This is the second in a series of “in the spotlight” articles that profiles a head-turning truck and truck camper combo. In this article, Truck Camper Adventure takes a look at an unconventional yet extremely cool approach to an off-road, expedition truck camper rig.
Did you ever come across a classic car, RV, or truck that absolutely made you drool? I’m sure we all have a one time or another. Well, at a recent Overland Expo I had to break out the bib and hanky after laying eyes on a Unimog U500NA mated with a custom Phoenix pop-up truck camper. When it comes to off-roading, there are few trucks more capable than the German-made Unimog. The Unimog is a multi-purpose, automatic, 4×4, medium truck manufactured by Mercedes-Benz. Due to its high clearance and off-road capabilities, it’s a popular choice in the agricultural, construction, and firefighting communities as well as in the forest ranger and overland expedition communities. The Unimog also excels in snow removal and as a heavy-duty equipment carrier.
Unfortunately, the Unimog is rare sight here in the United States. This is due primarily to differing vehicle regulations and emission requirements from those found in Europe. Most of the Unimog models in the U.S. are either older models from the 70s or those that have been recently imported by dealerships and by overland enthusiasts. Indeed, Freightliner, a Daimler-Chrysler subsidiary, tried to penetrate the North American market in 2002 with the U500 series, but after five years was able to sell only 184 units. Daimler-Chrysler claimed that the reason for pulling out of the North American market was the U.S. government’s new and more stringent emission requirements, but poor sales was no doubt a significant factor as well.
For this particular build, the owner purchased a 2002 Unimog U500NA with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds. The curbweight of the truck is 16,000 pounds which yields a maximum payload of 10,000 pounds. This Unimog features front, center and rear differential locks, a 60 gallon diesel fuel tank, a chrome vertical exhaust, a transmission oil cooler, a 270 ampere alternator, a 1,500 watt electrical engine pre-heater, and a fuel-water separator with a fuel heater. The diesel engine produces an impressive 285 horsepower at 811 foot-pounds that can turn the massive 395/85 R20 Michelin XZL L1 168G all-terrain tires a maximum of 70 MPH. The truck also includes a tire pressure monitoring system for all of the tires and a Warn 16,000 pound heavy-duty hydraulic winch.
This Unimog features an 11-foot-long, aluminum truck bed custom-made by Campa USA. It was designed to hold an 80 gallon auxiliary diesel fuel tank for the truck and all five holding tanks for the truck camper. These include three separate 50 gallon fresh water tanks, one 40 gallon black tank, and one 45 gallon gray tank. The first 2 feet behind the cab of the truck is dedicated to holding necessary implements: a massive, custom-made spare tire carrier, a Honda EU2000i generator to run the camper’s air conditioner, and tools. The camper occupies the remaining 9 feet of the truck bed with the camper overhanging the rear of the bed by 1 foot.
The design and construction of the custom-made Phoenix pop-up truck camper is equally impressive. It features a full-size queen bed, a massive dinette, a push-button lift for the truck camper’s top, a large wet bath, and a full-size kitchen with a stainless steel kitchen counter top. The camper is built to boondock. It’s equipped with four batteries providing 450 amp hours of power, a 5,000 watt inverter, and four 20 pound propane tanks. The owner requested a utilitarian, no frills design of the interior, so you won’t see a lot of foo-foo in it like you would in a modern motorhome or 5th wheel. The camper is 120 inches long and 90 inches wide. The height from the floor to the cabover is 66 inches with the height of the pop-up top fully extended an amazing 8.5 feet. The camper is also outfitted with custom aluminum steps, heavy-duty ratchet strap tie downs, and removable heavy-duty corner jacks.
The Unimog and Phoenix camper combo make a terrific expedition rig. In fact there are few truck campers more off-road capable and impressive looking than this one. Unfortunately, the exorbitant cost associated with owning a Unimog—a used one can easily set you back $110,000—puts it out of reach for most truck camper and overland enthusiasts. Nevertheless, it nice to stare at the pictures and dream of owning this very cool recreational rig.
A special thanks to Rob Rowe, the owner of Phoenix Campers, who provided photos and information to help make this article possible.