The Turtle V


Bound for Adventure

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Starting to look like an expedition camper, The Turtle V has been on a few backroads around our Northern California homebase. Much testing is still needed to fine-tune this experimental prototype.

The latest in the 40-year dynasty of Turtle Expedition research trucks, the all new Turtle V and its Tortuga Expedition Camper may take us another step toward the elusive goal of the ultimate backroad travel/adventure vehicle, but it is an experiment. It isn’t often that The Turtle Expedition builds a new travel/research vehicle, but when we do, our goals are unwavering: safety, comfort, functional performance, and above all, reliability.

Ford’s Super Duty F-550 4X4, powered by the reliable International Power Stroke Intercooled Turbo Diesel, puts this truck in a class by itself, while still maintaining the comfort and maneuverability of the American pick-up. The cab is the same as an F-250, but a closer look reveals a massive Dana 135 differential in the rear, with a frame and suspension designed to carry a GVWR of 17,500 pounds!! We are talking Heavy-Duty. Kind of like an F-350 on steroids! The Dana 60 differential up front has served us well over the years, but we are working to resolve problems with the sealed bearing assembly which cannot be serviced on the road.


A Buckstop bumper wraps around and under the Super Duty F-Series grill to hold a 12,000-lb Warn Industrial winch with a 10-inch roller-fairlead and 125 feet of 3/8″ cable. PIAA 910’s were recessed into the bumper, and a pair of PIAA 120-watt 80 Pro-XT’s were mounted on the grill guard.


Custom Bushwacker Fender Flares made room for 20-inch Stockton Wheels and Michelin 335/80R20 XZL MPT tires. Problems with front bearings have prompted us to experiment with 22.5 wheels from Rickson Truck Accessories. This will give us a much bigger choice of tires.

A custom, European-style, expedition camper has been designed and mounted to the chassis of the F-550 using a three-point suspension system. In 2001-2002, The Turtle Expedition will start some serious testing. Build-up articles have appeared in Four Wheeler Magazine, and will continue to be published in Power Stroke Registry and Trailer Life as we explore some backroads in Mexico, Mississippi, Florida, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Michigan. By the end of 2002, we will have made a decision whether or not to build a limited number of refined Tortuga Expedition Campers for sale, and we will begin final preparation for our next big adventure. Destinations under consideration are Mongolia, Africa, and the Northern Silk Road through Kazakhstan and across the Taklamakan Desert in Northwestern China. In Chinese, Taklamakan means, “If you go in, you won’t come out”!

Specifications in a Nut Shell


A bank of Auto Meter Pro-Comp mechanical gauges share the dash with a Lowrance GlobalMap 1600. Walnut inserts replace the ashtray and cup holder, making room for the Passport SR1 radar & laser detector’s miniature display module and other switches. A Terratrip is mounted on the custom hardwood center console.

Base Vehicle: 1999 Ford F-550
Design and Assembly: The Turtle Expedition, Unlimited
Engine: International 7.3 L Power Stroke Turbo Intercooled Diesel V8 equipped with a 4″ Magnaflow Performance Exhaust system and a K&N High Flow air filter
Torque: 520 ft. lbs. @ 1600 rpm
Horsepower: 235 @ 2,700 rpm
Transmission: Factory six-speed
Transfer Case: Factory two-speed
Locking Hubs: Manual
Suspension: National Spring packs with dual Rancho 9000 adjustable shocks
Rear Differential: Dana 135 with Detroit Locker
Front Differential: Dana 60 with ARB Air Locker
Tires: Michelin 335/80R20 XZL MPT
Wheels: Stockton Wheel steel (custom)
Weight: To be determined
Fuel Capacity: 80 Gallons Camper Tortuga Expedition Camper


GENERAL HISTORY 1999 to 2001:


The Rhino Lining applied to the floor helps reduce road noise, and in combination with Kraco Multi-Season floor mats, makes clean-up a breeze. A Kiddy Safety Halotron fire extinguisher was mounted next to each Recaro orthopedic seat.

Most of the modifications we have made to our previous Fords to increase their reliability were already stock on the F-550 Super Duty with the Power Stroke V8 Turbo Intercooled Diesel. For its intended use, the dual rear wheels had to go, yet we wanted to keep the weight capacity up around 17,000 lbs. Adapting 20″ or 22.5″ custom wheels, finding tires that could carry the weight and offer traction without excess noise or a harsh ride, and determining the correct offset for the wheels to allow the tires to track in line has been an ongoing dilemma.


A cut-a-way photo shows the honeycomb structure of the Nida-Core material. A thin layer of fiberglass and resin gives the Nida-Core panels amazing strength and rigidity.

With the foundation more or less ready, we contracted Safari Vehicles in Canada to build the camper. However, their work was so sloppy and so poorly engineered, we were forced to move the project back to California.

Since then we have spent more time redoing the mistakes of Safari Vehicles than it would have taken to start from scratch.


The uncoated panels of Nida-Core are incredibly light. Nida-Core is a new extruded polypropylene honeycomb material similar to what airplanes are made of. Notice how little flex there is under Monika’s weight.

The underlying obstacle has been that the concept of a true long-distance overland four-wheel drive camper has never been developed in the United States. The meticulous engineering we observed during our visits to European companies like Alustar, UNICAT and Langer & Bock simply does not exist in the North American RV market, unless you go to a 60-foot Blue Bird or Marathon motorcoach—–but then of course, you’ve defeated the purpose. They’re too big to go anywhere!

Still being weight conscious, but wanting to build a full hard-side stand-up camper, we turned to Nida Core, an extruded polypropylene honeycomb material similar to what airplanes are made of. Nida-Core is lighter than balsa wood, but when sheathed with a thin layer of fiberglass, it becomes extremely rigid, with excellent insulation properties and extraordinary impact strength.


An aluminum exoskeleton was welded and attached to the F-550’s frame rails using a three-point suspension system copied from European campers. The 1 1/2-inch Nida Core panels were then attached to the aluminum frame using a Sikaflex marine adhesive.

A box is a box, but an expedition camper is the sum of its components. Outfitting the inside of the Tortuga Expedition Camper became the next challenge in this experiment. We had seen ideas in European expedition campers that demanded our attention and envy. Could these ideas be adapted to an American pick-up to make life on the backroads of the world a little more comfortable.

For example, a shower/toilet bathroom, even if it’s combined, consumes a huge volume of dead air space in a small camper. The simple solution is to put the shower stall in the doorway. A Thetford Porta Potti slides out from a side compartment into the same space,—-which is a doorway 99% of the time. We have poked fun at the “shit-shower-shave-cook-breakfast-at-the-same-time-please-don’t-get-the toilet paper-wet” RV designs for years, since we never had the luxury of an inside toilet or shower. Frankly, we still fail to see the value of having two sinks you can reach out and touch at the same time. It’s OK to brush your teeth in the kitchen. But an inside toilet and a shower? Maybe there was a way.


In the beginning, a camper is just a box. In this case, the box is made of Nida Core. The camper’s front and sides were tapered to reduce wind resistance and improve clearance.


With a floor in place, Monika sits in the kitchen and surveys her new home on the road. With everything being built by hand, we had to carefully consider the placement of individual components. In retrospect, a CAD program is essential for this.

Building a custom expedition camper from the ground up for the first time, without the use of a CAD (computer assisted design) program, has been frustrating, to say the least. Finding craftsmen who could grasp the concept has been difficult. You cannot ask a home kitchen cabinet maker to build the interior of a yacht or an expedition camper, where every square inch must be taken advantage of and every ounce counts. It’s like asking your local butcher to do eye surgery. Despite our ability to assemble the most functional, reliable and highest quality components available from RV and marine sources, it has been like gathering a group of the best musicians in the World and asking them to play a concert perfectly the first time. They may each be the best in their own right, but they have never seen each other. Some don’t even speak the same language! Quality and performance is their bond, but some practice is in order. Suspension, electrical, plumbing, and cabinetry problems continue to delay our completion date. And then there is $100,000.00 question:

While every effort was made to design The Turtle V as small and compact as possible, will it be too big to go where we want to go? It’s still a pick-up up front, and we can still pull into a single parking space at Burger King, but its 10 foot height, 8 foot width, and 23 foot length (bumper to spare) drives bigger and feels bigger. Some backroad testing will give us the answer. In any case, after a year and a half of design, planning and costly mistakes, we can fully understand now why a similarly sized UNICAT expedition camper built in Germany on a Mercedes Unimog or M.A.N. chassis costs from $250,000 to over $500,000,—– and maybe they’re too big too. The Turtle V and its Tortuga Expedition Camper are still an experiment.



A comfortable bed with a good outside view was one of our priorities. Liteco and Hella florescent lights are cool and draw little power. Monika’s book tells the story; “Where the Pavement Ends”.

International Power Stroke 7.3 Liter Intercooled Turbo V8. producing 520 lbs. of torque and 235 hp. Cruise control will hold at 65-70 mph on most hills. Economy has averaged around 14.5 mpg. The Turtle Expedition had the honor of receiving the One Millionth Power Stroke Diesel Engine.


Factory fuel system has been modified by adding a Racor auxiliary fuel filter/water separator/fuel heater. A Transfer Flow auxiliary tank was added to boost the capacity to about 80 gallons if you top it up. The Power Stroke is equipped with its own fuel filter/water separator and fuel heater. An electric fuel transfer pump has replaced the mechanical pumps of previous International diesels.



For day use, the bed folds up into a nap couch, adding living space to the complete kitchen. Grain-matched cherry cabinets and Corian counter tops offer a touch of practical luxury.

Magnaflow Performance 4″ Stainless exhaust system, custom installed by Magnaflow.


Factory towing/ambulance package includes heavy duty radiator transmission cooler, power steering cooler and engine oil cooler.
Fleetguard ES Lifetime Coolant


Two Optima Red Top starting batteries are kept fully charged by a dedicated alternator. The engine is equipped with the dual alternator system, part of the ambulance package.



A complete kitchen allows us to prepare healthy meals on the road. Magic Chef’s Tru-Seal 3-burner range with its RV Superburner and Piezo ignition is state of the art.

ZF six-speed manual transmission and two-speed transfer case, with PTO option. Remote breathers are attached to K&N filters.


The front Dana 60 is equipped with an ARB Air Locking Differential system. The rear Dana 135 holds a Detroit Locker. Remote breathers are attached to K&N filters.


Drive lines are regularly overhauled and balanced by Central Drive Line Service in Sacramento, CA.


Both front and rear brakes use quality Raybestos components.


First set: Stockton Wheel custom 20″ steel.
Tires are Michelin 335/80R20 XZL MPT
Second set: Rickson Truck Accessories custom 22.5 steel
Michelin 275/80R22.5 XDE M/S



A Dometic Compact RV microwave oven for RVs features all the touch-pad automatic controls of home units. It will save valuable propane while running off renewable 12-volt power inverted to 110-volt by our PROsine 2.0.

All spring packs are custom made and installed by National Spring. The front uses a SuperLiftduel shock kit with Rancho 9000 adjustable shocks set on their light setting. The rear uses single Rancho 9000’s.


Factory steering includes a heavy duty power steering cooler. A Rancho heavy duty steering stabilizer is fitted. The truck is equipped with a hand-stitched Ford leather steering wheel which incorporates the electronics for the Ford cruise control system.


A Buckstop bumper wraps around and under the Super Duty F-Series grill to hold a 12,000-lb Warn Industrial winch with a 10-inch roller-fairlead and 125 feet of 3/8″ cable. PIAA 910’s were recessed into the bumper, and a pair of PIAA 120-watt 80 Pro-XT’s were mounted on the grill guard. A rear bumper is still under design. It will include a fold- down guard with a trailer hitch and a rack for bikes or other equipment. Bumpers are powder coated by Prismatic Powders.



A little test camping in the California Sierras gives us ideas on how to make this Tortuga Expedition Camper more functional. Better to test equipment here than in the middle of Mongolia.

Recaro orthopedic seats with adjustable side bolsters and head rests. Passenger and driver’sside are fitted with adjustable lumbar supports. Both seats are full electric, with heaters and power vents. Schroth three-point safety harnesses replace factory belts.


A solid walnut center console was custom made to our specifications. It holds a Terratrip rallye trip-meter on an adjustable bracket from The Clip Company. Two closed compartments hold a variety of travel items. A hidden compartment is large enough for money, keys and security items.


A custom walnut overhead console contains a Cobra Night Watch Sound Tracker CB, two Liteco halogen map lights, four JRV LED switches which control our PIAA driving and back-up lights, the SmarTire LED interactive display module, and the front sensor for our Passport SR1 radar & laser detector. The Sound Tracker includes a PA and seven weather channels. A Cobra Dynamic External Speaker increases the CB’s clarity which is fed by a Wilson Trucker 5000 antenna.



• Two Kidde Safety halon fire extinguishers are mounted in the cab.
• Full Auto Meter Comp Series mechanical gauges including Oil Press., Water Temp., Volts, Exhaust Temp., and Boost. Stainless braided hose was used where needed.
• Auto Meter Pro Lite oil pressure warning light
• Lowrance Globalmap 1600 dash-mounted GPS with remote antenna
• Custom space blanket windshield and side covers
• Seats are equipped with Cascade Design’s Platypus Water Chest 3s which hold 3 liters of water with convenient bite tubes next to driver and passenger.
• Kraco All-Weather floor mats
• Lund rock and bug deflector
• Lund Winter and Summer grill covers
• Covercraft custom cab cover
• Cab floor is coated with Rhino Lining
• Dynamat soundproofing in doors and back wall
• Factory air, tilt steering and cruise control
• AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo with premium speaker system
• Sony 10-disc CD changer
• Auxiliary keyed-alike security American locks on all doors and exterior compartments and accessories
• Kryptonite Steering Lock
• Two sets of Pewag cross-link mud and snow chains
• Full winch kit with straps, gloves, snatch blocks, tow chain, etc.
• Custom one-of-a-kind graphics depict drifting sand dunes and the famous Turtle crawling over the World
• Plasticolor heavy duty mud guards designed with safety cables for severe conditions
• Bushwacker custom fender flares painted to match truck



The dinette will seat two or three comfortably, and by using a Tempress Products SeatShell folding boat seat with a quick-disconnect mount on a Springfield Kingpin removable pedestal, there’s room for a fourth. A Springfield Lagun table support allows a lightweight Nida-Core table to swing out of the way.

The Tortuga Expedition Camper is patterned after the expedition campers we have studied inEurope. Its walls are constructed of 1 1/2″ thick panels of Nida Core, an extruded polypropylene honeycomb material similar to what airplanes are made of. Nida-Core is lighter than balsa wood, but when sheathed with a thin layer of fiberglass, it becomes extremely rigid, with excellent insulation properties and extraordinary impact strength. The panels of Nida Core are attached to an exoskeleton of aluminum using Sikaflex 292 marine adhesive.


• 1 1/2 inch Nida Core construction with 1/8″ -3/16″ fiberglass skin on both sides set into aluminum exoskeleton
• Seitz dual-pane windows with built-in mosquito and privacy screens.
• EuroLine triple-seal door with marine hatch cover / screened window in entry
• Interior walls lined with 1/2″ foam board and Formica


• Liteco fluorescent lights
• Hella fluorescent lights and spot halogen reading lamps
• Twin Fantastic roof vents
• Twin Hella Turbo Fans
• Hella waterproof entry lights
• Waterproof switches inside entry for step, entry and porch lights


• 40-gallon (151 liters) main fresh water tank
• Heavy duty Shurflo water pump with SHURflo accumulator tank
• Everpure two-stage water filter using EPA approved superchlorination purification system
• Seaward 6-gallon (22.7 liters) marine water heater (heat exchange from engine or 120-AC) (can also be heated by ESPAR Hydronic D5 Coolant Heater)
• Two showers, one inside and one outside, both using Watts Thermostatic Mixing Valve
• Espar D3LC 11,000 BTU diesel powered compact air heater
• Espar Hydronic D5 17,000 BTU diesel powered compact coolant heater capable of heating hot water tank, camper, engine, cab, or any combination with seven-day automatic timer.
• Hunter HW6 Thermistor Controlled Heater variable 6,000 to 20,000 BTU plumbed to the engine’s coolant system and the Hydronic D5
• Thetford Porta Potti
• Inside shower and kitchen sink have separate grey water holding tanks



A slide-out compartment contains a Thetford 565 Porta Potti which features a permanently-mounted rotating pour-out spout for no-splash emptying.

• Norcold 120 AC/12 DC compressor refrigerator (Does not need to be level.)
• Dometic RV compact microwave oven
• Maytag Tru-Seal 3-burner range with RV Superburner and Piezo ignition
• Slide-out bed converts to a nap-couch during the day
• McNichols Flex Matt venting under mattress
• Twin stainless steel sinks
• Full-size American Standard sink fixture with sprayer and soap dispenser
• Separate faucet for fine-filtered and purified dechlorinated drinking water
• Corian counter tops
• Grain-matched cherry cabinets with full-extension drawer glides, high-end articulating hinges and marine latches.
• Articulating table can accommodate four with auxiliary pedestal seat
• Reinforced table brace
• High quality fabric and high density foam used in seats and bed
• Sony AM/FM/CD/Cassette stereo with remote control
• Sony 10-disc CD changer with remote control
• Sony and Western Marine speaker system
• JRV clock with alarm
• Floor covering is high-traffic slate-colored tile



A Statpower PROsine 2.0 2000 watt inverter supplies 110 volt AC from our battery bank, and features a 100 amp converter/automatic battery charger when shore power is available.

• Statpower PROsine 2.0 2000 watt inverter–(12 volt DC to 110 volt AC), and 100 amp converter (110 volt AC shore power to 12 volt DC with automatic battery charger)
• Two roof-mounted BP85 Laser Grooved Solar Modules
• RV Power Products Solar Boost 2000E regulates and maximizes the output from the BP Solar Modules.
• Four Optima Yellow Top deep cycle batteries
• A dedicated Prestolite/Leece-Neville alternator keeps camper battery bank fully charged on the road
• A Balmar Marine Regulator monitors temperature and charge rate of both the Prestolite/Leece-Neville alternator and the battery bank
• Heart Interface Link 10 battery bank monitor
• JRV 12-volt outlets where needed inside and in external compartments
• 110-volt outlets where needed inside and in external compartments
• 1,000 amp transformer (240-volts AC to 120-volts AC)
• Warn quick plug-in battery cables allows truck or other vehicles to be jump-started from camper battery bank
• Blue Sea 110-volt AC and 12-volt DC marine electrical distribution panels using back-lit Carlingswitch breakers control all electrical power in the camper.
• Therm-O-Link wire is used throughout camper. Therm-O-Link has an outer sheath that does not melt even if a short occurs
• All 12-volt DC and 110-volt AC connections where made with Quick-Cable Guardian Heat-Shrink Soderless Terminals, and protected by Quick-Cable Nylon Loom.



When we’re stopped, two roof-mounted BP85 Laser Grooved Solar Modules regulated by an RV Power Products Solar Boost 2000E will keep our Optima deep cycle batteries charged. Two Fantastic Power Vents provide a cool breeze, eliminating the need for air conditioning in most conditions.

• Kwikee two-stage electric step
• Full length A&E Horizon awning
• Four PIAA flood/back-up lights wired to the truck transmission with manual override
• Custom aluminum cab-over roof rack with mounting pad for GPS antenna, powder coated to match camper
• Two PIAA flood lights on roof rack sides
• Perko marine waterproof porch light
• Insulated Highway Products external compartment doors
• Hella courtesy lights in external storage compartments
• Twin Manchester 20# LP tanks with automatic switchover valve and level gauges
• Heavy Duty rear spare tire rack with Maasdam Pow’r-Pull lowering system
• Twin jerry can racks lock extra Wedco European style fuel and water cans in place and incorporate a skid-proof standing platform
• Overland Hardware brackets lock two Dærr sand ladders in place
• All turn and stop lamps are sealed Grote SuperNova LEDs
• All running lights are sealed Grote LEDs protected by Grote Thin Line LED Lamp Guards
• Powder coated Billet Specialties lighted frame holds our personalized license plate, TURTLE V
• Folding steps and stainless steel hand-holds facilitate climbing on the roof
• All external compartments and wheel wells are protected by NIC’s Grip-Tite polymer coating



With the Magnaflow Performance Exhaust exiting straight back, special rallye-style retainers were designed by Overland Hardware to keep the PlastiColor Dually Mud Guards from being damaged when backing up in brush, deep water or snow. In extreme cases the stainless steel retaining cable can be used to clip the mud flaps up.

• Two folding chairs
• Outside table
• Compact folding ladder
• Cordless Black & Decker vacuum
• MagCharger onboard rechargeable flashlight
• Halon fire extinguishers
• American security locks on all external doors keyed alike
• 30-quart engine oil reservoir in wheel well
• Full Yakima sports roof rack
• Yakima Packasport storage pod
• Twin Fiamm stainless air horns can be sounded from inside camper
• Emergency crawl-through into cab
• Coleman gas bar-B-Q with quick disconnect
• Quick disconnect propane outlet on awning side
• Two 5,000 lb Lincoln hydraulic jacks
• 6,000 lb Hi-Lift jack with sand plate
• MAX Multi-Purpose ax/shovel/pick Forest Tool
• Plasticolor heavy duty mud guards designed with safety cables for severe conditions.
• Daerr sand ladders
• Ready Welder II portable MIG welder
• GAST 110-volt/170-psi compressor
• Pre-Pro Assembly 500 cu in reserve air tank