wordpress visitors
AdventurAfrica' safari vehicle is an Iveco ACM80 4x4, (FIAT 6613 G), equipped with a 6 cylinder, 5.8L turbo-diesel engine rated at 170 horse-power, reduced gears and rear differential lock.
It is a former Italian military utility vehicle we retrofitted exclusively with African safaris in mind.
When we started pondering our choice of a safari vehicle we took into consideration a wide range of options, from the German living legend Unimog to the undeterred American trucks. In the end we opted for the all-Italian FIAT IVECO ACM80, both a field and time tested mid-size vehicle capable of handling the worst African tracks with ease and, of course, a touch of Italian style and elegance. The military grade construction and amazing 4x4 skills earned the IVECO ACM series an outstanding reputation as a reliable and eye-catching workhorse.
When we started retrofitting it we didn't take shortcuts. We designed and custom made every component that today makes our ACM an experience-defining vehicle, capable of pleasing even the most discerning adventurer and safari enthusiast.
Everything on board has been designed and handcrafted to provide passengers with comfort and enjoyment. Its height, significantly taller than the traditional safari vehicles, makes it an ideal asset for wildlife viewing and photography.
Our vehicle is equipped with 12 independent, comfortable, tour bus style seats with over 90cm between rows to ensure plenty of comfort and freedom of movement to all passengers, and comes equipped with a spacious refrigerator, a fully equipped camp kitchen, three burners gas range, tents and 5 cm sleeping pads, 12V DC and 110/220V AC plugs to recharge cellphone and camera batteries, comfortable custom-made step ladder for ease of passenger loading and unloading, spacious cargo area, radio, GPS, internet connection, sound system and everything needed to make our safaris safe and enjoyable.

The Making of Our Safari Vehicle

This section arises from our desire to share the purchasing and retrofitting experience of our safari truck with anyone who wants to launch a similar venture or to simply nurture their curiosity of knowing what we did, and how. We are available for clarifications and to answer any questions about our experience. Our intention is not to teach anyone anything. A safari truck can obviously be set up in numerous ways and others before us have surely done far better. Here, we'll simply tell you what we did.
Before we begin, we'd like to acknowledge, with humility and simplicity, the invaluable assistance of many friends who were at the ready with their expertise and professionalism, and without whom this endeavor would not have been possible.
To Vincenzo, Lorenzo, Silvano, Alfredo and Gigi go our heartfelt thanks and sincerest gratitude. Thanks also, to our canine friends, Max and Barsik, for the extraordinary hours spent together as they barked at foxes and chased lizards.

Here we go...

Acquisition

The choice of our safari truck originates from the desire to offer an intermediate solution from the two types of vehicles which are commonly used in the African safari tourism sector: the classic off-road Land Rovers, which carries 3 to 6 people, and the true bus-like vehicles used by overland companies which can carry groups of up to 40 people. In general, the latter means enormous vehicles of dubious off-road qualities. There are also open vehicles within the parks, but these are special vehicles of limited autonomy and are unsuitable for covering distances longer than the game drive circuits around the lodges that employ them.
We wanted to find a solution that would allow us to comfortably transport 12 passengers with the capability of handling off-road trails, off the beaten tracks and almost inaccessible areas. We therefore, directed our research towards military vehicles used for transporting troops, as well as, materials.
On the U.S. market, unfortunately, we found only oversized trucks, often equipped with 6 or 8 wheels and gasoline engines which would consume astronomical amounts of fuel. In the European market, on the other hand, we discovered some interesting models, including the legendary Unimog, a fantastic, almost bullet-proof vehicle with Mercedes mechanics. However, it was too small for our needs, so we eventually found our ideal vehicle in a truck park of the Italian army. Specifically, our selection resulted in the IVECO ACM80 4x4 (FIAT 6613 G), a mid-size load carrier of the mid-80s with a 170hp, 6-cylinder 5861cc turbo-diesel engine equipped with low gears and rear differential lock.
In Italy there are a few dealers who specialize in military vehicles in the province of Turin (www.bianciottosnc.it), Verona (www.truck4x4.it), Rome (www.brunobentivoglio.it) as well as others in the south central region. We turned to the Bianciotti brothers, in Pinerolo, near Turin, and after numerous visits, a dozen road tests and plenty of questions, one beautiful day we returned home with our brand new yellow truck.
The cost? 11,000 euros for one in good order, registered as a road service vehicle, out-the-door.
return to top

Suggestions on How to Make a Selection

An obvious, but fundamental, tip for choosing a vehicle is to simply thoroughly assess the condition of the vehicle before you make your purchase.
Generally, these particular military vehicles have many years on them, but have been used very little and, therefore, have very low mileage. In fact, it's possible to buy 20-year old vehicles which are mechanically still new. Obviously, a military vehicle of about 20 years can not be perfect, but it must be free of hidden problems that cannot be resolved with the normal maintenance that is due on any vehicle which has been stationary for a long time. It is virtually impossible to find a vehicle in which the rust has not affected some type of damage. Nevertheless, it is important to avoid vehicles presenting an excessive quantity of rust or those whose rust has been painted over.
The vital points of inspection are the roof and the floor of the cabin. The roof, especially where the hatch is located on the passenger side, should display smooth and uniform paint. If the roof is too curved, is bent or shows cracks or large areas of stucco (identifiable by tapping it with your knuckles and paying attention to the different sound compared to the metal), it would be prudent to look for another vehicle. The same applies to the floorboard under the carpet. It is here where water most often accumulates, and the metal being quite thin, it can create extensive and, possibly, difficult to recover damages.
Our advice is to get a good start; do not rush. Take your time to make your selection and do not let yourself be fooled by a coat of fresh paint. Choose a vehicle in good condition, as there are many to choose from, and do not be afraid to reject one for another, better one.
As for the brake system, at the time of the purchase, you will not be able to examine much. You'll have to buy a somewhat hidden system, aware that you will have to have it checked by a trusted mechanic, or to service it yourself (it is actually not difficult and is quite educational). Nevertheless, you can check and should expect the braking action to be even. Check that the steering wheel does not turn right or left when braking. A steering wheel which tends to turn when braking is symptomatic of one or more push-pin jaws locked or otherwise unbalanced. If you have access to a stretch of dirt road, try to lock all four tires. If you can't lock the tires on an unpaved road applying full force to the brakes, dismiss the vehicle and move on to the next.
It is also possible, and advisable, to evaluate the tightness of the pneumatic air brakes prior to purchasing. Start the engine and let the compressor build pressure in the system. Wait for the vent of the pressure relief valve (which should operate around 10 bars), switch off the engine immediately after and wait for about an hour. Then restart the engine and check the circuit pressure. If this has dropped significantly (to below 6 bars), again dismiss the vehicle and search for another. An air circuit in good working order must be able to maintain pressure indefinitely.
Mechanically, unfortunately, there is very little you can do. The vehicle will not disclose any of its flaws until after a good number of miles on the road. Ask for a warranty from the dealer in case of significant failures. At the very least, anyway, make sure there is no oil leakage from the engine block, distribution pump, transmission, transfer case, gearbox and differentials.
return to top

Demolition and Reclamation

Once we acquired the vehicle, we began dismantling it piece by piece. We removed everything we possibly could: doors, seats, battery housing, extra fuel canisters, lights, dashboard instrumentation, fuel tank, fenders, bumpers - everything, absolutely everything, that could be disassembled in order to inspect every single component, to correct defects and, in general, to familiarize ourselves with the various parts of the vehicle, their function and their assembly.
The rear cargo floor in particular, consisting of four panels of old plywood in poor condition, was completely removed to expose the bare frame. At this point, we started an extensive clean-up process of the rust damage. In fact, the wood at the points of contact with the frame had favored the stagnation of rainwater and created some significant infiltration of rust. Working with the grinder (and going through lots of disks), we removed all the rust. Two coats of Ferox and some points of welding with galvanized reinforcement plates, gave us a fully restored and stable metal good for the next 20 years! Two coats of rust inhibitor and two coats of paint put the seal on almost a month's work dedicated exclusively to the recovery of the rear frame.
The same treatment was then applied to a couple of points on the roof of the driver's cabin, to which an intervention of plastering and painting ensued. A heartfelt thanks goes to our friend Gigi, who taught us what it takes to putty and to paint at a highly professional level, from his 30 years of experience as a plasterer and painter of military aircrafts!
return to top

Mechanical Overhaul

After dismantling the entire truck and solving the problems of rust on the frame, we started working on the mechanics.
The first problem we noticed was the excessive bluish smoke from the exhaust. We thought that removing the injectors and cleaning them thoroughly with a solution of Xylene would rectify the issue. After this operation the smoke was reduced, but had not yet disappeared completely. At the suggestion of our friend, Silvano, a retired mechanic, we then investigated an abnormality we had been noticing from the beginning. The water temperature never rose, even after hours of driving. While inspecting the cooling system, we discovered a piece was missing: the thermostat! All the pieces of the puzzle now seemed to fit together. The water temperature did not rise because, always circulating through the huge radiator, it could not manage to get warm. Consequently, the engine remained "cold", without ever reaching the prescribed operating temperature (about 90 degrees). The diesel combustion chambers also remained too cold and burned the diesel improperly, producing excessive smoke. With $22 we bought a 80 degree action thermostat, set it in its proper location and, as if by magic, the water rose to 80 degrees in a few minutes and the smoke was gone. Problem solved!
Another problem we had to solve was excessive noise from one of the U-joints of the front wheel drive shaft. Above 30 mph the shaft resonated with a loud and annoying "ron-ron-ron." When we removed the shaft, we discovered that it suffered from lack of maintenance. In fact, it was completely free of grease and the bearings were rusted (the lack of lubrication, in fact, had allowed water to infiltrate it). We returned to the place where we purchased the vehicle and, armed with all the necessary tools, removed, from another vehicle, a front drive shaft in perfect condition. We replaced the defective shaft, re-greased all the shafts and U-joints and the noise was gone. Problem solved!
As anticipated, the lion's share of the mechanical overhaul was the brake system. The ACM80 is equipped with a hydraulic brake system with pneumatic power assistance, consisting of various elements (control unit, air tanks, double distribution valve, pneumo-hydraulic converters, hydraulic cylinders, brake shoes, etc.) powering the separate circuits of the front and rear wheels.
When we made our purchase, the dealer had informed us that the brakes had not been checked and that it was our responsibility to have them serviced. An estimate of about $3,000 from an authorized IVECO shop easily convinced us to equip ourselves with good will and to enlist, once again, the help of our friend Silvano, whom we had dubbed at this point, "the professor". We then started to disassemble all elements of the brake system. Each component and each valve, with the exception of the compressor, was disassembled and thoroughly overhauled. Although we had prepared ourselves for the worst, we did not find any malfunctions of the circuit components, with the exception of the power brakes and a wheel cylinder.
The power brakes of the ACM80 are large aluminum disks fitted with rubber seals, all housed in a metal container that resembles a large pot. Controlled by the pressing and depressing of the brake pedal, they move back and forth, activating a hydraulic pump, which in turn, pushes the brake fluid into the wheel cylinders. During braking, the air supply to the power brakes is provided by the pneumatic closed circuit. On release, however, the air intake from the return of the membrane is drawn from the outside. Both power brakes presented an accumulation of dirt, sand and deposits of every sort on the intake side, also due to the breakdown of the filters which provide filtering of the return air. We disassembled and cleaned each component of the power brakes and replaced the rubber seals and the external air filters. The hydraulic pumps, on the contrary, were in perfect working order, so we limited things here to disassembly, observation and reassembly.
In anticipation of intense off-road use and travel on tracks of sand and dirt, we supplied the power brakes with an additional filter system designed to mechanically separate the dust from the air and, as a result, send clean air to the power brakes.
The final operation was performed on the wheels, which we disassembled one by one, adjusting the drums, cleaning and lubricating the seats of the clamps and also removing all four wheel cylinders. During this operation, we discovered that one of them was significantly damaged. The tearing of a rubber membrane, in fact, had allowed water to infiltrate it and corrode the inner cylinder. Consequently, one of the small pistons which pushes the brake shoe against the drum was irreparably stuck. We replaced the entire piece and reassembled everything. Finally, we replaced the brake fluid and, after having cleaned the oil reservoirs, we flushed the system, took an extensive test-drive, then performed a second flush and voila! The brake system was like new!
Overall, we spent one entire month on just the servicing of the brakes. From a strictly financial perspective, it would have been better to outsource the work to a specialist, but through this educational experience we became intimately familiar with the brake system of our truck and we now know how to identify, remove and fine tune each component, if needed.
If a breakage is going to stop us one day on a trail in the African savannah, we swear it will not be due to the brakes!
return to top

Production

We now come to the highlight of this section: the building of our safari truck, i.e., how to transform a former military truck into a safari vehicle capable of carrying passengers and cargo, comfortably and efficiently.
To initiate the process, we sat down and carefully discussed what was necessary to successfully complete such an endeavor. Eventually, we established two basic concepts: a clear vision of the desired characteristics of the vehicle (a harmonious marriage between comfort, functionality, practicality and aesthetics dictated how our truck was to be structured and outfitted), as well as, careful planning of the process and its operations.
Everyone knows that in order to build any type of quality structure, whether that be a desk, a home, a skyscraper, a plane or a vehicle, there needs to be a solid foundation, and that is just where we started. We first replaced the rear cargo floor by ripping out the four original plywood panels (worn and damaged over time, and therefore, rendered unusable) and installing 5mm iron plates, which were custom cut, galvanized (to prevent the insidious penetration of rust ever becoming a problem again) and then coated, on the underbelly side, with water-resistant and sound absorbing tar.
On this almost indestructible foundation we built the entire structure above. However, before any drilling, grinding, cutting and welding took place, we designed and simulated our envisioned structure using AutoCAD. The 3D model allowed us to size each piece to the millimeter and, more importantly, to test our ideas before taking any action, so as to minimize mistakes and therefore expenses.
After we nailed down our ideal model, we began construction of the frame for the cargo compartment and the floor of the passenger space. We wanted a sizable storage compartment which would easily accommodate all personal luggage, in addition to the standard equipment of the truck, consisting of a complete camp kitchen with three-burner gas range, tents, sleeping pads, chairs, first aid kit, extra water tanks and tools and spare parts for the truck. We built the entire structure using welded and bolted U-shaped and L-shaped rods. The frame was then anchored to the bed of the vehicle along a single transversal line corresponding to the rear axis, so as to enable twisting and torquing of the rest of the structure without causing damages in situations of strong structural stresses during off-road driving. In other words, we wanted the frame to give a little, when needed. Keeping an awareness of the vehicle's high ground clearance in mind, we designed the main floor structure with a depressed center aisle, in order to keep the center of gravity low. This also resulted in optimum livability of the interior space without raising the rib structure too much, which would be especially appreciated when passing through densely wooded areas where lower branches might pose a problem. In this way, the vehicle also appears well balanced without looking top heavy.
We paid dearly in terms of construction complexity with this chosen design. However, our goal was to create a safari truck of great value and quality. Therefore, we resisted the temptation of falling prey to taking shortcuts and happily accepted the challenge and the additional work that ensued.
The main structure was built in three sections: the central corridor flanked longitudinally by the two lateral cargo compartments (these are accessible solely from the outside, by flipping down the large doors). With a height of about 12.5 inches, the structure provides a total of about 70.5 cubic feet of cargo space. To produce the side walls and ultimately enclose the passenger/cargo area, we built four rectangular frames using 3mm hollow square beams (also galvanized for optimal rust protection), anchored them in part to the frame we constructed, in part to the original structure, then finished them with 2mm panels of anodized aluminum, fastened with rivets. At this point, we were missing only the floor and the seats.


Computer aided model of the passenger area (click on the image to see the model details)

Because our intent was to balance elegance with utility in the passenger area, we discussed at length how to finish the floor. We felt that while the metal offered practical purposes, it definitely lacked the warmth and elegance needed to offer a less sterile environment. The choice of material was obvious – wood. After treating the panels with three coats of mahogany primer and two coats of glazing epoxy, we painstakingly laid each one in place.
For our passengers, we wanted 12 comfortable seats (where the key word was com-fort-able!). For us, that meant, most importantly, independent and reclining seats, capable of offering the necessary support for travel on rough roads and unpaved trails and, of course, adequate size to ensure the comfort and pleasure of being on board. These combined requirements led us to immediately discount school and shuttle bus-type seats, which were certainly inexpensive and readily available, but were not independent nor reclinable, and too small and stiff to ensure sufficient comfort. They are suitable for a simple 15-minute ride, but are undoubtedly inappropriate for long journeys in Africa. Our direct experience with safari trucks outfitted with seats like these allows us to surely recommend avoiding them.
After testing the various models available, we chose seats from the tour bus line, supplied by the company VIGO Autoindustriale (whom we thank for their patient support throughout the selection process). A special mention goes to Italian fabric artist Fulvio Luparia and his assistant Matteo Fanini, who generously donated the hand painted linen covers, which helped to achieve the refined appearance and atmosphere we desired. (Fulvio, who was among the first artists of his country to introduce the relaxed American style to Italy years ago, now spends much of his time producing unique works of art with his quadraplegic son Mattia.)
The passenger cabin sits more than six feet off the ground. In order to facilitate easy access to this space we constructed a removable aluminum ladder, which, when not in use during travel, is stored in a special cavity in the frame of the truck.
With regard to usable and drinkable water for our trips, we installed two 19 gallon boat-grade tanks. These were connected to two easily accessible external faucets installed on the outside rear of the truck. Resting on two sheets of marine-grade plywood, the tanks slide easily in and out for refilling and cleaning.
Another essential element of our safari truck is the refrigerator, which is housed at the left rear corner of the truck, in order to facilitate the ease of loading and unloading of supplies. The refrigerator is an American made EdgeStar FP630, chosen specifically for its spaciousness and efficiency. It is powered entirely by the batteries of the truck, and thanks to its low power consumption can be continuously left on (which means cold drinks and fresh food well preserved, even way out in the bush!)
With regard to the driver's cabin (i.e., the cockpit), we replaced the original truck-style seats with Italian designed Sparco brand performance seats, which, of course, offer many more hours of unequaled lumbar support on the harsh African roads. We also attached a ladder to each of the external sides in order to access the roof rack. In addition to the existing electrical system, we equipped the cabin with an independent one, used to power two fog lights, inverters for 110 and 220 AC (to charge the batteries of mobile phones, laptops and cameras) and a laptop dedicated to the GPS interface and mapping software. To complete the entire set-up we included a VHF radio, a set of two-way radios and a set of webcams with which we can monitor the passenger area and shoot short videos while on the road.
return to top

Shipping

After all construction was completed, it was time to drive our beloved truck to the shipping dock of Genoa for its long journey to Dar es Salaam, the port city and commercial capital of Tanzania.
The road trip from Turin to Genoa was a small expedition in itself. After some hours of driving on a secondary road to avoid the main highway (according to regulations of the Italian Highway Code, our vehicle is not permitted to travel on the highway), we arrived in Busalla, a small town in up-country Liguria. There, a road sign informed us that a little further up the road access would be closed to vehicles taller than 8 feet. Well aware that we were at the wheel of a vehicle a little over 13 feet we immediately knew we had a problem and paused there, not sure of how to proceed.
Fortunately, a Carabinieri patrol happened to find us, and so we asked them for advice. Quite unexpectedly, they offered us a police escort on that stretch of inaccessible road. Thus, feeling somewhat honored to be given assistance in such a way, we continued on the highway up to Bolzaneto, where we regained the secondary road to arrive later on in Genoa for an on time boarding at the Nino Ronco pier.
After completing all customs formalities and processing the documents for boarding, we drove our truck onto the pier, right in front of the vessel which was already anchored and in full loading operation. Here, for the first time since we acquired it, our truck appeared small to us, almost disappearing in the presence of rows upon rows and columns upon columns of thousands of containers.
We handed over the key to an employee of the Messina Line shipping company, then paused to give one final look at our beloved truck before turning to leave to make our journey back to Turin.

After so much hard and passionate work, we were anxious to see it again on African soil!

Special thanks go to Norberto C., Paulo N. and Rino S. of IVECO Overland Expeditions for their generous assistance and support of our project.
return to top
Safari Land Cruiser Safari Pullman IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80 IVECO ACM80