ARB, Dynatrac, and Atlas enhance the Sportsmobile
Story & Photography by Ned Bacon
Most readers of Four Wheeler will be familiar with the cool 4×4 camper van conversions from Sportsmobile. These off-road-ready vans have been plying the backroads of the world now for more than 40 years. Sportsmobile began in 1961, converting VW buses into campers. The rugged Vee Dubs took their owner far off the usual beaten camping paths in places like Baha and Alaska. The flourishing company had found a unique niche market, building adventure campers for people who wanted something more rugged and maneuverable than a pickup with a slide-in.
By the late ’80s, the VWs had given way to more roomy and powerful American vans (predominately Ford’s Econoline) and the Austin, Texas-based company had branched out with factories in Indiana and California. These 4×2 gringo vans could not match the traction capabilities of the old VWs and soon 4×4 conversions became a popular option.
Last fall we got a call from Chris Wood, the Western Sales Manager at ARB USA. Old Man Emu, ARB’s suspension arm, had been chosen to develop the sprints and shocks for the latest Sportsmobile chassis. Would we like to check out the prototype in the Oregon Dunes and do some test drives? Drive a van in sand dunes? Well heck, something new every day! Our bags were packed.
The test mule we drove in the dunes and shown here is an ’06 Ford E-350 with a Power Stroke 6.0L diesel. Along with the new Emu suspension, it also features a Dynatrac ProRock 60 front axle and an Atlas transfer case. Thirty-five inch BFG All Terrains easily fit in its fender wells and never rubbed during our dune romps. Of course, ARB Air Lockers were fitted at both ends with 4.10:1 gears. We were surprised where this 8,500-pound house-on-wheels would go in sand, admittedly not the ideal venue for a camper van.
The Emu suspension articulated and soaked up the whoops like that of a much lighter vehicle. The camper itself was squeak- and rattle-free despite getting flexed around at speed over milder dunes and washboard sand “highways.” Lockers, low gearing, and diesel torque allowed this beast to go places you’d think no van would ever be — even an old VW.