not much adventure left, so you ship from Spain to Morocco, or from Italy to Tunisia. Now you’re getting into the Sahara, and you need a vehicle, more or less self-contained, that can go 1,000 miles over very bad roads, carry water and food for a few weeks, and not break. Sort of like a blue-water yacht but with four-wheel drive. Get the picture? This is not a Winnebago.

Companies like Unicat (www.unicat.net), Langer & Bock (www.langerundbock.com), and Alu-Star (www.alu-star.com) have been building expedition campers for more than 25 years. They are meticulously engineered, but at a price. In our humble opinion, based on 38 years of combining work and play, the best overland travel vehicle foundation is an American eight-lug HD pickup.

Despite the growing popularity of overland travel, no company in the United States has been able to match the quality and engineering of the Europeans—until now. Enter Global Expedition Vehicles (www.globalXvehicles.com). After a yearlong circumnavigation of South America in their custom Unimog U500 camper, Mike and Rene Van Pelt were hooked. About the same time, the newest segment of vehicle recreation was just starting to open its eyes. Not rockcrawling. Not four-wheeling over the Rubicon. The goal was to get away from the public campgrounds and explore. Some, like The Turtle Expedition (www.turtleexpedition.com), will drive around the world. For others, a week in the desert or a month in Mexico is adventure enough.

Global Expedition Vehicles has designed and built more than 20 unique expedition trucks, mostly on larger Mercedes and big International 7400 4x4s. We have been politely suggesting that the majority of roads in the Western Hemisphere were made by American pickups like our own Turtle V with its European-design Tortuga Expedition Camper. We think Mike and Rene were listening, because at Overland Expo 2011, with our permission to use the name, they introduced the GXV Turtle. There were striking similarities. We were invited to their manufacturing facilities in Nixa, Missouri, to see the first GXV Turtle just as it was being delivered to a Dutch couple headed around the world.

Building a true “expedition” camper is no small endeavor. GXV started with an ’11 F-550 4x4 cab and chassis with Ford’s new 6.7L Power Stroke turbodiesel engine. An intimidating TrailReady bumper should keep cows and kangaroos out of the radiator. A 16,500-pound Warn winch and a bank of Hella lights are not just for looks. A factory limited slip rear differential will help keep this 14,000-pound truck moving. There is an optional front ARB if requested.

The suspension was completely converted to a full self-leveling Kelderman airbag system, controlled by a pair of Viair air compressors, two reserve air tanks, and a block of solenoids that allows the driver to level the vehicle from inside the cab. Bilstein remote reservoir shocks are used on all four corners.

The first thing to correct was the dual rears, which just don’t work too well on backroads. They were converted to singles with Hutchinson beadlock wheels using custom spacers. On the ground, 285/70R 19.5 Michelin XDE2 tires give adequate traction. The two rear-mounted spares can be lowered with small, electric winches.

The second problem to overcome was international fuel compatibility. By installing a Black Maxx controller with an H&S XRT Pro/MBRP DPF delete kit and a Flo-Pro Performance exhaust, this 6.7L Power Stroke will burn anything you pour in the tank, including full-sulphur diesel. No sensors are needed. This conversion requires the vehicle be registered for export and/or off-road use only. The F-550 is fitted with both the primary and optional factory tanks, for a total of 59 gallons.

The third reality to deal with is the fact that you cannot twist a box. It will break. Driving a normal U.S. RV on 20 miles of forest service road might be OK. Stretch that road to a couple thousand miles with plenty of 3-inch corrugation and a few washouts, and you will find out why you can’t twist a box. The solution used for virtually all European expedition campers is to incorporate a three-point mounting system, so the frame and suspension can do whatever the road demands, but the camper (the box), is not trying to tear itself in half. All GXV vehicles use a carefully engineered three-point GXV-Kinetic Attachment Mounting System, which incorporates two structural isolation-bearing points in front and a large pivot point in the back.

With those critical issues out of the way, the camper was designed. The GXV Turtle is built of SCS (Structural Composite Sandwich) 3-ply body panels with a wall thickness of 2.36 inches and an insulation rating of R20. The SCS floor is 4.3 inches thick. All windows are German-made Seitz dual-pane with integrated blinds and mosquito screens. Dometic skylights also feature integrated blinds and mosquito screens.

An enclosed bathroom has a sink, a shower, and a Thetford cassette toilet. In Europe and many other countries around the world, there are no dump stations as we know them here. All RVs use the cassette system. An 18-gallon gray-water holding tank empties with a remote cable, and if needed, a collapsible drain hose.

“Despite the growing popularity of overland travel, no company in the United States has been able to match the quality and engineering of the Europeans—until now.”

A 175-watt solar panel keeps two 210 Ah AGM deep-cycle batteries charged. The electrical system is configured for 220/240 volts, a more international standard. A 220V to 110V converter is used in North America. All circuits for both 12V and 220/110V run through marine-style circuit breakers on a master control panel just inside the entry.

A Wabasto combination forced-air furnace and hot water heater runs on diesel. Fresh water capacity is 48 gallons, connected to an optional microbiological purifier. The kitchen area uses a diesel two-burner cooktop and a convection microwave. The Dutch couple added a pod-style coffee machine.

Several options on this first GXV Turtle caught our attention. The Natura oversize window next to the dinette brings the outdoors inside and the slide-out rear extension allows for a queen-size bed to run lengthwise in the camper. A 6,500-Btu air conditioner is a luxury, as is the large plasma TV and a sound system set up for an iPod. A full-length electric awning rolls out with a push of a button. A bike rack and additional storage were provided both at the rear and on the cabover rack.

They say imitation is the greatest complement you can receive, so we are pleased GXV wanted to name its latest model a Turtle, and we think the company is on track to attract the growing number of overland travel enthusiasts, both in the U.S. and abroad—many of whom are already familiar with the performance and reliability of eight-lug HD American pickups.

SOURCE
Global Expedition Vehicles
417-582-5050
www.globalxvehicles.com
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