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Old 02-23-2011, 01:33 PM   #1
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Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

Hi there--

This is my first post anywhere Sprinter or RV related, but I've been reading up on them for about two years now. Please bear with me as all that thinking is going to lead to a lengthy first post.

If I get a Sprinter (or Sportsmobile) it will have to be my daily driver as well because I am unwilling to pay for a third vehicle. I drive a compact hatchback now, so it'll be quite a change! I'm a smallest-car-that-meets-my-passenger-requirements person, but the realities of our daily carpool to a private school 35 minutes from home mean I will be upgrading to at least a minivan. (I must have 5 seating positions in the rear, at least four with 3-point seatbelts and at least three positions with tether anchorage points.)

My primary concern is safety for my two kids and the others we carpool with, which is why I am STRONGLY leaning toward a Sprinter with its stock OEM seats (including LATCH, headrests, and 3-point seatbelts in all positions.) My kids will be in child safety seats and/or boosters for many years to come, and these seat features will also keep them safe when they've outgrown child seats. (Even adult passengers aren't really safe in a side-facing seat or a bench seat without a headrest or a lap-only belt, but at least an adult can make his own informed choice.)

My secondary desire--and the reason, aside from liking cool stuff, that I don't really want the minivan--is to begin driving cross country every summer when I bring my boys "home" to my native Oregon from our Home near Boston, MA. I've made the trip several times (pre-marriage & kids) and I hate reserving hotels ahead of time and thus losing out on flexibility. Traveling with my kids, however, I would not be comfortable pulling over and sleeping in the car at a rest area without at least some of the amenities of... a class B!

I've heard of people adding a pop-top to a minivan, but I haven't seen any pictures of those in my searches yet (and I've looked!) A minivan with a pop-up sleeping area could VERY minimally meet my comfort requirements for a cross-country trip, but it isn't very appealing.

Having a full-sized van (Sprinter) with a sleeping area for my kids and myself, even if the secondary sleeping space is a futon/air mattress on the van floor, could definitely work. I could justify a full-on Sportsmobile conversion by cost, but I'm afraid I just don't trust aftermarket seats and all that extra "stuff" in an auto accident with my kids in the vehicle. My thought would be to take out two of the three benches for our summer trips so we have more empty space for minimal overnighting. I would prefer to stay at established campgrounds and use "real" bathrooms, etc., but would carry sufficient equipment for rest area or Wal-mart overnighting in a pinch.

I'll accept general thoughts from you experts on all of the above.

I have a few specific questions about Sprinter passenger vans for which I haven't been able to Google out an answer.

1) Anyone have measurements for where along the length of the van the rear seat brackets are? I.e., how much space behind/between the various rows of seats for imagining air mattress placement.

2) Can you add cargo tie downs somewhere in a "finished" passenger van interior in a simple (affordable) way that doesn't affect re-sale value? Best of all would be a platform with "secured" (against flying about) storage beneath that I could put in each summer and take out upon our return and leave little or no trace of its existence.

3) Can you add a furnace to a "finished" passenger van interior in a way that doesn't affect re-sale value? (Almost definitely would do diesel since no propane is allowed in a major tunnel I use every time I go into the city of Boston.)

...and, since we've had over six feet of snowfall this year and it occurred to me...

4) Seriously, can a 5' 3.5" woman get the snow off the van and still leave home by 7:15 am for carpool? Could you use a ladder on the van itself to climb up and shove the snow off, or would I be hauling a stepladder out of the house every morning to amuse the neighbors? (We live in an old, compact neighborhood and are fortunate to have a garage, unlike most, but no van would fit inside.)

About all of this, budget is important, but having precisely what I need may be slightly more so. I'm inclined to be cheap, but hopefully not penny wise and pound foolish.

Thanks to all.

--willo
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Old 02-23-2011, 02:00 PM   #2
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

Quote:
Originally Posted by willoL
I've heard of people adding a pop-top to a minivan, but I haven't seen any pictures of those in my searches yet (and I've looked!)
GTRV puts pop tops on mini vans.
http://www.gtrv.com/models
http://www.gtrv.com/chassis

From their website:

Mini and Mid Sized Vans:
  • Toyota Sienna (most popular)
    Dodge Grand Caravan, Plymouth Grand Voyager, Chrysler T&C
    Chevrolet Uplander/ Venture /Pontiac Montana
    Chevy Astro, GMC Safari

Cheers,
Brent
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Old 02-23-2011, 03:10 PM   #3
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

Thank you, Brent. Looking at it again, I did see that one in my searches.

Here is where Sportsmobile just wins on so many levels with all the information on the website! I'm a data junkie, but not always good at actual human contact to get more information.

On one of the Sprinter forums I recently found a link to another place that talks about minivan pop-tops "coming soon", but also no photos, dimensions, or God forbid, PRICES. The other place had really cool pop-ups on full size vans that looked like the end folded out origami style like a pop-up tent trailer to expand the space.

I've also considered a roof top tent or a teardrop trailer so a minivan could suffice. However, I think my husband will be too worried about us sleeping "outside" our vehicle. He can't take enough time to travel with us, so it'll be just myself and the little boys. With either a roof top tent or a teardrop, we couldn't "drive away from trouble".

It is also DH's pessimism that mandates a separate furnace, just in case we get stuck overnight and it is one of those July snow days in Montana...

I'm very into preparedness--more so than DH, actually!--but I like to focus on statistically likely problems and apply time and money based upon likelihood. He likes to imagine the most extreme scenarios and start with those.

--willo
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Old 02-23-2011, 03:14 PM   #4
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

This Honda Element Ecamper conversion is another idea I'm considering... but only if I buy it in addition to a minivan for carpool.

http://www.ursaminorvehicles.com/camper.htm

It meets the need to travel with two kids and sleep in the vehicle, though, probably about as minimally as possible.
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Old 02-23-2011, 03:45 PM   #5
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

Seems like a small sized sprinter with a pop-top (penthouse/PH top) would fit your needs. The PH would give you a bunk for 2 kids and not eat up your gas mileage or make you the gigantic rig in the carpool. And the diesel espar heater would add to the resale, since it's an RV.

Go full folding bench across the van (3 seats with tethers/2 shoulder*) with a bed platform behind it, and two full captains chairs behind the driver/passenger. Move the bench back as far as possible to leave room for the captain's chairs, then see if everybody fits sleeping. Doesn't leave a lot of room for other stuff, but it could be a great build for what you want.

If you put all 4 captain's chairs on a swivel, you can have a table for meals/cards on the road in the middle.

*I'm assuming there is a safe tie in for the shoulder belts in the Sprinter walls.

Also search Jessenej as author, while his build isn't what you want he went through many points about the Sprinter seats.
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Old 02-25-2011, 04:40 AM   #6
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

As far as seating, check out the crew van,now being offered by MB http://www.mbsprinterusa.com/vehicles/c ... nefits.php , heres factory price's and options, http://mbgtown.files.wordpress.com/2010 ... ew-van.pdf . MB has a option for a factory espar(diesal) that runs with motor off, and I suggest the rear heater also
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Old 02-25-2011, 05:47 AM   #7
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

CREW VAN:
I wondered if the crew van would be a good option. Has anyone actually seen one IRL?

I'm assuming the crew van is "finished" only in the cab area, and that the crew seat sits in an otherwise bare, cargo-van-type space. (But windows are added to the sides of the crew bench?)

That would seem the most economical if I want to customize the cargo space.

I think I read that crew vans have solid rear cargo doors, no windows. I can see that working if the back is a sleeping space, but does a rearview camera system make people comfortable parking with no actual rear visibility?

HEATERS:
I've read through all the Sprinter options on the dealer website someone around the forums suggested, but I'll admit I don't know enough about the various heaters to know exactly what each offering is.

A factory Espar that will run while I'm parked sounds perfect, if only to keep it simple. Is that available for both passenger and crew vans?

Is the rear heater just adding ductwork aimed at the back, totally separate heater for the back, or up-sizing the heater that then works for both front and back? I don't know if it matters, but I'm trying to understand the options.

AND ONE MORE USE FOR THE RIG:

Realistically, if I buy a van this big, I'll probably start working (on a laptop) out of the back during my younger son's half days at school so I can take back 70 minutes currently spent driving, but only if I can be comfortable.

At the beginning/end of the year when the weather is mild, I regularly end up hanging out in my compact car for this same reason, so a few more square feet of space, some heat, and a power inverter could make me the crazy lady who skulks outside the school in a van... I aim to choose a vivid color and expect our whole school will quickly know my vehicle by sight, so hopefully I won't look too creepy.
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Old 02-25-2011, 06:49 AM   #8
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

Quote:
Originally Posted by willoL
CREW VAN:
I wondered if the crew van would be a good option. Has anyone actually seen one IRL?

I'm assuming the crew van is "finished" only in the cab area, and that the crew seat sits in an otherwise bare, cargo-van-type space. (But windows are added to the sides of the crew bench?)

That would seem the most economical if I want to customize the cargo space.

I think I read that crew vans have solid rear cargo doors, no windows. I can see that working if the back is a sleeping space, but does a rearview camera system make people comfortable parking with no actual rear visibility?
you can get windows added in the rear(from sportsmobile), the rear cam is much better use and visability .

Quote:
HEATERS:
I've read through all the Sprinter options on the dealer website someone around the forums suggested, but I'll admit I don't know enough about the various heaters to know exactly what each offering is.

A factory Espar that will run while I'm parked sounds perfect, if only to keep it simple.
I have the factory espar and a D4 in my 170 ext, I use the factorty espar via the remote control to warm up the cockpit on days when its just me. I use the D4, when I need to warm the whole van for when Im taking the dogs.I dont think the factory espar can do the whole van .

Quote:
Is that available for both passenger and crew vans?
dont think its available in crew , but I know its available in a cargo.

Quote:
Is the rear heater just adding ductwork aimed at the back, totally separate heater for the back, or up-sizing the heater that then works for both front and back? I don't know if it matters, but I'm trying to understand the options.
its a seperate heater w/its own ductwork (it works great, and has NO proble in keeping my sprinter warm)(it only works while engine is on!!) (pic added below ) .

Quote:
AND ONE MORE USE FOR THE RIG:

Realistically, if I buy a van this big, I'll probably start working (on a laptop) out of the back during my younger son's half days at school so I can take back 70 minutes currently spent driving, but only if I can be comfortable.

At the beginning/end of the year when the weather is mild, I regularly end up hanging out in my compact car for this same reason, so a few more square feet of space, some heat, and a power inverter could make me the crazy lady who skulks outside the school in a van... I aim to choose a vivid color and expect our whole school will quickly know my vehicle by sight, so hopefully I won't look too creepy.
PS..... If I were you , Id go with the cargo, and DO EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT AND NEED. More options are available from the factory, on the cargo, than ANY other model, including the passanger. There might even be a factory installed 2nd row seating, ,(contact Dave Grahm, to verify if it can be ordered 512-930-6158 or dgraham@mbofgeorgetown.com )if no 2nd row seating is available from factory than there is no need to worry about the safety of adding OEM forward facing seats after the factory build, as long as its thru a MB authorized upfitter(To see a list of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter approved upfitters and body builders, http://www.mbsprinterusa.com/about/prog ... s.php#info. then scroll down to the link of upfitters ) (most sprinter salesmen dont know what can be done,how things work, or what can be ordered,I have a 2010 cargo with full factory glass, it WAS A FLEET OPTION ONLY IN 2010).... but I still got it thru Dave! deal with a SPRINTER SPECIALIST ONLY!!!!!
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Old 02-25-2011, 07:05 AM   #9
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

heres what the rear heater vents look like
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R.jpg  
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Old 02-27-2011, 08:04 PM   #10
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Re: Considering adding penthouse top to passenger Sprinter

Here are some photos of the toyota sienna with GTRV popup roof. I emailed GTRV a few years back, and they emailed me back pretty quickly with pricing (about $7k for just the poptop). GTRV is in Canada, so they do their work out of BC.

I own a sprinter (and love to drive it). But if you were considering the Honda Element ecamper, then the GTRV sienna would probably work better (poptop bed and enough rear seating for your carpool duties). Furthermore, you can also get a sienna with AWD (which is a plus!), and the sienna has the cool reclining seats (see last picture). Sienna probably also has more side/curtain airbags than a sprinter, so it might have an edge on safety.

It's a tough decision. If you _really_ need the space, then the sprinter wins hands down. If the extra space is more a nice-to-have feature, I'd really consider something a bit smaller (and coincidentally a bit less expensive...I think you can get a basic 2011 AWD sienna for about 32k).







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