A few years ago while running around checking different shops for a new set of pin & lanyard hood locks for one of my cars, I saw a four-wheeled, foreign looking beast sitting idle in a parking lot across the horizon. Being a fan of off-road and expedition vehicles, I decided to take the short detour to see exactly what it was. Foreign beast this most certainly turned out to be.
Standing before me was something I had only seen on television during the Paris-Dakar Rally, a European expedition vehicle without a doubt. To be precise, it was an all wheel drive MANni Volkswagen 8.150 FAE Expedition Vehicle.
Now I'm not going to pretend I know a lot about these vehicles, because I don't. I will however admit that I find this one extremely amazing, and aside from the obvious - such as it being diesel powered and being some kind of joint venture product between German automotive giants MAN and Volkswagen, I just had to find out more about it and exactly what it was doing - German registration plates and all - in a Walmart parking lot in Ontario, Canada.
From what I've been able to piece together, this particular rig started life as a Danish military vehicle that was manufactured in 1990. It's owner purchased it in 2006 with plans to retrofit the rig for a long distance adventure. Actually, a really, really long distance adventure. Like, from the east coast of Canada, to Alaska, to Argentina kind of long distance. So let's have a look at some of the photo's that I was able to dig up on some forums.
This seems to be the MANni VW as purchased in its military form back in 2006. It appears to be a basic troop or supply carrier. These FAE models ('F' denoting forward-control-cab, 'A' denoting all-wheel-drive, and 'E' denoting single-tires on the rear rather than dually's) were introduced in 1983, primarily for use in fire service, utilities and energy supply, extreme condition rescue work, and cross-desert travels. 1,100 units went to the Danish Military.
It isn't hard to see where the cab came from in the MAN-VW venture. It has the profile of the VW bus (Vanagon) of the 80's, but is in fact from the little VW Vanagon's larger sibling, the LT Type-1 commercial van, which we didn't get in Canada. In fact, along with the cab itself (which was actually widened from LT-spec to fit the wider MAN truck chassis), the entire interior, the interior equipment and heating system, and the electrical harness were all supplied by Volkswagen.
Volkswagen also supplied the cardan shafts and bearings, the rear axle and its transmission, the rear suspension, the manual gearbox, the clutch assembly and all gear levers. The rest of the FAE was supplied from MAN's catalog of commercial truck parts including the engine, chassis, front axle and suspension, and all wheels and hubs.
The FAE model was built with many advantages that suited it well to being an expedition vehicle. Not only was it fitted from factory with "cross-country gears", but it also had "longitudinal compensation" of the permanent all-wheel drive, a rear axle with locking differential, and external planetary axles for superior ground clearance, something often only seen in larger construction vehicles.
Also available on the FAE model was a tire pressure monitoring system, impact protection for the engine and oil sump, available front axle differential lock, and a tropical radiator. Engines were both 4 and 6 cylinder in-line diesels of modest power, however proper gear reduction eliminates any need for more. I'm not certain what powers this particular FAE.
The naked MANni-VW was apparently delivered to German cabin builder Bocklet in September 2007 and was ready a few months later. The cabin is constructed of a "sandwich" material consisting of a 3mm fiberglass exterior, 50mm Isomaterial, and 2mm FRP Lining in the inside. It measures 3.40m high, 2.30m wide, and 4.23m long. The gross vehicle weight is a hefty 7.49 tons.
As one would suspect, heating the cabin on a vehicle like this is different from heating Uncle Art's Winnebago in that Uncle Art's Winnebago won't be seeing the extreme pressures from the altitudes seen crossing the Andes. I don't have the patience to get into the fine details on what I learned on the topic by reading about this particular case, but the considerations aren't minute. The efficiency of the diesel water heater will fluctuate at various altitudes and filling stations are few and far between, just to give one example of what needs to be given serious thought in planning a build like this.
I am utterly surprised at the amount of thought, effort and detail that went into the building of this vehicle. It does not come across as a DIY project by an individual that has a day job and a dream of traveling clear across the America's. It really does look like it was professionally outfitted by a business that has been doing this for years. That being said, the quality of the effort is so entirely German in its execution.
The fit and finish of the cabin look more than acceptable and it appears to be a comfortable place to spend some time. If the apocalypse comes the living area would look that much more enticing being attached to a sturdy and capable rig like the MANni-VW 8.150 FAE. I love the whole idea of this from top to bottom. Especially some of the details added as seen in the photos below.
I really love some of the small details like the check-plate panels just inside the caged headlight. The small barely visible fog lamps under the front bumper. The winch hidden behind the cut out in the center of the bumper. And of course the safari rack with auxiliary lighting lined across the front.
The custom rack on the rear holds two full-sized spares, a couple of mountain bikes to get around town on, and a set of ramps to ensure the vehicle can get over ruts or ditches it might otherwise get stuck in. The "Alemania - Germany" decal across the top lets passersby know these people have traveled a considerable distance.
You can see in this rear quarter shot that the passenger side of the cabin has a world map decal on it. I didn't think much of it at first, but upon closer inspection I realized these travelers had been tracing their journey on it in a silver paint marker. You can see in the close-up photo below that their adventure had thus far taken them all over the Canadian eastern seaboard, across Quebec, and almost directly to where this MANni-VW and I met near Lake Ontario.
I don't know that I'll ever actually have a chance to meet the couple that were making this journey or that they will ever come across this little write-up on their expedition vehicle. But I will say that I have the utmost respect for them as they took this from an idea, to a plan, to action. Think about it for a moment. These people took an old Danish military vehicle and spent three plus years and countless dollars prepping it to live in and handle various terrains. They then packed their bags and shipped themselves and this vehicle from Dusseldorf, Germany to Newfoundland in Canada, and then drove across Canada to the state of Alaska and then down the Pacific through Canada, the USA, Central and South America until they reached the end of Argentina. Pretty amazing. Anyhow, sweet ride!
As posted on one of my Blogs - I will find the full size photos and edit the post.