Posted by: Steve and Bethany | March 19, 2009

THE BASE VEHICLE

date; 3/27/09

Once I determined that a cab & chassis would work for my design, the search began. I knew based on my initial designs that a chassis with a 12’ frame with an 84” cab to axle was required.

I began my search with the GMC , looked fine, worked fine, but one problem I found here was that my initial sketches solved the dog beds, clothing storage, & full time queen bed best  with a standard cab, not a double or quad cab. The extra length was more than I needed, the wider turning radius was not desirable, & it put the dog’s heads too far behind us! . The standard cab in and of itself wasn’t the problem, but GMC looked at the standard cab as more of a work truck. As a result, it didn’t have the interior package I wanted, that being nicer materials such as power windows & locks, navigation, cruise control, etc. In essence, I wanted the Denali interior with the standard cab, & they couldn’t do that.  They only offer the double or quad cab.

Next was the Dodge, I of course, found the same problem. The standard cab felt.. ..cheap, no upgrade options, I got bad stories about the navigation from a Dodge salesman no less, stating that you had to be stopped to input destinations, which makes no sense given that Bethany plugs in destinations  as we drive to determine where we’re going, & we’re not going to pull over and stop to keep going! I understand the reasoning, they don’t want drivers inputting addresses while driving. Maybe they need a sensor in the passenger seat to allow this when someone’s sitting there. I did test drive one though, my first test drive of a 12’ cab & chassis & was somewhat dismayed at how big & cumbersome it was to drive, was this what I was creating? A big cumbersome camper? Not part of my ‘nimble through the woods’ plan.

Being the Toyota guy (after all these years, I really trust their engineering) that was naturally my next step – no go, no cab & chassis there.

Ford, never really attracted to them, I realize that 90% of all state, city & private work truck platforms out there are ford, really, look around, but they have this chest puffed up posture that reminds me of a baby faced kid acting tough, (I get these weird images in my head sometimes & I can’t get them out!) obviously Fords are reliable or there wouldn’t be so many out there, but the boxy styling bothers me.

All this time, I’d seen the Sterling Bullet in advertisements, but they were all diesel, & I’d never had a diesel.  Plus, I felt it would be too loud to move stealthily through the woods, & not scare the bejesus out of the wildlife. We tend to make a full pass through campgrounds, when we actually stay at one, before we choose a site, & I like to not disturb the other campers. I also learned that Bullets are made in the Dodge factory & share the same cabs, just a bigger frame, & I assumed, had the same pitfalls of the Dodge, just bigger.

Now I started to expand my possibilities, by considering getting a Toyota, probably Tundra, fully dressed up, removing the bed, cutting & extending the frame before the rear axle, to get the frame I needed. We test drove one and found: a good engine, lots of power, average or below gas mileage- but a contender. The more I thought about it however, the more I realized that although yes, I could extend the frame, it would still be a frame cross section, designed for a specific span between the axles.  I would be adding 32” to that (or roughly 130% its intended span) my architectural background told me that, really, the weight on a beam doesn’t affect the depth of the beam as quickly as the span. So, eventually, I gave up this idea.

At this point I got exasperated as I usually do, being a designer, I can see whatever it is I need so clearly in my head, it’s usually so simple, but not out there. This goes with all sorts of things, hinges, pens, hose reels, light fixtures, hoist systems, clothing! I’m really good at taking existing things & redesigning them into substantially better things (in my opinion anyway) now that I think about it, my college friends may want me to rethink my past clothing style! Fortunately for my sanity, Bethany & I had a trip up to Portland OR.  We were scheduled to go out to dinner at the Portland City Grill, a brilliant restaurant that surpasses every other place we’ve been (we just cook at home a lot now) plus, this one table looks down 30 floors, to where we first met , little did I know how important this trip would be for this project.

I’d scheduled to test drive a Sterling Bullet as well as a Ford (I was getting desperate, & had to leave my weird images behind) at Northside Ford earlier that Saturday afternoon. When we pulled in, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Bullet, it has a tough charisma that was lessened a little by the ‘sterling white’ paint job (they all come in white). Our salesman started it up, and to my & Bethany’s surprise, the 6.7 Cummins wasn’t as loud as I feared or had heard in other trucks. I also noticed no, I mean no, visible or other signs of exhaust . I was informed that this Cummings turbo engine was the most advanced diesel engine ever produced, emitting the least exhaust ever not produced. I was also informed that infact I could get an upgraded interior with all of my wants, no problem. They happened to have a bullet 5500 4×4, 12’ frame, 84” cab to axle in stock, this particular one had a basic interior, but that wouldn’t affect a test drive, so Bethany & I took it out for a ride. From the moment I pulled out of the parking lot, I knew it, this felt right, turning radius was tight, power steering was nimble & responsive, engine power, it’s a 6.7 liter diesel, What do you think! I shifted into 4 wheel drive, smooth as Bethany’s bosoms! Now I started to question my first impression of the Dodge I’d test driven, had I just gotten desperate for any vehicle to work? So after a little discussion on options, I told the salesman I had to go test drive the Dodge again (was that rude?). We quickly booked over to a Dodge dealer nearby & took out a similar cab & chassis, all specs the same, nope, my first & now second impressions were the same. To this day, I don’t know what parts sterling has, that differ from the Dodge in terms of steering & turning radius, but Dodge lost this competition. We quickly drove back to Northside Ford, Bethany writing down the pros & cons of the bullet,

Pros – available interior packages, navigation, not having to cut & extend the frame, this truck being new, will last us forever(into our retirement), great styling, standard cab, turning radius, diesel engine will last forever, good sized tires & frame, really low exhaust

Cons – bigger motor than we would need, although this was a quiet engine by diesel standards, it was still louder than what we planned, it was a dually & I’d have to change that to a single rear wheel configuration for real four wheeling. I knew sterling stopped making the bullets in 2009, so was getting parts going to be a problem down the road, & lastly, what was gas mileage with this engine?

bullet42081

When we got back to Northside Ford we did our obligatory test drive of a similar Ford unit, (it was OK, but it felt like a ‘unit’!) nope, we were sold on the Bullet. We also talked through all of our concerns & ‘cons’ enough to realize that the Sterling Bullet was for us, plus, it’s named the same thing as this blog, what a coincidence!

Finally, these months of frustration were done, our project was about to begin, we now had a base vehicle and a great meal that evening to boot! And yes, we got our favorite window table.

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