TAKE A SLIDE ON THE WILD SIDE!
On-road or off this adventure-rated expedition wagon takes a lot of beating...
By Richard Robertson
It’s difficult not to be impressed and/or intimidated by Trailblazers’ super-serious looking off-road truck camper. Perched atop huge single wheels and with enough driving lights to cook creatures at 100 metres, this is not a vehicle for shrinking violets. What it is, however, is about as close as you can get to a truly go-anywhere ‘motorhome’ without it having rotors on top and you needing a helicopter licence.
Trailblazers RV, a Melbourne based business that started out a decade or so ago importing slide-ons from Canada, now designs and manufactures its own slide-ons and fifth wheelers. Although the company has a standard range, every unit sold turns out to be a custom build, according to director Phil Richardson.
“We build to suit the specific requirements of our customer’s vehicles and their individual equipment requirements and decor wishes. We didn’t set out to do this, it’s just how the business has evolved,” Phil said.
Two To Go
Slide-ons are at the core of Trailblazers’ business, but when most of us think slide-ons we think of traditional utes and smaller tray-back light commercials. The thought of building a slide-on for a truck doesn’t come easily – well, not to me, anyway – but when you think about it it makes perfect sense. Trucks are much more at home carrying heavy and high loads and when you think of all that beautiful, flat tray space the possibilities seem endless.
The test unit is a major departure for Trailblazers’ in that it involves both a slide-on and a host vehicle. The company teamed with off-road truck experts EarthCruiser, which has since had a change of ownership, with the original owner moving to the USA and the local operation relocating from Queensland to just south of Sydney.
EarthCruiser makes serious 4WD truck-based motorhomes and has earned an enviable reputation for excellence of design and engineering. Taking stock Japanese 4WD trucks from the likes of Mitsubishi and Isuzu, which are renowned for reliability, toughness and the worst ride quality imaginable, EarthCruiser has fixed this suspension-based Achilles heel and totally transformed them. By completely redesigning the suspension system and installing large, single wheels and tyres all-round, ride quality and general go-anywhere-ability have been brought into line with the rest of the vehicle’s abilities.
Whereas EarthCruiser makes complete off-road motorhomes, Trailblazers’ have taken an EarthCruiser truck and married it with a purpose-built – and rather large – pop-top slide-on. The result could be seen as the best of both worlds, allowing the body to be removed and set-up as a base camp at some remote location and leaving an unencumbered 4WD truck for exploring, work or whatever. It’s a tantalising prospect...
What’s All The Fuso?
In case you’re a little confusoed, Mitsubishi’s truck range is called Fuso, so while you might see the Mitsubishi diamond on its trucks, you’ll probably just see FUSO across the grill. Got that?
This particular 4WD Fuso model has been superseded. Gone is the 4.9-litre turbo-diesel engine; replaced by a much higher tech 3.0-litre unit that’s Euro V emissions compliant and, despite nearly 2-litres less capacity still manages to produce the same 110 kW and 470 Nm while delivering lower fuel consumption.
For normal operations drive is through a five-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels, with high and low-range 4WD available via a manually selectable 2-speed transfer case with a 1.987 low range reduction. This is as basic as 4WD systems come these days – complete with manual locking front hubs – but provides a mechanically simple system that’s likely to outlast the vehicle.
The Fuso’s awful standard front suspension system has been replaced by properly engineered parabolic springs with real shock absorbers, transforming the ride from bone jarring to quite acceptable. Coupled with a set of Stratos suspension seats added by Trailblazers, the makeover provides a remarkable level of ride comfort over all surfaces.
To allow for driving on a standard car licence the Fuso – which normally has a 6000 kg gross vehicle mass (GVM) – comes with a chassis derated to 4500 kg. With a tare (unladen) weight of 3000 kg that leaves 1500 kg for the camper, passengers, fuel, water and so on. Trailblazers’ slide-on for this truck weighs 720 kg, which leaves 780 kg for everything else – a very healthy figure. The derating also means there’s no way you’ll ever over-stress this vehicle, even if loaded to its inscrutable Japanese gunwales and towing it’s 3500 kg maximum.
Capacities-wise the test Fuso came with a second 90-litre fuel tank, doubling its fuel load, plus an optional 85-litre water tank along with the standard 180-litre unit. Grey water capacity was 85 litres.
Taking the High Road
Clambering up to the driving position is more semitrailer-like than motorhome: a fair climb and not one for people with mobility issues. Once seated the view is literally commanding and you not only feel like King of the road, but King off the road, too.
They say if it looks like a truck, sounds like a truck and drives like a truck it probably is a truck, and that’s exactly what this 4WD EarthCruiser is. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, just don’t be fooled by all the sexy driving lights and big wheels into thinking it’s some kind of fast, oversize, desert-racing SUV. It’s a truck. With spunk.
At just 6.1-metres long with the camper body in place, this whole unit is just a whisker over a metre longer than a Toyota LandCruiser. It’s also only 2.9-metres tall and when combined with an 11.4-metre turning circle, excellent ramp-over angle and excellent ground clearance you begin to understand what a versatile off-road machine it is. I’m inclined to think most drivers would run out of nerve before it ran out of ability. I’m pretty sure I would!
Geared for off-road work whilst carrying a considerable payload, this truck – and it is a truck – revs a lot and you soon run out of gears. Indeed, a cruising speed of 80 km/h seemed about right, although I’m sure you could sit on 100 km/h if you really wanted to. Also, given the chunky tread pattern and massively tall sidewalls of the 255/100R16 Michelin XZL tyres, a lower cruising speed would certainly deliver a quieter and (likely) more stable ride.
The Stratos suspension seats are an absolute necessity in this vehicle because, like the rubbish off-road suspension the Japanese produce for their light trucks, they make seats to match. Unlike air-suspended seats common in buses and large trucks, the Stratos units are specific for this class of light truck, which lack the headroom to allow for such movement (and whose owners probably lack the wallets to afford them). Utilising a spring suspension system Stratos claims they eliminate 60-70% of vibration. From my brief drive session I’m certainly not going to disagree.
Outside The Box
The unromantically named Truck Camper’s slide-on body is it’s real party trick. Neat and compact at just 3.8-meters long by 2.06-metres wide, it’s held securely in place by four mini container truck-style locking pins. Speaking of containers, the whole truck/camper unit has been designed so it can be driven into a 20 ft shipping container and exported to your favourite international destination. Removing the camper body is accomplished by extending the four electric jacks via a remote control, once you’ve slipped the front two into position (the rears are permanently mounted), and driving gently away. You can then lower it to the ground for easy access and stability and at home it could easily be used as self-contained guest accommodation.
The test camper was fitted with an electrically operated pop-top roof and awning (manual items are standard), but the biggest drawback was the lack of vehicle mounted entry stairs. Powered stairs were apparently on the drawing board but the EarthCruiser’s spare wheel location scuppered those plans. In its place was a heavy set of scissor steps that had to be manually attached and removed to access the living area while the camper’s on the back of the truck. Other expedition-style vehicles like this seem to have their spare wheel/s mounted at the rear. Given such an arrangement would likely complicate the camper body’s easy removal, perhaps relocating the entry door to allow for vehicle-mounted steps would be the best move.
Steps aside, everything else about this vehicle seems well thought out and well engineered. The camper body seems as solid as a rock, with laminate wall construction and a general feeling of robustness. Three large, dark tinted single-hopper windows are provided, plus a hatch over the bathroom and a large fold-out handle by the entry door.
Up front, under the queen bed area, is a sizable storage locker accessible from both sides that houses dual 105 AH house batteries (one battery is standard) and the optional industrial-strength 3000 W pure sine wave inverter, plus sundry electrical switches, fuses, etc. On the roof 3 optional 130 W solar panels charge the house batteries, while a reverse-cycle airconditioner is also optional.
In the kerbside rear corner a small locker is home to dual 4-kg gas bottles (one only fitted to this unit), plus easily selectable lines to the external barbecue point and internal appliances. There are two lockers across the back: the kerb-side one being home to the optional slide-out stainless steel barbecue while the driver’s side is actually quite wide and seems to run across to the barbecue locker, despite its relatively small hatch. Much of it is taken up by the 85-litre grey water tank but there is still room for hoses.
Inside The Box
To climb inside – literally – you first need to open the entry door, remove the concertina scissor steps and attach them to the vehicle’s tray side via two pin mounting points. I’m sure you’d get into a system with this arrangement, but to the uninitiated it’s a bit of a chore.
Because the camper sits so high the switches for internal and external lighting, the electric roof and awning, plus the remote control connector for the electric jacks are all just inside to the left of the entry door, not far above floor level. I realise money is a major consideration with a purchase like this, but I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t order the optional electric roof and awning if you could possibly stretch to it. Given how frequently you would use these items, not specifying them would surely be a false economy you would regret daily.
Stepping inside, the compact but well-designed nature of the camper is immediately apparent. Occupying the entire area forward of the entry door is a queen size east-west bed with widows at both ends and six good-sized storage drawers beneath. Immediately to your right as you enter is an L-shaped kitchen that runs down the kerbside of the vehicle and returns half way across the rear. It butts up against the bathroom, in the rear corner on the driver’s side, while a smart two-seater lounge sits between the bathroom and bed, along the driver’s side wall.
Because Trailblazers’ custom makes each unit to the owners requirements there are plenty of variables and options available, including slide-outs, individual lounge chairs and a wide range of decor colours and finishes. The test camper had a bright, contemporary feel with white and silver-grey laminates, plus a grey leather lounge, contrasted by a brilliant orange fridge door and cooker splash-back. There’s plenty of headroom with the roof raised while the usual screened, zippered openings all around the roof gusset provide a flood of natural light and fresh air when opened. After hours lighting is taken care of by 12 V LEDs throughout, with the main ceiling units being round, touch-operated units with single-stage dimmers.
Whilst not expansive, the L-shaped kitchen has everything you need and keeps the chef out of the way – or is that the other way around? By the entry door, but facing inside, sits a 110-litre under-bench Arctic Fox 12 V compressor fridge, while above it is a compact Dometic three burner gas cooker with glass lid in the benchtop.
At the opposite end of the kitchen, in the return, is a single bowl stainless steel sink with flick mixer tap, up against the bathroom wall. Above the sink is an (optional) microwave and to the right of it is the kitchen’s only ‘overhead’ cupboards; an interesting unit with a metal mesh door that could do with a little more hinge-out space. The benchtop also has a handy flush-mounted, removable rubbish bin (that can also double as a wine cooler!) and a clever pop-up Moduline double power point pole that retracts flush when not in use. Beneath the sink is a stack of three deep drawers, whist between them and the fridge is a shallow cutlery drawer with a tall cupboard beneath.
Above the sink, on the bathroom side wall, are the camper’s internal electrical controls; the main unit of which is an integrated Redarc digital unit that covers everything from solar charge rate to house battery levels and next week’s winning Lotto numbers (I think). Above it is a more conventional tank level gauge, plus the Truma 240 V/LPG hot water system control switch. Nighttime kitchen illumination comes from a single strip LED tucked neatly under the lip that the retracted roof rests upon, on the kerbside wall, midway between the cooker and sink.
Eating And Lounging!
Many owners would probably cook and eat outside, especially if the optional gas barbecue is specified.
The lounge, which sits rather low, is also the dining table seating. The dining table itself is another bright orange ‘design feature’ that stores vertically against the bathroom wall, above the end of the lounge and alongside the bathroom’s full length mirrored door, to free up space. When ‘deployed’ it can also site quite low – more like a coffee table – or be raised with leg extensions. Of course, it can also be taken and used outside. A little bit fiddly for use multiple times each day, I’m sure other table options are available.
Compact, as you’d expect, the rear corner bathroom is more than adequate and provides a surprising amount of space once you’re standing inside.
The bathroom has a Thetford bench-style cassette toilet with its back to the driver’s side outside wall. It’s part of a modular moulding that very neatly incorporates a small, stylish hand basin with smoked glass/perspex side panel, which sits above the toilet, about where a normal cistern would sit. To save space and complexity the stubby flick mixer tap to the hand basin’s left also has a removable hand shower that reels out.
A nice touch is a Maytow fold-out and extendable drying rack for towels, while the need for a roof hatch has been negated by a rear-facing zip-opening window in the roof gusset. A round, touch-operated LED provides more than adequate nighttime lighting.
The queen sized bed across the front has an innerspring mattress and is easily accessed. As previously mentioned, large windows at each end, plus gusset openings overhead, provide masses of light and fresh air. Like the kitchen there’s a small LED strip light, this time above the bed head, which is presumed to be the driver’s side. Lights at either end would be a good idea, to allow for uneven campsites or just napping with your head away from the road, if pulled over for a quick afternoon snooze.
There are TV power and aerial points on the wall by the entry door, while the test camper had a great little 12 V fan that folds out of the way and also works on a timer, just above the TV connections. The aforementioned six pack – of under-bed drawers – is also very useful as there are no overhead cupboards and clothes and bedding storage space is at a premium.
As a complete unit this interesting and capable vehicle not only provides perhaps the ultimate off-the-beaten-track getaway machine, its split personality gives you an amazing 4WD truck plus fully relocatable guest accommodation!
Slide-ons, by their nature, don’t suit everyone and even if you leave the camper body attached full time there is still no through-cab access. But the ability to ‘unload’ your accommodation at some distant beach/desert/mountain location and use your expedition vehicle unencumbered to explore and enjoy, without needing to pack up each day, is a major attraction.
Of course you don’t need a tough expedition truck to enjoy a Trailblazers’ truck camper. They make them to suit trucks of all sizes, including dual cabs, and if you have one already it could be a cost effective way of converting it to a capable and comfortable motorhome in just a few minutes.
Either way, if you’re in the market be sure to check out the Trailblazers’ website and talk with Phil and Christine. The possibilities are basically limitless and you could end up with a vehicle that does so much more than you ever imaged – even if you can image a lot!
- Build quality
- Build options
- Cab access
- Cab-camper access
- Stairs need sorting
Click HERE to visit the Trailblazers RV website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.