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Old 08-31-2009, 08:38 PM   #1
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To Alan at SMB

Congratulations dude. You must be thrilled with all you've created. Share with us how this all happened. How about some personal anecdotes, and tell us about the feedback here, and other places that influenced SMB design. We all want to build these things. How did it become a business?

Living in Fresno, a step from Sequoia National Park, must have had an influence. We see the old VW van on the website. When did the rugged 4x4 come into play?

Maybe one day everyone, SMB, Quigley, S&K, Ford, and others, could hold a schmooze with Jimmy Buffett performing.

The geographical center of the US is Lebanon, Kansas: better known as SEMA. Open bar you say? Sounds good. I wonder.......who might sponsor such a schmooze? ARB, BF Goodrich, Ford, Aluminess, Warn, Solara, Fiama, Hella, Nitto, Engle, Helwig, Bill Burke, Goodyear, Bilstien, Rancho, Norcold, Transferflow, 5 Star Tuning!, Thule, Kyocera, Xantrex, Coleman, OIL COMPANIES!!!!!! Need I go on. All you vendors bring swag.

We all love our vans.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:05 PM   #2
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Re: To Alan at SMB

Preach it brother!
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Old 09-01-2009, 03:20 AM   #3
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Re: To Alan at SMB

Well I have to say from recent conversations with Alan & Jonathan at SMB West they don't check this forum too often. Not for any terrible reason other than they are busy building the cool rigs everyone wants.
They are completely open to email and phone feedback but the forums can be a real blackhole time sink...ask me how I know

With as close as I have been working with them over the last month on our Disabled Explorers build those guys are alwasy moving fast, intro'ing new people to the rigs, dealing with their suppliers, the media work they do and so much more...I have been very impressed with the attention they have given us even with everything else they have going on.

As for the gathering of SMB's and all the companies, well there will be a really cool event next year in April called the Overland Expo, south of Tucson with classes, get togethers, camping, vendors, seminars, presentations and more.
www.ovexpo.com was the website last year and I think it is the same for this year. Yeah it cost money but you get alot for that $$$

Of course after SEMA in early Nov, our rig will be finished and I will be ready to meet up with any & all of you folks
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Old 09-01-2009, 09:46 AM   #4
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Re: To Alan at SMB

Alan told me years ago that he got into the business after first spotting a SMB in Fresno...he was so taken by it that he followed the owner home and bought it from him! Sometime later, he contacted the owner of SMB and persuaded him to let him set up a factory in Fresno. That first Fresno plant was actually in Clovis, just north of Fresno...it is where we picked up our van. There were a couple of buildings and the vans had to be moved from building to building during the conversion process.

As indicated on their website, Sportsmobile began converting VWs in 1961. From what I've been told, Volkswagen eventually decided they wanted to get into the business themselves (the Westys) and stopped SMB from doing conversions on VWs. That is when SMB started converting American-made vans.

According to Quigley's website, they started 4x4 conversions in the early 1970s so it might have been just a matter of SMB hooking up with Quigley to be able to provide a 4x4 option.

Alan has always been an innovator and sometime in the early 2000s hired an engineer to design their own 4x4 conversion. But that wasn't enough and Alan kept improving things. My understanding is that Dave Hoskins, owner of Aluminess, came up with the design of the electric penthouse (I might have that wrong though). At some point, SMB began working closely with Aluminess on products specifically for SMBs. I think that is typical of Alan and the Fresno operation...they are continually seeing new opportunities, listening to owners and incorporating new ideas into their products. Part of that is certainly due to the fact that you can customize a SMB anyway you want it....if there were only 3 floor plans and a 2WD or 4WD option, you wouldn't see as many new ideas and changes.

Alan also wants to see these vans be used as they were intended, especially the 4WD ones...that is why he started the 4WD Rallies.

Assuming I'm correct about how Alan got into the business, I can certainly understand the being so taken after seeing a 4WD Sportsmobile. Back in early 2001, we were in the market for another vehicle since the lease on one of our Jeep Grand Cherokees was coming up. Our first 4WD SUV had been a 1991 4Runner and, with a fold down rear cargo door, it was possible to sleep there on rafting trips, etc. But the Jeeps had a fold up rear door and my wife was looking around for another 4WD SUV similar to the 4Runner. We were at a sportsman's show that spring, walked into one of the buildings, and saw a 4WD Sportsmobile. We probably spent a half hour looking at it, climbing inside, and checking it out. We never knew such vehicles existed! We came back later and talked to Alan for quite a while and then went home to figure out how to pay for one! A few months later, we placed our order and in late October 2001, we brought our van home....
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Old 09-01-2009, 10:06 AM   #5
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Re: To Alan at SMB

FYI:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

History of Westfalia, Westfalia began as a blacksmith shop in Wiedenbrueck Germany in 1844. Johann Bernhard Knoebel opened the shop and by 1850 had expanded into the building of field wagons. By 1876, carriages were added with paint and upholstery work.

Franz Knoebel, Jr., descendent of the company’s founder invented the ball-headed trailer coupling, which was later patented in the United States in 1939. Early successors to the VW camper were Westfalia produced vacation trailers. Many were tiny, for the small European cars, and some little more than teardrop shaped camping gear carriers.

Anticipating an increase in leisure time, Westfalia management organized a special projects group on November 11, 1948. The R&D team conceptualized the first factory produced “motor home”, basing their concept on the VW chassis. The theory then was to create a camping set that could be easily installed, and then removed from the vehicle, so that the vehicle could also be utilized as a working vehicle during the week. It was thus common to see many brands of delivery vans used as campers, but these were not VW’s production models.

The link between Westfalia and VW occurred in 1951. Volkswagen called upon Westfalia to incorporate a camping kit into their then new microbus. The result became one of the earliest motorized campers with the addition of camping cabinets attached to the swing-out side doors. These became available in Europe in 1951. It included a 6-foot bed and features for two childrens' bunks in the front bench seat. 1952 saw the additional of the adaptable tent awning, followed in rapid succession by other built-in features such as clothes closet/wash basin and drapes.

The first Westfalia campers available in North America were in 1956, with a 100 units sold. By 1960, the campers had come into their own with accessories permanently mounted, unlike previous “kit” versions.

By 1969, over 50,000 camping buses had been produced at Westfalia. By 1971, 100,000. Redesigned for the T2 chassis, the 200,000th was produced in 1978. The camper was again redesigned for the Vanagon chassis 1980-1991.
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Old 09-01-2009, 10:17 AM   #6
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Re: To Alan at SMB

It is my understanding that SMB patented the penthouse design with the top going straight up. And that is why Westfalia's have a to that pivots at one end.

Never take my word for gospel, however.

Mike
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Old 09-01-2009, 10:27 AM   #7
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Re: To Alan at SMB

You are correct that they own a patent on a top. There are others with trailer etc. But sportsmobile is for vans.

this is a copy of the patent description:

Sportsmobile Texas, Inc. (Austin, TX)
September 25, 1990
A vehicle with a retractable and extensible roof assembly including a ceiling for the vehicle having an opening formed at one end thereof, a load-supporting horizontally slidable closure member adapted to cover the opening in the ceiling, a vertically movable roof portion over the ceiling, movable between a fully extended portion and a retractable portion having flexible sidewalls between the movable roof portion and the ceiling, and utilizing both tension and compression spring biasing for aiding in the elevation of the roof to the fully extended position, and the lowering of the roof to the fully retracted position thereof.
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Old 09-01-2009, 11:37 PM   #8
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Re: To Alan at SMB

interesting thread guys. Here's a question to ponder however re: the top. I've owned three Westfalia campers over the years, including a 1972 that was bona-fide Westfalia not an aftermarket/US conversion, that had just a small straight up pop-up in the middle of the roof, for standing room basically, not a sleeper. Perhaps licensed that design specifically from SMB?
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Old 09-02-2009, 09:18 AM   #9
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Re: To Alan at SMB

Quote:
Originally Posted by spurious
You are correct that they own a patent on a top. There are others with trailer etc. But sportsmobile is for vans.

this is a copy of the patent description:

Sportsmobile Texas, Inc. (Austin, TX)
September 25, 1990
A vehicle with a retractable and extensible roof assembly including a ceiling for the vehicle having an opening formed at one end thereof, a load-supporting horizontally slidable closure member adapted to cover the opening in the ceiling, a vertically movable roof portion over the ceiling, movable between a fully extended portion and a retractable portion having flexible sidewalls between the movable roof portion and the ceiling, and utilizing both tension and compression spring biasing for aiding in the elevation of the roof to the fully extended position, and the lowering of the roof to the fully retracted position thereof.
A quick patent search found the following:

Patent number: 3619001
Filing date: Mar 18, 1970
Issue date: Nov 1971

With the similar description as above, and a drawing of an early VW van with the top. Could they have been building vans for 10 years before they patented it?

Mike
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