Mikey's Sprinter Expedition Camper: Chassis and Exterior

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#16
ujoint said:
I know the steel is stronger, but aren't most sand ladders made from aluminum? Are steel units more reliable?
I've seen aluminun, steel, and even plastic. I think aluminum would be most common among new ones you could buy, but because lots of traction panels (like on my Unimog) were surplus panels originally used by the miltary to make portable landing strips, there probably are more of them.

I have both steel and aluminum panels, and I've gotta believe that the steel ones would measure out to be considerably stronger. For example, I'd use my steel ones for bridging, but not the aluminum ones. One the other hand, the steel ones aren't any fun to work with, and you wouldn't want to store them overhead, like on a roof rack, but that seems perfectly sensible for aluminum panels.
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#18
Hey, Dave:

I just noticed this:



Does that Adventure Trailer and RTT reflected off the Sprinter look familiar? :)

Had a bunch of relatives visiting over the weekend and I ended up sleeping in the tent in the driveway. :camping:
 

Lynn

Expedition Leader
#19
mhiscox said:
Had a bunch of relatives visiting over the weekend and I ended up sleeping in the tent in the driveway. :camping:
I'm hoping that was because there weren't enough beds inside? Or did you get in trouble, and the couch was already taken?
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#20
Lynn said:
I'm hoping that was because there weren't enough beds inside? Or did you get in trouble, and the couch was already taken?
It was because we ran out of beds, but I have to recommend that a RTT could be handy to many a misunderstood guy as a much-comfier-than-the-couch refuge. And if the problem gets really serious, just takes a couple of minutes to hook the trailer to the truck and vamos. :sombrero:
 

adventureduo

Dave Druck [KI6LBB]
#21
mhiscox said:
Hey, Dave:

I just noticed this:



Does that Adventure Trailer and RTT reflected off the Sprinter look familiar? :)

Had a bunch of relatives visiting over the weekend and I ended up sleeping in the tent in the driveway. :camping:
LOL! Too funny!
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#22
Continuing on . . .



The grey, black and fresh water tanks are inside the truck (good to prevent freezing). However, there is also a "city water" hookup that allows you to get water at the taps without using the 12V water pump, and you also get to save some of the water. It turns out, though, that we don't connect it much, since if we are in a campground where there is a water hookup, we probably aren't too worried about rationing our water supply.



The quick connect fitting on the right is for the coiled hose used to connect city water. The valve on the left is for draining grey water. The camper has a switch-controlled electric grey water gate valve inside, but it's not always opened and closed reliably--and it's good-and-buried where it's near impossible to service--so I added this valve and leave the electric valve open. If anything, it's more convenient; after all, you're outside anyway when dumping the grey water.

There are three "ports" at the rear driver's side. The most used by far is the leftmost "shore power" inlet. It's a Marinco twist-lock port, and the port, wiring and inverter/charger are good to 30 amps. When traveling, we use a 15 foot Marinco 30-amp cord either directly or, when appropriate, with a 20-amp RV adapter. When at home, we'll sometimes plug in an extension cord through a 15-amp adapter to top the batteries off.



The middle port has a Marinco combination telephone jack (top) and cable TV F-connector input. I know the telephone connector looks weird, but we carry a Marinco adapter that locks on here and provides a normal RJ-11 style connector. This port would get used more by someone who regularly uses private campgrounds, as they often have cable and phone connections. The right port is kind of weird; it's a network cable port. When the camper's design work was going on in late 2004, wireless wasn't as well developed and I wanted a way to easily transfer media from my home network to the camper's computer. So I had CMI add a port to allow me to plug in an RJ-45 cable. Not really necessary nowadays, though the cabled connection is still way faster than even N wireless.

Just behind the driver's door is this chrome thing; most people can't guess what it is:



It's the exhaust port for the warm gases from the on-demand propane hot water heater. That heater is located under the kitchen counter.

In the rear is the stock Sprinter trailer hitch, good for a 5,000 tow. There's a covered connection for seven-pin trailer wiring; you can also see the Warn quick-connect for when the winch is used at the rear. The thing stuck in the receiver is a locking hitch pin.



The Sprinter is not a full body-on-frame truck, so mounting a receiver hitch has to be done carefully if an aftermarket hitch is used. Also, there's not a lot of places to connect recovery straps, etc. We carry a heavy duty recovery piece that's a ring welded onto 2" square tubing; if we need to recover from the rear, we pin the ring into the receiver and throw the strap around the ring.

With the bigger tires we picked, we were pleased but a little surprised to find that the spare would fit in the stock carrier. It isn't real easy to get it a tire out and in (lots of cranking on the release bolt), but it is a great spot by virture of not using up space somewhere else. It doesn't decrease ground clearance any.



You'll see a lot of serial production Sprinter campers with spare tires on their back doors. This is often because they are carrying a small generator (often a propane-fueled 3.2 Onan MicroLite) in the spare tire location. Fair enough, but the genset hangs down a lot, leaving less than five inches of ground clearance, IIRC. Not cool for off-roading. (Of course, their permanently-mounted propane tanks hang down just about as low, which is just as bad.)

A first modification many people make on the older Sprinters is to have Koni shocks and struts put on to replace the stock dampers. These typically are sourced from Upscale Automotive in Tualatin, OR (which also does installs); John Bendit of Upscale shipped my stuff to CMI in Columbus to put on. Not the most informative picture here, but you can see one of the red Koni shocks:



Upscale also supplies a heavier (1.125 inch) rear sway bar that many find quite helpful in improving a loaded truck's handling. I did not, however, want to possibly constrain rear axle articulation, so I didn't add it. (I don't really knnow that it would have had a noticable negative effect off road, but it theoretically could have.) But not doing the sway bar lead me to add airbags to the rear, which turned out to be a great idea.



The airbags absolutely cut any wallowing from the heavy load, and they are surprisingly "tuneable" in that the amount of air pressure in the shocks can be varied to allow more or less resistance, which is sort of like "handling" vs. "comfort." There's a dedicated compressor under the hood and a separate switch for each side in the driver's compartment, so changing pressures is quick and easy and I do it all the time.

The other underbody modification, and my very favorite thing I did to the whole truck, is the 50+ gallon fuel tank that was swapped in to replace the stock 26 gallon tank. CMI found this for me in France and what with the weak dollar and the cost of shipping the big mutha, it cost a fortune. But it is extremely cool to have a range of a thousand miles--it let us do, say, Portland to Lincoln, NE with only one in-transit fuel stop-- and it lets you pick and choose your fuel stops based on price. (Of course, the $200 fillups are a bit of a downer.)



The tank is close to a bolt on replacement. It is a little deeper than the stock tank, but mostly it gets the extra capacity by sprawling over a bigger area. I am pretty much petrified of holing it on a rock (it's not yet skid-plated, and may not be; there's pros and cons), but I drive off-pavement with that in mind, and the ground clearance under it is still good.

And one final part (also a favorite thing) to mention today:



These are obviously the exterior mirrors, and they are nice, as the support is hinged at the cab attachment, so you can get the glass positioned more to the front or the back as best suits your driving positon. But it's the mirror on top of the main mirror, what MBz terms the "parabolic mirror," that's the cool thing. In combination with the main mirrors, the parabolic mirrors make the truck both easy to drive in traffic and surprisingly easy to place when backing. Sadly, they're an option . . . but highly recommended, and much better looking than sticking on the Kenworth equivalent.

Next, I'll cover the roof and that'll finish up the exterior. Post up any questions.
 

spencyg

This Space For Rent
#24
Love the systems. If you're been over to my build you'll know that I'm a bit of a systems nut....no idea why. My camper has both interior tanks and the city water hookup as well. I haven't used the city water hookup even once though it has been verified to work as it should. My biggest concern is that with an unlimited supply of water you're almost guaranteed to overflow your grey/blackwater tank due to the not so variable capacity of the system. Does your heater draw its combustion air from the cab? My propane furnace has both an intake and exhaust port to the outside...just curious. I'm glad to see you have had luck with your airbags. Mine are about to be installed and I'm very interested to see how they deal with my sway...

Spence
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#25
spencyg said:
My biggest concern is that with an unlimited supply of water you're almost guaranteed to overflow your grey/blackwater tank due to the not so variable capacity of the system.
One of the reasons I'm so strong on the cassette toilets is to avoid that problem with the black water. It's one thing if you've got a big Class A with a 75 or 100 gallon tank, but if you only have a 10 or 12 gallon tank, as some van conversions do, you end up conforming your trip around dump stations.

My grey water tank is 27 gallons, which is many days worth of shower and sink water. We're careful to use biodegradable bath and dish soaps, so while we most always dump in a sanitary sewer, in an emergency, it wouldn't be the worst thing to have to dump in a storm sewer or on the pavement.

Does your heater draw its combustion air from the cab? My propane furnace has both an intake and exhaust port to the outside...just curious.
The propane hot water heater gets inlet air from inside the cabin; there's an inlet on top of the unit. The hot water heater doesn't move much air or run very often.

BTW, Spence, great work on your rig; it already looks great. Sure wish I had your fab skills. :bowdown:
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#28
masterplumber said:
Do you have any specs \ part numbers for your hot water heater - that is one thing I'd like to add to my FWC.
Thanks - -- Doug
Doug and Clark,

I'll post up photos of it in a couple of weeks when I go over the systems (not that pictures of a water heater in a cabinet will be particularly informative ;) ), but for the moment . . .

It's a PrecisionTemp Shower Mate unit. No tank; you turn on a hot water tap, the unit fires and in a few seconds you have hot water. Turn the tap off and the unit shuts down. You can definitely hear it run, but it's not annoying.

The heater is rated at 55,000 BTUs, which is enough that it keeps up with normal shower flows even with cold inlet temperatures.

This is a very good, very high quality unit. Sadly, it'll set you back $1500, and decent units that hang on the wall (I have one in my Unimog) can be had for $300-$500. The difference is in the throughput; having the PrecisionTemp unit lets you use hot water pretty much like you'd use it at home.

Some specs are here:

http://www.precisiontemp.com/pt_rvmd_m500.html

And thanks for the compliment.

Mike
 

mhiscox

Expedition Leader
#30
LIVEABOARD said:
Congrats on ur new earthroamer good deal !
Thanks. The combination of the Sprinter and the XV-JP ought to make a real sweet overlanding combination for a couple of couples.