Truck Build — the Millennium Falcon

March 29, 2014

All of our vehicles have had names so there was little doubt this one would too, but it had to earn its name. At some point on our first trip, one of the wimpy Dodge anti-sway bar (aka sway bar for some reason) end links broke. We had heard a loud pop but weren’t sure what it was. Driving out of Death Valley down the twisty Hwy 190 was quite an adventure. The truck was rocking back and forth the whole way. We actually passed another XPCamper on the road coming up but I could barely take one hand off the wheel to wave.

When we returned home, I started researching Dodge front ends and found out the end link had just been recalled by Dodge. Mine was recalled by Death Valley. I wanted an upgrade to the front end as the Cummins engine is notorious for wearing out front end parts. One trip to Carli in Corona solved my front end woes. I had them install anti-sway bar end links ( to replace the broken unit), new billet ball joints (lifetime warranty!), and a front differential skid plate.

Carli billet front end

Carli billet front end

 

The new front end was so much better than how I dropped it off I’m not sure how I even drove it there, but I had other modifications in mind. The slide on our table was damaged when we got the rig and ultimately we tore the table off the mount in Death Valley, live and learn. When off-roading, keep the table stowed completely down for maximum durability. We could have had XPCamper craft us a new one but I have a friend who is a cabinet-maker so he and I met at a lumber yard to pick out some zebra wood for the replacement.

custom solid zebra wood table

custom solid zebra wood table

new zebra wood table flipped up

new zebra wood table flipped up

He surprised us with an engraving on the underneath side of the flip section.

our friend James surprised us with this caption on the flip section

our friend James surprised us with this caption on the flip section

custom table by James Rager woodworking

custom table by Jim Rager woodworking

 

That took care of the interior of the camper but I had more modifications in mind for the truck. The truck badly needed addition ground clearance so I ordered Toyo AT2 Extreme tires, size 285x75x17. They add about two inches of additional ground clearance and give the truck a much better stance and look. I mounted them on a set of used 2014 Dodge Powerwagon wheels. I picked these up for only $400 from Craigslist. Many folks buy these new Powerwagons not realizing what great wheels they already have and feel the need to “upgrade”. These are lightweight polished aluminum and have an interior bead that acts as a bead lock to help keep the tire on the wheel when airing down.

2014 Dodge Powerwagon wheels and 285x75x17 Toyo AT2 tires

2014 Dodge Powerwagon wheels and 285x75x17 Toyo AT2 tires

 

With the new tires, it was getting increasingly difficult for the ladies in my life to get in and out of the beast so I installed a set of used Dodge (Amp Research) power steps. The steps are completely invisible when closed and sit above the frame rail. They open in about a second when with the front or rear door on that side is opened and provide a nice wide, sturdy step to ingress and egress.

 

I swapped a couple of items from my old rig, my Lightforce off road lights and my air compressor. Both fit well on the new truck.

Lightforce off road lights

Lightforce off road lights

air compressor mounted on top of hitch

air compressor mounted on top of hitch

 

The interior of the truck got a couple of upgrades, $100 used Dodge leather seats which are much more comfortable than the cloth ones they replaced. I mounted my old CB to the center hump. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it but when we go to Alaska, its the preferred (maybe only?) form of communication on the Dalton Highway. I bought a couple of vehicle specific mounts from Proclip. They snap onto the dash perfectly and hold the GPS and my iPhone (not pictured for obvious reasons). Lastly, I had XPCamper add rear and front cameras with a small monitor mounted to the dash.

used Dodge leather seats

used Dodge leather seats

my old CB mounted to the center hump

my old CB mounted to the center hump

rear/front camera, GPS mount and iPhone mount

rear/front camera, GPS mount and iPhone mount

 

While the camper was in Grass Valley, I had XP also install a 62 gallon diesel tank. That thing goes basically from the driver’s seat all the way to the rear axle. They also installed a couple of USB chargers in the interior and exterior compartment, and Mag-Hytek differential and transmission pans with skid plate.

new 62-gallon diesel tank

new 62-gallon diesel tank

aluminum transmission skid plate

aluminum transmission skid plate

Mag-Hytek high capacity aluminum transmission pan

Mag-Hytek high capacity aluminum transmission pan

Mag-Hytec aluminum high capacity differential housing

Mag-Hytec aluminum high capacity differential housing

 

After all that was done, I still had a job to do, remove the camper for my first time and go get the bedsides from the original owner. Removing the camper was a relatively simple affair involving bolting the jacking points to each corner, mounting the jacks, and going around the camper slowly cranking it up one corner at a time. It was making some odd creaking noises but they seemed fairly normal. The only problem was the camper wasn’t lifting off the flatbed. Upon closer inspection, the rear wheels were slightly off the pavement! I learned the bolts that appear to hold the camper in place, where the jacking points go, are only there to keep the holes free of debris. There are actually four other bolts that attach the camper to the flat bed. Once I lowered the truck back down and removed those bolts, the camper easily lifted off the flatbed using the camper jacks.

truck with bedsides while camper is stored

truck with bedsides while camper is stored

 

Between a few minor issues that were repaired by XPCamper, and many new owner errors and bit of a learning curve for us, we had never owned a truck camper nor had so many systems to learn, the new rig has earned a name after four months of ownership — the Millennium Falcon. Its got plenty of power (especially with the Smarty Jr. engine tuner I installed) and its got a lot of systems that are all easy to use but require some maintenance and occasional repair. I’m confident this rig will be with us performing dependably for the next couple of decades.

new license plate

new license plate

9 comments

  1. Comment by Christian G.

    Christian G. Reply March 29, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    So you’ve had it now a couple of months, done a couple of trips, done quite a few modifications. What do you think? I know you love the camper (which is beautiful, by the way) but would like to know what you think of the dodge? I had heard of the cummins being hard on the front ends, and it looks like you’ve really put some armor on the lows points. Given a choice, would you do the Dodge again given what you’ve learned?
    Great Job!
    C

    • Comment by admin

      admin March 29, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      I like the Dodge. I was looking at new trucks and they’re all so expensive right now. Buying the Dodge used, I saved $30,000 versus a new truck. The engine will last another couple hundred thousand miles so I figure I’ve got $20,000 to spend on bullet-proofing the rest. Before we go full-time I’ll replace the seats with some Recaros, and I’ll pull the rear seats out altogether and install some bike storage there. The front end is taken care of so the only remaining typical major repair for these trucks is the transmission, thus the additional capacity for cooling. Even if it needs replaced evenatually, it’s $4000 and still well below the cost of a new truck.

    • Comment by Christian G.

      Christian G. March 30, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Agreed. The new trucks are great, but it is difficult to spend (justify) $35,000 to $50,000 on a new vehicle then dump another $10,000 fixing weaknesses in design. Those weaknesses are readily discoverable on the internet with a modest amount of research. How could you not build a truck or motorcycle in today’s traffic and off-road situations without having an oil-cooler? As I get closer to 100k miles on my own truck, I am struggling with the same issues as to what is next.

    • Comment by Bo Goulet

      Bo Goulet July 28, 2014 at 8:21 am

      Most excellent truck Doug!

      We’ll meet up with you on the road in a couple of years when the kids are out of high school!

      Pick out a couple good spots for us!

  2. Comment by bryan

    bryan Reply March 30, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Always enjoy seeing what others are doing and where they are heading too. Love what you are doing with your XP. Thanks for posting your mods, photos and narrations. It benefits so many people. If you ever need anything, let me know. I will be celebrating 5 years on the road, this June. Three years without plugging into any man made or commercial provided electricity. I have stayed in three campgrounds in the last 3 years, 12 in the last 5 years, total of 38 nights in campgrounds in 5 years, out of a possible; 1,825 nights.

    Stay safe and enjoy every minute.

    bryan

  3. Comment by dcroyle

    dcroyle Reply March 30, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    I love that table! The wood is beautiful and the custom engraving is a great touch. The custom license plate is also cool. Digging the other mods too like the big(!) fuel tank… And a hundred bucks for leather seats is a great deal. Good stuff!

  4. Comment by John Davies

    John Davies Reply June 9, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    I love the XP and hope to get one eventually. Your off-road mods are excellent …. But what about the rear suspension? Or did I miss that section?

    My 2006 3500 Quad Cab Short Bed 5.9 only has a payload of 2800 pounds. That doesn’t include passengers! A base XP weighs around 2400 pounds. I know your Ram 2500 is grossly overloaded. Are you worried about busting something back in the desert? Have you beefed up the springs and added airbags?

    I would love the big XP V1 but due to its weight I will probably go with a V2 Wide model which is considerably lighter.

    Please comment.

    Thanks. J D

    • Comment by admin

      admin June 10, 2014 at 7:42 am

      The suspension was upgraded by the previous owner. Its got Deaver springs designed specifically to hold the load, Firestone airbags, and Icon shocks. Since I bought both the truck and camper together, I didn’t have a choice. I were starting from scratch, I’d start with a minimum of a 3500 or maybe even a 4500 cab and chassis.

    • Comment by John Davies

      John Davies June 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Cool. BTW, the 3500 has the exact same rear end and springs as the 2500 … except it has the overload springs installed at the factory. There is nothing wrong with your 2500 as it is now, except that your data plate shows that you are overloaded, and a State Patrol officer might take exception to that in some state, if you are unlucky enough to have to go through an inspection…. a 3500 would be no better with the same suspension mods. The only difference would be that the amount of overload would be less. I don’t think the cost of the ticket would be different 😉

      A 4500 with a single rear wheel conversion would be a fantastic choice for the biggest XP Camper. I wish you could order a SRW 4500 Cab and Chassis….. That would save many thousands over buying new commercial grade wheels and tires….l

      Can you comment on your suspension and washboard roads at say 40 to 50 mph? Does it beat you up? My suspension is stock and I am trying to decide how to modify it…. The front end is begging for progressive springs and more travel.

      Thanks.

      John Davies
      Spokane WA USA

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