Interested in building a truck camper rig using a classic truck? Mark Cymbaluk, owner of Overland Explorer Vehicles, did just that using a 1965 Chevy C30 and one of his Summit chassis-mounted campers. Here’s how Mark did it in his own words.
I’ve been a fan of vintage trucks all my life. I’m not a brand specific guy so this could have easily ended up being a vintage Ford as well, would just have the right parts put into it.
The truck is originally a 1965 Chevy C30. It was a grain truck on a farm in the foothills not too far from home. I bought it off the original owner with 52,000 original miles on the odometer. Originally, I was going to try and keep the original paint and patina on the truck, as it was in very good condition. However, there was just enough rust in the wrong places to stay on that course, so everything was completely stripped down for a full restoration.
The original chassis was in excellent condition, so it was retained. I then sourced a low mileage 2010 F-350 theft recovered Ford Super Duty. GVW on that truck was 11,400 pounds with 5,600-pound front axle rating, and 7,000-pound rear axle rating. The F-350 axles were chosen for the build based on my personal history. I owned a high-end four-wheel-drive shop for years, and have been involved in the automotive industry since 1985 full time. Of all the front ends that we used to rebuild in the my 4WD shop, the Ford Dana 60 front was one that seemed to hold up the best, followed closely by the Dodge AAM. These were trucks that got the tar beat out of them in the energy industry, most running 35- to 37-inch rubber on rough gravel roads. As for rear axles, they are all pretty stout. Both axles were completely gone through.
The Ford spring hangers were grafted onto the General Motors frame, but new stock Ford rear leafs were used. On the front, custom radius arm brackets and coil towers were fabricated and grafted to the General Motors frame. As the coil spacing was a little wider than the frame, crossover towers and braces were fabricated to tie the top of the coil towers together to eliminate any flex that may occur. The engine cross member completes the structural package on the bottom side. Right now, a set of Rancho RS9000xl shocks are on the truck, but the final verdict is not in yet. I also used Timbren active off-road bump stops front and rear.
I contemplated the engine choice for awhile. While I thought a 12 valve Cummins would be natural, I decided against it. I wanted something quieter, and lighter on the front end. I ended up going with a mostly stock General Motors 454. I am just under 300 horsepower and 500 foot pounds of torque at 1,900 rpm, right where this truck runs at 62 mph in fourth gear, and 75 mph in fifth. This was accomplished with the help of a set of headers with a free-flowing exhaust that is fabricated with mandrel bends, aftermarket intake, carburetor, and a distributor curved for the engine and its application. Transmission choice is a NVG4500 backed up with a Borg Warner 1356 transfer case. Reliability and ease of service were the primary factors.
The cab was blasted with a walnut shell media so the metal was not distorted with the process. After that the inner and outer rockers were replaced, along with the very bottom of the cab corners. The doors, fenders, inner fenders, and hood were all replaced with aftermarket sheet metal. The chassis was media blasted and powder coated, along with all of the small chassis parts.
The truck was reassembled using all grade-8 fasteners, Aeroquip lines control all fluid transfer. The fuel lines, and any hydraulic return lines are all the same for redundancy, I have a small roll in the tool box on the truck with a few assorted fittings just in case. Autometer gauges take care of monitoring the engine, a set of Sprinter bucket seats with leather covers look after the seating. A custom front bumper was designed to keep the vintage lines with some modern touches, a Warn 12,000-pound winch that I have had for about 25 years filled the bumper.
The cabin is the prototype for our current Overland Explorer Vehicles Summit expedition cabin. This chassis-mounted cabin is designed to hit the one-ton truck market, and have some capacity to spare. The cabin is designed in such a way that the subframe is incorporated into the body, rather than having the body sitting on top of the subframe. This accomplished a few things, all of the heavy bulky components are now in the floor of the truck, only a couple of inches above the truck frame. This lowers the center of gravity immensely, and allows us to locate heavy components to maximize chassis capacities when working with lower weight limits, effectively allowing us to take advantage of front axle capacity. This makes for a much nicer driving experience when we can balance the weight properly. This also keeps all of our tanks, fresh and grey in a heated environment, and all of our cabinets are free, there is no cabinetry used for heaters, tanks, pumps, batteries, or other components. Our floor stays nice and warm. The cabin is mounted to the frame with a three-point mounting system that isolates it from any chassis induced stress.
The walls are our proprietary honey comb skinned foam core panels, that are made in the USA to our specification, the floors are honeycomb core. At Overland Explorer Vehicles, we use several different composites, each is application specific, to achieve the highest strength and insulation value for each application. All of our composites have actual automotive gel coat finishes with actual fiberglass skins. We don’t glue FRP skins onto a foam core and call it done, we have seen enough issues with that process, and have had a couple of our own, so we decided to engineer the problem right out of the product rather than come up with a band aid to repair a future problem. The body is wrapped and corners reinforced with our own aluminum extrusions that are made right here in Alberta, Canada. There is absolutely no wood in any of the body, sometimes it gets used as a counter top, and that’s where it belongs…. sometimes. I’ve never seen a rotten counter top.
All Overland Explorer Vehicles cabinetry is 5052 marine grade aluminum. Different thicknesses are used in different components to control weight and structural integrity. In this specific unit all of the upper cabinets are made with .063 6061 aluminum to reduce weight, and so far, they are proving plenty strong and weigh almost nothing. All cabinetry is powder coated inside and out; we have our own in-house NACE certified powder coating facility that operates under the “Go Powder” name. All cabinets are media blasted prior to coating, there simply is no substitute for media blasting to prepare for coating. The media blast room for aluminum, is specifically for aluminum. This all makes for an easily customized color selection, and a finish that is ultra-tough, beyond durable. All cabinet doors are polymer, with stainless full-length piano hinges, and Southco compression latches, they do not rattle.
The C-shape dinette in the rear is standard, and provides a very roomy seating area that turns into a bed. This particular unit has a propane cook top; fuel is stored in a Viking composite cylinder. Heat and hot water are provided by our own hydronic system which uses a Webasto boiler that runs off of the trucks fuel tank. Propane was selected for a cooking source due to the fact that we are going to be carrying propane for the barbecue and outside cooking gear which we used almost exclusively, now we just plug a line in for the outside stuff, 20 pounds of propane will go a long time when you’re just cooking with it. There are disadvantages to propane and we will see where they show up in this rig, today none other than a little lost storage. A full wet bath with a cassette toilet is standard and very roomy, hangers inside the wet bath let it perform double duty as a closet.
The power system is a 340 amp hour Victron AGM battery bank with 340 watts of solar, and a 2,000 watt inverter-charger. A Victron BVM 702 battery monitor keeps track of the system.
A Nova Kool R3800 100L DC compressor refrigerator keeps the food cool with low power draw, and is located under the cook top. Opposite the galley we have a “second” galley where the sink is located, we did this to get more counter and work space, the cabinets below are substantial. The water capacity is 45 gallons with room to expand, and grey water capacity is 25 gallons. As well the chassis is connected to the trucks cooling system so the cabin stays warm if required while driving, and the engine can be pre-heated with the cabins hydronic system if required, all controlled with two valves in the utility compartment. Both systems can be isolated as well.
Moving to the outside of the body, windows are Seitz, and doors are Arctic Tern. Lower cabinets offer additional storage, and are powder coated aluminum with Southco hardware. The rear tire carrier is aluminum with the tire mounting bracket constructed from steel. The carrier fastens to the perimeter extrusions and is also bonded to the wall, there is a tray above the tire that will hold two 5-gallon Jerry cans, or anything else that fits. You can also use the tray to attach a spare tire winch if required, I have a 4:1 block and tackle that works really slick. The ladder on this unit is also kept high off of the ground, in most cases I pull a motorcycle trailer which makes it easy to get up and down. The entry door in this unit is dropped down, the only advantage is a little easier ingress and egress, but at a loss of some really good storage space which I would rather have today. Under the door is a quick pin-on aluminum step, the step is removable and very stout.
As far as the weight, the truck came in on target. I strived to stay under 10,000 pounds and we made it. As it sits, full of fuel, gear and two people, we hit the scales. The front axle came in at 4,100 pounds, the rear axle came in at 5,621 pounds, and total weight was 9,721 pounds. The truck handles the load easily and on the first trip returned 10 mpg average. The engine stayed on the thermostat, and the cab was surprisingly quieter than I expected, a lot of Dynamat gets the credit for that!
I love my truck. It’s working better than I expected. After a couple of trips and a good shakedown runs there were few issues to resolve. Other than re-torquing the wheels, U-bolts, general drive line inspection, I have replaced the power steering pump as it never seemed to operate quietly, and the Victron battery monitor crapped the bed so it was replaced. The truck handles rough roads pretty good, and is very quiet, even with the small pass through everything in the Summit cabin was very secure, no rattles. The truck cruises comfortably between 68 and 75 mph, passing slower traffic is not an issue.
Great article and very timely. I am in the re-assembly phase of a 1966 Chevy K20 to be used for back country exploring . Thanks!
Please post pics when you are done. We’d love to see it.
What is the hight of this camper after mounting on a flat bed?