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Thread: Merkabah: MB 2626 AK 6x6 tipper to expedition truck conversion

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    San Felipe, Chile

    Default Merkabah: MB 2626 AK 6x6 tipper to expedition truck conversion

    Hello everybody:

    I thought that it might be worth to show here my project as a way of retribution for the many good ones shown here and all the inspiration that can be brought from these pages. It is a summary of the last three years of work and even if it is not finished yet, I am confident that it will be soon.

    I am 47 and live in San Felipe, Chile, in a medium size town near Santiago, the capital city. Though mechanics is not my first choice for living, I love working on cars and this is not my first project on wheels. Some members here know the project from other forum. Hope you like/comment/criticize it.

    This project was born as a mere concept in the last seventies, when my father asked me to draw the idea for a motorhome he wanted to build from an old urban bus. I made some designs and I liked very much the three-axles one, so much that I still keep it. The idea finally never went out of the paper but the vision of a 6 wheeled camper remained stuck in my mind since then, drawing some variations from time to time. I used to draw a lot, and from then on I love six wheeled stuff.


    A few years ago I was in the middle of another project that was in a no-progress phase, a 6x6 Blazer S-10 conversion (always the 6x6 matter), and one day my wife and I went out for a little walk.


    Suddenly a bus came out from a workshop and almost marched on our feet. At that moment I had a vision: the old motorhome came into my mind again, but transformed into a 6x6 bus/expedition vehicle.

    When I got home I furiously began to draw what went into my mind and, to make a long story short, after a few hours of thinking, a few sheets, a little ink and some time with Photoshop, the initial concept was defined.


    At that moment it seemed appropriate to take a medium-sized bus of brazilian make with Mercedes base and put in three Rockwell axles available from old 6x6 REO trucks of the army. I wanted to mount an OM 352 to move the whole thing and also to create an air-spring regulated suspension; the last would need a lot of hard work on the chassis but I thought that it was a good idea at the time.

    Well, the REO trucks are very scarce here and only after a few months I found one that could fullfill my needs, and almost bought it. But the chosen model of bus tripled its price in a short period of time almost. Furthermore, the complications related to the adaptations and fabrication issues ended up killing the whole idea. Thanks God for it.


    We went on vacations to northern Chile in January 2010 and, at the end of one journey visiting a desert ghost town named Humberston, I tumbled on Edy’s Robusto. It was spectacular. The vision of the magnificent MAN remained in my hard disc since then and I thought: that’s exactly what I need! An old big truck 6x6 to refurbish and to put a living cabin on.


    I searched and searched and found no 6x6 for sale in my country. With no 6x6 at hand I looked overseas for importing a truck, Bedford, Volvo, Iveco, Mercedes, Magirus, any. I was about to import an old Magirus firetruck from Belgium with only 40.000 km, but the taxes, the dimensions, fees, insurances, the state of the wheels and restrictions of many kinds did not let me through. I thought a lot about her and made lot of drawings and designs, but I desisted with not much fighting.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    San Felipe, Chile
    So I turned local again and searched for a restricted market of IVECO and Mercedes, the brands with better chances to find trucks, pieces and good service all around. I decided to buy a 6x4 truck and convert it to 6x6.

    Me and Eduardo, my brother-in-law, best friend, and the best car mechanician ever existed, looked for and inspected many used and abused trucks, broken, welded, broken down again and rewelded and bolted as hell. I really suffered.

    One good day I found a good 6x4 candidate along with this advertising of an (almost) complete set of a 4x4 Mercedes axles and transfer case for sale.


    Unfortunately the advertising was old and the items were sold months ago, but the seller, who found my singular idea at least interesting, searched within a ton of e-mails and gave me an already unpublished selling note of a 6x6 dump truck, with no photos.

    I e-mailed the guy and he sent me the photos of the truck. At the first sight I felt some tingling in my stomach. Eduardo watched the pictures for less than a second and without a doubt he sentenced:”This is it”.


    The truck was in another city, 230 km south from home. I made an appointment with the owner and the the first weekend of june 2010 I, my wife, Eduardo and his wife went to see the truck. It was evident that it had been used and abused for many years without any care or love. The interior was a mess, both seats broken, the roof was leaking from holes of long gone warning lights, the copilot side window glass was missing, and a long painful etcetera. The engine was covered by a thick layer of grease and dirt and old hydraulic fluid. Nonetheless, the papers were OK and every light and system operated normally. The owner started the engine and the ancient OM 402 responded almost immediately with a cloud of white smoke coming from the exhaust. The sound of the motor was unequivocal in that it will require major surgery, but it sounded good anyway. The oil pressure was a little low. The selectors were all running.


    The truck was fabricated in 1979 and imported in 1988 with an unknown amount of kilometres in the odometer. Now it amuses me to think that when I was making the first drawings the actual truck was in the assembly line in Stuttgart or somewhere.

    We made an offer for the truck without the dump box and without the tyres as they would be of no use for us, and went back home. I waited the reply with a little anguish because I wanted that truck very much and could not stop drawing and thinking about it.


    Finally, he accepted the offer but he would keep the hydraulic piston and the hydraulic tank. The pump was to remain in the truck.

    The next weekend I boarded an early bus and in a rush I made the whole bureaucratic tour together with the owner to buy the truck. I paid way more than expected because I did not know of certain taxes but, in the end, I came up, exhausted, with a truck of my own.

    The next week I borrowed from a friend some almost destroyed wheels to put on the rims. I also borrowed a truck driver that worked for an uncle; none of us had a truck driver’s licence.

    So, before dawn the 17th of june, I, Eduardo, my wife and Alejandro, Eduardo’s overweighted friend and employee, got the highway again. We picked up the truck driver on our way and he did not stop talking until we got there.

    Alejandro was the happiest to get out of the 1992 Mitsubishi L200 4x4, by far the most uncomfortable rear seat of the world. As you will see, Eduardo and I share a crush for old Japanese cars, meaning first nineties cars.

    The place was a dumpyard, or almost. The past night rain turned the soil to mud. The truck was not completely on stands as intended and the absence of the dump box revealed more clearly the dirt under which the truck remained for who knows how long. It was not a very nice scenario. To put the tyres on the rims and then on the truck was an adventure in itself.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    San Felipe, Chile
    The engine started with less smoke than expected. It took centuries to get enough air pressure to unlock the maxis and the oil pressure raised normally though it kept low in ralenti. The driver, curiously short of words after his past verborrhea, just said: “Let’s go”, as if he was thinking: “Let’s go…before this damn thing explodes.”

    I took the copilot place and with a gigantic smile and feeling something like:”I am the king of the world!” we started. I remind you that I never had a truck before and only took a short trip aboard one when I was thirteen.

    The fuel tank was obviously empty so the first stop was to put some diesel in it, not to fill it up, obviously too. I calculated a consumption rate of 3 km/lt and after a big “Gulp!” I put enough fuel to make 250 km.


    After a few hundreds meters, before even getting the highway and in the middle of a crossing, suddenly a tecalan failed and the truck stopped in the middle of a cloud of dust. Don’t know if it works in Europe, but here almost everything can be fixed with a piece of wire, especially when you forget to carry some brackets. It only took three minutes and I found the wire required on the side of the road (there is always some piece there) and Eduardo applied some skill and fixed the tecalan.


    Back on the road the old Mercedes proved to run more smoothly than expected, even without any load. The oil pressure was within range and the RPM allowed for almost 90 km/hr. It speeded up better than I thought but steering and brakes needed urgent servicing. When it came to pay the highway toll I suffered again.

    We made it to arrive home by night after picking up the rear mudguards along with the lamps and the license plate that fell off the frame during the trip. We took it to the countryside and parked it there, where it would stand until it was time to begin the overhauling.

    Its name, Merkabah, came up spontaneously, as always happens. It refers to a mystic object, kind of an interdimensional vehicle to transport, only with the energy of your desire, alone or in company, from one place of the universe to another no matter how remote.

    Naturely, this particular Merkabah do not fullfill all the requisites of the real one, but maybe it does others; I wish the engine ran only with the force of your desires, with no technical or legal restrictions for its age nor fuel. Anyway, it was baptised as such.

    The next pictures show better some details and features of the truck, and make clear the need for repairing or replacing many pieces and components. The yellow truck behind the Merkabah is Eduardo’s old Ford, used only in harvest time. It would prove very useful in the near future.


    The engine was an OM 402, a 12,76 lts V8 with 257 Hp, no turbo. It did the job and got to San Felipe only because the Good Lord wanted it and Mercedes did a good job fabricating these things.

    The gear/transfer box was a divorced gigantic ZF, with eight speeds forward and two aft, with a super-low that hopefully would take me out of trouble in a near future. The photo shows its massive bulk and the web of tecalan after many years of improvisation.

    The general state of the truck was painful, as you can see. On the other hand, the chassis was OK even if there was some rust around, and I was not afraid at all by the work to be done.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Congratulation on creating your dream, I've seen some photos/video of your truck on Youtube, and know you are much further advanced than what you have shown here. Please post some more, building a really big truck like that is a massive undertaking and I'm curious to know how far you have progressed.
    Land Rover Discovery 3 TDV6
    Unimog U1250
    Unimog Adventures Videos

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Wicklow, Ireland
    I'm subscribed.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Yes a great project!! i thought i was the only crazy one around.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    French Riviera/ Glastonbury
    And thank you for sharing your adventures with us, I enjoy your narration style too.
    It's quite clear you're not in the best part of the world for finding pristine trucks that haven't worked hard; what a chellenge!
    I've ticked the notifications box, and I'm looking forward to your next installment.
    Mine is probably bigger than yours.
    (isn't that what those long signatures are about?)
    I'm talking about my truck, what were you thinking? ;-)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    San Felipe, Chile
    Thanks, guys. It is a long story. I will try to post as much as I can depending on the time.

    By the way, Alan, it is a rule to think you are the only dude to do crazy things, but soon you discover that you are just the new kid in town.

    Let's see where we were... yes, I had to take the tires back to my friend so the truck stood on some logs for a while, making it look even worst, if that was possible. Needless to say that changing the tyres of a truck is a very, very hard job.


    During the time the truck stood there I photographed all the possible angles and every component, making it probably the most photographed personal object in the world.

    The first stage of the project would be devoted to the complete overhauling of the truck. I wanted a vehicle that could take me in comfort and safety wherever I wanted. It had to be well fitted for self-recovery as I usually go out of the highway and I always travel alone.

    Well, what was this all about? The hurried sketch summarises incompletely what this venerable piece of junk needed to be done to transform it into the wanted Merkabah, an expedition vehicle that should take me to the world and beyond.

    The idea was to make the suspension more comfortable taking some spring leaves out, adding sway bars and auxiliary air springs for stability and level control when parking; to install a CTIS, to double the amount of air capacity to manage the pneumatic suspension and the CTIS, to place the air tanks in between the frame rails to free space for storage boxes, to stretch the frame by the tail as much as legally permitted, to put the original snorkel, to install very capable winches in the front and the rear, to prepare the truck for at least 1 meter of fording capability, to put in single very large tyres, to upgrade the seats, to repair and service every single component, including the complete overhauling of the engine.


    The spirit of the project was to recycle as much as possible the components of the truck and to use scrap parts to complete/repair it. The NG and SK models were very popular some time ago and you still can see them working everywhere in my country. All the work would be done by myself as long as I had the time, the strength and the skills. The place to do it would be my brother–in-law’s workshop.

    An end-date was set, more like a joke, and it was December 20th 2012. Yes… you know. I was aware that maybe it will take me much more time to complete the project but it was a good way to go at that time.

    On the second stage, once the truck was complete, I would fabricate and mount the living box, cabin, cell, or whatever its name might be. I wanted it made of GRP sandwich panels glued together and mounted on the frame with a four mount pivoting system, the usual one discussed ad nauseam in every forum on earth. I sketched a lot, trying to find the best possible shape and layout for the Box.


    I found a wrecked Mercedes pretty near the location of the Merkabah; it had been there for the last three years. Long cab, less than regular condition; chassis broken in many parts; front and aft sway bar; OM 402 burned out with no gear box; no rear axle; cabin interior no better than Merkabah’s but with some pieces reusable; all the glasses and many other parts that could be of use also. Some pieces were stolen, as was the hydraulic pump for the basculating mechanism of the cabin, and also the air valves.


    I bought it, complete, for a price that at the moment seemed very expensive. But it was worth, every cent.

    When it came the time to get hands on the workshop was full, as usual. After many discussions Eduardo convinced me that the solution was to work in the country, in a site near the location of the Merkabah, a former cattle run of his parents, where he parked the tractors, some agricultural devices and machines and many other old. The more delicate work would be done at the workshop. Not convinced at all I accepted the proposal; after all it was HIS workshop.

    On september 24th 2010, I, the truck owner, and the guys with the crane gathered. The truck was sadly baptised as “Spare”, and after tying up all that could fall apart (with wire, naturally), he was hooked from the bad looking chassis and towed to make its last trip, in reverse, to his final destination. The precariousness of the place, the cattle, gave me an uneasy feeling, but it was what there was so... with a sigh of relief I went home aboard the crane.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    San Felipe, Chile
    Some days later I began to disassemble the cabin. It had been badly stroke and badly repaired and there was a lot of rust everywhere, but there was a lot of pieces and parts that could be of use. It took me many days but in the end the interior of the cabin was completely naked and all the pieces were stored in boxes or piled somewhere else.


    When I finished with the interior I began to dismantle the exterior elements. The air tanks, the valves, the connectors, the hydraulic piping, the supports of the shock absorbers, both sway bars, the diesel tank, and all the bolts, the nuts and the screws. I took every part I could unbolt or unscrew.

    Believe me, it was a pretty hard job under the famous summer sun of San Felipe.

    I borrowed from a good friend that owns a machine-shop at San Felipe a bridge-crane to take out the engines from the two trucks. I assembled the crane alone but Alejandro helped me to make it stand, and we had some trouble moving it because the metal wheels sank into the smooth soil. Damn cattle!

    It was a two days long tricky maneuver, dealing with heavy pieces of steel, short slings, loosen bolts and every possible issue named in Murphy’s law manual. With the cabin finally hanging free it was needed only a gentle pulling with the Terrano and the engine was exposed.


    Well, the engine was pulled out and left aside and the front axle was disassembled along with the suspension system of the cabin. Eduardo and I put the frame on one side of the cattle and then we went to take the venerable John Deere and installed the front-loader with which the cabin was lifted and left it in its momentarily definitive site, flanked by old used tyres and rusted parts and pieces of steel. The place was ready to receive the Merkabah.


    Meanwhile, I was desperately trying to get proper tyres and rims, fruitlessly. I fell in love with six Alcoa 22,5 aluminum wide rims offered for an apparently good price at some place in Santiago and I bought them thinking it was a bargain. Nope. There were no tyres for them on the local market and they did not look good on the Merkabah neither as the bolting disc was misplaced. There was no possibility for refunding so I kept them and cried alone.


    Anyway, I managed to mount some old tyres on the rims to put on the truck back in driving condition and drove it for the last time to the cattle. On November 18th, I parked the truck in the proper position and the “fine” work began.


  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    San Felipe, Chile
    I lifted the cabin with the crane but forgot to disconnect the gearshift lever and with a muffled bump the lever bent and the cabin bruised. Eduardo came that afternoon to give me a hand. There was no need for words; his killing glance was enough.


    The truck and the engine were pretty dirty so I decided to clean them up before any dismantling work took place. Two sessions of a couple of hours with the hydroblaster and the picture was very different.


    It was necessary to make room to work on the engines in the workshop, so the remainings of the brown Blazer, donor of the afterparts for the congealed 6x6 Blazer project, had to be taken from the workshop to the cattle. The space left was supposed to be enough to work on. Ha!


    Only after a few days we were able to discharge the half Blazer and work on the two engines. Joking and playing, Eduardo and Alejandro helped me to lift them up and secure them to the bed of the old Ford. We then took both V8 to the workshop.


    The next day I borrowed a big front-loader from another good friend and put both engines on the floor. Despite the movements the space remaining for working was scarcer than expected as it was occupied by the unfinished 6x6 Blazer.


    I began the disassembling of the engine of Spare and every step was photographed extensely. I kept a precise order for storing everything and tried to learn as much as possible from it to be prepared when disassembling the engine of the Merkabah.

    The process was very interesting. Spare’s engine had been burned out and the coolant system was a mess, but some components were in good condition, even better than Merkabah’s. Carmen and all the friends and curious put the same face and told the same words at the view of the massive block lying on the floor, something like WTF!


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