From Freightliner ambulance to RV - we hope!

#1
Hi all,

We live in Flagstaff and own a small food business, which caters (in large percentage) to athletes. We also love to travel, explore and camp. So, we wanted a vehicle that will be sturdy, fun, and make a statement (when it's logoed out and we take it to events, to meet customers and hand out samples). We got inspired at the Expo in Flagstaff and we bit the bullet... We just purchased a used medium duty ambulance from a dealer in Pennsylvania. We'll document the conversion and our adventure, here. I don't expect it to be as detailed or helpful as some of the others done before us, but we can guarantee we'll have fun with it!

We bought a 1999 Freightliner FL60, with the 8.3L diesel and Allison transmission (I'll need to expose the manufacturer label to get the tranny model). It's got a 182" long box and 73" of standing height, which is great. It doesn't have a walk-through cab-to-box access, but that's pretty minor and about the only thing not present from our wish list. It does have a hefty Westerbeke diesel generator and separate box AC/heater, plus a small sink.

Here are some pics from the dealer's site:

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That louvered door, in front of the rear tire well, is where the box air conditioner/heater lives.

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And, here's the "built-in TV/VCR entertainment system" which will end up at the first Goodwill I pass by...

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I'm flying to Philly on Thursday, and picking this beast up on Friday. Then, it's just a mere 3 days of driving back to Flagstaff Arizona for its shakedown voyage.

Thanks to so many of you for inspiring us and for the great information we've learned here, at Expedition Portal.

Ross and Kara Taylor
 
#3
What she'll look like - maybe?

Our food product branding is based on healthy fats, and in that low-carb/high-fat community there are lots of things people make called "fat bombs." SO, as a play on that (and to have fun) our products live under the brand name FBomb... FBomb oils, FBomb dressings, FBomb snack, etc. It's trademarked and has been very well-received. Our customers like to post pictures, as they "drop an FBomb" in their coffee or on a salad.

Why do we tell you all this? So you understand that we're not trying to be offensive, just fun. And, with that in mind, here's a rough mock-up of what we envision the mobile Ketosis Support Vehicle may look like.

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Picture it with larger tires, a rack over the cab, and a tethered 12-foot helium balloon flying above it (in the shape of our logo, of course). We'll certainly be visible to our customers!

Fat on! We're having fun already.

Ross and Kara Taylor
Flagstaff, AZ
 
#4
Nice. While not as large. My ambo is serving an advertising role now!!
The black may get really hot in the summer though. I know I have a black and a white one.
 
#5
Nice. While not as large. My ambo is serving an advertising role now!!
The black may get really hot in the summer though. I know I have a black and a white one.
Hi cjken,

Yeah... the black is not the most practical color choice. We're going that route primarily because our packaging color theme is a black background with the red and white graphics.

The other "advantage" of black is that it won't look like a real ambulance at a race or athletic event. Kara's already warned me that, "... if someone comes to our rig bleeding, you've got to deal with them..." :)

I understand that there's a wide range of difference in the insulation to be found in the walls and ceiling on these rigs and we don't yet know what ours has. It came from Florida and has a separate box AC, so we hope it will be okay, but I'd be interested in knowing what insulation you've got and what your experience has been. We do plan to leave the roof white, or perhaps even paint it silver.

I just looked up your threads and see your rig - it looks really sharp in black!
 
#6
We've been busy, planning and prepping what we can. First priority was getting it insured, which we did through the Hartford (a USAA alliance). As others have pointed out, USAA won't insure these but they do have alliances with other companies. They first sent me to the Progressive rep, but they politely declined. The USAA/Hartford rep, though, got us hooked right up.

Second, we're anxious to get the outside squared away soon. We can work on the interior next, but we want this thing to express our business image early in the game. So, we've received a few quotes on different options. I'll share those here, in the event the numbers help someone else. Essentially, our rig will become matte or satin black with red and white graphics (the box roof will stay white or silver). We can get it PlastiDip sprayed for about $1800, which will take care of the blackout. I'm not yet sure, though, if logo vinyl will work over that. We have ballpark estimates to wrap the vehicle in the $5-6000 range.

After the color change, we'll increase the ground clearance and tire size. We want a bit more clearance, for our limited dirt road explorations. We like the look of the massive single tire installations that we've seen, but those are probably not the most practical for us. So, we're going to investigate a mid-size option. Right now, it's got 19.5 wheels with LT 245/70R19.5 tires. If we move to the 22.5 wheels, can anyone share their experience or thoughts? I've done a lot of Googling on the tire/wheel sizes, and sources, but seem to find lots of links to wheel simulators (hub caps) and not to the wheels we want. Or, to what that gains us in tire diameter options.

Next, a rack over the cab (where the lightbar is, now) and a winch in the front. Plus, of course, the interior addition of a bed and a cooktop. Then, all the other little bits that add up... :p
 
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Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
#7
5-6k USD seems excessive. Our Ambo was about 2300 CAD to design and wrap. We did a full wra of the box, and have graphics on 1/2 the front doors, and a large logo on the hood.

Wrapping the cab with all of its 3D corners would be expensive. The Box is faster and easier... Although larger, it'd take much less time to wrap the box than the cab.

No idea if the wrap would stick to the plastidip, but I wouldn't I can just see it peeling off after its wrapped. We had that problem with some of the painted areas... A real piss off, we had to have the side repainted, and the wrap redone on that side.

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Ozrockrat

Expedition Leader
#8
By the look of it you have 10 stud hubs. Lucky you. I would suggest looking at the super singles they use on cement trucks etc. 22.5 " rims and a fair range of readily available tires.
 
#10
Welcome to the world of medium ambulances.

You will find that when you need any repairs or service beyond your capabilities or interest, you can use a Freightliner dealer, an independent truck repair shop, or a local shop. I had mine to Freightliner once - then I grabbed my wallet and left. Way too expensive in my book.

I've had work at a local truck repair shop from time to time (blown brake line), but I was always second in line behind someone whose truck was down, and they needed it for work. I can appreciate their problem, but after just so long waiting in line, I want to get back on the road.

My best experience was at a 4x4 shop about an hour south of me (4x4 Unlimited). In addition to doing general auto repair, they also have a truck mechanic, plus vehicle hoists that can pick up 16,000 Lbs.

If you don't drive your truck regularly, the check engine light may come on occasionally. I've asked around, and it's a common problem on trucks that are being kept as spares and that don't see daily operation - the cure is to take it for a drive, and after a while, no more light.

Now the best advice I can give you: Replace all your brake lines as soon as you can! Both MNtal and I have have blown brake lines. The advantage is that with a split brake system, you still have brakes - but only half the brake system.
 

Ozrockrat

Expedition Leader
#11
The FL I got out of Florida had no corrosion issues with the brake lines. But check them carefully as they had some how put a braided transmission hose between the 2 hard lines. If anything I would suggest getting a 4' length braided brake line and that will just about cover any replacement line on a Frightliner. Also make sure you get them to show you how to check the transmission fluid level. It will be either a Allison 545 or more likely an MD3060. Both have a definite art to checking the fluid as the dipstick tube is a bit convoluted and has a flat spot which holds some fluid and gives false readings. It may have an electronic level indicator and I can help you with all that info at expo.

Oh it will also more than likely be a 5 speed and if it is a MD3060 it can be recalibrate do to 6 speed but it is a frustrating process totally controlled by Allison.
 
#12
Bikersmurf - the $5000-6000 estimate is a full wrap, that would take our white rig to black - then, the graphics would go over that. Pricey indeed, but an option... But, I'm actually leaning back towards keeping this rig white and going with our black logo. It's not as badass-looking, I think, but it should still look good... especially, if we black out all the trim and bumpers. That would, I think, drop our cost to well under $2000 since our graphics are sort of minimalist (no fades, simulated textures, etc.)

Here's our cheesy rendering of that possibility - squint and imagine it with bigger tires:

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Ozrockrat - thanks for the info about the painting cost. A 10 foot paint job is just fine, if we go that route. I went to our local paint shop today and the said it wouldn't even fit in their booth. I'm leaning back towards keeping it white, since it's not fluorescent lime green. Also, thanks for the tire/wheel info. I didn't know the term super single, but in searching for that I see tons on Ebay. Would you expand a bit more on the 10 bolt comment? I presume, from that, that they're not all the same. How would I specify hole spacing/sizing if I'm searching for wheels? Or, in this realm, are all 10 bolts the same pattern? In looking online, I see that sellers don't even mention the bolt pattern.

EDIT: I went through your build thread and I see that you have 8-bolt hubs on your FL60. Since we both have 1999 FL60s, any idea why they're different?

And, last but not least... rlrenz, thanks for the welcome and the advice. I did read your thread about the rusted lines, so I was forewarned. That's the great thing about reading what you've all experienced already. Re: the service options, we are a smallish town of 60K people. But, we're right on I-40 and a railroad line, so there are several good service places here. One, does a lot of RV work as well and they're not only big rig guys. So, I might be fortunate.
 
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#13
Also make sure you get them to show you how to check the transmission fluid level. It will be either a Allison 545 or more likely an MD3060. Both have a definite art to checking the fluid as the dipstick tube is a bit convoluted and has a flat spot which holds some fluid and gives false readings.

Oh it will also more than likely be a 5 speed and if it is a MD3060 it can be recalibrate do to 6 speed but it is a frustrating process totally controlled by Allison.
I think we were typing at the same time. Thanks for the additional information and I'll definitely have them show me how to check the transmission and all the fluids. Until I can get the data plate cover off, I won't know what transmission is in there. I asked them and all they could tell me was that it said Allison on it. Ha ha!
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
#15
Take your time, check your fluids, tire pressures, and watch your gauges. Have a good trip. :D

You shouldn't have this problem, but on our way home we stopped to adjust the tire pressures, and we couldn't add air to the outer dually... I put as much air as I could in the tires, and drove it 4 hours home on the highway. The tires held out even though, as I later realized, they were only passenger car tires (and not intended to be used on a larger truck).