Mikey's Sprinter Expedition Camper: Cab and Interior

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#1
NEW CONTENT ADDED TO THIS THREAD ON 01/15/09.

COMPANION BUILD THREADS ARE HERE:

CHASSIS AND EXTERIOR: http://expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19224

SYSTEMS: http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=26415


This thread will review the interior, including the cab, of my Sprinter Expedition Vehicle. This is a companion posting to the thread at:

http://expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19224

that covered the chassis and the exterior. That thread also has a basic description of the vehicle.

This first posting of the new thread will cover the cab area.



The cab area of the 2002 through 2006 Sprinter is considerably different, and more trucklike, that those in the newer 2007-on NCV3 models. The new dash design is more sophisticated, the seating somewhat different and, most strikingly, the steering wheel is adjustable, eliminating the "full Kramden" bus-like tilt found on my model. That said, though, there's much good to be said about the older version's more truck-like cab.

The floor of the Sprinter is already covered in an odd sort of plastic that seems pretty much impervious to damage and which is easy enough to clean up without much effort.



However, they make these rubber floor mats custom-fit to the Sprinter, and they are easy to remove and hose off, so I''ve got 'em.

The dash of a T1N Sprinter is normally plain plastic in your choice of any color as long as it is grey. They make stick-on panels that cover several areas of the dash and the doors. Most of the motorhome manuafacters cover things in wood tones; I opted for brushed aluminum and am happy with the choice. It gussied things up some without making it look strange, which some of the woodgrain does (given that's what's left is just low-rent plastic.)



The Spinters come with enough cutouts to have a switch for every option they offered and then some. My dash has the most switches I've ever seen. Most have only a couple, which, given there's space for twelve, looks a bit lame. Top row switches, L to R, are door locking, ASR off (Automatic Slip Reduction; i.e., traction control), driver's side seat heating, passenger side seat heating, rear work light and the connection to the cabin batteries which can be used for backup starting power. The bottom row has the air horn swich and the high idle on switch. The rectangular cutout is where the timer and controls for the auxiliary diesel heater goes; I have the heater but it is controlled by an in-cabin thermostat. The big, black thing to the upper right is MBz's odd, but strangely useful, spring clip; you use it to hold receipts or directions.

Just by way of explanation, the things on the gearshift lever are "reminder" tags. The red "Remove Before Flight" hanger tags lives on the rear Heki hatch and is moved to the gearshift whenever it is opened. The hatch will fly up and break if you get up to speed with it open, so it's an important thing to remember. The lime-yellow piece is just a jogger's reflective armband. I put it over the gearshift to remind me that the vehicle can't be driven. A common reason is being connected to shore power or having the awning windows open.

You can buy a plastic tray that holds onto the top of the dash with sticky tape. Not the most elegant piece, but it comes in useful given that there are always things that you'd like to have at hand.



The photo also shows the Alpine CDA-9820XM head end unit. It's claim to fame was that it was the only head end with the XM tuner built into the unit. Now that XM and Sirius have developed their cheap, plug in tuners for stock electronics, it's not too important, but at the time, to have satellite radio required a separated satellite radio tuner unless you used this model. Now discontinued, I believe. The original Mercedes unit was especially lame, not even particularly good for a plumber's van.

The original speakers provided, 4 inchers that dropped into holes in the corners of the dash, were even worse. Fortunately, it's trivial to pry up the grills, disconnect the units provided, and plug in new 4" (which might require some trimming, depending on brand) or 3.5" speakers from a more reputable company. In my case, 3.5" units from Eclipse dropped right in.

Most of the Sprinters don't have rear speakers, but there is room behind the headliner for 6" or 6.25" co- or triaxial speakers if you don't go crazy with the depth (or if you use lift rings). Takes courage to cut a giant hole in the headliner, but that's the hardest part of it.



I used Boston Acoustics coaxial speakers. There's no separate amp. To be perfectly honest, it's about impossible to get great sound out of a Sprinter, as the options for speaker placement aren't good. My Boston Acoustics basically fire into each other two feet above my ears. One guy had custom door pods fabicated out of fiberglass, but short of that, the best you can probably hope for is an improvement from "intolerable" to "somewhat better than decent."

When messing with the headliner for the speakers, I hit on one of my better ideas, extending a metal rod across the cabin to hang things from.



It's just a regular chrome shower rod that you can lock to a specific length be twisting it. After cutting it to the right length, I carefully used a hole saw to cut opposing holes the diameter of the rod. I then put the rod through the holes, extended the rod enough that it can't come out, and added some hooks. The headliner that supports the rod is plenty strong in the up/down plane, so we can pretty much hang anything on it we want. The two most common uses are keeping the outdoor jackets handy but out of the way, and hanging pants and shirts at bedtime.

The most interesting thing about having a "motorhome" crammed into the mid-length Sprinter is finding ways to store things. By making the decision to keep windows all the way around the van, we don't have much in the way of hanging lockers, drawers, etc. There was a huge amount of headliner area above the windshield that was otherwise wasted, so I took advantage of the space to attach some storage pouches.



These came from Target and are sold as seat back storage pouches. Turns out that the spots where the cords are intended to rope the thing to the seat back made good mounting holes. The pouch in the photo is on the passenger's side, but there's an identical one on the driver's side. These have come in very handy for storing small stuff (pens, pocket knife, insect repellent, cell phone, etc.) that you'd like to have more accessible than having it in a drawer in the cabin. To the left of the pouch, in the center of the vehicle, is another small mesh pouch that holds the vehicle "checklist" and other small items.

It's worth mentioning the seats in the Sprinter, which are WAAAY better than you'd think they'd be from looking at them. My van has the "Comfort Seat" option, so my comments apply mostly to them, though the base seats are still a good deal better than in any domestic van.



With the Comfort Seats, you get yourself levers for moving the front and back of the seat up and down independently, allowing you to get any seat height and bottom cushion angle you want. And, as you'd expect, the backrest reclines. All in all, nothing special, but I think what makes the difference is the firmness of the seats. As is the case in many German cars, the seats seem rock hard when you first sit in them, but over time, the fact that they are staying supportive becomes a plus.

Both driver's and passenger's seats sit on top of welded metal pedestals. Underneath the driver's seat is a fuse block and various electrical and electronic stuff. Underneath the passenger seat is the auxiliary battery, if you have an auxiliary battery. But I don't. So what I have instead is this kind of trick storage space better than a foot square and maybe eight inches high.



Hardly worth a photo to show how it's handy for storing toilet paper and toilet chemicals, but you can buy the parts to replace the plastic removable door with a study locking door and thus end up with a "safe" which could reasonably be expected to deter many casual thieves.

Next up is the interior layout. Somebody mail me a wide-angle lens. ;)
 
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#2
Beautiful and functional! Picked up on the mention of your thread on the Sprinter forum. I'm building an '06 158" Sprinter (need the extra length for an enclosed restroom for my dear wife) and plan to drive it on dirt roads a lot, not 4WD roads, but lots of western state desert and mountain dirt roads. You've designed a camper with many extras that I can only dream about.

A couple of questions: Do you get any wheel well scraping from your larger tires when you make sharp turns? Where are your house batteries installed?

Rick
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#4
lzcamper said:
A couple of questions: Do you get any wheel well scraping from your larger tires when you make sharp turns? Where are your house batteries installed?

Rick
Thanks for the compliments, guys. As for the tires, the Bridgestone Revo Dueler ATs at 215/85x16's barely scraped on the mudflaps on a full lock turn for a few days. No scraping any more. But it is so close that a little trimming of the mudflaps might be necessary on another 215/85 whereas another brand wouldn't touch at all. You'd probably want to use the tirerack.com website to look up the specs of any tire you consider. Anything much bigger in either height or width than mine will likely require trimming, though that wouldn't be the most difficult thing you'll ever have to do.

The tire pictures on the "Exterior and Chassis" thread will show just how close a fit they are on the rear edge of the front wheel wheels. (Check out the pics toward the top of http://expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19224.)

As for the house batteries, two are under a bench at the rear passenger side wheel well and the third is aft of that. They're odd batteries in that they are very thin (5" wide) but longer and taller than standard group sizes.

I'll stop messing around with the new XV-JP and get back to this thread Real Soon Now. ;)
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#5
Sadly, no one has yet gifted me a new camera with a really wide angle lens, so there's probably no sense in procrastinating further. Besides, the sun came out and gave me enough light in the camper to get some pictures. (Sorry about the glare and blown-out contrast, though; lesser of two evils compared to too dark, I supposed.)

Of the 18.5 feet of Sprinter, about 10 feet of it qualifies as living space . . .



The fact that once person sleeps crosswise across the back is pretty obvious. The bed there is about 6 feet long by 3 feet wide. The mattress used is 4" thick, made by combining one piece of firm foam 2" thick and another 2" piece of memory foam. Interestingly, I actually prefer the memory foam on the bottom, which I know makes no sense, but when it was on top, I felt like I sank down too far.

These weird things are basically plastic innersprings that you snap together to make a sort of bedspring system. They're made by a company called Froli. (Try to ignore what appears to be three years worth of accumulated lint, fuzz, crumbs and fur. Never thought to clean under the mattress.)



The two different colors of springs represent different firmnesses, so you can actually tailor the springs for different parts of your body. The system is sold in the U.S., mostly for boats, by a company called Nickle Atlantic:

http://www.nickleatlantic.com/index.htm.

These springs really make the Sprinter mattress comfy. In practice, these springs are usually used with much thinner mattresses. They are, in fact, what is used under the thin LofTop mattress in the EarthRoamer XV-JP. (I'm apparently the only person to see them at EarthRoamer who was able to say, "Oh, yeah; I've got those in my other camper.")

The second sleeping position requires a bit more explanation. The "sofa" in the camper is four feet long.



and there are arm pillows available at each end of the sofa.

There are three metal supports that pull out from the sofa base--you can see one at the middle of the sofa--allowing the bottom cushion to be pulled toward the center aisle.



This is nice in that the back cushion can be adjusted to a sloping angle, which is a comfort advantage. If you then place the arm pillows behind your head, it's very comfortable.

Still, an adult can't sleep in a four-foot-long bed, so here's the strategy I chose. I'd always found storing the sleeping bags, pillows and other bedding to be a pain, so I designed a cube-shaped area at the aft end of the sofa that's roughly two feet on a side and sits above the aft-end of the fresh water tank. It's an ideal size for stuffing all of the bedding into. The bottom of the space is cushioned with the same foam and fabric as the sofa, and the top of the rear cushion is even with the top of the bottom sofa cushion.



The picture above shows one of the comforters peeking out. The space is usually not visible because of an arm pillow usually being in front of it.

When night time come, the bedding is dragged out of the storage compartment and the lower cusion supports pulled out all the way. The lower cushion is pulled out toward the aisle and the back cushion is slotted in behind it.



By opening up the storage space to be the foot of the bed, there's more than enough for an adult to sleep. The bed that results is 37" wide and about 76" long. As you can see from the photo, the foot space isn't as wide as the main bed, but it's proven not to be a problem to have your feet off-center.

Across from the sofa is a single person "chair" made up of a base cushion and a backrest pillow. The backrest was originally a squared-off cushion, but we instead stuffed an appropriately-sized pillow into it and now can use it as one of the sleeping pillows as well.

.

To the rear of that area is a cubby hole that works well to hold two duffles. It originally was more of an AV area, having dedicated space for the laptop to be plugged in and a DVD-receiver built in, but that was sacrificed to get a little more free storage space. The space has adjustable shelf tracks mounted on the edges of the cabinet, so it's a simple manner to have from no shelves to three shelves based on what is to get stored. Now that I've seen how EarthRoamer does the storage in the XV-JP with the specifically-sized canvas compartments,

,

I'm going to look into whether some combination of compartments might be ideal for this space.

Forward of the "chair" is a storage cabinet topped by a Corian countertop. This cabinet also has tracks for shelves, and I currently have it divided into two, with one small, lower, harder-to-get-to area that has some necessary, but not likely to be used, truck stuff like the manuals. The bulk of the area is open and, being fairly deep, it holds a fair amount of stuff. It's a good place, for example, to stuff in sweatshirts, jackets and other outerware that you want to be able to get to easily. Alternately, if you are carrying a sizable laptop computer, there's plenty of room to store it and some other stuff in this cabinet.



Forward of the cabinet, the photo shows the cabin catalytic heater and the freezer door. More on this stuff when we cover the camper systems.

On the wall above this cabinet is the mounting for the 15" Toshiba LCD television, along with a plastic holder used for remotes and miscellaneous.



There's also a radio there. We've gone through several options of different quality, swapping them between the house and the truck. This is a Tivoli Songbook radio. It can run off of batteries and, particularly important, it has an AUX input that lets you play the computer or your music player through the radio speaker. We've gone through much higher quality systems, but learned that we never actually played the music loud enough to warrant a fancy system, so we put those components to use elsewhere.

More coming in a few days. Post if you have any questions I can answer.
 

CSG

Explorer
#6
Wow, Mike, you got some nice stuff. Love the van and love the ER. The van is very clever. The sleeping space into the cubby reminds of a sailboat berth.
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#7
CSG said:
Wow, Mike, you got some nice stuff. Love the van and love the ER. The van is very clever. The sleeping space into the cubby reminds of a sailboat berth.
Thanks for the compliment. There is a lot crammed in there, the proverbial ten pounds of stuff in a five-pound bag. It did help to read several books on boat design and cruising (e.g., From a Bare Hull by Ferenc Mate), but John Speed's Travel Vans was probably the biggest influence.
 

CSG

Explorer
#8
Mike, I've got a Pleasure-Way Traverse which is essentially a Westfalia in a Ford E-250 van. While it's not ideal, it's a very nice rig for camping and has just shy of 8" of ground clearance.

I don't get the great mileage that some of you Sprinter folks get but I do get an honest 17 MPG average with the 5.4 V-8 and my reasonably light foot,

Mine's just like this one other than the color: http://pleasureway.com/trav.html I bought it as a repo out of South Carolina last year for $16.8k with 44k miles. Other than replacing the tires (Michelin LTX) and an oil change, it was good to go.

I was close to getting either a Sprinter or Ford SMB conversion but I could hardly pass this one up. Unlike you and your ER though, I had it trucked to Idaho on an auto carrier.
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#9
CSG said:
I don't get the great mileage that some of you Sprinter folks get but I do get an honest 17 MPG average with the 5.4 V-8 and my reasonably light foot.
There are lots of people getting 22-23 mpg from the 5-cylinder, but that's with relatively light vans. With mine weighing more and having various stuff on the roof, 20 mpg is a good result if I don't cruise too fast. 17 is a great result for any motorhome, and with your fuel costing 30% or so less, you've undoubtedly got me on a cost-per-mile basis.

I was close to getting either a Sprinter or Ford SMB conversion but I could hardly pass this one up.
Makes sense to me. I really like your van, and given that you could maybe get an empty Sprinter for double what you paid for your Traverse, it sounds like a pretty sensible decision to me.
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#10
Time for the bathroom . . .

The bathroom layout is due to reading John Speed's book, Travel Vans. The author is pretty convincing about how dumb it would be in a vehicle cramped for space to dedicate a substantial percentage of the floor space to an enclosed bathroom. In the MBz Vario van he outfits, he uses the van entrance door for the bathroom, and I liked the idea. His Vario is considerably larger than my Sprinter, though, so my layout had to cram things together even tighter.

So here's how things work . . .

Above the van entrance door is this panel



which has the shower head, the single handle facuet control and a mirror to shave and comb your hair in.

The shower head is a nicely-adjustable residential unit that can provide either a home-style shower for when you've plenty of water and room for it to drain, or a more common camping-level flow. The facuet was picked because you can turn the flow on and off without disturbing your temperature adjustment.

When you turn on the shower, the water comes out and falls onto the floor. The floor is made of teak, so it's pretty much impervious to water. There are big enough spaces for the water to flow between the teak slats. The slats are aligned on two metal strips, so all the shower boards can be picked up as a unit. The boards sit above an aluminum pan slanted to the passenger-side rear. (It's essential to have the shower boards removable since--not surprisingly since this is the entryway--a whole bunch of leaves, grass, hair and other detritus ends up in the shower pan and it needs cleaned out occasionally.)



If you look at the upper right of the picture, you'll see that there's a box next to the cutout for the van step with a removable lid. This is the shower bilge. Water drains into the bilge and is then pumped by a small 12V automatic marine bilge pump through tubing to the 27-gallon grey water tank located on the driver's side under the microwave.

The shower water would get everywhere if it weren't for a set of shower curtains that run on a track screwed to the ceiling.



The curtains are very light and easy to deploy. One semi-clever idea was to create a split in the curtain at the place where it is across from the kitchen sink and counter. This allows you to do things like brush your teeth while still "in the shower," along with letting you get at toiletries you set on the counter. The sink faucet, which has a two-position sprayer on it, may seem huge, but it was carefully chosen so that a) it provided enough room to wash your hair under it and b) the sprayer was long enough and positioned correctly so it could fill buckets and other things set on the floor.

We also use the curtains to create a private area for toilet use. The toilet is a Thetford C-series cassette unit that sits on a mounting base that slides on two hefty full extension drawer slides.



The front (relative to the truck) of the toilet comes off to let you get at the cassette to empty it, by undoing two brass clasps. All in all, the system works well and it just slides behind the latching door when not needed. It is, however, sensible to leave it out at night when no one is going to be coming or going out the van door anyway. It doesn't get in the way of anything else.

To further use the "entryway" and to create a bit more counter space, there is a drop-down counter that is held up with a folding brace. As seen in the shower panel picture, the back of this counter has holders for the bath and kitchen towels.



The position of this counter is ideal for having some extra space to use when cooking.

The kitchen has a Corian countertop with a Corian surface mount sink. Besides the faucet, at the sink there's a soap dispenser and the dispenser for purified water that comes from an over-the-top Seagull water filter that supposedly will bring anything up to healthy standards.



The cooktop is a very nice two-burner marine model from Dickerson. It cost more than you'd want it to, but it performs very well, not any different than cooking at home. When not in use, the stove is covered with a flush-to-the-counter custom-fit cutting board. Underneath the cooktop is a Panasonic convection microwave unit. This works very well, too. However, given that it's theoretically capable of cooking a turkey, I have to admit that it gets used mostly for popping popcorn and heating up frozen meals.

The refrigerator/freezer unit is from NovaKool. It's a compressor unit that doesn't use very much power. The top fridge section is about 6 cubic feet, the lower freezer section is a bit more than 2 cubic feet, IIRC. This is sort of an uppity unit for a van camper--it'd be more commonly found in a good-sized boat--but it works very well and it's great having a separate freezer section.



There's enough room in this unit that, if there's not a lot of food to store, we can use it for dry food storage as well.

The fridge door opens conventionally but as you can see from the hinge in this picture, the freezer door drops downwards. I'm not sure why this is an advantage, but there's no drawback to it either.



Below the fridge unit is a catalytic heater. The toilet, when stored, is right behind the heater. Fortunately, the heater is only four inches deep. If it had been another inch deep, it would have been in the way of the toilet slides.

More later.
 
#11
So I take it you started with an empty Sprinter, and have designed everything yourself? If so, do you have any photos from the start of the work on the interior?

I have spent some time on boats, and I really like how you have incorporated ideas and products from the boating world. Overall everything looks very well thought out and researched.
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#12
Overland Hadley said:
So I take it you started with an empty Sprinter, and have designed everything yourself? If so, do you have any photos from the start of the work on the interior?
Thank you for the compliments. I did design the vehicle from scratch, although it incorporated some things I liked from my Unimog camper (e.g., window type, propane appliances), the Travel Vans book (bath layout, mechanical room under bed) and different boat construction books (electrical layout and sizing, use of high-quality components).

The craftspeople at CMI did a very nice job of trying to do everything just like I had asked for it. We exchanged probably a couple hundred drawings and e-mails, and I actually bought a high proportion of the components directly and had them shipped to Columbus. It took about two months of for everything to come together as to what to build, and then about four months for it to be built from an empty mid/tall T1N van purchased by me from the Sprinter dealer in Columbus.

As to in-construction photos, there are a few:













 
#14
Thanks for all the info Mike. This really helps us understand how much you can('t) put into a 144 WB van. We are rethinking our vision and options as a direct result of this. Still thinking about a Sprinter, but now juggling priorities differently.

I put that Van Book on my Christmas wish list.
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#15
klahanie said:
One question: Were the wall cavities insulated?
Thanks for the compliments. They are much appreciated.

The wall cavities are insulated, but not with anything very sophisticated, just 3" of homebuilder's fiberglass batt insulation. I think this is the way to go as a good balance between cost and efficiency. Clearly, it's not difficult to install, it's easy to stuff into all of the nooks and crannies, and it's quick, cheap and non-messy.

I'd learned about, and considered, both rigid and foam insulation but couldn't make a case for them. The batt insulation isn't the best insulationwise, but in reality, it's not that hard to keep the van warm in most any temperature that I'm likely to want to be out in. The batts work quite well for making the van quieter and eliminating cold bridges. Of course, with my whole exterior cut full of windows, there's wouldn't be too much sense in obsessing about the wall insulation in any case.