In this four-part series, we look at what it takes to build a “Class O” Ford Ranger for the Avis Safari Rental fleet. We follow the modification process step-by-step − from standard, to tough overlander. This month: Alu-Cab canopy, drawers, racks and more …
Having installed Pedders TrakRyder suspension, we return to the Avis Safari Rental factory. The next step is finicky, and many small tasks (like installing brackets or drilling holes) must be completed, which takes up valuable time. The larger items installed are listed in the steps below, which took Cuan Elsey and his assistant Wisdom Dhliwayo the better part of a day to complete.
This team has completed more than 40 of these “Class O” builds, but there are no short-cuts when it comes to producing a quality end-product. Unlike the Avis “Class A” camper conversion, which uses a one-piece pre-assembled Alu-Cab unit which fits onto the bakkie where the load bin would be, the “Class O” uses the existing load bin with an Alu- Cab canopy as a housing for all the accessories. Most of the brackets and camping accessories on this vehicle are manufactured by Alu-Cab, except for the kitchen unit which is an in-house Avis unit. It’s the individual installation and customisation of all these accessories that takes up the most time in this part of the build process.
What Avis Safari Rental supplies is a fully-kitted and insured vehicle that you’ll never have to service, or worry about, after your trip is done. By renting an equipped vehicle, you can forget about storage issues, long-term reliability, service costs − and even the odd paint-scratch. This appeals to local travellers, and has been the perfect choice for inbound tourists for many years.
Pricing for safari 4×4 vehicles clearly varies between the classes of vehicle requested, and Avis has provided a range of set-up options suited to different conditions, and larger or smaller group sizes. Request a quote from the order form at the bottom of this page.
The 85-litre Gerbers 4×4 fuel tank, made of powder-coated 1.5mm stainless steel, fits perfectly behind the rearmost cross member of the chassis. The tank has a cutout to allow easy access to the spare wheel ratchet. With the standard tank and the Gerbers 4×4 tank combined, the Ford Ranger has a diesel capacity of 165 litres. At around 15l/100km fully loaded, this offers a theoretical range of 1100km.
The bin is held in place by only six bolts, so that after a crane lowers it onto the chassis, it takes only a few minutes to install and connect the electrics, including the tail-light clusters and fuel filler pipe.
Mounting brackets are fitted to the load bay corners for the installation of a water tank and cupboard. This requires some drilling; and, because everything is custom-made, minor modifications to the brackets or boxes are sometimes necessary.
The corners of the box, made in-house by Avis, are cut out with a jigsaw so that they fit over the wheel arches. The box is then mounted to the brackets which Cuan installed in Step 2. At a later stage, a kitchenette will be mounted on top of this box, which can be used to store various food supplies.
The 60-litre stainless-steel tank made by Alu-Cab holds fresh drinking water and is mounted in front of the right wheel-arch. A hole must be drilled in the top of the tank where a hose will be mounted for the outlet pipe.
The battery bracket is located between the water tank and kitchen cupboard, and will provide a secure space for a deep-cycle battery to power ancillaries like the fridge. (More on this next month).
After drilling holes in the load bin to fit the drawer system rails, the rails can be installed, and then the drawers themselves. Alu-Cab’s single-drawer system is used, which features sealed bearings for smooth operation, a 12mm hard ply top, nylon carpet and a self-latching stainless steel catch. These are available in different lengths and configurations. In this case, a fixed fridge-mount is bolted on the left-hand side.
This Alu-Cab Adventure canopy would normally be shipped fully assembled, with seals and gas struts, but in this case came only partially assembled – here Cuan had to glue on the sealing rubbers which prevent dust and water ingress. Unlike the Explorer canopy from Alu-Cab which has a full-width rear door, this one has a narrower (900mm) rear door with the insert space allowing the fitment of a Jerry-can and gas-bottle brackets.
The load bin comes standard with mounting brackets and loops built into it. These are removed; and new, stronger mounting brackets, designed to fit the canopy, are fitted.
Gas shocks are used to support the three canopy doors, and these must be mounted securely enough so that they never come loose, no matter the terrain. Because two gas shocks are mounted to each door, six brackets must be installed. Gas struts are normally installed prior to shipment by Alu-Cab.
Cut and drill 25x50cm of alloy tubing to make roof rails. Once the roof rails are fitted, and holes drilled for the solar panel wires, the 150W Sinetech solar panel can be fitted. The solar panel will supply power to a 140Ah deep-cycle battery fitted inside the canopy – a vital element in the build.
The Alu-Cab Shadow Awning fits onto the left-hand side of the aluminium casing of the Alu-Cab Gen3 Expedition pop-up tent, and provides shade to all sides of the vehicle. It is deployed on sturdy aluminium rails and provides 10 square metres of shade. A special imported reflective fabric helps keep things cooler in its shade. It can be extended to a ground room that sleeps up to three people. The awning is mounted to the tent while the tent is open, to allow better access to the bracket mounts, and all external drilled holes are sealed with polyurethane.
To secure the tent to the canopy, specific Alu-Cab cross members (onto which the tent is fitted) are installed. Using the crane again, the 76kg tent is lowered onto the cross members. The Gen 3 Expedition tent, with its hard-shell aluminium casing, is the last word in quality. The tapered shape (210mm at front, 250mm high at rear) offers external dimensions of 2.3m long by 1.4m wide, and internal dimensions of 2.1m inside and 1.3m at the shoulders. It opens up to offer 1.6m at the top of the pitch. Exceptionally hard-wearing 400g UV-resistant rib-lock waterproof canvas is used, along with features such as mosquito netting on all three openings, full casing insulation, a 75mm thick high-density foam mattress, and a custom aluminium access ladder. Optional extras include an LED light, charging points, and internal storage pockets.
Various brackets, fabricated by Alu-Cab, must be fitted to the rear of the vehicle to accommodate a 20l Jerry can and a small gas bottle. Both of these brackets are lockable and take just a few minutes to install.
In order to provide accommodation for another two to three people in the Group “O” set-up, the Ranger is fitted with a 2.1-metre-long tray on the right-hand side of the canopy, forming an extension to the roof rack. This houses the rather bulky (but very convenient and spacious) Howling Moon Wizz tent, which is stored in its own bag. It is vulnerable on the outside of the canopy, so is fitted with Alu-Cab’s chequer plate branch deflector. The tent, when deployed, connects to the Alu-Cab Shadow Awning, forming a covered, wind-free camping space.
The chequer plate is bolted to the tailgate to make it more resistant to knocks and scrapes, and a strip of flexible vinyl is laid between the tailgate and the load bin, covering the load-bin hinges to prevent the ingress of dust. The PVC sheet is secured with alloy strips which are bolted in place.
Mounted on top of the kitchen box, the kitchenette holds everything, from drinking glasses to cutlery, in convenient positions. This is an Avis design that makes roadside picnics and full-catering camping stops easy on the traveller. To suit the rest of the build, the kitchenette is made from aluminium chequer plate.
On the right-handside gullwing are two quick-release mounts for securing a spade. These are riveted in place and provide easy access.
Custom mounting brackets from Alu- Cab are fixed to the base of the load bay, giving access to the installed 65-litre fridge via the left-side gullwing.
The dining table, an Alu-Cab product made from rigidised aluminium, is lighter than a stainless-steel equivalent. 770mm high with the legs deployed, it provides a 750mm x 1175mm work surface. It is easily accessible from the rear of the vehicle by releasing a catch and sliding the table out on the rails which are mounted to the ceiling of the canopy.
A single-ring gas burner is screwed to the tailgate directly under the holder for the gas bottle, to allow easy access and to keep the hose as short as possible.
The large aluminium Alu-Cab box placed above the cab can be used for anything, but is a convenient place to store wood. The box is placed on custom brackets that mount to the Ford’s standard roof-rails.
DAY TWO WRAP
By the end of day two, Cuan has managed to install the majority of the rear interior systems that will provide comfort to occupants on a long trip. The products used to complete this build are primarily Alu- Cab products, although some, including the kitchen cupboard, have been made in-house.
Having used Alu-Cab products extensively on its vehicles for the past five years, Avis has a long-standing relationship with this internationally-acclaimed 4×4 accessories brand. Alu-Cab products are built to a high standard, and work in harmony with each other, allowing Avis the freedom to build a range of camper formats – from a simple canopy with a roof-top tent, to a slide-on fully integrated custom camper unit. In addition, because all the components are factory-built and often interchangeable, replacement parts are easy to order.
DISCLAIMER: Certain special products are built for fleet orders only.