The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

The Millennial Falcon

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This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 42

Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

She May Not Look Like Much, But She’s Got it Where it Counts

Millenials are often looked at as a bunch of undisciplined commitment-phobes. Talk-show panels discuss their unconventional proclivities like a bunch of jabbering scientists hypothesizing about Dolly the cloned sheep. Although this age group might be lambasted for defying norms that many people regard as the zenith of human existence, sometimes you’ve got to wonder if they’ve got things more figured out than you’d care to admit. Nicholas Bauer is one such member of this generation who isn’t putting an image-driven lifestyle ahead of pragmatism. Unlike many who now live hand to mouth for the sake of keeping up appearances, he’s too busy building cool sh*t and enjoying the wanderlust it affords him.

“As a millennial, rising home prices have far exceeded both income growth and inflation during this modern period, in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. I realized that financing a home is a serious 30-year fixed commitment that I don’t want. I wanted a home that I could build with cash and no financing, one that can adapt to the modern American economic times by moving anywhere, over any terrain, when required. I enjoy living a completely debt-free lifestyle, even with a limited budget,” Bauer says. Did an image of your most recent credit card statement just come to mind? Contain your reluctant jealousy and read on.

Nick’s an automotive engineer by trade and has done everything from designing Local Motors’ Rally Fighters (covered in RECOIL Issue 14), to serving as head of manufacturing at Thor Trucks, to working as a mechanical engineer at Nikola — two companies quickly giving Tesla a run for its money in the electric semi-truck space. That said, it’s clear he’s got the acumen to design and build damn near anything on his own. While some retiring baby boomers are selling off everything and traveling the country in an expensive RV, Nick went about it in reverse. The vehicle you see here is affectionately referred to as the Dragon Wagon.

The Dragon Wagon's forward control steering box linkage is a work of art, and not inconsiderable ingenuity.

The Dragon Wagon's forward control steering box linkage is a work of art, and not inconsiderable ingenuity.

At first blush it looks like some sort of bastardized HEMTT, because it came to Nick as a work in progress, started by the previous owner. While the cab is from an Oshkosh MK48, the running gear is actually from a BMY M932A2 6×6 truck, which consists of a Cummins 6CTA 8.3L motor and Allison five-speed with selectable, low-range, six-wheel drive. Since it’s a civilian motor, parts are much easier to get. In the front camper section, the engine cover is custom and stylized to access the engine just like it is on a HEMTT.

“It’s extremely nimble due to its tractor truck wheelbase, the shortest of all the M900 series 5-tons at only 2½ feet longer (2.58 to be exact), than a Ford Excursion. It’s also very light, weighing in at just under 26,000 pounds and thus is fully street legal in the USA without the need for a CDL if not used for non-commercial purposes and as a private residence,” Nick says. “It has a top speed of 65 mph and a reliable cruising speed of 55 mph, it gets a confirmed 8 mpg on the highway at 55 mph, 3 mpg off-road, and can hold 110 gallons of diesel for a range of 800 miles on road or 330 miles off-road.”

The splicing of two different truck DNAs understandably led to some Frakensteining to make them get along. The front frame was extended and boxed in with ½-inch plate to make it more resilient in case it needs to be picked up by a wrecker. “The steering is custom, with a 180-degree in-and-out steering shaft that adapts the forward control MK48 cab to the 5-ton tractor box. The steering arm is push/pull and hydraulically assisted with a ram on the passenger side,” Nick says. Making it livable came about by adding a 1987 Fleetwood Prowler camper. Although a box of this era may not have been his first choice, the Craigslist find was cheap, practical, and had a low ceiling height that’d be proportional to the size of the cab.

Home, sweet self-reliant home.

Home, sweet self-reliant home.

Some of the more mechanically inclined reading this may be asking how he grafted living quarters to frame. “The camper sits atop a pivoting subframe, which allows the camper to move independently of the Dragon Wagon’s frame,” Nick says. “I designed and prototyped this on another, smaller expedition vehicle I own. The original design is based on the three-point camper pivot engineered by Mercedes-Benz on the Unimog 404 series. Without the pivoting subframe, the camper would be ripped apart when the Dragon Wagon’s frame flexes.”

“After lifting the camper in the air, I cut the fifth-wheel tongue and suspension off. My pivoting subframe had alignment tabs that allowed me to perfectly center it in place underneath the Prowler’s frame. It was then lowered and driven to an area where it could be welded to the subframe pivots I constructed,” Nick says. The rear frame was too short for the camper, so Nick cut the horns off and water-jetted about another 5 feet of frame section that he welded on to support the rear camper pivot and tow hooks for anything he wants to pull with it.

The camper has 300 watts of solar from Renogy 100-watt 12-volt monocrystalline panels, 200ah worth of energy storage in 12-volt SLA batteries, a Xantrex PROWatt 2000 for the inverter, and a Xantrex C40 charge controller. “The current setup is more than enough to run my laptop, LED lights inside, and water pump for the shower,” Nick says. The cab was upgraded with a GPS speedometer and VDO gauges to replace unreliable military units for all engine temps as well as rearview and passenger-side cameras with a 4-inch monitor for all the blind spots.

Isolating the camper shell from the frame took a lot of work, but it means the toughest terrain can be tackled without things coming apart at the seams.

Isolating the camper shell from the frame took a lot of work, but it means the toughest terrain can be tackled without things coming apart at the seams.

“Future camper mods include 1kW worth of solar and 20 kWh worth of storage using Nissan Leaf cells in between the area of the cab and camper. I wish to build a self-sufficient home and 48V DC power supply large enough to do DC arc and MIG welding with a modern inverter and split A/C for cooling using nothing but the sun for power. The goal is to be completely self-sufficient without the need to spend money on any consumables,” Nick says.

Although it won’t do anything in less than 12 parsecs, we’re impressed by both the engineering to make it livable and highway compatible, as well as the practical repurposing of a remaindered military vehicle for a nomadic lifestyle unhindered by debt. Could Nick be pioneering a new genre of “mobile homes” that’d appeal to an entire generation that major automakers can’t seem to successfully engage? Since he is in fact offering to build other similar vehicles for those who can come to an appropriate negotiation, we’re wondering if Nick’s going to be the next Elon Musk. He’s definitely someone we’ll keep an eye on and anxiously await his next project. If he starts dating Amber Heard, we’ll be first in line to buy stock in any IPO that he’s pulling the strings on.

Dragon Wagon Cab: MK48
Chassis: 1994 M932A2
Engine: Cummins 6CTA 8.3L
Transmission: Allison five-speed
Overall Length: 32 feet
Width: 96 inches
Height: 12½ feet

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