Dependability has
a name: ELMO.

On a round-the-world trip with the Unimog expedition vehicle – part 2.

During their round-the-world trip, the ELMO team consisting of Sonja, Dirk and their Unimog from 1992 have already covered more than 45,000 kilometres. Without a single breakdown. In the second part of our interview, the proud adventurers tell us about the modifications to their Unimog U 427 1450 L and the exciting destinations they are still heading for with ELMO.

On a round-the-world trip with the Unimog expedition vehicle – Part 1

Modifications to the Unimog expedition vehicle.

A world tour makes certain demands of an expedition vehicle. What modifications to your Unimog did you carry out?

Dirk: We found ELMO in Belgium. It had been parked in a warehouse there for a long time. So we first had to arrange its emigration. And as is normal when a vehicle has stood in a garage for a long time, we subjected it to a major inspection. All the brake linings and fluids were replaced during the course of this.

Sonja: We also took this opportunity to get rid of the gas heater and have a proper diesel heater installed. The electrics were also brought up to date. We use the interior of the body as it was built, with a table and bench seats that can be turned into a bed. We almost always leave the bed in place though, as we can sit outside perfectly well. The kitchen and bathroom were also already there. We simply modified them slightly to suit our needs. For example, we installed an additional washbasin and a different shower.

A spot of DIY for the car and motorcycle mechanic: Dirk Erker carried out much of the work on ELMO himself.
He welded ELMO's roof carrier to the Unimog by himself...
...as he did the auxiliary fuel tank, ...
...the practical scissor-action steps...
and the overhead console for the radio and communications equipment.
For more comfort on the road, ELMO was also given more comfortable seats.
A spot of DIY for the car and motorcycle mechanic: Dirk Erker carried out much of the work on ELMO himself.
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Dirk: The other things we added were a roof carrier, a ladder and a bull-bar – all of which we welded on ourselves. And the same was true for the overhead console for the radio, communications equipment and stowage compartments. We then installed suspension seats as used by the military – mechanical, not with air suspension. They came from the ambulance body used by the German armed forces. Then we built a central stowage box. Overall, we sought to create more storage space. At 6.6 tonnes we're still very light though. And that's despite having 200 l of water and 370 l of fuel on-board. That amount of fuel can take us around 2000 km. This is why we installed an auxiliary fuel tank – though we have to pump the fuel from one to the other. Then we gave the Unimog some sound insulation, as we had over 100 dB in the passenger area. Fortunately we found a suitable insulation kit. The new insulation must be 2.5 cm or more in thickness, and it's brought us down to 80 dB. So we can now hold a conversation. On our first trip to Saxony we found that ELMO had problems on gradients. Every truck was passing us with ease. So we increased the engine output. It had 135 hp before, and we uprated it to 164 hp – I didn't want any more than that, though. This solved the problem, and it also pulls away well on hills. Otherwise the engine and transmission are original, just like the drivetrain. We did nothing more to it, except for the shock absorbers. But we were already in Mongolia by then.

New shock absorbers for ELMO.

What led to that? I imagine it was quite complicated to find the right parts in Mongolia.

Dirk: It was due to a design error. When the chassis was installed at the rear – i.e. the mounting plate for the vehicle body, the wings were installed too low. When the shock absorbers started to compress on off-road stretches, the wings would make contact with the tyres. So in the Crimea, I cut off the wings and welded them on higher up. However, this had the effect that the vehicle body was able to oscillate. And we noticed this in the Pamir mountains. We were really frightened when the body started to rock alarmingly. And then we found that the shock absorbers had seen better days. This was one of those things we weren't able to spot beforehand. So we had to find a solution while on the road. My supplier checked the vehicle number and the product number of the shock absorbers, and threw his hands up in the air. "Listen, Dirk", he said, "there's already a fifth generation of these shock absorbers, and they aren't installed any more anyway. You'll need something more up-to-date". So he put together a package, and when we arrived in Mongolia, our parts were already waiting for us. When the shock absorbers were replaced, we also had a major inspection carried out on the Unimog – including the valves etc. After that we practically had a new vehicle.

Wow, what a vehicle we had bought for ourselves. The Unimog showed no damage whatsoever – no seals or anything else.

Dirk Erker, car and motorbike mechanic on a round-the-world trip

And what about maintenance? Is much work needed to keep ELMO fit?

Dirk: I change the engine oil every 20,000 km. I change the front axle oil at 40,000 km, and the front axle has been slightly modified. There are special containers on it, so that the oil doesn't disappear into the axles on fast motorway stretches. I telephoned Gaggenau about this beforehand. They recommended a certain oil for the transmission and portal axles, and it works really well. We found no swarf during oil-changes, only the usual abrasion. In Tajikistan I once overheated the brakes on a downhill stretch – although I really know better. We stopped the vehicle and saw that the brake fluid was leaking from the overflow reservoir. Measuring the temperature showed 200 degrees at the axle. On the next day we had a more detailed look. The brake discs had a slight blue tinge, but that also disappeared after two days. Which really made me think: Wow, what a vehicle we've bought for ourselves. The Unimog showed no damage whatsoever – no seals or anything.

Did you need to modify anything else than the shock absorbers in the Unimog on your travels?

Dirk: In Mongolia we discovered that despite good batteries, we had far too little electrical power in the body. So we decided to find out more about solar power…

Sonja: …and preferably in Australia, where they know a lot about the sun.

Dirk: And that's exactly how it was, too. In Melbourne we got to know a Unimog owner, who told me "We'll get that done at my house – I know how to do it". Then he gave me the name of a shop and told me what parts I needed to buy. So that's what I did, and together we packed 370 watts onto the roof. The alternator is also connected to this system now. That's how we do things: whenever something goes wrong, we sort things along the way.

Sonja: The good thing is that we find places to contact for jobs like this everywhere on our travels, but sometimes we are simply invited.

Dirk: That's right. I have to say, the worldwide Unimog community is enormous. We have already received invitations to Chile and North America. There are people everywhere who drive a Unimog, want to help us and are curious to meet ELMO. We quite often receive messages from people who say "Come and see us, whatever happens!". It's something of a recurring theme throughout the journey.

Sonja, Dirk and ELMO took to the road more than one year earlier than planned. Some of the modifications were therefore simply carried out along the route. In the Crimea, Dirk installed the wings of the Unimog a little higher up.
In the Pamir mountains, team ELMO noticed that new shock absorbers were needed. So in Mongolia it was 'no sooner said than done'.
The DIY work also continued in Australia. ELMO was given a photovoltaic system with the help of some new friends.
The DIY work also continued in Australia. ELMO was given a photovoltaic system with the help of some new friends.
Sonja, Dirk and ELMO took to the road more than one year earlier than planned. Some of the modifications were therefore simply carried out along the route. In the Crimea, Dirk installed the wings of the Unimog a little higher up.
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Canada, the USA and more – team ELMO's plans.

You have already travelled great distances with ELMO. Do you already know where your journey will take you next?

Dirk: The only certainty is that the USA will be the next stage after Australia. That is where we are shipping ELMO to next. Then we want to go to Canada, but we have no idea where to, when we'll go back to the USA and when we'll subsequently head to Mexico. We'll just let things take their course. Our aim, in any case, is to travel to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. So we have a general plan, but we're open-minded about the degree to which we'll stick to it.

Sonja: Many things are also decided en route. For example, we are given many tips by local people we happen to meet. Or we just say to ourselves, come on, let's head off over there.

Dirk: And usually these are the most memorable experiences, as you simply don't know what will happen tomorrow.

Sonja: And surprises like these can't be booked in advance.

More about team ELMO.

On their round-the-world trip, Sonja, Dirk and ELMO have exciting adventures practically every day. We are monitoring their progress, and will keep reporting on their travels.

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