We bought our new Laika in July 2012 after first owning a Rimor Sailor 747 followed by a Rapido 966M A Class, having cut our teeth on these first two we had a better idea of our needs with regards to size and layout which always ends in some form of compromise.
We bought all three from Southdowns Motorhomes in Portsmouth who have so far provided us with good service although this can be quite challenging at times as parts from manufacturers are not always supplied with any urgency.
Our Laika is Italian built and is 25ft long being based on a Fiat Ducato chassis with a 180hp 4cyl turbo diesel. It has an Alko extension chassis to provide support for the additional length which also introduces a rear torsion bar suspension instead of the standard leaf spring. We have now had fitted full VB air suspension with Auto Levelling which is a great improvement to the overall ride experience. We also had the Diesel engine remapped which has provided more horsepower and low down torque.
After some 5 years of exploring Europe we now have itchy feet to see more of the world and to this end we are in the process of building an Expedition Truck which will allow us to travel much further distances and live off grid for extended periods. After a lot of research and travelling to visit a number of builders we settled on finding the right truck ourselves as this was to be the workhorse of our future travels and there were a number of specifics that we required.
The standard truck cab we felt was too small and most seem to come in three sizes, standard with two seats and no room behind, sleeper with limited space behind the seats for a fold up bunk and lastly a crew cab which seemed the most versatile with space for four seats and the possibility of a fold up bunk for unexpected guests!!
Next it needed to be 4×4 and preferably with an automatic gearbox as over longer distances gear changing is laborious. Getting to the nitty gritty, the power plant would have to be of a good sized horsepower with minimal electronics and little in the way of emission controls which can be difficult to diagnose when things go wrong as I have previously experienced with my Laika.
Lastly what weight carrying capacity would we need, this wasn’t too difficult to arrive at as once we started to add the liquid tankage weights, living box weights and additional equipment we soon decided that staying under the HGV license requirement of 7.5 ton was not going to be possible. Pause for thought here as we would have to pass the HGV rigid test to drive anything over 7.5 ton, our calculations indicated a gross weight of some 10/12 ton and this was a best guess and we know in reality it might well exceed this.
After a visit to an Expedition Truck builder in the Netherlands we were shown a number of new MAN trucks they had for sale but this route was too expensive so we set about searching the internet for a suitable used truck and struck lucky in finding an ex fire tender in Preston, Lancs.
It was a 2003 MAN 18.280 4×4 crew cab with ZF auto gearbox and only 17000km on the clock, great it satisfied most of our requirements, the designation of 18.280 refers to 18 ton and 280 hp. I contacted the dealer and asked him to hold it until we were back in the UK and could travel to Preston to check it out. It was everything we wanted and had been used by the Dorset Fire Brigade to carry 3 km of flat hose to assist in fighting forest fires, the condition was very good and it had been well looked after. We agreed a price after some haggling and were the proud owners of a fire tender, the start of another adventure, but hold on a minute neither of us could legally drive it.
On returning home we called the dealer and he kindly agreed to keep it until we knew what to do with it.
One of our visits to builders had taken us to Poland to visit Gekkotruck who organised a number of builds through various specialist contractors in Poznan, so it was that we agreed for Gekkotruck to organise the build for us. We then managed to find a transport company to move the fire truck from Preston to Poznan, Poland and thus began our next adventure.