VW MAN 8.136 ~ A small truck for the Sahara

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Even though for regular desert touring I'm not very positive about them in the book, the opportunity has come up to get some first-hand experience with a truck in the Sahara. Up to a point I've been here before; a very noisy and costly experiment with a diesel Land Rover 101 in 1988 (an experience detailed excruciatingly in my Desert Travels book). Now for about the same price I have me a MAN 8.136 (i.e.: 8 ton GVW with 136 hp). I spotted these a few months ago while going through a truck phase and was immediately drawn to the manageable size (driveable on a pre-1997 UK car license) if not the price: Jackson's quoted me £12,000; a place in Belgium and Denmark both asked about £9000 and in 2009 I saw one advertised in the UK as a gunbus for nearly £18,000 plus tax! Luckily sense prevails in 2010 where Germany still sells them for €8000 or so.

Back in 2006 I forgot about them until a couple of days before leaving for SEQ when Matt and I got Skyping and tracked down a much less expensive example down the road from him. We checked it out and after thinking it over I figured it was worth a gamble and told him to buy it as I set off for Mali.

The new MAN in my life
As far as I can tell an 8.136 is comparable with a Unimog 1300L but was about 40% cheaper at the time and more conventional all round: a 5-speed/2 box/3 diff lock trans with long leaf springs and with a similar 5.7 litre aspirated six but with full time 4WD and as forward control as they get without falling out and running yourself over. I hear that the 8.136 was a 1980s collaboration with VW for the Danish army (you may recognise the VW LT Transporter-ish cab). Luckily, since the Norsemen pillaged the Isle of Wight in AD 999, peace has reigned supreme and so these MANs have not been used much; many have been given away to Iraq. Mine is about 1990 with a winterised radio suite in the back (above right; since removed) and with only 10,000km on the clock. And I thought the VW Taro had low kms!

It's all a bit extravagant of course but my excuse was I needed a proper support vehicle for my upcoming 8-bike Algerian tour instead of making do with a station wagon with little or no capacity for broken bikes and riders. (This time, to save the long and boring road haul I am delivering the bikes to Djanet while the riders fly in and out.) My pickup was to sort of fill that role but of course is no more. There it is below on the back of another MAN, a 19/240, and about to get even more wrecked.

I like trucking...
... and I like to truck, but for the moment I still stand by what I say in the book. In the Sahara the only thing a truck can do is carry more, or offer a higher level of overnight comfort but at a cost to road speed and fuel economy (a reputed 3 kpl and 90kph with the MAN...), let alone all the other drawbacks listed on p.101. We proved on SEQ that a regular 4x4 car can manage a two week/2000km off piste payload in the desert. Were it not for the bike tour offering the convenience of a vehicle to transport the bikes to the desert and support them while they are there, I would not have needed the MAN.

So far Matt has managed to MoT it so all it needs now is registering (various options exist), repainting and other domestification as well as a check over.

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