“Well, it’s a step up from swagging it I guess; we pick a spot to camp and go for it!” said Andy Harrison with a grin as he nodded towards his 1987 Mercedes Unimog 1700-litre off-road camper, which has been a back-shed project of his for the last couple of years.
Somewhat of a departure from a Nissan Patrol or Toyota Landcruiser with a caravan, Andy’s ‘Mog’ has been kitted out to leave the blacktop far behind.
Andy had the Unimog on show at Echuca’s American Iron Show in September, just over the Murray River from his home base of Moama, with the big Mercedes having been modified over the last couple of years.
“It was just prior to Covid, I wanted to get an army truck for a project and deck it out as a camper,” he explained.
“We tried to pick up a couple at Bandiana at the army auctions and didn’t do any good but got this one privately in Albury – it was a troop carrier with the flat tray with canvas and the bench seats in the back, so we just gutted it, stripped it back and went from there.”
Keeping the original tray and frame, Andy had zips put into the canvas sides and began the fit out of the rear deck, completing much of the work at home.
“I’m a jack-of-all-trades, I don’t mind tinkering and welding in the shed; so, I just nipped down to Bunnings for some merbau decking, got some LED lights off eBay and went from there. It has a double bed, TV, diesel heater, slide out dunny, shower and of course the grog fridge,” he said with a smile.
On the exterior, the outfit is kitted out with a couple of solar panels on the roof with a couple of plug-in panels to keep all the gear fully charged, and on the outside there are a myriad of accessories including mountain bike racks, a slide out barbecue, a rear deck and plenty of LED lighting.
Andy has also fitted communications gear and 24-volt winches to both the front and the back of the ‘Benz in case he finds himself in a predicament off-road; “If you get stuck in one of these you often have to get yourself out,” he said.
The Mercedes was purchased with only 19,000 kilometres on the clock and was in good condition mechanically. Andy undertook a few modifications to get the Mercedes riding nicely on the road, without losing its off-road prowess.
“Ben Nash, a mate of mine from Mog Central in Canberra was a big help, he supplied the wheels and helped with the fit-out.
“It’s not a fast truck – it will chug along at 85-90km/h but with the coil suspension it holds the road beautifully. They are fairly foolproof and there was nothing wrong with it mechanically, all we needed to do for the roadworthy was fix a tear in the driver’s seat,” he said.
The Mercedes is fitted out with Michelin 395/85-R20’s which have a ‘run flat’ capability and obviously have a considerable footprint on the ground, which also enhances the ability of the truck to tackle just about everything off road.
“It’s ridiculous really, it has shocked me where it can go, we had some young blokes come up from Melbourne with their four-wheel drives to do some of the Victorian high-country tracks and they were amazed where we went – it’s very capable” he said.
Andy and partner Donna have taken to Mercedes down the Mornington Peninsula and have also had a few trips to the Victorian high country hitting a few tracks with their mountain bikes which ride neatly on the back of the truck.
Andy is currently working on getting some water tanks built and fitted to extend the unit’s ability to keep ‘off the grid’, and he reckons for the money he has invested the project has been a worthwhile one.
“The truck cost us $17,000 and we have probably spent that much again on fitting it out to suit our needs, to get a new Land Cruiser and caravan you’d be looking at a couple of hundred thousand dollars.”
The Unimog was getting plenty of interested onlookers at Echuca and Andy reckoned the truck always seems to pull a crowd whenever they set up camp. But his efforts have paid dividends, allowing Andy and Donna to get out and explore and enjoy what Australia has to offer.
“We’ve got the house on the back and we’re in no rush to get anywhere – when we do, we can have it set up and be cooking a feed in 15 minutes.
“We have got the rear deck there to chill out, so we just back her right up to the riverbank, sit on the back with a beer and chuck a rod in, its bloody perfect!”