Home » Let’s Turn A Busted Crane Truck Into A Camper Like A Spaceship From The Show ‘Space 1999’

Let’s Turn A Busted Crane Truck Into A Camper Like A Spaceship From The Show ‘Space 1999’

Topshot Space 1999 Ts

Friday afternoons are usually a quiet time at Crane Liquidators, with most people thinking about a cold beer and not buying a used piece of construction equipment. Bob is in the office getting ready to leave, and rather surprised when the phone rings. He’s even more surprised when he hears the guy on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, this is The Bishop” the rather frenetic voice says. “I’m calling about that Grove TM-890 you have listed.” There’s only one like that on the lot so Bob is a bit perplexed. “Sir, the one you’re referring to is still here, and in fact it’s been sitting for at least two years. I think it can be made to run, but the crane mechanicals will need a full going through after the hydraulic lines have been …”  The fast-talking Bishop guy interrupts: “Oh, I don’t care about the crane part, I’ll probably sell that for scrap, I just want the bottom half.” Well this is a new one; does Bob even want to ask what the hell this “Bishop” wants with it? He poses the question anyway.

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Crane Liquidators

“Well, obviously, I want to make a camper out of it that looks like Eagle One from the seventies TV show Space 1999 with Martin Landau.” At this point, Bob scans his memory of the day thus far to confirm he hasn’t started drinking yet, and concludes he probably should. “Uh, mister Bishop, you mean like a landau roof?” asks Bob. “Yeah,” says Bishop, “Martin should really sue all of those malaise car makers for using his name, but anyway how much do you need for the Grove? I work for a website that wants to build a camper and this is going to be a big deal. I’ll give your business shout-out if you give me a few bucks off, ya know?”

It’s definitely time for Bob to get a beer. Is this Bishop guy insane? Probably. Is he the first person to try to use an industrial machine to make a recreational vehicle? Apparently not.

Got Milk?

Part of me really hates guys like Rick Dobbertin. It’s one thing to draw crazy ideas but people like Rick put us all to shame by actually having the skills and commitment to make these amazing creations come to life. Dobbertin is a maker of performance car parts such as adapters for Corvette suspensions, and his custom automotive creations have won titles like Hot Rod of the Year. His most notorious creation, however, is likely the DSO, short for Dobbertin Surface Orbiter. This was a large camper-type vehicle with ten wheels designed to circumnavigate the globe, but with a twist.

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Doppertin Performance

Plenty of records have been set for driving around the world in a set time, but the vehicle used obviously has to be flown by aircraft or taken by boat over certain sections – as you may already know, the planet is covered in a lot of water. Dobbertin’s idea was to make an amphibious vehicle that could truly circumnavigate the globe. To create the thing, Dobbertin began with something possibly even more bizarre than our crane: a 1959 stainless steel Heil milk tanker trailer, seen above in a picture from his website.

Rick spent an estimated 14,000 hours making things like a custom framework and putting in a 6.5 liter diesel motor that could operate on land or water. Inside the former milk tank, Rick built a tiny living quarters with a microwave, toilet, and sleeping space for two. One of the two sets of controls in the front cabin was for driving on the road, while the other operated the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter (DSO) as a boat.

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Dobbertin Performance

Dobbertin and his wife left their home in New York with the DSO in 1993, planning to go through South America, Japan, China, India, Africa,Europe and Canada before returning to Syracuse exactly one year later. That doesn’t sound easy, and it wasn’t, but it was even more difficult than anticipated. Among other trials, the Coast Guard had to rescue the craft when the transmission went AWOL, salt water ate at the tires, and the DSO even capsized near Puerto Rico. The one-year mark came and went, money and patience ran out, and the couple ended the trip in 1996 without completing the journey. Still, the Dobbertins had accomplished a lot with this former milk tanker trailer, having traveled 27,300 miles on land and 3,000 miles in the water and visiting 28 countries and 38 states along the way and becoming the first amphibious vehicle to cross the Panama Canal.

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Dobbertin Performance

Reportedly the DSO was sold to a collector in the Chicago area around 2004, but I have no interest in buying it. The whole amphibious thing creates too much of a compromise to the overall performance of the thing, and worse than that the oval-section shape of the milk tanker means there isn’t much headroom or space inside beyond the wide center of the tube. No, I just want an expandable terra-firma-only camper, and one with a visual reference to a future that never came but I’ve wanted to see for over forty years. This broke-ass crane could make it happen, but what will it look like?

A True Mission Impossible

Like most sci-fi shows of the seventies, Space: 1999 revolves around a group of people somehow lost in the far reaches of the galaxy. In this case, the inhabitants of a moon base are hurtled away from the earth’s orbit when a nuclear waste dump on one side of the moon explodes. Visually, this British program was an impressive final piece of work by Gerry Anderson (best known for the “Supermarionation” puppet-based shows Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet) that drew on the “fanciful NASA” aesthetic established by 2001: A Space Odyssey but dialed up the vehicle and environmental designs’ cool factor even further.

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Starring Mission: Impossible actor couple Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, the show has become a cult classic. Some of the critics if the period were rather merciless with the series, pannng the “wooden acting” and poor dialogue, not unlike many reviewers did with Star Wars a few years later. And as with Star Wars, if you were under the age of ten you didn’t give a shit. Star Trek was lacking in vehicles beyond brief appearances of the Shuttle Craft and the Enterprise before and after commercials. The glorious bounty of spaceships and vehicles Star Wars would bring was still a full two years away, so Space:1999 was an absolute eye-popper in 1975. When my dad fired up the seventeen-inch black and white Zenith and the astro-funk theme of Space 1999 rang out from its solitary speaker, our mouths just dropped. I and my siblings sat there on the shag carpeting in footy pajamas, speechless at the presence of the Eagle spacecraft with its pointy nose and long, sleek metal structure. This was the coolest thing we had seen in our short lives. We also had no idea that in the real 1999 we would definitely not have space ships like this, and instead just get a bad rehash of Woodstock and Cher still on the radio, this time singing like a robot–which is still pretty science-fictiony, I guess.

Screenshot (1897)

What was especially impressive about the Eagle spacecraft that I didn’t fully understand at the time was the near practicality of the thing. Many of the ships in films like Star Wars don’t appear to be very form-follows-function. As an example, the Millennium Falcon’s disk-like shape is not ideal for taking maximum cargo in the minimum amount of space on the Kessel Run. The Eagle has some stellar product packaging, and it’s even modular. The lightweight-looking tubular framework connecting the pilot’s cabin to the engines in back can hold any manner of passenger or cargo compartment. Brilliant, right?

Sketchfab (downloadable 3D model)
Mpc923 148 Mpc Space 1999 Eagle Ii Transporter Wlab Pod 22 Long Squadron Model Models 46144
Pro Tinker Toys (for sale- $168)










I was too young for the model kits but always lusted for one of the MPC examples, seen above in its recent rerelease form. I mean, how can you NOT want to make this into a camper? It’s just basic Autopian logic, which is not really logic at all. Who cares? Let’s go.

Crane Keep A Rollin’ All Night Long

If a Heil milk tanker can work as a camper, the Grove crane should be a piece of cake to use as a starting point for our latest in a long, long line of proposed Autopian campers. At forty feet long, the Grove is pretty close to the size and proportion of what I want for our roadworthy Eagle camper. Well, it’s ten feet wide but just drive really carefully, or send the Changli out in front with a WIDE LOAD sign.

Getting the old crane running again shouldn’t be much of a problem. The engine choices were all turbodiesels ranging from a 568 cubic inch GM V8 (370 horsepower and a whopping 983 foot-pounds of torque) to an even bigger 855 cubic inch Cummins straight six (only 350 horse but a whopping 1120 foot-pounds of the twisty stuff). It’s a “12 by 6” meaning all of the rear wheels are driven. It has a 20-degree attach angle at the front and 15 at the rear so it could likely do pretty well off-road as long as our mods don’t mess with that much.

Air brakes and other mechanical systems are, I’m sure, in spectacular shape after sitting in the Texas sun for two years. I removed one set of front wheels from the crane since I assumed we weren’t carrying the weight of that massive crane anymore. They make aerodynamic wheel covers for semi-trucks so I’d pick up ten of those to conceal the rusted old rims and add to the sci-fi look.

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The Grove Crane is a one-seater up front, but our fiberglass nose cone would carry at least two or three captain’s chairs side-by-side. From the front cockpit, you take a walkway over the engine to get to the rear compartment. The side “pods” of the ship slide out on both sides to create a spacious living area when the unit is parked.

The three “propulsion jets” on the back are in fact triple round spare tire (or cargo) holders, accessible by rotating them like a vertical lazy susan to access them all.

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One side is devoted to a kitchen and eating area with fold-down tables and seats while the other has flip-down worksurfaces for Autopian writers to do their thing. There are one and a half bathrooms in the center-rear of the camper. Each corner features a sleeping area, with double-width beds and additional worksurfaces for the rearmost sleepers. The overhead structure from the Eagle is a full-length skylight for a bright interior, and the scaffolding is also an ideal place to bolt on air conditioning units and other equipment.

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Space 1999′s interior was prime seventies modernist at its best, right down to the glorious orange and brown accents on the white. I’ve kept much of that. Also, because much of the large center “hall” will disappear with the units slid inwards, any furnishings need to be small or compact – or become compact. The solution is inflatable bean-bag style chairs that will allow Jason, David, Matt, and whomever else is on the trip to relax and discuss whatever event they’ve just classed up (or down) by their presence that day.


Space Ship Of Fools

It’s all a pipe dream, but the idea of an Autopian Motor Home seems like such a far-off stuck-in-the-mud fantasy now that it might as well be a big dream. If somebody told you that a person could turn a milk tanker into something that could be made to traverse the globe, would you believe it? And yet, it happened.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” He was absolutely talking about turning an industrial crane into a camper that looks like a spaceship from a TV show canceled almost fifty years ago, I just know it. Anything is possible, even if it shouldn’t be.


A Daydreaming Designer Revisits A Curious ‘Motorhome’ Project – The Autopian

The Daydreaming Designer Shows How To Make A Budget Tiny House From A Broken RV – The Autopian


Does A Daydreaming Designer’s Semi Sleeper Concept from 1990 Make Sense? – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines The Ultimate Autopian Tour Bus – The Autopian

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Dashiell Allen-Smith
Dashiell Allen-Smith
25 days ago

That Dobbertin Surface Orbiter brought me a flood of memories of a magazine I had when I was young that was full of things like that, I want to say it was ‘Monster Garage’, but I’m not certain. I seem to remember the specific story about the Orbiter had the exact same photos.

26 days ago

I had two different versions of the Eagle as toys. They were largely metal about the size of an ‘O’ scale train. The modules could be swapped between them. One was a passenger version and the other was the nuclear waste carrying version, complete with little canisters and a winch to lower and raise them.

Professor Chorls
Professor Chorls
27 days ago

I’d daily it.

Marlin May
Marlin May
28 days ago

Wait… Isn’t the Eagle’s pod system “just” Thunderbird 2 (my personal fave b.t.w.) in space?

Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
28 days ago

This was fantastic.
Loved every word – bravo, Mr. Bishop!

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