A Wheelchair-Accessible 4x4 Van For Backcountry Expeditions
It's Saturday morning. You toss a few supplies in the back of your 4x4 and head toward one of your favorite two-tracks. Maybe it's just for a day of fishing or maybe for a week of relaxation in the great outdoors. Most of us take the pleasures of four-wheeling, exploring backroads, and enjoying the solitude beyond the pavement and public campgrounds for granted. For Lance Blair, that seemed to end one night in December of 1988, when a drunk driver ran a red light.
At the young age of 18, Lance lost his leg. His first thought, "My life in the outdoors is over." But Lance chose a different path. After 20-some years of working with the disabled as an ICU nurse, he founded Disabled Explorers. The all-volunteer, non-profit organization's purpose is to expand the horizons and possibilities of the physically challenged, many now coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following a 24-day/5,000-mile expedition along the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico, he realized that while his Toyota FJ Cruiser worked for him, he needed a larger vehicle to accommodate even those restricted to a wheelchair. The obvious choice was a four-wheel drive van, and no one knows more about outfitting such a vehicle than Sportsmobile West in California. The company has been building van campers for over 40 years. The W.A.V.E. (Wheelchair Accessible Van for Expeditions) soon became a major project.
In 2003, Sportsmobile West designed their own four-wheel drive conversion, correcting shortcomings of other conversions in the process. Most of the drivetrain, except for the engine and transmission, was removed from the W.A.V.E. At the rear, the Dana 60 semi-floating axle was retained. Up front, a Dynatrac ProRock 60 axle was installed with DynaLoc hubs. If a DynaLoc hub fails, it reverts to the locked position, which makes it less likely to leave a disabled person stranded. The ProRock also features a high-knuckle front design to maximize clearance. Turning radius has been reduced to 39 feet, 2 inches. That's nearly three feet tighter than a stock two-wheel drive Ford van. The front axle is equipped with an ARB locking differential. The rear uses a Ford limited-slip. The standard axle gear ratio is 4.10:1.
Custom ARB Dakar springs were installed. A reverse shackle design was used in the front for a better ride, and all spring packs have a partial military wrap designed specifically for the Sportsmobile. ARB OME shocks round out the suspension.
All steering linkage was mounted as high as possible. By keeping the drag link virtually horizontal, bumpsteer is practically eliminated. Front and rear custom Hellwig heat-treated 1.38-inch sway bars were chosen for a smoother, more stable ride on the highway. A quick disconnect feature increases the W.A.V.E.'s wheel travel to 22 inches for serious off-highway conditions.
Behind the TorqShift five-speed, a shorter output shaft feeds power to an Advance Adapters Atlas II gear-driven transfer case with a 3:0 gear ratio. In an emergency, the Atlas allows power to be switched to front-wheel-drive-only without crawling under the vehicle. The drivetrain was beefed up with Spicer 1350 1-ton components on the front and Spicer 1410 Series on the rear.
The overall length of the long wheelbase Ford F-350 with the Power Stroke diesel engine is 140 inches. Departure angle is 32 degrees, and approach angle is an outstanding 44 degrees. By installing the Sportsmobile Track Right wheel spacers on the rear hubs, the front and rear wheels track identically at 70.5 inches.