Mercedes-Benz 917 AF Renovation.

It is time to share my expedition vehicle experiences. My wife and I planned early on in our relationship that we would sell up and travel. We intended to start with a sailboat ( I have plenty of ocean sailing experience) but plans change and we decided to start with the Americas by road. So vehicle choice. We honeymooned in my in law's 28 foot typical Ford van front motor home. Great space, horrendous fuel consumption and forget about going anywhere even slightly off road. That thing had overhangs so long it could get stuck on its shadow!
We needed a vehicle to live in full time, for years, so no roof tents or camping, we want comfort. We are keen wildlife photographers so we want to be able to get to out of the way places and live off grid for extended periods. Oh and we have two cats.
So the requirements were : Comfortable living space (not large)
A full time double bed, not one that has to be built every night
Interior shower
Kitchen with refrigeration
Well insulated, heated, air conditioned and ventilated
Vehicle needs high ground clearance, 4x4 would be nice
Cab to cabin access inside vehicle
Good fuel economy (above 15 mpg) so probably diesel
Good value (not necessarily cheap)
So you can see that we started looking at 4x4 Sunraders. I love these little rigs, we found some good ones but it quickly became apparent that they were not strong enough for anything extreme. Your typical North American RV is only good for driving on roads between rv parks and most , to be blunt, are junk. Earthroamers look great but that price is not value. I also notice that all the ones for sale are low mileage, as in not used for some reason.
So we started looking outside the box, well outside the continent actually. We decided Mercedes was the way to go and since Mogs are loud and hard on fuel it would be a truck. We did come close to going to see Campermog but it was not to be. After months of searching ( an excellent source) we found our baby. A 1993 MB 917AF
Keeping in mind we are going to start our travels in North America to keep things simple this is what we did. We flew to Italy where the truck was stored (at the manufacturer that did the interior) to meet the owners who flew up from their home in South Africa. Did I mention the vehicle was registered in Germany?
We had the vehicle inspected, everything checked out, it is an older vehicle but very solid. We came to an agreement and so the shipping nightmare began.
I had prearranged a shipping price with a Toronto company $6600 Savona to Halifax, I would then arrange a float to Ottawa. I would have driven it but you cannot get temporary plates and insurance for an rv. After agreeing to buy the vehicle we called our shipper Viamar. They did not respond to our emails or answer the phone for three days. Desperate and almost out of time we ended up shipping with Bahri shipping lines for $9500, ouch. When the ship was in the middle of the Atlantic we got an email explaining the ship would only go as far as Baltimore this time. Eventually she arrived overdue and in the wrong country. Bhari offered to deliver the truck from Baltimore to Ottawa(for a fee). Sounds great right, until they explain the fee will be $7000! $7000? thats an eight hour drive. Eventually after some yelling they agreed $3000 was reasonable.
The day before the truck left Baltimore I got a call from the broker, " is it possible the vehicle is a 2001? it is not importable".
I hope this is entertaining, it was not at the time. When you enter the vehicle's VIN it says 2001 passenger car. Mercedes Europe use a different coding system with their heavy duty truck VINs. You tell customs that and they look at you like you have two heads. Mercedes Canada were no help at all,and Mercedes Europe took 2 weeks to respond to my "urgent" email. It was Jim at Eurotech who came to the rescue. Somehow he got me a letter from Daimler with all the build info, the same day.
Held at the border for 3 hours, reason unknown she was delivered to my local truck shop for the safety and e-test. All passed no problem except for the paperwork details.
The vehicle is now here, on the road and the renovation has commenced. IMG_1503.jpg 09.jpeg IMG_1407.jpg IMG_1362.jpg

The Vehicle
The original (and only) owner of the truck spent two years traveling in India in an Iveco truck which fell apart. He then decided to do things right. In 1993 he purchased a brand new 917 AF 4x4 from Mercedes. He then had the box built and completed in Italy. All work was professional, nothing about this truck is home built.
The box is made up of two and a half inch thick foam with a quarter inch plywood and fiberglass skin inside and out. It is incredibly strong. It is attached to a steel sub frame which is bolted directly to the vehicle chassis. No springs, no bushings, nothing, direct attachment with no allowance for frame twist. After 270 000km there is no sign of any failure in the chassis or box.
Windows are insulated and dam near bullet proof as are the side door and the cab cabin door.
There is a large cabin cab access a two bench dinette,large fridge, washing machine,separate shower and toilet, and strangely only a single bed.
cabin is heated by hot water supplied by the vehicle engine, Webasto heater(diesel) or electrically powered by shore power or the on board four k watt generator. You can run the system "backwards" to preheat the engine in cold weather.
All exterior boxes and tanks are stainless
450l diesel tank
90l gasoline (genset)
750l water (yes seven hundred and fifty)
80l gray water
80l black water
2-25 kg propane tanks
gvw 9 tonnes
4 kw generator
large air conditioner housed under vehicle
4 4d batteries
tire pressure monitor and inflation system
hydraulic leveler, hydraulic tire lift.
and more.

Mechanically the vehicle is near perfect. All the issues are with the camper box. The electrical really is intimidating.
The first job is move the shower and build a double bed and storage.
The back of the truck is now gutted and I have started the new drawer units.The wet room walls have been cut and fitted and sent to a fiberglass shop to waterproof. I will continue the build with pictures when I get them back.
She has a good pedigree. As you can see she has been around the world.
If anyone is interested in importing a similar vehicle it is not impossible! IMG_1501.jpg
Last edited:


Adventurer Wannabe
Really cool truck. Enjoy.
One point I am curious on - do the spare wheels at the front not cause cooling problems?

I'm asking because I was considering mounting a motorcycle in the front and I was told it would cause cooling problems.


Expedition Leader
Very nice truck. I assume it made it into the USA because it was in transit to Canada? I don't think it would be importable to the USA since it's not more than 25 yrs old.
There are no overheating issues, the truck runs cool, even climbing hills in the Italian summer. I had the same concerns but it is a non issue. There is a large flexible scoop that hangs under the bumper and redirects airflow up to the rad. The tires were originally on the rear of the box but had to be relocated to get the weight equal on the axles.
Really cool truck. Enjoy.
One point I am curious on - do the spare wheels at the front not cause cooling problems?

I'm asking because I was considering mounting a motorcycle in the front and I was told it would cause cooling problems.
Last edited:
Very nice truck. I assume it made it into the USA because it was in transit to Canada? I don't think it would be importable to the USA since it's not more than 25 yrs old.
Yes, imported through the USA (in bond). Not old enough for import to USA, yet...
It has been extremely cold here for the last 2 weeks, minus twenty every night. Even with a heated garage and heat in the camper things are slow.
The original owner was single when he had the vehicle built so only had a single rear bed. We knew that would not work so we would have to move the bathroom to accommodate a double bed across the back.
GOPR0577.jpg GOPR0573.jpg
The bed has been completed, the cross pieces come out to give access to the under-bed storage, vehicle spares, hot water tank etc. The drawer units are full extension and can hold 75lbs ea. Closures are the reused original push locks.
View attachment 202111 View attachment 202112
The bathroom walls needed to be completely waterproof as I am building a wetroom. I had the panels pre-fitted then fiber glassed (West System vacuum bagged) The panels were then glued in using 3m 5200 fast cure polyurethane. The floor is a fiberglass shower base cut to fit and also using 5200.
The shape of the base left a perfect channel for plumbing and wire chase.
Next is fill all screw holes and paint the interior with epoxy.
I still cant face the electrical.


Yes 15 mpg Imp
Propane fridge and cook top. It is extreme but I think the builder had so many problems getting propane fills in some countries(India and Asia) he went over the top. It is overkill but I have no intention of downsizing the tanks.
June update

Now is the time for a big push to get ready to leave.
The last few weeks have been consumed checking the mechanical side of the vehicle. Pretty much perfect now, fixed a hydraulic leak, small air leak, changed some suspect hoses added a bunch of anti chafe pipe normal stuff but a time sucker.
Now for the real time sucker:
rats nest.jpg
This was the camper wiring I had to work with, 24 volt, 12 volt, computer control system (state of the art in 1993), alarm system, and speaker wires all on one bus bar.
230 volt was on a separate brick but with no metal enclosure.
Wiring diagrams and labeling, Zero.
One set of wire cutters, a continuity tester and four days later:
I am now ready to start hooking things back up.
The roof had a set of spare springs stored on it, on a stainless steel frame. I never liked all that weight so high up and always planned to get them off.
Once I goth them down I weighed the whole lot, 500 lbs!
The removal exposed a crack in the fiberglass outer skin. once I started digging I found that some clown had cut a rectangular access then repaired the joint with Bondo. Of course it cracked. I cut a much larger hole in the glass layer and over a sunny week dried it all out.
A but of grinding and a few layers of fiberglass and everything is good again.
New solar panels were next for the roof, 315 watts each. After the mounts were attached (3m 5200) I removed the panels and cleaned the entire roof, replaced 2 Fantastic vents and added a third in the bathroom. Over the bed I added a 16"x16" Lewmar hatch to give roof access without climbing.
All penetrations were sealed with 3m5200, then all joints were covered with an Aluminum backed adhesive rubber tape and finally 3 coats of a heat reflective rubberized sealer.

My son and I met you on the weekend while you were installing your Webasco heater. I joined here to read about your 917 and thought I would post to wish you all the best on you travels! Nice truck, I hope it treats you well.

Hopefully you will post some of your travel experiences here.

Good luck with the conversion, I have just finished the same journey an a MB 1017A





I would be interested to know what you think your weights are

Best wishes

Neil in the UK