Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What has worked for us and what has not worked.

The Chevy

We opted for the Chevy 1 ton over other platforms solely because the Chevy 6.0L gas engine is sold in South Africa in the Chevy Lumina, and therefore parts, for the engine, would be available. Now if this was sound thinking or not I can’t say as having anything major going wrong with any modern day engine is mush less likely than say 15 or 20 years ago. I think the harsh conditions here in Africa are more likely to cause peripheral parts to fail, i.e. drive train or suspension.

After 3 months and about 9,000 miles and easily 2,500 of them on dirt, the Chevy has exceeded our expectations. It has carried the load of the XP over and through everything and anything including axle deep sticky mud in Etosha, soft slippery sand in Alexander Bay, Etosha & the Kgalagadi and not once has she given up and said no more. Now probably any platform would have done the same, but we know what the Chevy can do and we are pleased.
We did receive a fair amount of criticism from naysayers pointing out, amongst other things, that the gearbox was going to fail, that the front suspension was not built for what we are asking it to do, and then we had the examples of others who have done similar Overland journeys in their Chevys and encouraged us to be brave and, as Nike says, just do it! Rick & Kathy of Travelling Tortuga fame have taken their Chevy from Alaska to the tip of South America and back to Texas, shipped it to Europe, explored the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and then traveled to Eastern Europe. There is also The White Acorn who rode the Ice Road of Alaska before completing a similar journey to the tip of South America in their Chevy.
We did modify the suspension a little including adding Super Springs at the back. They have worked great as they not only help carry the load (our springs are a good 1/8 inch off the helper springs) but they also help control the rocking and rolling which could have been severe on the off-road situations. We installed Bilstiens all round and everyone swears by them, as do we. We also raised the front-end about 2 inches by having Central 4 Wheel Drive in Sacramento install a new key. We had Suma Springs installed in the front which I think was a waste as the new key did all the real raising of the front end. Then of course, we installed the Rickson steel wheels and Michelin XDS tires. I can’t express how much peace of mind these babies have given me. The roads, both dirt and black-top, can be very rough and knowing the problems others have had with stock wheels and having the steel wheels between us and disaster is such a relief. The Rickson’s are not all sweetness and light as they do give you a stiffer ride and restrict how much you can air-down, however this does not compare to the benefits we have received.
Our modifications to the cab, removing the back seat and installing the 4 drawers on each side have worked great.
The Dometic fridge/freezer, we have between the drawer systems in the cab, has been brilliant. We have it running 24/7 at 0 degrees (the lowest setting) and use it as our freezer. We easily have 2 weeks of meat in there at any one time, which is great as you can never be sure when you are going to get good meat again. Actually that hasn’t been much of a problem except in Kgalagadi, but just having multiple choices of what to cook for supper is such a luxury. It also has a small shelf that doesn’t freeze and that is where the day’s beer lives. We have a sealable ice-tray and the freezer makes ice everyday. Oh what luxury in the 116 degrees of the Namib Desert.
Seat covers have been O.K. but I guess we haven’t been out long enough to give an honest opinion on their usefulness, but we have them and like them.
Dash Mat on the other hand is really something you should not do without, especially if you have a black dashboard like us.
Front window shades have been great and again necessary.
Layne’s extremely large front bumper sure looks cool and gets a ton of attention here, but thankfully it hasn’t been put to use yet. Again peace-of-mind can’t be measured.
We have not used the sand-ladders yet. The locking diff and low 4 wheel drive has gotten us out of all of our sticky situations. I think I tend to run in 2 wheel drive a little too long where a more prudent fellow would have switched to 4 wheel drive a little earlier and not have got stuck in the sand or mud. All is well that ends well.
At this stage not having a winch has not presented a problem. I have sat and chatted with many other Overlanders here in Africa and most don’t have winches, many used to carry them and now don’t and those that do haven’t used them much if at all. I think the cool factor for winches is the main selling point. Maybe we will regret it but so far I am happy with our decision to save the weight. We have one on the Xplorer and after 9 years we didn’t use it once to help us, did use it a couple of other times to help others though.
Biggest regret is not getting a new windscreen in the USA before leaving after getting a small star crack. This decision is going to bite me in the ass real soon.
Have not used the small 1000 watt Yamaha generator and probably won’t. That was a waste I think.
Haven’t needed the engine code reader yet, but that was a good investment.
The converter from 220 to 110 has worked great and I would recommend getting one for when you have the chance to get power. They call them power-points here and they are readily available at most campgrounds.
Interesting enough the solar panels are a dilemma here in Africa as the sun is so hot that you always look for the biggest tree to park under for the shade and then of course block the solar panels. We are very glad to have them though.

The XP

We love our XP and know we made the right decision in our choice of campers regardless of what vehicle is carrying it. With that said lets get the very few things that we have problems with out the way.

Stove Control Switch. On our camper the switch is located beneath the stove right next to the bed and because the switch is a push button affair it is real easy to turn the stove on accidently while making the bed or accessing the clothes storage under the bed. We both have turned the stove on accidentally, once with almost disastrous results as I had left the cloth curtain that Annie had made, on the stove while I was changing the sheets on the bed and the curtain smoldered and caught on fire and if I hadn’t returned to the camper with more just washed laundry right about then, we could have lost everything. We now switch the stove on and off with the toggle fuse switch and we haven’t had any more problems. I believe Marc has moved the stove switch on newer builds.

Go-Lights on the rear of the camper. We haven’t used them once and really are unlikely to. The intention was that they would work great for game viewing in the dark as they are remote controlled and we could sit at the dinette and watch game. Not so much. They do draw a tremendous amount of power and if you intend to use them over about say 5 minutes you have to run the engine or you will surely have a flat battery. All except one campsite in the game parks are fenced in to protect you from the animals so therefore no animals to watch and when we wild camped in The Kgalagadi we heard lions in the distance but nothing came close. We find the back-up lights on the flatbed more than adequate if we need to park after sunset which is very seldom. Others might find these lights invaluable, but for us they just haven’t been used and therefore a waste other than for the “cool factor”.

The Grey Water Drain. On our build the drain is poorly located and we need to park with the left side higher than the right for it to be able to drain. This definitely has been fixed on later builds. Marc installed a water pump for us which has helped but still we need to raise the left side on blocks when we want to drain the water. Really not a big deal, but needs, mentioning.

Now for what we like in no particular order.

Diesel stove. Works every time and we use it every day even if it is just to make coffee in the morning. It takes some getting used to, but we both like it and would get it again.

Diesel Dual Top hot water heater and furnace. Furnace is unbelievable, it heats our little home in minutes and it is really very quiet compared to the propane versions we have owned. Hot water heater has worked well for us as well. It too has been used every day as Annie only showers in the XP and we do dishes most times in the XP too. There are some excellent sculleries available at some campgrounds and we will use those when given the chance.

Fridge. 12 volt compressor is great and the positive lock on the door is invaluable.  After spending all day on real rough roads we have come back to chaos in the camper with stuff getting dislodged, but the fridge door has always stayed closed.

Cabin after a particularly bad road.

Water Filter System. The R.O. system with the ceramic filter in front of it for all our drinking water is great and again gives us tremendous peace of mind. The pressure switch that turns it off when the holding tank is full is a little faulty and temperamental but the system works.

Under floor storage and actually all the storage has been more than adequate.

Shower and Cassette toilet. I would never get another rig without a cassette toilet again. Have dumped the cassette in pit toilets, regular toilets and chemical toilet drains without ever having a spill. The system is great.

The Froli mattress system is brilliant. As matter of fact it is the thing that gets the most comments when we show the XP to others, and we have shown it many, many times. It is comfortable and extremely functional. Keeping the foam mattress away from the fiberglass and any moisture that can cause mildew is what it is all about.

Hydraulic System. Never failed and really a big wow factor. It has sat a little uneven when we have lowered it a couple of times and we spoke to the manufacture in Kentucky about this and he said not to worry as it would correct itself after a couple of times of lifting and lowering it. He was absolutely right.

Table under the flatbed with the storage bin light. Love it and use it almost daily to BBQ on.

Table out with Cobb grill doing its stuff.
Dual fans. The location and idea is great, I just wish they were Fantastic Vents as we never had problems with them which I can’t say is true for these ones.

Windows with integrated blinds and mossie nets. Great…. Especially the large window in the back. Really missed it when it broke and we had to have garbage bags taped over it to keep the rain out.

Annie says she loves the shower and cassette toilet and really wouldn’t know what she would have done without them. Plus she really likes the big skylight over the bed for the all light it lets in.

Peripheral stuff like the collapsible bucket and Cobb Grill are both indispensible. It is funny how the little stuff makes life on the road easier.

Driving down the road I don’t even know we have the XP on the truck. Everything is very balanced and feels very safe. Parked we have more than enough room and seldom get in each others way. Having hard sides in the living area makes us feel very safe at night and yes we have soft sides around the bed but it is pretty high off the ground and also feels very safe. Not having a crawl-through from the cab to the cabin is a bit of an issue, I think, in a very dangerous situation but hopefully we will never find out. The remote start of the Chevy engine might be an interesting ploy……

We do not regret any decisions we have made and are truly happy with both the XP and the Chevy. If we haven’t made ourselves clear on anything, please comment as we will do our best to explain things a little better. Once again we are not sponsored by anyone and as such are free from restraints. 


  1. Frank - Happy to hear that all is well.

    Some questions (when you have time):
    1. What size Michelin XDS tires do you have?
    2. Have you encountered any heavy rains? How do the cabover softsides handle it?
    3. Do you have the "hard sided panel" option? Use them?
    4. With the heat you've encountered - are the two ceiling mounted fans able to cool things down? I've talked to Marc about replacing the two with a single MaxxAir fan, thinking that one very good fan should work. Any thoughts?
    4. How many solar panels do your have?
    5. How many batteries?

    Thanks - travel safe.


    1. Hey Steve,


      1. The Michelin XDS are 245 70R 19.5 on Rickson steel wheels. If you go with Rickson 19.5 wheels, depending on the tire, you might need to go with drive treads at the back and steering treads up front, but we found that the XDS work great both as drive and steer tires. Although we raised the front about 2 inches we still needed to modify the wheel well a little to accommodate the much larger tires.
      2. Torrential down pours and the tent does not leak at all. We will get some condensation, when it is cold, on the clear plastic windows but it is minimal compared to other experiences we have had. Camper is extremely dry during the rain if you remember to close the vents….
      3. Do have the ‘hard side panels’, but didn’t bring them with us as we found the soft sides to be better and have not missed them at all.
      4. Between the huge over the bed vent, all the windows and the 2 vents we have found the ventilation to be more than adequate. We have a 12 volt Fantastic Box Fan that we move around to be the ultimate answer for the very hot days and nights. Because it is movable you can blow the air directly onto yourself. Having 2 vents is great, suck out kitchen fumes from right over the stove and suck out bathroom air directly both smelly air or damp air while showering. With one vent you would suck air through the camper before it is expelled.
      5. We have 2 solar panels. Opted to remove 1 panel to save the weight. As we seldom sit for more than a couple of days at a time the 2 panels have worked very well for us. We did bring a small 1000 watt Yamaha generator, just in case and we haven’t even put gas into it yet. Biggest waste of space and money so far.
      6. 2 x 6 volt AGMs. Again opted out of 4 batteries because of the weight.

      Good luck,


  2. Frank - Thanks for the great information. It's very helpful hearing from someone who is out in the real world (actually, much harsher than most of us will encounter) with the XPCamper.

    One more question (always seems to be just "one" more) how are the steps holding up? That's the only part of the XP that looks a little shaky to me.

    Again, thanks.


    1. Steve,

      You must remember that ours was the first production XP and the first flatbed that Layne built and keeping that in mind when we picked-up the XP and went on a shakedown camping trip with Marc and the steps actually bent under Marc’s weight (he is bigger than you think, maybe it’s all that beer!). So we went back to Layne and he redesigned the steps to what we have today. We have not had any problems with the new steps at all and we obviously use them daily and most days we will have visitors and they may stand a couple abreast on the steps to see inside the camper!

      No problem on the questions, I find it fun to answer them.