I like vans. I’ve owned a few. Ford. Toyota. Volkswagen. Chevrolet. Despite each one having notable positive attributes, the Sprinter built by Mercedes-Benz addresses most of my Van Lust in an efficient, easy driving, non-creepy-hey-kids-here-is-some-candy Van.
Since the Sprinter’s began to be imported to the US, I was pretty set on eventually owning one…until I found out that $35,000 was the price tag for a basic cargo version. Uh, no thanks. Its no secret that buying a new vehicle is a great way to lose money. Despite my lusting, I held firm in the interim and settled for lesser machines.
Eventually my patience paid off and I found a 2006 with only 12,500 miles on Ebay. The only slight catch was the Sprinter was a former fleet vehicle for Pampered Paws Mobile Pet Grooming Service. So, among the other useless things inside my new van, was a bathtub suitable for a large lab, and an amazing amount of now-dry animal hair. Sweet. Despite that, I still saw this as a oppurtunity. I sent a check , flew to St Louis, and closed the deal with a shady tracksuit clad Russian dude. Next 2 days were spent driving home and sleeping (as little as possible) among the debris of past pet grooming. Yup, the shower when I got home felt good.
So before my Sprinter could officially morph into the Man Van that it is today, a serious series of steps had to take place before it was to become my mobile home.
The Birth of Man Van
Man Van was borne through years of obsessive compulsion. During my travels I have spent a considerable time debating with myself (yes, out loud) and others about the perfect machine for hitting the road. Trying out other configurations in other vehicles (’78 VW Bus) was also helpful in determining what I would find mandatory, useful, or frivilous.
Throughout my brainstorming, the ideal outcomes embodied an appreciation for simplicity, affordability, and ease of construction ’cause I suck at building stuff. With those parameters, it was pretty easy to keep my ideas in check and dream up something that was realistic to actually build and would be a livable, functional space once complete.
Man Van Build
The first thing to do was to rid the van of its innards which included a steel bulkhead, ~20 lbs of stainless steel, ~50 lbs of aluminum tubing, the aforementioned bathtub, and an unhealthy layer of dried pet hair. Once that task was complete and the van was sterilized, I covered the entire interior with sound dampening materials, insulated the roof with foam, and insulated the lower interior walls with a 2″ open cell foam. Despite not getting any aesthetic bang for my buck, the time and money spent on these steps would ultimately influence the comfort of the Man Van in every season, and while driving on the road.
After prepping the interior for the build out, I drew up the entire interior plan in Google SketchUp, printed it out, and then marked the dimensions of the plan with masking tape inside the van. I did this a few times as the size, shape, and layout evolved. I eventually settled on a basic layout that could sleep 3 adults, seat 8, included a refrigerator, removable propane stove, 6 drawer galley, a small table/galley island, overhead shelves, under-bunk storage, and interior 12 V and 110 shore Power. The interior would also include black out curtain throughout, as well as a center console between the swivel-mount front seats. An attic fan was already installed so that saved me the effort of cutting a nice square hole in my roof. Before I began on the interior build I also mounted a few stainless rings on the exterior roof for connecting a tarp/awning over the side door, and also mounted a Yakima Rack to the rear portion of the roof.
I did a poor job of photo-cataloging the build as it happened. We typically only worked on the van a few days a week over the course of ~7 months. My friend Jerry has wood working skills (and the tools!) as well as electrical know-how to help me along. My job was to keep him motivated, organized, on-task, and do most of the shop-slave labor tasks like sanding, staining, sweeping, and fetching tools. I am sure we could have completed the build more quickly, but a 100 mile commute between our respective homes, a broken leg (me), family obligations (Jerry), and winter, kept our efforts slightly curtailed. No worries though as the final product met my original design goals. The following images simply show the details that were incorporated.
Man Van Photo Journal: