In the United States, our definition of a long-distance wheeling adventure is often much different than the rest of the world. For most, a long wheeling trip is a week. For others, it can be a few months. Sure, finding the time to make that kind of a trip usually isn't easily feasible for most, but there is a surprising amount of people that mange to make it work.
Claude-Alain Ferrière is a citizen of Switzerland with a thirst for a U.S. adventure. A photographer by trade, his plan was to come to North America and explore some of the land's best back roads and adventure locals. Instead of dealing with the hassle of shipping a vehicle from one continent to the next, he decided that he would simply purchase something in the States. The issue was that he wanted to live out of it, but needed something more capable than your average motorhome.
Through his research for the best vehicle to fit his needs, he found a company in Fletcher, North Carolina, that specialized in just what he was looking for. The company, Ujoint Off-Road, is known for its solid-axle Ford E-series van conversions and the ability to build adventure-ready rigs. Ferrière wanted to be a part of the build experience, so he flew in to help the team get his van ready for his Pan-American-and-beyond trip.
We caught up with Ferrière on his shakedown run with the van in the mountains of North Carolina. Since then, he has logged thousands of miles on his highly modified '10 Ford E-Series and is happy to report that everything is working just as he hoped.
To convert the 2010 Ford E-350 to four-wheel drive, Ferrière had Ujoint Off-Road install one of its conversion kits. Six-inch-lift Ujoint leaf springs secure the high-pinion Dana 60 front axle. Ujoint also installed its crossover steering kit along with the company's RSC (roll control system) upgrade. Since the van already has a fairly high center of gravity, a sway bar from an F-250 was used to tighten up the handling.
A gear-driven Advance Adapters Atlas II transfer case is definitely far from the norm in the 4x4 van world. Ferrière was looking for added gear reduction and was intrigued by the possibilities of the twin-stick transfer case. When locked in low range, the torque-heavy 6.0L diesel engine has plenty of power to chug the van in the dirt.
Propelling the E-350 is a full-float 10.5 Sterling rear axle. It's suspended by Ujoint's 6-inch lift springs and dampened via Bilstein 5160 shocks. The Ujoint air bags help to compensate for the varying travel weight. The rear skidplate is covering the auxiliary fuel tank, which is designed to carry 28 gallons.
If you are going to live out of your van, you're going to need a good place to sleep. Ferrière spent a tremendous amount of time determining the ins and outs of how he wanted to layout the custom interior. It has a couch by day and bed by night, and the rear portion of the van has plenty of room for occupants and storage.
Despite living on the road, Ferrière wanted some of the basic features of a modern home. This includes a fridge, sink, and electric cook top. While he opted to not install an interior shower, he does have a toilet inside.
Handling body protection is a set of lightweight aluminum bumpers from Aluminess Products. The rear bumper is outfitted with the company's tire carrier and deluxe box storage. Since going backwards can sometimes be smarter than going moving forwards, the Aluminess front bumper was modified so that the Warn VR12000 winch could be removed and attached via the rear receiver hitch when needed.
To allow Ferrière to go off grid but still power his electronics, a custom solar panel roof rack was assembled. The side holding the solar panels can be tilted to better intercept the sun's rays, while the storage side of the setup can be accessed by a custom body-mounted ladder.
At A Glance
Vehicle: '10 Ford E-350
Owner: Claude-Alain Ferrière
Stomping grounds: Geneva, Switzerland
Build Time: 6 Months
Engine: 6.0L Powerstroke turbodiesel
Transfer case(s): Advance Adapters Atlas II
Low range ratio(s): 3.0:1
Crawl ratio(s): 38.25:1
Front axle/differential: High-pinion Dana 60/Ujoint Off-Road Stage 2 w/RSC upgrade, ARB Air Locker, 4.10 gears
Rear axle/differential: Sterling 10.5/ARB Air Locker, 4.10 gears
Front: Ujoint Off-Road 6-in leaf-spring conversion, Ujoint dual shock mount w/Bilstein 5160 shocks
Rear: Ujoint Off-Road 6-in rear springs w/Ujoint overload air bags, Bilstein 5160 shocks
Steering: Ujoint crossover
Tires: 35x12.50R17 Toyo Open Country M/T
Wheels: 17x9 Pro Comp 7069 series alloy
Armor: Aluminess front and rear bumpers
Cool stuff: ARB onboard air compressor w/Ujoint mount, Warn VR 12,000-lb winch, Bushwacker flares, custom grille, Auto Meter gauges, Light Force HID lights, Hella reverse lights, 28-gal aux. fuel tank, 1350CV-equipped drivelines, Mag-Hytec transmission pan, DP custom engine tuner, custom roof rack w/solar panels