Once we narrowed our focus to either a used Earthroamer or the Bengal Tiger, I emailed Mark Guild at Provan www.tigervehicles.com with a bunch of questions about what modifications could be done to a Bengal. Among the modifications I asked for were a cassette toilet, solar, and all diesel appliances. He replied that the cassette and diesel appliance options were not really available on the Bengal, but he was developing a new model that was going to be debuted in the spring called a Malayan, it was the same size as the Bengal, but had an aluminum body like the larger Siberian model, and would have both the cassette toilet, diesel appliances, and a solar package as either standard items or options. The aluminum body also allowed for greater insulation which gave much better cold weather capability. While the price was higher, it was within our budget. This sounded close to our ideal vehicle. In February Ton and I visited Provan, where we were able to look at the prototype Malayan as it was completing it’s build and a completed Bengal. From February to April there were a series of email’s between Mark and us about technical details, and of course price negotiations. In April we sent a deposit check and the build began.
New Truck or Old Truck
Ron really wants to take the Malayan to South America and that poses a problem. All trucks built in the US since 2007 require Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (less than 15 ppm of sulfur). The problem is in most of South America ULSD is not available. After a lot of research it became clear that there was a lot of risk to running a truck requiring ULSD on high sulfur diesel. This problem is particularly acute in Central America and the Northern countires in South America where the diesel can be greater than 500 ppm of Sulfur. The effects of high sulfur diesel on a ULSD engine can be significant. While there are plans to convert to ULSD or at least LSD (less than 50 ppm sulfur) in South America progress is slow.
One way to get around this problem would be to mount the cabin on a pre-2007 truck. Ron talked to Mark at Provan during our visit about the feasibility of doing this and he said it was feasible. In fact he offered to mount the Malayan on an older chassis and when we returned from South America to remount it on a new chassis. The other option would have been to purchase a truck with a gasoline engine instead of a diesel engine. We decided against this due to our strong desire for a one fuel system vehicle, and also a strong belief that we wanted the strength and durability of a diesel engine.
Researching availability there were plenty of low mileage F350’s and Chevy/GMC 3500 trucks available that would have worked. However, after a lot of discussion of plans Ton pointed out that our plans were to spend at least a year and probably two in North America before visiting Europe and South America. If we go to Europe first, then South America there will be another 5 years for the conversion to ULSD in South America to take place. So the final decision was to go with a new truck.
GM, Ford, or Chrylsler
What truck to use? Provan offers to build on all three 1ton trucks available in the US. We quickly eliminated Chrysler from contention due to no real dealer structure in either Europe of South America (we decided that Fiat did not count). Update from 2020. Our impression of dealer support in Europe was wrong, while we do not see many American pickups in Europe the ones we do see are Fords, and RAM’s so Chevy is the least supported vehicle in Europe. While the F350 and the 3500 series are North America unique vehicles research did indicate that most GM and Ford dealers would take some degree of responsibility for repairs on the trucks in both Europe and South America.
It was an interesting discussion between Ton and I over the two remaining options. It turns out Ton is a Ford Truck person and I am a Chevy truck person. Actually neither of us knew this until it was time to actually pick a truck but like all good Ford v Chevy truck debates neither of us were going to give ground easily.
The advantages for Chevy were:
1. Independent front suspension. Depending on how you are going to use the truck this is either an advantage or a disadvantage. The Ford has a solid front axle which gives you better off road capability. Our plans are 90% asphalt driving and 10% dirt road driving with no intentional off roading. For those reasons the better ride and handling of the independent front suspension of the Chevy was a plus.
2. Heavy Repair Issues. Certain major repairs on the Ford are best done with the cab of the truck removed. All repairs reportedly can be done on the F350 with the cab in place, but may take substantially longer. Ford did have some early reliability issues with the diesel engine in the F350 that they appear to have worked out, but that weighed on our decision. All repairs on the Chevy truck are designed to be done with the cab in place. Once the cabin for the Malayan was mounted removing the cab of the truck was not an option so the Chevy had an advantage.
The advantages for Ford were:
1. No 1 selling truck and most common platform for “adventure” vehicles. Earthroamer uses Ford exclusively, the Malayan prototype we looked at was on a F350 so Ford is obviously doing something right. We did not know this at the time, but the F series is going to go into limited production in Brazil in 2014 so there will be more support for the Ford in Brazil and Argentina.
2. 2013 was the last year for this model Chevy. The Silverado was do a major model change for 2014 so we would be buying an older truck out the door.
The final decision though came down to something small. Talking to Mark we could get a third “jump” seat installed in the Chevy, but not the Ford. Since we wanted to have the capability to have a third seat for guests we finally settled on the Chevy as our truck of choice. Of course this entailed getting an extended cab version of the truck.
Our Silverado Before the Mounting of the Cabin
LT vs HT
The next decision for us was between a LT and HT version of the Malayan. The LT is 1.5 feet shorter and lighter than the HT. The LT has a full size bed vs a queen sized bed in the HT, and also you lose a wardrobe by downsizing. Also when we were talking to Mark initially he indicated that the LT would not have the convertible couch and seat belts that the HT has. The prototype was a little boxy looking and I was a little concerned about the looks (One friend characterized it as looking like an ice cream truck), the prototype was mounted on a regular cab and I thought the extra length of the extended cab would help with the looks. When we visited the factory we tried out the full size bed and it worked for us. If we went with the smaller vehicle we would be giving up interior storage and that is always valuable, particularly on longer trips. But Ton was always pointing out the shorter Sprinters when we were driving our ERA (24ft version). She seemed to think the extra flexibility with the 21 foot version of the Sprinter would have been beneficial. The LT version was also substantially less expensive, so we decided in the end to go with the LT.
Out Malayan LT I think the extra length of the truck does help smooth out the looks.
Options off the Provan List
We added a few options to the truck that were on the option list.
-Fantastic Fan. Wanted an all weather fan that did not add to the height profile of the vehicle.
-Convection Microwave. With more extended living wanted to have the maximum options for cooking.
-Firestone Airbags. This was recommended by many people as a way to improve the stability of the truck and to help with leveling.
-Westin Brush Guard. Wanted to have some protection for the front of the truck.
-Diesel Appliances. Our target was a full one fuel vehicle. A no brainer for us, though from a cost point of view we did think about it a little more before we finalized it as part of the truck. In addition to the expense diesel stove tops have a reputation for being very slow to heat up. This is supposed to be improving but time will tell. If we have problems Costco is selling a convection electric burner for about $60 dollars we can augment the diesel with.
One of the nice things with Mark and his team at Provan was the ability to substantially customize the truck. While we did not make extensive use of this we did ask for a few things.
-Safe. We asked for a safe to be installed that could hold important documents and possibly laptops. This turned out to be the most difficult request for Mark and his team, while they had mounted them in the past in Bengals, they had not determined the best place to mount one in a Malayan. As of the writing of this, the safe is not finalized. (Note after delivery. There was not time to find a place to mount the safe so there is no safe.)
-Satellite Connection and mount a receiver for a tailgater. Our initial plans have us shaking down in North America for a couple of years and we decided that we wanted to have some kind of satellite system for the truck. Mark offered a standard roof mounted system, but we did not want it on the roof to maintain minimal clearance and to prevent any shading of the solar panels, plus we would not need it once we left North America. We settled on a tailgater system as it is ground mounted when you stop, but we did not want to run a cable manually through the door or a window. Mark put in a system where we could connect through the exterior of the truck.
Production Delay and New Options
Initially our truck was scheduled for delivery in July of 2013. Due to several issues Mark contacted us in June and asked for a delay. We agreed as we were more concerned to receive a high quality truck and had time. Ron was doing some consulting in Brazil and Mexico at the time and we were not going to be able to use it extensively in the summer. However, as part of the delay Mark surprised us with some upgrades.
-Improved cabinetry construction and materials. After visiting a RV exhibition Mark decided he wanted to improve on the quality of the construction of the cabinets and said he would be including those in our truck.
-Upgraded flooring and couch material. Based on the same criteria as above he also wanted to look at upgrading those options.
-Quartz Countertop. During one conversation with Mark he mentioned that he was looking at a quartz countertop option but was concerned with the weight at a 100 lbs. We were interested and asked him to install it, the 100lbs is an indulgence, but we thought it would add some class to the truck. We are paying for this one. (Note after delivery. There was some concern about mounting methods that caused us to decide to go with a standard countertop.)
-Couch conversion. During one of our conversations Mark asked if seatbelts for a couch were a priority or the ability to convert it into a bed as they could do one but not the other. As we do not expect anyone to be riding in the back, we opted for the couch conversion option.
Fred Cook aka Diplostrat
With the delay in the truck Ron had too much time on his hands to dream about Tigers and spent an inordinate time on the tigerowners.freeforums.org website. It specializes in the newer Tigers primarily. Through the website we made contact with Fred Cook who also had a Malayan under construction. Fred had a lot of experience both traveling overseas and with off roading and was able to educate us on a great deal of things. He had been in conversation with Mark for years about his truck and had a great deal of knowledge about the design of the Malayan that he was happy to share. Based on his recommendations we decided on two additions to the truck.
-Sterling alternator to battery charger. As I have said I am not particularly technical particularly with electricity, but this thing increases the efficiency of the transfer of amps from the alternator to the house batteries, resulting in a much more efficient charge when using the engine alternators to “fill” the batteries. Fred did all of the research and initially had it installed on his truck. After talking to him and following up with Mark from Provan, who shared Fred’s enthusiasm we added this as a way to reduce or possibly eliminate the need to use shore power. (Note after delivery. After some issues with installation on Fred’s HT we decided to eliminate the Sterling.)
-In cabin storage cabinet. Ton and I had been talking about how to use the space behind the drivers seat for storage. We knew that in a smaller RV that using all of the space possible would be necessary. I mentioned this to Fred and he told me he had designed a storeage cabinet for behind the drivers seat and was having Mark install it in his truck. He shared the design with us and we also asked to Mark to install it on ours. Note from 2020 we ended up removing this as the storage was not as useful as we thought and it limited our view out of the side window, and it squeaked. We now use the platform that it was mounted on for dry good storage in boxes.
I want to thank Fred for his help in sharing his knowledge and experience with us.
Fred Cook’s photoshopped design based on another Tiger owners design
Suspension and Wheel Upgrades
We have been studying various suspension upgrades. It is clear that the truck will benefit tremendously from the upgrades, but we have decided to complete the upgrades after we return to Portland from the delivery.
We looked a lot at Wheels. The Howe’s went thru two sets of wheels on their truck due to the stress of the weight of the cabin and the rough roads they travelled on in South America and Europe. We spent a lot of time researching our options, but at this time we are not satisfied with what is available and are staying with the factory wheels as we assume they are at the same load limit as the axles. We are going to continue to look at options until we come up something that will give us a safety margin above the standard wheel.
The Tiger comes with 12cu ft of external storage. Our experience with the ERA tells us this will probably not be enough. On the ERA we had a Stowaway2 external hitch mounted storage box. It served us well on the ERA and was just about the right size to hold the things we wanted to keep on the outside of the van. Our research says that hitch mounted systems like the stowaway tend to fail on rough roads fairly quickly, but we have not found anything else that can be mounted permanently at this time. So at least while we are using it in North America we will stick with the Stowaway2. Note from 2020 we never did install the Stowaway on Scout. Instead in 2016 we added two Aluminess storage boxes on swing arms as well as an Aluminess rear bumper.