We did it!
Starting with some overlanding experience, a rough idea, dozens of sketches, pre-reality-checks in computer simulations, but finally materializied in reality - our SprinterVAN.
Three people and a cat? There was nothing in the market for exactly our needs. What we wanted:
- A reliable European RV good for travelling on- and a bit offroad.
- Upright standing.
- 2 adults + 1 wonderful daughter + 1 cat.
- 3 seats, 3 beds and a comfortable eating area.
- Easy to convert.
- Good for hot areas.
- Good for cold areas too.
- Offroad-cabilities + city compatibility
- Bikes internally stored.
- A toilet.
- A big fridge.
- No gas.
- Max. 3.5t
Not at all. I'm a senior digital native, technology strategist and curious thinker. But I've to admit - I'm an engineer, not just on the paper but also in my heart.
We had some experience about overlanding. We rented at Nova Scotia a big RV, did the same for Norway and had a offroad-capable Caravan towed behind our MB ML for some trips. So we knew, what's important at overlanding for us and what not, what does work and what not.
- I only had time after my challenging work days, in holidays or weekends.
- I'm not happy until it meets my expectations, which might be higher then my actual capabilities.
- Appart from that I'm not that healthy & powerfull anymore.
So it took 18 months to announce: "I'm done."
It's a Mercedes Sprinter 906 (my nine o six) CDI 316 Bluetec, L2H2, 2016, 163 HP, 2143ccm
We've bought it with 153.000 km in 01/2020 from a Mercedes Dealer near by of Hannover as "Young Star" with a used car guaranty.
Why particular this one?
Initially we planned with a Sprinter 4x4. But the market was simply empty. So I've contacted a 4x2 to 4x4 conversion company and asked them, what base they need for such a conversion. With those parameters we had some more options. At that point of time there were actually just 3 suitable Sprinters.
This one was interesting, since it had some more km but much more factory equipment. Those cars are built to last 500.000 km at least. This one was always in good hands: a) previously held semi-privat and b) always at a Mercedes Dealer for maintainance. So the km shouldn't be any problems. But missing equipment is expensive to retrofit.
Equipment: Automatic, Xenon (great light), Tempomat (easy ride), rain sensor (good for hectic situations), distance & lane warner (safety on long trips), Airback (unfortunatly only driver side), clima automatic (for hot areas), axes ration 4.182 (good enough for offroad), stabilizer front/back (better stability), adjustable steering wheel (perfect sitting position), etc.
Apparently the color wasn't in benefit for other prospects - for us, it was ok. But the back smelled badly like oil. That was a risk we had to take (which costs us nearly 3 weeks to get rid off).
Finally: we went with a yellow camper van home. Empty, smelling ugly, and noisy - but happy.
The "Off"-road Conversion
Once we had the Sprinter, I've called the 4x4 conversion company to make the deal.
Yes. That was the plan.
But apparently the world rolls sometimes faster then you wish... Four (4!) weeks before my call, the company decided, that they are not retrofitting this model anymore. Bang! My dreams just blow away instantly. Shocked, speechless, dreamless.
It took some days to re-evaluate the situation and check, which options are now on the table. Selling the Sprinter and searching for a 4x4? Skip all that offroad aims? But I wasn't ready for that. So I gave the second retrofitter a call (there are just 2 official ones in Germany). Their product is just over the top so their price is too. It would have been an extrem conversion I hadn't in mind and me myself personally believe, it doesn't really fit with a Sprinter. The Sprinter itself not built to become a reliable "full-blown" offroader. After calling a guy who has access to another vendor to convert a Sprinter to 4x4, I started to realize that there is another thing to consider: weight!
Any aftermarket conversion (depending on the retrofitter) would add another 280-350kg to the Sprinter. Having my idea of the built was leading to the thought, that a 4x4 conversion might hit the limit of the 3,5t. In Europe it means, slow, very slow travel, road limitation, toll, yearly TÜV.
The new plan
So maybe it was a wink of destiny, that the road for a 4x4 conversion got bumpy for me. And it was a good point to re-consider, what I really want. I want to go "off"-road, not into untouched wilderness. What I need is: maximum ground clearance under the axles, grip, propulsion, and enough equipment to get back if I was too enthusiastic. Something you can go to Island, Kirgistan, wild Norway but Paris too. In the meantime I learned also I had to modify the suspension. Otherwhise any "off"-road trip will become a shaky nightmare anyway.
I've got in contact with another retrofitter to make a new plan:
- 235/85R16 being one of the maximum diameter you legally get on the Sprinter in Germany.
- Body lift kit(s)
- Rear axle differential lock.
- Marquart shock absorbers
With that setup I have now a really "off"-road capable Sprinter, which drives like crazy in curves like a regular car (not as a shaky Sprinter anymore). Steady chassis even in stand.
The future will show, if it's good enough...
Not much to mention yet. I've had some car wrapping ideas. I've had some Raptor color ideas. But leaned back and thought: nope. Simple, clean, not much attraction... maybe better for our daily usage while we try to find some free camping spots.
Yes, you see the windows. But on the passenger side it's only the small one on a certain height. So passengers walking by might hardly recognize it in the city since it's above their heads.