More Than Just Another RV

It’s a RV. It’s a tank. It’s a little bit of everything.

An SAARV is more than just the sum of its parts. These recreational vehicles take RVing into a whole other strata with increased range, more features, and a more rugged design. (Photo: ETL Overland)

 

Writer Clark Burbidge is hardly a doomsday prepper. He’s an outdoorsman, and while there are similarities, the end of the world isn’t his reason for purchasing his own SARRV—Survival Adventure Rescue/Recreation Vehicle.

Hoping to build a vehicle to deal with any natural or man-made eventuality, Burbidge approached Plan B Supply in northern Utah. Plan B starts with military surplus vehicles, then builds them up according to the customer’s needs and wants. After acquiring the proper base chassis platform, Plan B partners with ETL Overland to create and build the “box” of the vehicle—the living/working/recreation space.

The most popular platform is the Freightliner M916, a six-wheel drive, heavy-haul military truck that provides “the best balance of day-to-day usability and off-road capability,” according to Andrew Soulakis of ETL Overland. However, Burbidge’s build started with the M927 five-ton truck chassis.

 

SAARVs start with a basic design and adapt as the customer’s preferences are incorporated.

 

Burbidge has worked with Plan B to create a vehicle that can be used for camping but can also perform in case it is impossible to return home. The rig has the capacity to sleep eight and uses no propane, gas, or other flammable liquids; the camper is entirely solar powered. It has 300 gallons of water storage and 150-gallon diesel tanks sufficient for a range of about 1,500 miles. It has a bathroom, shower, and all the necessary hook-ups to use as an RV. It has a full kitchen with a marine refrigerator, and its radiant heating and blowers are sufficient even on the coldest days. Add satellite TV, a full entertainment system, and an invertor system (of course), and you are self-contained.

An added bonus: Its shell is completely coated in bed-liner material for protection.

A reasonable concern is what it’s like to drive a 13½-foot-high, 36-foot-long vehicle. Not to worry; there are three back-up cameras to help maneuver. Air-ride seats provide a smooth ride, and while it’s not a speedster, the rig’s top speed of 65 mph can get you where you need to go in plenty of time.

 

Not quite the typical RV dashboard, is it? (Photo: Alan Peterson)

 

“It takes a little practice to learn its turning radius and backup, but it is surprisingly easy to drive,”Burbidge said.

Clark: “It’s a vehicle that can be taken anywhere.”

Adds, Soulakis, “You do not travel subtly when you are in one of these.”

Burbidge also saw his customized rig as a chance to create a unique promotional opportunity for his writing career. Clark is currently working on his eighth book, writing family-values-oriented fiction and non-fiction (giantsinthelandbook.com and starpassagebook.com). His last five books have each received the gold medal from the International Mom’s Choice Awards Association. Anywhere the vehicle arrives, it draws a crowd . . . and an opportunity to promote his work.

 

Clark Burbidge’S SAARV allows him plenty of conversation-starter material when he talks writing with potential readers. (Photo: Alan Peterson)

 

The reactions on the road are uniformly positive.

“No one has ever seen anything like it. It is kind of fun to share it with them,” said Clark. “The more they see of it, the better they like it. Women love the inside because [my wife] designed it to feel like home.”

To anyone considering such an acquisition, Burbidge gives the following advice: “It is a fun process. However, it is like building a home, so allow a good year and then a few more months for shakedown.

“Traditional RVs and even expedition vehicles pale in comparison.”

Soulakis indicates that a reasonable budget for an SARRV is between $150,000 and $350,000 depending on the size, components, and finish level.

 

The ruggedness of an SAARV is for the outside. Inside it’s all luxury. (Photo: Alan Peterson)

 

In addition to Plan B Supply, there are several other SARRV outfits to consider.

Started in 1961, Sportsmobile is the cornerstone of the “vehicle conversion” market, with clients all over the world. Specializing in conversion of vans, Sportsmobile has built thousands of rock-crawlers, photo vans, mobile artist studios, watersports rigs, dog vans, and, if your Dave Clark Five Tribute Band needs a ride, Sportsmobile can set you up in style. A Sportsmobile conversion will set you back $80,000-$90,000 without fancy add-ons.

Focusing on builds based on the Ford F-550, EarthRoamer calls their hand-crafted off-roaders “XV’s”—Expedition Vehicles—to differentiate them from RVs. Now they are “x-panding” to build on the powerful F-750 truck platform. The company holds annual “EarthRoamer Owner’s Rallies” near their Colorado HQ. A used XV goes for $195,000 on their website.

If you need more “capability,” you can go for the Maximog, built on the Mercedes Unimog platform. The Maxi comes with its own unmanned aerial vehicle, undersea vehicle, and motorcycle housed in a custom trailer.

If you can’t find an “EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle” like Bill Murray in Stripes and you can’t borrow the Batmobile, it’s time to start looking at building your own Survival Adventure Rescue/Recreation Vehicle.