When the trucks on dealers’ lots won’t do, these companies can build the heavy-duty hauler of your dreams
“If some is good, more is better, and too much is just right!” Most of us recognize this as the mantra for an extreme lifestyle, but there is some truth to it. With the exceptions of alcohol, pork fat and high explosives (especially when used in combination), having too much of a good thing is, well, good — especially when it comes to tow rigs.
Having more tow vehicle than you need means you’ll always have plenty of towing capacity, horsepower, payload and braking to ensure a safe journey, and the bigger the trailer, the more important the tow rig becomes. After all, there are those of us who aren’t satisfied with readily available fifth-wheel trailers and want something custom that fulfills every desire. Part and parcel to this “no compromises” attitude is bringing everything along for the ride, from motorcycles to golf carts to small cars. If you count yourself among this elite few, then a truck from the lot of your local dealership probably isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need to go custom.
Lucky for you, a number of companies can handle your needs, from building a personalized Ford F-350 to a medium-duty Freightliner originally intended for commercial use. Each company has its own offerings and methodology for providing dream trucks for RVers, from customizing what you already have to starting from scratch with an order form. To make the shopping experience easier, we’re highlighting some of the more popular truck-conversion companies that have been in business for 20 years or more and have a long track record of high-quality work. Let’s go extreme shopping!
You could say that Valparaiso, Indiana-based Classy Chassis Custom Truck Conversions is as much a consulting business as it is a truck upfitter. “What we do, and the reason we exist, really, is to help mid to large fifth-wheel-trailer customers,” explains Classy Chassis owner Tom Martin. “By help, we mean advise them on buying the right truck — the safest one possible.”
“With so many issues to consider, from bed-to-trailer clearance to misleading tow ratings and inaccurate trailer weights, RVers can end up with a truck that’s not big and strong enough for their application,” Martin explains. “It can get really confusing for the first-time buyer, and they can easily make a lot of mistakes.”
Established in 1975, Classy Chassis uses a simple “good, better, best” scenario to help customers find the right truck in terms of load ratings and tow capacity. With this in mind, the most popular models are the Chevy 3500 dually, Ford F-450 and Ram 5500, the latter of which begins life as a cab and chassis and is then upfitted in-house.
“The Ram 5500 is the top of the line in terms of towing and weight-carrying capacity,” Martin says. “There aren’t many trailers that it can’t tow, and it will carry up to 7,500 pounds of pin weight and cargo. I feel safe towing up to 26,000 pounds with that one,” Martin adds, though he acknowledges that the factory rating is higher than that.
To this platform, Martin and his team add a Kelderman air-ride rear suspension, a Classy Chassis aluminum Haul-It-All bed, an auxiliary fuel tank, a Hensley or Comfort Ride fifth-wheel hitch and other details. With a body shop on site, the company can provide custom or matching paint but leaves the interior pretty much as is. “We start with a Ram 5500 Laramie, which is loaded to begin with — leather seating, climate control, power everything. There’s really not much to add except for some auxiliary switches.”
The ordering process is likewise painless. Martin tries to keep a few of the most popular models and color combinations on his lot, and usually has others on order. If you choose to start from scratch, expect to wait six weeks for the truck to be delivered and another six for the upfitting. Classy Chassis can also upfit an existing truck and accepts trades.
800-223-4330 | www.classychassistrucks.com
Located in southern Oregon, just 37 miles from the California border, Highway Products is a family-owned business that has been producing custom truck beds and accessories since 1980. Its business model is fairly simple — you bring them your Chevy, Ford, Ram, Freightliner or other truck, and they build a bed to fit your specs and install it at their 100,000-square-foot facility.
The weather-resistant, marine-grade aluminum bodies start with 1⁄8-inch diamond-plate decking, 3⁄16-inch painted body panels and a Zolatone-coated bed. Then Highway Products incorporates popular features, like a 30,000-pound combo fifth-wheel and gooseneck ball hitch, flow-through tailgate, Class 5 hitch receiver, seven-pin receptacle and a body-paint-matched headache rack with LED directional and load lights.
A center hatch behind the rear window can be fitted with an optional Transfer Flow 60-gallon fuel tank with a lockable fuel door. And because Highway Products knows that RVers need easy access to tools, hoses and other gear, each body has 70 cubic feet of lighted storage, accessible through slam-latch doors with hydraulic struts.
Can’t get to southern Oregon? Highway Products can direct you to the nearest dealer or ship to an upfitter, body shop or fabricator of your choice.
877-690-4679 | www.highwayproducts.com
The name pretty much says it all. When you have serious mountain grades to conquer on your cross-country journey, Phoenix, Arizona-based Mountain Master has the serious equipment needed to get the job done, regardless of the trailer and gear you plan to tow. Mountain Master skips right past the run-of-the-mill dually, kicking things off with a Ford F-550 or a Ram 5500 and moving up from there to a Ford F-650 or its flagship Freightliners.
With the latter, it all starts by perusing the company’s website, then deciding on extended-cab two door or crew cab, one of three different engine-and-transmission combos (including a 450-horsepower Detroit Diesel with 1,650 lb-ft of torque), storage configuration (top, side, or top and side), side steps and body style. Then Mountain Master will go through 11 pages of Freightliner specs to make sure the correct truck is ordered before any custom work begins.
“There is a knowledge gap between dealers who sell for commercial use and RVers who don’t know the difference between commercial and RV use or specification,” explains Gerry Piercey, Mountain Master’s RV manager. “So they’ll buy a used commercial truck and proceed to disassemble their fifth-wheel with it. We build Class 5 through Class 8 [semi-tractor] specifically for RV use.”
Key differences between its trucks and readily available commercial models include a softer rear suspension, more sound-deadening material, taller (numerically lower) gearing and location of the rear axle (cab-to-axle dimension). This last point is where a lot of buyers get into trouble when buying a commercial truck. “The rear axle and hitch are too close to the cab, which eliminates storage space for motorcycles, golf carts or anything else you’d like to carry,” he says.
Mountain Master also fits its trucks with an air-ride hitch and offers Gen-Box silent generator toolboxes to accommodate 4,500-, 5,500- or 6,500-watt power systems. And, of course, a multitude of custom interior and electronics options are available to make your time on the road effortless and enjoyable. “The number-one thing we keep in mind is that our truck will serve as the family car, so we do whatever it takes to make sure it is civilized,” Piercey adds.
888-686-6278 | www.mountainmaster.net
Established in 1994 as an ambulance and emergency-vehicle manufacturing company, Clinton, Oklahoma-based SportChassis entered the RV segment in 1996 to address the growing trend toward larger, heavier and more luxuriously equipped fifth-wheel trailers. Using Freightliner products exclusively, SportChassis prides itself on being an original-equipment manufacturer, not a converter.
“That holds several advantages,” explains Chris Brinkley, advertising and marketing manager for SportChassis. “Once the truck is complete, anyone that looks up that VIN code will know how the truck was equipped from our factory. With a vehicle converter, it will just show the bare truck that they started with, not the value of everything in it. So having our own VIN code helps with financing, insurance and resale value. And if any- thing ever goes wrong with one of our trucks, the customer can have it serviced at any Freightliner dealership — it’s built into the warranty.”
The process starts with a Freightliner M2 Business Class Chassis with no interior (except a driver’s seat), and a VIN code that designates the truck as a SportChassis from the beginning. The trucks are then revised for RV use, meaning the suspension is softened, sound-deadening material is added, and a taller gear ratio is specified. As a side note, this process “derates” the chassis from a 38,500-pound gross vehicle weight rating to a 19,500-pound gvwr, and as a result, no commercial driver’s license is required in most cases.
SportChassis then adds its own body subframe and side skins made from .125-thick CNC-machined aluminum, maintaining a consistent tolerance of 0.004-inch throughout. This way, if the vehicle is ever damaged, any blemished aluminum part can be replaced with its exact replica. The once-bare cabin undergoes 20 hours of labor to emerge as a luxuriously appointed interior, fitted with the electronics and options of the customer’s choosing.
SportChassis trucks are available through the company’s dealer network in four models: RHA-350, RHA-450, P2-350 and P2/P4-XL.
580-323-4100 | www.sportchassis.com