Building Betsy

We are in the process of building our second generation home-on-wheels. Betsy the bullnose (Mercedes 1517 4×4) truck will be converted from an old fire department rescue truck, to a full time home on wheels that will soon start on the amazing journey of trotting across the globe, starting with the unpredictable continent of Africa. Our goal is to do one major project in each country we reach, but to do this our truck has to be ready for anything.

We will fund and construct most of the project ourselves, but are looking for corporate sponsors that would be willing in donating supplies and equipment for the vehicle. Good quality wheels, recovery equipment, and electrical systems are extremely vital, but extremely expensive and will pose many financial challenges that might keep us from starting the journey. One of the main aspects is converting the truck so that she can run off of used vegetable oil, in the hopes of making her more eco-friendly and more affordable on fuel. We hope to find corporate sponsors that will help us in succeeding in our plan to better the lives of those that cross paths with the old red truck.

We have acquired quite a collection of tools and equipment over a couple of years that we will use in building the truck and plan on completing the build by September 2020.

Please contact us if your company can offer us any expertise, services, or necessary equipment that will assist in this very challenging venture. All corporate sponsors will be promoted on our truck by displaying your logo or company name on the sides. (Email:

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for following our progress on the truck. See the video design below:

Left side – inside
Right side – inside
Top view

Equipment we still need:

– Heavy duty winch capable of rescuing at least 9500kg’s of steel
As we will be travelling alone, and the truck will weigh around 9tons on completion, we’ll need some help in getting out of sticky situations. This means we need an industrial size winch.

– Michelin XZL 12.00R20 tyres x 6
Currently the truck is fitted with standard commercial re-treaded truck tyres, but these will not be sufficient for the roads that lie ahead. We need seriously robust tyres that will be able to carry Betsy over mountains and through countries that simply don’t have paved roads. They are extremely expensive, but very necessary.

– 8.50 R20 Wheels / Rim x6
To fit the XZL tyres.

– Victron Phoenix inverter compact 2000VA 12V
We do have an inverter, but we could only manage to afford a heavy, less reliable inverter with no warranty. We are worried that it might let us down when we need it most, and we are hoping to save up for a lightweight Victron that will give some peace of mind.

– Victron Phoenix Charger 12V
To go with the inverter, it makes sure that our batteries are always ready to go.

– 330Watt Solar panels x2
So far we have 2 x 140watt solar panels, but it’s not nearly enough to keep our four deep cycle batteries at optimal charge.

– 12V grey water pump x1
We have one for our fresh water system, but will need another for the grey water that will supply water to the toilet from waste water collected from the shower, sink, and basin.

– Diesel to vegetable oil conversion supplies
With the help of Jacques Tredoux and world record holder – Mark Sampson, we have managed to design a low-cost conversion system compared to others on the international market. It will allow our truck to run on used vegetable oil that will greatly improve our carbon footprint, as well as our fuel costs. We are now able to do the conversion ourselves, using industrial filters and a mechanical heating system to get the oil to the necessary viscosity that is needed to run the truck. We’ve also added two extra fuel tanks that was sponsored by Jacques Tredoux, from old agricultural equipment on his farm. Video link:

– Garmin Inreach Explorer GPS
Is a handheld satellite communicator will allow us to exchange messages and coordinates when out of cell signal reach – which will be most of the time. It offers a SOS function that sends our location to a contact list if there is an emergency.

– Carnet de passage:
The international customs document covers the temporary admission of motor vehicles. The CPD is still required today, in numerous countries around the world, for the temporary admission of private vehicles and motorcycles. It facilitates the temporary importation of motor vehicles by providing security for the payment of any customs duties and import taxes chargeable, should the vehicle not be re-exported. AASA is the only authorized issuer of the FIA Carnet booklet to citizens of South Africa.

– Aluminium Extrusions:

Following the advice of fellow adventurers and previous experience, we have decided to construct the frame for the camper unit from Aluminium instead of steel. Aluminium would greatly improve our overall weight and strain on Betsy’s 5.7 OM352A engine.

We are in need of at least 15 x 6m lengths of 50×50 square aluminium tubing to complete the frame.

-Chromadek 0.8mm:

The exterior of the frame will be cladded with 0.8mm Chromadek. We require:

16 X sheets of 3000x1225mm

4 X sheets of 2450x1225mm

To complete the exterior cladding.


For the interior cladding, floor, and storage we’ll use exterior grade plywood. As we need to keep the weight down, the walls and roof will be cladded with 9mm marine grade plywood, and the floor with 16mm BC+ grade pine ply.

We’ll need:

  • 4 x sheets of 2440×1220 16mm BC+ pine ply for floor
  • 16 x sheets of 9mm marine grade plywood for cladding

Polystyrene sheets (HIPS):

To insulate the camper unit from the harsh conditions outside, we’ve decided to use 50mm sheets of high impact polystyrene sheets that will be installed in between the interior and exterior cladding. 50mm thickness will be ideal as it will match the aluminium frame and fit precisely sandwiched between the cladding, we will also be able to run the electrical wiring by cutting cavities in the sheets for electrical trunking.


Betsy will need to be repainted in a red 2k Automotive paint with a matte base (to keep to the original theme of the first truck) The matte base also makes it a little tougher through the bush. The spray work will be done by one of our previous employees who has more than 10 years’ experience in the industry. We will assist where possible with sanding and preparation.

We’ll need:

  • 6l of base coat
  • 15l of topcoat
  • 10l of clear-coat lacquer
  • and 20l of 2k thinners
  • 20 x 1200 grit sanding pads
  • 20 x 2000 grit sanding pads
  • 4 x 150 grit angle grinder flapper discs
  • 1kg body filler

Reverse osmosis system:

Our projects will take us to parts of Africa that won’t have drinkable water. A small reverse osmosis water purification system will prevent us from drinking contaminated water and suffering the consequences where little to no medical help will be available.

Equipment and services that have been sponsored so far: 

Produkta Trucks Nelspruit:
– 2 x Iveco suspension seats. These seats will make our 65km/h trip over rumbling dirt roads much more bearable, and will lessen physical health risks from sitting in one position for great distances.

King Clima industries:

King Clima has developed itself into a world leading manufacturer and supplier of bus and truck air conditioners, transport refrigeration units and bus air conditioner parts. They have generously agreed to be one of our main sponsors by donating two CoolPro 2800W 12V air conditioning systems for the heated roads ahead. Kevin – from King Clima has provided us with very professional service, and expertise. A video link will be added once we receive the shipment.

Equipment we have managed to buy over a period of time: 

– 2 x 140Watt solar panels
– 4 x Enertec heavy duty 105Ah deep cycle batteries
– 12v Solar charger controller
– Hand operated 450kg winch (emergency vehicle and spare wheel lifting)
– Propane cylinder 9kg
– Propane gas cooker
– Large collection of hand tools and equipment for on-sight projects
– 12V to 220V Chinese inverter
– A+ energy rated fridge
– 2 x 50L fresh water tanks
– 1 x 65L grey water tank
– 1 x fresh water 12V pump
– Cartridge flush toilet
– Propane geyser for shower and kitchen
– Kitchen sink and appliances (everything a normal home would use)
– Timber for the structural frames of all storage compartments 18mm plywood
– Snatch rope recovery ropes and shackles
– 12V heavy duty air compressor for inflating tyres
– 4 x LED spotlights – roof mounted, as the standard headlights are not adequate
– Plumbing fittings
– Electrical fittings
– Low energy usage office equipment for admin purposes
– 4 x Aluminium windows, shatter proof with heavy duty steel frames

We will physically build the truck ourselves, and will also make use of our contacts that we have built up over the past couple of years in our previous business venture to help us.

Some of our close friends will also be assisting where they can, by lending a hand when it comes to the electrical and mechanical work that needs to be done on the build.

Bennie van Biljon is a qualified diesel mechanic and will make sure that the truck is ready for the harsh roads ahead. He specializes in commercial trucks, and has helped us with many mechanical issues in the past.

Johan van der Westhuizen has offered his electrician skills in installing our electrical system. He did an excellent job on our previous camper build.

Paulus Sithabile Nyanose is a highly skilled carpenter, previous employee, and good friend of ours that will be assisting me on the carpentry side of things.

Brendon King from K1 Civil Engineering has agreed to let us use a space on his farm outside of Nelspruit for the construction of the truck.

Jacques and Wilene Tredoux has greatly assisted us with the storage of our truck on their farm in Piketberg. It has saved us thousands of rands in storage fees, and provided a save place for the truck over the past year.

The truck will go through a couple of phases of work:

Strip and prep:
The current drop side body will be removed and sold. The profits from the sale will go towards buying supplies for the project.
Strip, repair any hidden issues and a thorough mechanical run through will be done to make sure the truck is ready for the long journey ahead. The chassis will be extended as the frame will be longer than what the truck currently is.

All rust if any will be repaired and welded, and the body work will be sanded and prepped for paint. The body/house will be painted at a later stage as it’s difficult to get into any small spaces behind the cab of the truck.

The truck will stick to the original matte theme of the first camper, but we decided to keep it red, as it was a fire department rescue vehicle. The trimmings will be sprayed in a durable bin liner that will be tough enough for Africa.

Frame and cladding:
The frame will be built from aluminium, plywood, and Chromadek, and will be insulated in between panels. Toolboxes for tools and equipment will be accessible from the outside of the truck, and all of the storage compartments need to be custom built.

Electric and plumbing:
Before the floor and wall panelling is installed, we’ll run the necessary cables and plumbing through the frame.

Emergency vehicle carrier:
If we ever get into a situation where we can’t use the truck, a motorcycle will be mounted on the back of the truck, which can be lowered with the hand winch that will also lower the spare wheels.

Windows and walls:
Our aluminium windows will be welded into the frame, and the walls will be installed.

Jolandie will be doing the interior decorating, and myself and Paulus will be building everything from scratch, and making sure that everything is built to last on the tough roads to come.

All corporate sponsors will be promoted on our truck by displaying your logo or company name on the sides. 

Please keep an eye on our facebook page for updates on the project.

Personal Info


Donation Total: R100.00