The Car Camel

About 20 years back I started thinking about what I considered to be a completely new class of vehicle.

It seemed obvious to me that the ubiquitous pickup truck, so much a part of the American culture, was, and still is, one of the most useless vehicles ever conceived. Apparently I was not alone with these thoughts as you can read here

I really started thinking seriously about this after studying, and pricing, a flatbed truck as used by tow companies to move cars around. The idea of lifting the car more than a meter in the air so that it could be carried over the top of the differential and suspension of the flat bed seemed to be ridiculous. I figured that a much better solution would be to use a front wheel drive vehicle and carry the load on a deck between the rear wheels. At the time 1982 -5 the Chrysler Minivan was a new concept but it only sported a 4 cylinder engine which just didn’t have the power that a vehicle of the type I was envisioning would require.

I had, on a trip to the Carolinas, seen a similar type of vehicle built from of a Cadillac Eldorado but this was a pretty rough sort of rig using the original Eldorado chassis with a tray big enough to carry a car fitted where the rear seats and trunk used to be.

Other projects and working for a living got in the way for many intervening years but in the late ’80s and ’90s the minivan really came of age and they were now fitted with powerful V6 engines which would be more than adequate for my purposes and I started giving the idea deeper consideration. I felt strongly that if the rear suspension were designed properly the vehicle could be made to kneel down, like a camel, for simple loading eliminating the need for loading ramps. Over the years the concept started to take shape and, after I learned how to use a good 3D CAD program I started to sketch things up.transporter.jpg

I looked at many possibilities for the rear suspension from swing arms to lever actuated systems and everything in between. I finally hit on the idea of using air springs. These things have been around for years and are very reliable. I managed to design a suspension system which used a trailing and a leading arm on each side. I could find no information on a leading arm suspension system and had to spend quite a bit of time studying the dynamics of such a system to ensure that it would behave in the manner I required. susp-detail.jpg

 

A couple of years ago I decided that it was time to either build the vehicle of forget about it, so build it I did. I started off with a perfectly good 1994 Dodge Caravan and had Dwight Auer cut about 1 1/2 meters out of the middle.

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Because the minivan is a unibody type of construction we had to build a fairly substantial subframe inside to attach the deck to. What we did was probably overkill but I figured better safe than bent. Fortunately the fuel tank on a Caravan is easily moved forward but re-routing the fuel filler took a little time.

The deck was constructed of rectangular tubing with heavy expanded metal as the load surface.

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The suspension arms pivot on the steel shafts that you can see poking out the side of the deck. Once the deck was completed the entire thing was sent off for hot dip galvanizing. This turned out to be a bit of a disaster because, despite my sending detailed instructions that the frame was to be used as an air reservoir, the galvanizers decided that they had to cut holes in every closed member for venting, which they proceeded to do with a gas torch. I managed to convince them that they had screwed up royally and they agreed to weld all the holes closed and make things good, which they did.

To get the air springs to inflate I installed the air suspension compressor from an Oldsmobile under the van floor and using a series of solenoid valves and relays managed to set things up such that I can inflate the air springs in sequence to ensure that the leading axle gets up to full pressure before the loaded ride height is trimmed using those of the rear axle.

The deck brakes are straight off the Caravan and I built an air cylinder operated compensator which adjusts the pressure to the rear brakes in proportion to the load that that axle is carrying to prevent premature lock up when unloaded.

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We have been using the transporter for some time now and all the engineering is working very well. No major issues have arisen and on a trip of over 3000 km to Newfoundland hauling a Mini rally car, all its support equipment and two people with all their gear we averaged over 23 MPG (imperial).

 

Loading is really easy with the onboard winch and the expanded metal deck prevents the slipping and sliding issues i had with my previous trailer.

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The rig remarkably easy to manouver although the turning circle is somewhat increased as a result of the extended wheelbase. Vision through the huge rear window, particularly when unloaded is fantastic and I can back up to within a few inches of a car to be loaded.

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About Michael

Who is this guy? Born in New Zealand some time back. Went to Maori Hill Primary School then Kaikorai Valley High before joining the RNZAF and an Airman Cadet in 1968. Graduated 1972 with an NZCE in Aeronautical Engineering. Then embarked on the typical Kiwis "Big Trip Overseas". Got to see quite a few places, and spent a while in the U.K. "home" as it was refered to by many New Zealanders in those days, before travelling on to New York and then to Canada by bus!! This trip is presently on hold (has been for the last 34 years). Met my dear wife Judy not long after arriving in Ontario and we have been happily married since 1976. After travelling around New Zealand and the pacific in 1979 I started Precision Sportscar andfor the next 23 years grew the business and helped raise 2 boys Drew and Robin.
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21 Responses to The Car Camel

  1. Robert says:

    Just stunning! 🙂

  2. Shawn says:

    I saw you at Targa NL last year. This was so well done I thought it might have been a limited fleet sales vehicle!

    Great Work!

  3. Corvus says:

    You should say in your article how much you would charge to make a second one for someone else. Canadian ingenuity at it’s finest.

  4. Michael Salter says:

    When I add up the bills the total job cost about $10,000 plus MANY MANY hours of design, pneumatics and electrical work.
    On a limited commercial basis I would bet one could be done for $10-12 K

  5. Slonie says:

    Sir, I want to shake your hand.

  6. Mad Max says:

    I want one !!! great work…and I have not even read the article yet.

    Doug

  7. Alberta says:

    There s so interesting for us! Thanx!

  8. Could you direct me to manufacturers of components and any help in using what you have learned to build into a travel trailer. I am working on something and want it to be lowered to the ground and yet still have enough clearance for transportation. We are wanting to create a product that dodges some building codes for campgrounds and allow for a tiny cottage that will easily fit into DOT codes and be moved onto a campground for rental or use.

  9. A.Chan says:

    Awesome build. Saw you in RH yesterday, did a double take when I saw your creation. Couldn’t help but snap a couple pictures…hope you don’t mind.

  10. blanchae says:

    Great idea. The best part was to have the rear door still operational – that blew me away. I would suggest that the trailer part be painted the same color as the body to blend it in more. Also some side panels would make it flow better. Well done.

  11. car and part says:

    How much you ask. Well I’m open to reasonable offers but they would have to be close to these. The $us prices were the the equivalent at the time of writing but should be taken a a guide only.

  12. turbomini says:

    ok since the hole post says nothing about how you made it work on the van chassis can you post how you made the trailer frame hook up to the van body? i am thinking about doing something close to this but i am looking for idea’s as to how to make it attach to the trailer, thanks

  13. Michael Salter says:

    As I said in the post “we had to build a fairly substantial subframe inside to attach the deck to. What we did was probably overkill but I figured better safe than bent.”
    But your question is valid as I didn’t elaborate on this.
    Once the rear of the van was cut off the rear ends of the sills were open. We installed sections of 3″ angle iron into the sills which reached all the way up to the front to the sills (at the back of the front wheel openings). These sections of angle iron were then through bolted to both the top and the inner face of the sills.
    We then welded a section of 8″ “I” beam across the back ends of the angle irons with the flanges forward to produce a flat face to which the rear tray eventually could be bolted. Working from the inside of the cut off van we then ran a diagonal brace of 2 x 3 inch hollow tubing, welded to the top of the previously mentioned sections of angle iron, at an angle running from just rear of the door openings up to the area where the van’s taillights were originally located. where we welded them to pieces of 3/8″ flat plate installed behind the sheet metal where the tail lights were originally mounted. A 2 x 2 inch vertical tie was then welded between these plates and the top flange of the “I” beam. There are eight 1/2″ diameter bolts securing the front face of the tray to the “I” beam and two 1/2″ bolts securing the plates on the braces on the front of the tray to the plates behind the original tail light mounting positions.

  14. turbomini says:

    hmm thats a good sounding system, i have been thinking about something like this for a few months now and i ran across your posts and it shows it can be done! do you happen to have pictures of the braces? and did you have to do anything to the front struts or springs to hold the extra abuse? also was it a AWD mini van? in the picture of the van cut down it looks to be a drive shaft or exhaust handing down, 🙂

    also i just noticed my previous posts sounded mean i did not mean to it just came out that way sorry!

  15. Michael Salter says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the bracing. It was done in the days before I had a camera phone and didn’t have my camera on hand during the build.

    If you take a look at the pictures you will see that the wheels for the tray are located pretty well at the mid point of the tray, this serves several purposes.
    1. The weight of the load is carried almost entirely on the rear 4 wheels. This is emphasized by the fact that I run the forward set of rear wheels, the ones with the brakes, up to full pressure before adding pressure to the rearmost air springs. As a result of this the load on the original equipment front springs and struts is no greater than that exerted by a standard Caravan.
    2. The further forward the tray’s wheels are the further the rear of the tray drops when the air springs are deflated. The position I chose results in the back edge of the tray being 1″ from the ground on a flat surface making loading pretty easy.
    3. By keeping the rear wheels as far forward as possible the vehicle is less likely to high-center. One of the things I would concentrate on for a MkII version would be moving the fuel tank so that it is not the low point of the vehicle. It does ground out occasionally if you are not careful.

    The van I used was a regular FWD. All wheel drive would be the wrong way to go as the whole purpose was to eliminate having any of the drive train under the load.
    As an aside I should mention that a newer van with ABS would present a bit of a problem if you wanted to use the ABS because the 13″ rear wheels would require the machining of a pair of special reluctor rings to produce the correct input frequency to the ABS sensors. Rear wheel ABS would be of little advantage because loss of control as a result of spinning is virtually eliminated because the rear rear wheels have no brakes so they would always track straight even if the other 4 wheels were to be locked up. (IMHO people who can’t drive need ABS I despise it!!!)

  16. turbomini says:

    (IMHO people who can’t drive need ABS I despise it!!!)

    thats very true i agree,

    i want to build one of these to haul my shelby charger to the track, and i am gonna use a 92 base model but i would LOVE to see the under side of the van, and i like the air ride idea it must ride smooth! i am full of questions, but the main one is how long is your deck? i appreciate you answering my questions! thanks again!

  17. Pliska says:

    Pretty cool rig!

  18. corrado613 says:

    very cool idea. I really like it. how is it registered? i’m in ontario too and am curious as to how you got that done. is it still registered as a minivan? any issues getting it all legal-like n stuff???

  19. Genius design, The idea of using a front wheel drive car is really cool. Its an out of the box idea and I’m sure it will be a great vehicle. With more refinement, you can get this vehicle into mass production. I also wondering about the registration of your car, is it categorized just like the normal tow truck? Thanks for sharing your wonderful invention.

  20. Tony E says:

    It’s funny, I’ve had a similar idea for a chrysler mini van for about the last 17/18 years. great to see someone do this, but my concern has always been the engine/ transmission combo. The larger v6’s are solid engines, but the transmissions are very fluid specific, wrong fluid and the tranny is gone. cool idea hauling a car and trailer though. maybe someday soon I’ll build me one. Already built handfull of trailers, so the fabs not a problem. Great job on it!

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