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Thread: Camper van shopping

  1. #1

    Camper van shopping

    I've been wanting a small RV for a very long time and the addition of a kiddo has made me want one even more. I have owned one "RV" in my life--a Fourwheel Popup camper I had mounted on my 1994 Xtra Cab V6 truck. I didn't keep it long because storing it and taking it on and off the truck was a pain. I've been looking at small pull trailers for years now and while I found two trailers I could live with (the Winnebago Micro Minnie and the Forest River R-Pod), dealing with storing it offsite, being limited to 55 MPH while towing and the generally atrocious build quality of small trailers turned me off. I then became interested in Class B (van style) RVs for the simple fact that I could park one in my driveway and live/travel more spontaneously. YouTube and Instagram depict "van life" with lots of hot chicks doing yoga and hanging out wearing next to nothing, so there is that.

    I have gone to dozens of RV shows in the past couple of years. I found one production RV that I liked--the Winnebago Travato based on the Ram Promaster chassis.

    It was one of the few Class B's that had seatbelted seating for more than 2 people, however even though I think the Travato checked most of my boxes, it, like all the other American RVs I've seen, they tried to cram too much stuff in too small of space. It was also expensive at $70k, but that's $30k less than the Mercedes Sprinter RVs on the market.

    What I really WANT is a European RV. As an example, here is the Volkswagen California (which, ironically, you can't buy in California or anywhere else in the U.S.):

    They have seatbelted seating for four, the sliding bench seat makes a bed for two and there's sleeping for two more in the 'upstairs' tent. The one featured above also comes with a huge sausage. They have a refrigerator, sink, 2-3 burner stove, hot water shower off the back. Perfect for what I want. Of course they also have diesel engines and manual transmissions, but that's another story entirely. The closest thing you can buy here in the States was a VW Vanagon Westfalia, which they stopped making in 1991. Stop what you're doing and look online and see what those go for--a ratted-out 80s VW Westfalia will go for over $20k, often times closer to $30k.

    I don't want to hang out in my RV, I want to be outside. But I want to do some long trips and have the ability to get inside when the weather turns, have a place to cook, sleep, and probably most importantly, a comfortable place to hang out and eat or play cards at a table if we get holed-up due to weather.

    I realized the only way I was going to get my European RV was to build it myself. I was interested in purchasing a Ram Promaster and doing an RV build myself. After looking at them at the dealership and doing some reading online I quickly realized these Ram vans are built in typical Chrysler fashion--just totally slapped together. They saw Mercedes selling the heck out of their high roof Sprinter vans, so they built a van body, slapped the running gear from a Dodge Caravan under it, put this ridiculous low-hanging trailer axle at the rear and called it a day. I will bet anything that rear axle is also out of a PT Cruiser or something else, but I digress:

  2. #2
    That left me with one choice, or so I thought, the Ford Transit. It turns out that the high roof option isn't actually tall enough to stand up in, so you have to order the mega roof. When you order the mega roof you have to order the extended body. When you order the extended body, instead of adding wheelbase Ford just tacks a ridiculously long tail section onto the rear:

    Fugly. To avoid the Ford's dimensional problems I could have ordered a non-high roof non-extended van and added a Sportsmobile-style pop-up roof, until I found out those cost $7-8k.

    I read online (do people read anywhere else?) that spec'ing a Promaster or a Transit with a diesel engine resulted in a price higher than a Mercedes Sprinter, it got me curious about those. I had assumed anything with a Mercedes badge would be way out of my price range. The build quality was much better than the Promaster and the proportions were better than the Transit. All Sprinters are diesel, with both a twin turbo 4 cylinder as well as an older single turbo V6 diesel available. I drove the 4 cylinder and came away impressed. Long story short, I got my local dealer to match a fleet price, then got to take advantage of the current $3,000 customer cash back, which resulted in a deal. Price-wise I ended up a couple of grand more than a bucket-of-bolts gas Promaster but less than a diesel Transit. I got a short wheelbase, high roof cargo van (which means it is BARE inside). Van goals:

    Unfortunately, Sprinters are in very high demand and I won't even see mine until the end of the year. 4x4 Sprinters have a year-long waiting list.

    My plan is to duplicate the floorplan of the VW California (Westfalia). The sliding seat will allow my daughter to ride directly behind me when traveling, the seat will slide further back and allow a table between it and the front swivel seats, then it will slide all the back to get out of the way when cooking or hosting a dance party ('cause everyone here knows I do those a lot.)

    It's a long wait for the van and it will take me even longer to build this thing out, but it's a project I really look forward to starting. Had the VW California been available in the U.S., I would have been all over it. Until then, I'll just have to dream about van layouts, traveling, and meeting those hot #vanlife yoga girls I see all over Instagram and Youtube.

  3. #3
    ...I took nothing away from your detailed analysis except that you missed posting the Youtube mirror link to #hotmercedesjugaliciousvanlifegirls

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by paddlenbike View Post
    being limited to 55 MPH while towing
    That is the nice thing about living in AZ. No special trailer speed limit. I do enjoy passing all the nancy's while doing 70 with my little popup.
    1993 4runner, SAS, 3.0L, Auto Tranny
    2007 4runner, stock. For now.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob98SR5 View Post
    ...I took nothing away from your detailed analysis except that you missed posting the Youtube mirror link to #hotmercedesjugaliciousvanlifegirls
    IG won't let you down buddy.

    That is the nice thing about living in AZ. No special trailer speed limit. I do enjoy passing all the nancy's while doing 70 with my little popup.
    That's good. 55 seems so medieval.

    My first challenge in this build is finding the best way to ship that sliding seat/bed from the UK.

  6. #6
    I actually support the 55mph speed limit. I really don't want someone who has slept 2 hours in the last 4 days doing 75mph while hauling 80,000 pounds of questionable contents.

    Can't wait to see your progress on it. As you have found, Euro and Aussy campers are so far ahead of US models it isn't funny.
    2005 Lexus LX470 - Stock for now...

    1998 Toyota 4Runner SR5 V6 4x4 + a bunch of goodies. Lifted, Locked, Illuminated and Armored. Winner,"Best Offroad Truck" - 2010 Pismo Jamboree. It's been upside down and still drives me to work.

  7. #7
    This is probably the coolest RV I've seen...4WD Toyota Coaster diesel.

  8. #8
    Congrats on the new van Ken. One of our neighbors has a lifted 4x4 Sprinter that I drool over when I drive by it every day on the way to work.

    - Matt
    2000 4Runner Sport / 4x4 / 5spd / E-locker / SS 1.2 / 265x75x16 Bighorns / ARB Prado / HD-SKO

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by slomatt View Post
    Congrats on the new van Ken. One of our neighbors has a lifted 4x4 Sprinter that I drool over when I drive by it every day on the way to work.

    - Matt
    The 4WD is a big upcharge at $6,800 and it also forces you into the old V6/5-speed combo. The tall height and limited articulation just don't bode well for offroading, so I skipped that option box and 98% of the time I think I will be happy with that decision. The other 2% of the time I'll probably be stuck on a muddy fireroad looking for your cel phone numbers.

    The next gen Sprinter may offer the 4 cyl/7-speed drivetrain with the 4WD, which would be a nice combo. Hopefully they'll reduce the cost some too since the Sprinter will soon be built in South Carolina vs Germany.

  10. #10
    After a four month wait, this is waiting for pick-up today. (From the Mercedes-Benz Instagram page):

    Power tools come out Friday for the ultimate trial by fire--cutting a huge hole for an additional window.

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