MogTug Build – Part 0: Why a Unimog when we have SyncroBo?

Why build a Unimog when you already have SyncroBo?

The decision to build another expedition vehicle was not taken lightly but neither did we obsess about it. Once we packed SyncroBo for the FMFAC project in Europe it was clear that we were heavy, really heavy. And we just didn’t have space for everything. We had to start cutting film equipment and other items that had the potential of undermining our work. The second thing was the experience of living in a vehicle that was really FULL. SyncroBo is the perfect size for two to three travelers who aren’t taking a film production studio with them. Or a project like we were doing in Europe where we don’t need to prepare for extreme self reliance, as their would be facilities to easily resupply (I would consider this applicable to also the United States, Canada, and even Mexico).

Beyond the rational reasons, I also really think Unimogs are awesome! We started the journey with a build budget of $20,000 all in, so we set our sights on a Unimog 404 from the 60’s. These are fairly easy to find and can be had quite cheap, including the parts. I priced out buying a used one and then replacing the entire drive train from engine to trans to axles, literally everything with zero mile new parts. It could be done within the $20,000. In particular we were looking for radio box models which would have the living and sleeping unit all ready for us to build out and customize. This turned out to be a huge waste of time. When we went to test drive our first 404 it was immediately apparent that I simply wouldn’t fit. I am 6’4 and 250+. I physically couldn’t get my size 15 feet into the footwell to work the pedals. Ugh, the dream was starting to die.

Determined to find a bigger mog, we found that 416 Unimogs were bigger and they also came with diesels. But at a cost. Now the budget was going to have to raise at least another $10,000 and these are a lot harder to find with radio boxes. We drove SyncroBo across country and found one in Southern California and it was a looker. The previous owner had even added self leveling rams to the radio box in the back that would level the radio box. The owner took me out for a test drive and it was going great until the clutch completely gave out. We were at a stop and we couldn’t get the truck to move. The clutch had given up the ghost completely. Ugh. I was feeling an odd combination of relief and sadness. I really thought the 416 could work and this particular specimen was beautiful.

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. We had to get SyncroBo to port and off to Europe to begin the project. We had to pull the trigger soon or just abandon the idea all together. The plan was to buy a Unimog, ship SyncroBo and use the shipping downtime to begin the Unimog build and work on the long lead time items. This would save us a lot of the waiting time that’s comes along with an expedition build. Whether it’s waiting for specialized items to arrive from over seas or custom cabinets etc. The plan was to try and get everything needed ordered before we left so ensure that when we got back we could assemble and have a minimal delay.

After the mishap with the 416, I decided we should at least look at maybe another option, the Pinzgauer. They can carry almost as much weight as the Unimog and I found a particular one that had been exhaustively restored and was purportedly mechanically excellent. It was also appealing that the truck was being sold on consignment at a dealer, who also sold Unimogs. With the bait set, we headed from southern California to northen California to see Scott at Expedition Imports.

When we arrived it was love at first sight. I hopped into the U1300 for a test drive and was immediately struck by the room and ease that it swallowed three of us in the front seat. Driving it around was definitely nerve wrecking at first. The tires howled like a turbine jet and I felt like I was sitting on the roof of it instead of in a cockpit. But after seeing the size and scale I decided this was it. It would be much bigger than SyncroBo. All of the load carrying capatibility we needed was within the stock configuration of the truck, and of course it’s my own Tonka truck. The Pinzguaer felt like a small change inside from the Vanagon, while the Mog definitely got us into a different category of what we could do in the build. Also, it’s a an all mechanical turbo diesel, capable of burning fuel from anywhere in the world and it has world wide parts availability, what’s not to like.

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We got the deal done and had a surreal moment of Pat driving SyncroBo and myself following in MogTug down to LA to drop Bo at Port. The decision was made, we would drive SyncroBo through Europe and then come back, rapidly build MogTug and head to Africa.

We took the opportunity to lighten the load on SyncroBo significantly since we were now going to be in Europe, we could easily get parts, have items posted, etc. So we could carry a lot less.

As we left Bo to be containerized, it really set in. We had bought a Unimog and we were about to begin a new build!

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Categories: Machines, MogTug

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