Recently listed online is an example of the kind of camper that you can get when you don’t even have $10,000 to spend. Up for grabs is a 1993 Ford Econoline E-350 ambulance that was converted into a camper. Despite the cheap price of $7,500, it looks like you’re getting a lot of camper for not a ton of money.
If there’s anything I love more than a cool custom camper, it’s a camper that doesn’t break the bank. So many of the rigs being cranked out of Indiana are simply unaffordable. I firmly believe that RVing should be for everyone, not just the folks with $50k or more burning a hole in their pocket. I’m always for inexpensive options in the market, which is why I dig this 1993 Ford Econoline E-350 ambulance conversion. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s cheap enough to forgive its flaws.
Hard Walls And Standing Room For Under $10,000
As I explore the camper industry around America, I’ve noticed that while there are a number of new campers under $20,000, you tend to have to deal with some quirks for the price. Many don’t give you standing space and the ones that do often use a pop-up tent roof. Under $10,000? Well, there are teardrops out there or you could make a tent camper out of a Space Trailer. If you want standing room and hard walls for under $10,000? It seems that used is your only choice.
Now, some of you may hit Google and then come back here pointing out all the cool campers that cost less than $10,000. There are tons of websites with listicles of supposedly super cheap campers, like this one or this one. They make it sound like you’re going to get a 2022 or 2023 for under $10,000, which is not likely to be the case. I’m not sure where these places are getting their prices from, but they say a Forest River Cherokee Wolf Pup 16BHS costs under $10,000, yet the cheapest I found was 5 years old and still $13,000.
This is a long way of saying that if you have less than $10,000 to spend on a camper, you might have to get creative. You could always get a vintage camper like the fiberglass rigs I write about. Or, perhaps you could get an old motorhome. David has been shopping for one of those. Another option is a camper built out of a sturdy ambulance.
The Company Behind This Ambulance
According to the seller, this camper originally started life as a 1993 Ford Econoline E-350 cutaway. Then, it was sent out to Horton Emergency Vehicles in Ohio to be built into an ambulance. Horton has been in the ambulance Industry since it was founded by Carl Horton in 1968. It considers itself a pioneer in moving ambulances from hearse-based bodies into vans.
Horton claims a number of advancements in ambulance technology. In 1973, the company introduced ambulances with modular aluminum bodies. These gave EMTs more space to do their work in the vehicle. In 1975, the company says it made the first CPR seat configuration with a center cot. And in 1983, the company introduced all-aluminum cabinetry, which is said to reinforce the interior while reducing the spread of pathogens.
From there, Horton says it’s introduced a solid-state electrical system (above), airbags for the ambulance box, heated floors, carbon fiber interior materials, and more.
The ambulance before us today was built before the neat airbags, heated floors, and carbon fiber, but it was built three years after the switch to solid-state electrical. The seller does not provide a ton of information, but there is a lot you can gather from the pictures. We’ll start with the exterior.
The van portion of this setup is a 1993 Ford Econoline E-350. It’s one of the earlier vans of the fourth-generation Econoline, which launched in 1991 and remains in production today as a cutaway. Under the hood is a 7.3-liter diesel V8.
Now, don’t get too excited because that isn’t a Power Stroke. Instead, it’s an International Indirect Injection diesel, which in this case predates the Power Stroke by a year. This is a naturally-aspirated engine that should last a long time, just don’t expect to get places fast. It’s making 185 HP and 360 lb-ft torque.
The rest of the camper here is the Horton ambulance box. It’s made out of aluminum and the emergency lights have been removed. The white side lights have been retained, which should make getting back to the camper in the dark a bit easier.
Moving around back, I spot a tow hitch, a rack for a generator, and an air-conditioner hanging where one of the rear windows used to be. The exterior appears to be in pretty good shape. I’m not a fan of air-conditioners that hang from where windows used to be, but I get it. Unless you’re cutting a hole to fit a roof unit, a window unit is probably the next best thing.
What I really like is what’s going on inside. Whoever built this didn’t gut the interior. Instead, they used the existing space to make their camper.
As I said before, Horton filled these ambulances with aluminum cabinetry, which doesn’t really fit a camper. The builder affixed wood to the cabinets, giving them a bit more of a home feeling. The kitchen consists of an electric stovetop, a coffee maker, a toaster, a microwave, a refrigerator, and a sink with running water.
The seller doesn’t state what kind of power is onboard, but I do spot residential-style outlets all over the interior.
Moving back from there, the builder mounted a TV to the ceiling, which seems to swing down when in use. Behind that is a bathroom, which features a toilet and a shower. It’s unclear what tank capacities we’re dealing with here, but there does appear to be a tank under that toilet. I also like how the bathroom has an outside door for those scenic Morning Dump reads.
I also like the cab of the camper. There’s really nothing to write about here, I just like the fact that if you’re traveling with a companion, they can sit right next to you. Can’t do that with many skoolie builds!
The one thing that does give me pause is the bed. Currently, it’s set up for one. However, with a futon-style mattress and a foldable bed frame I could see this working for two people.
It Needs Some Work
Alright, now for the bad part. The seller states that the engine has just 160,000 miles. That part’s fine, these engines are known for durability. Also good is the fact that the seller has driven it 4,000 miles. I like when people actually go camping in a custom build. Not so good is the fact that it’s in need of new glow plugs and ABS doesn’t work. The seller also notes some rust, mainly around the cab corners.
If those are the only problems, I’d say the asking price of $7,500 is still reasonable. It’s a running and driving camper for under 10 large and is built out of a vehicle that will probably last longer than you’ll own it for. Forget about leaky roofs and terrible plywood walls!
If you’re with me on this one and want to sleep in an old ambulance, you can pick it up from the seller in Lakeside-Marblehead, Ohio.
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Not bad for the price.
Hey,can someone explain why the electrics are solid state? It just needs fuses or breakers surely.Why the complex electronics?
I assume stuff like controls for the multiple different light and siren systems. I had a slightly older one for a while, and it had a pretty bulky panel full of relays.
The PowerStroke engines were a horrific combination of nauseating odors, bone-shaking vibration, and acrid black smoke. I doubt the International engines of the era were that much better. Therefore, you could not pay me any amount of money to live with one of those monstrosities full-time.
Don’t knock it. Being able to get to the bathroom without tracking stuff through your entire camper is actually a pretty darn good feature.
Interesting stuff. It will need that A/C which will be buzzing away most of the summer whether parked or driving because that metal can is going to get horrifically hot inside. IMO RVs need big windows and cross-ventilation, there’s a lot of vehicles including this one I would pass on for that reason alone. Windows all-around also useful for checking on what’s making that funny scratching noise outside…
I used to have a Ford box truck with the IDI diesel. Yes, they are very slow. They pull nicely off the line but run out of power around 60-65mph with all that weight on the body. Hopefully Ford or the conversion company took the time to put in some sound deadening because my truck was painfully loud in the cab. You had to shout in order for the passenger to have a chance of hearing you. That said, these engines are indestructible. They were built for commercial use and there really isn’t a whole lot to go wrong with them.
Oh boy… I’m just saying as someone who has dug into a handful of diesel Econoline ambulances (mine and otherwise)…. whoever buys this better be a diesel mechanic or learn up on it real quick. Shops that are willing to work on aftermarket converted vans like this are few and far between, because the conversion gear just packs even more into the already borderline impossible to service engine hole with the Powerstroke taking up most of the room up to the firewall ceiling.
I have heard that some Ford diesels sucked. Is this one of those?
No, 7.3’s were good engines, the 6.0 sucked.
This 7.3 diesel in particular is basically known for being slow, inefficient, and incredibly durable as long as you keep up with coolant changes/silicates. They’re getting on in years at this point, but for a long time there was a big price premium for used trucks with the 7.3 because people preferred it to the newer 6.0 and 6.4.
Every once in a while I head to eBay and search for an ambulance just for this purpose – there’s a lot in these that are already done (generator/power inversion, wiring/plumbing in some cases). It’s hard to “de-ambulance” them but then I think – maybe just lean into it instead of trying to hide it, in a kitschy-fun way.
I am pretty sure I encountered this particular camper at a state park in MI last summer.
Nothing like getting back to your campsite only to find a group of strangers holding their buddy who just got mauled by a bear, wondering why you aren’t dressed like a paramedic.
You can take care of that problem with a step ladder and a 12 pack of rattle can paint. Preferably glitter paint, because why not have fun with it?
The thought of trying to replace the glow plugs on that V8 crammed up in there gives me pause.
I hope whoever buys it has flexible fingers and arms, or knows a very understanding (and reasonably priced) mechanic.
Definitely worth finding a reasonable mechanic. At that price, probably worth it. I like the use of the existing interior. Makes me feel better about build quality. I’d be checking the rust and the electrical very carefully (or having someone more knowledgeable do so, really), and I’d get a mechanic to check out the drivetrain, because the glowplugs and ABS might not be all that’s wrong. But $7500 is a tempting price for sure.
The engine is actually quite accessible through the center console in the cab. These are decent engines to work on. Some areas might be tight but overall, not too shabby.
The recent book, “American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics”, by Kevin Hazzard has some great background material on the development of the modern van-based ambulance. The old style ambulances were based on hearses or station wagons, and moving to a van platform expanded the room to work on patients while in transit. A great read.
That sounds interesting! I always marveled at the fact that ambulances used to be based on (car) hearses, when vans and even Suburbans were right there. Hell, vans & trucks were used as ambulances in the military going back to WWI and earlier, so why did that use-case not occur to anyone in civilian life?! I was still seeing car-based ambulances as a kid in the early 1970s.
> perhaps you could get an old motorhome. David has been shopping for one of those.
Did you just spill the man’s tea about his exciting new series “How I save $40k a year by ditching my LA apartment and living on Galpin’s old service lot in this $5k camper”?
Another unique aspect of owning a converted ambo is that most people’s campers haven’t had people die in them.
“…. most people’s campers haven’t had people die in them.”
You say that with such certainty…
General rule #1 from my first EMT partner:
“Life does not begin or end in the back of my ambulance”. Babies are born in the house, people are declared dead in the ER.
It’s legally true too. My dad was an EMT for quite a few years and he said no one dies in an ambulance. They’re either declared dead at the scene, or after they get to the hospital. There is no one in the ambulance qualified to do that so it does not happen.
It looks like the conversion was done with care and lots of thought and planning. It does need more windows, though. It would get rather claustrophobic as a living space, a problem that many motor homes do not have. It’s definitely several steps above the old drop-in camper-in-the-pickup-bed of yore. Remove the window AC, add solar panels and a small battery, and install a heat pump. It would drive much better than a motor home and will certainly find a buyer that’ll make very good use of it.
I think the opposite. Not much conversion has been done at all. Hang a TV from the ceiling, an AC from the door, and throw a fridge on a pre-existing shelf and that’s well-considered? Price is decent for 7.3-equipped ambo, but this is about as half-assed as a build can get.
I’ve been an EMT for 22 years, worked in the city, in small towns, and in rural areas. I was part of my department’s committee to design our next ambulance, which got ordered last month. The biggest question I would have about this truck is what kind of department has owned it. Where did it serve? If it was a city department, then the odometer has probably rolled over. We put 80-100k miles a year on our trucks when I was working for a private ambulance company in Milwaukee. Those rigs were beat to shit and back again, then sold off to a small volunteer group somewhere in the boonies. If this was originally bought by a suburban department, then the odometer reading might be legitimate, and it could have been lovingly cared for. There’s a lot of difference between those extremes. If it was owned by a private ambulance company, then all bet are off. The “mechanics“ at those companies are first class top notch turd polishers. Get it running and put it back on the road as fast as possible. If you’re buying something like this, do your homework!
> We put 80-100k miles a year on our trucks when I was working for a private ambulance company in Milwaukee
Bruh. Assuming a 30-mile average ride billed at $4,000 to the poor sob in the back, assuming no fancy life saving procedures and EMTs paid way less than they should be, that’s $15m a year gross revenue per vehicle. Jfc.
First thing I’d do is to add “ЯƎꟼMAƆ” lettering to the hood.
Came to the comments to say this. Glad I’m not the only one thinking it.