Imagine, if you will, a world where a single vehicle could transport you, a friend or two, your race car, spares, tires, and tools, to and from the track without anyone ever touching a trailer hitch. In this far off place, this magical vehicle would have the ability to legally cruise, not at the lame 55mph “towing” speed limit, but at the regular 70mph speed limit on any freeway in the land, zooming past all those super high dollar ToterHomes and enclosed trailers on the way to your next track event. And lastly, this fantasy machine is only scant twelve feet longer than it's cargo box for easy storage. Sound too good to be true? Welcome to the wonderful world of the box truck!
You see them everywhere these bread loafs on wheels. Lumbering up the street carrying everything from beer to waterbeds and all manner of goods in between. Who would ever suspect that any one of these beasts could become the home base for your race effort and at a cost that will surprise you. Here is a link to the craigslist search “box truck under $5000”.
Feast your eyes!! Wait a second, some of these trucks are cheaper than enclosed trailers with the same capacity! Right you are. Here is where the awesome begins. These trucks are super cheap because there are so many of them on the used market and most people can't think of a way to use them. Commercial trucks are usually purchased by businesses and once they get their use out of them they are not really driving a hard bargain when it's time to sell. Furthermore there is the massive rental truck market dump that pushes down the value of all these vehicles even more. Since the fraction of the population who thinks these trucks are useful is pretty small, it's a buyer's market to say the least.
What's the catch? Well there is and there isn't one. I am only able to speak specifically for registration and insurance for California but I bet it's easier in most other states. Here I was able to register my 16 foot box truck for personal use without any issue at the DMV. I had to fill out a declaration that the truck would never run with a gross weight of over 10 thousand pounds when I registered it. In order to signal that the truck is only used to transport personal items one must print “Not For Hire” on the driver's door in big letters so when you drive right past a weigh station the Highway Patrol won't come chasing after you. The next big consideration is insurance. My original insurance company, 21st Century doesn't cover trucks like these. I switched to Unitrin Insurance and they had no problem with it. For a price. The issue was that the commercial nature of the truck made it a bit more expensive to insure than I would have liked. Registration was a lot more than for a regular car too. Not such a good deal after all! What to do? After beating the bushes for an answer, I came across a little known facet of the Vehicle Code. In California there is a mechanism by which one can re-purpose a commercial vehicle as an R/V and pay a lot less in insurance and registration. This is the best route but requires a few hoops to be jumped through. They actually will inspect the vehicle and if it's not what they think an RV is you can't change the registration. The hardest thing was getting this information out of the California DMV. I searched the internet high and low and could not find a useable definition of an R/V or motorhome in any vehicle code. When I first went to get the status of my registration changed they just rejected me and that was that. I then had to find the supervisor of the DMV office and demand that they find me a workable definition so I could make the conversion. After some back and forth and a call to Sacramento I got the news. The definition is: A vehicle where any FOUR of the following SIX items. 1. Toilet 2. Sink 3. 110 volt AC power 4. Heating and or A/C 5. Cooking facilities 6. Refrigeration. Once they gave me the correct section of the California Vehicle Code I was able to find the definition on the web under a very odd “miscellaneous” section CVC 6.040.
Well! That's not so hard now is it? I already had 110 volt a/c power from my generator and a small fridge too. I added a thrift store microwave for the “cooking facility” and I was 3/4 of the way there. Since I didn't want to deal with a toilet the next step is to build a sink. I go as basic as possible with this plan grabbing a sink out of an RV at the SSJY. A few hours with the saw and some screws and glue and I have a semi convincing sink and bathroom setup for under $40.00. I used the water pump from my race car's cool suit setup to pump water to the tap and that's all it took. A trip to the DMV for a bit of show and tell and boom! R/V with all the privileges thereto and pertaining. Here is what I showed to the DMV here in Los Angeles that got my truck's registration status converted.
Now that we have a cheaply insurable and registrable vehicle, let's think a bit about what one would need to make this truck into a convincing race transporter. As with everything in the Vendler system, it was done on the cheap. Really cheap. As you can see here this truck is kind of a pile of junk cosmetically. It was used by a shoe distribution company for the first 240k miles of it's life though and while they didn't trash it mechanically, they did little to care for the minor stuff. It had complete maintenance records and what looked to be new tires. One of the big reasons I chose this one is that it uses a truck style cab which is more comfortable for long hauls and much easier to work on than a van style cab. Tilt forward cabs are good for repair work too but the upright seating position might not be so good for your back on long drives. The next thing I liked about this pile is that it's a diesel. Diesel engines use less fuel and last longer than gas powered motors by several fold. The 7.3 l Ford I.D.I. engine in this truck easily can go 400k miles if given just the most basic maintenance. My experiences corroborate this. Sort of. I didn't know that the new looking tires on the truck where actually 10 years old and each one threw it's tread once driven any long distances at freeway speeds. Duh. Check the date stamp on the tires! Even if they have a ton of tread they may still be time bombs. My tires fell apart one by one and I spent a lot of time at the side of the road dealing with that. I also had a reoccurring issue with the low pressure diesel lift pumps. It turns out that the cheap offshore manufactured parts you get at the F.L.A.P.S. suck ass and die pretty fast. I got a nice Walbro electric lift pump and now all's well. So far we have a running truck but…
How about a way to get the race car into the truck? There will be ramps. Ramps that can deal with the weight of a race car are not that easy to find. There are a few companies that make very nice aluminum ramps specifically for the purpose of loading cars into moving trucks but they cost about $1500 for a pair. I got lucky and found a set of pretty nice aluminum ramps on the local Craig's List for a lot less. I made the wood helper ramps in this picture to help me get low cars into the truck without scraping. There is probably a more elegant way to do this. Anyone with basic fab skills can make a set of ramps out of steel and this is probably the best route to take unless you can weld aluminum and know how to size the material that will yield dependable ramps. Don't take any chances here please, get the help of someone that knows what they are doing and be are to test all this out before you make regular use of a loading system.