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frostyone 06-25-2012 08:47 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Great posts, love the detail.

I have a 2011 Sprinter with nearly every option. I would highly suggest replacing the stock Sprinter speakers. For $40k plus, you'd think they would put a decent speaker in the van. The dash speakers are especially bad...


Chumley 06-26-2012 12:50 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
f. - I decided to go with the front speaker upgrade, thanks for the bit of info that helped push me over the hump on that one. I sent in my order and I think it works for us. I did delete the front facing camera since the wife feels comfortable with us parking in tight spaces without it, one of us gets out and directs if necessary (only a wife can be that practical amidst all of these toys).

gerry - I can't believe that in all of those freakin' words I pasted on this thread that I did not
mention the dual rear wheels. Thanks. I saw a van like our base van in a parking lot and it fit perfectly in a parking stall and looked pretty nice with those dual rear wheels. I have the picture in my gallery but for the life of me cannot resize it to fit the post.

There is another thread where tonyvoudy is going in a completely different direction with his build based around his active lifestyle that some of you might want to check out, if you haven't already.



HappyCamper 06-28-2012 03:32 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
:a4: Chumley,
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts and the comments on them as we are just beginning the process of our 2nd Sportsmobile Build. The last one was done in 95 and so many of the details are vague and it helps to go through all the decisions carefully, one-by-one. Our situation has definitely changed - no more need for 4 front facing captains chairs. :l1:

I hadn't even thought about the audio yet and that is an early preliminary decision in order to get the MB credit for AM/FM. Will be interested in learning more about this part of your build.

This type of step-by-step discussion is really helpful for getting valuable feedback.


Chumley 07-11-2012 03:54 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

I decided to go with the following for our build:
Kenwood 6990 AM/FM/CD/Navigation unit
XM radio
steering wheel controls
Upgrade of existing stereo system speakers with amplifier and sub woofer
Rear speakers
22" LCD TV/DVD (it has higher resolution than the 19")
Extra long articulating arm so we can watch from the captain's chairs
Ability to listen to TV through stereo
Rearview camera
iPod interface
TV cable shore connection

This all should make even the most boring interstate a little more interesting and palatable.

More coming...


Chumley 07-11-2012 04:01 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I’m Getting That Feeling

Installment 6.

It’s here, the feeling of impending adventure and planning for everything to come. For those of you that have already been here you may have gotten used to it or maybe you never lost the sense of anticipation for the next adventure. I will naively hope that I will be forever in the latter, we’ll see.

I went to Sportsmobile a little over a week ago (week before the 4th of July) to confirm my final design (hmmm… dangerous phrase, when will it be final, on delivery?) and drop off my deposit check - oh and see my van. So first things first, must see the van.

It was actually exciting to walk through the van assembly area on the way to see my van for the first time. It’s been a long time since I have gotten this excited about a new vehicle, it just gets harder and harder to get old codgers excited. Part of the reason I was excited about seeing our van was that I haven’t seen a van the color of ours since the one we saw here at SMB months ago. We had picked the “pebble grey” exterior color since we wanted to be low key and will be trying for a more rugged look, kind of like the “Outside Van” stuff but with a little more subtle approach (translation: cheap). It reminded me of how hard it was to get a realistic idea of what the different colors offered were really like. Looking at color samples on a computer monitor could have shifted them all over the place. Getting a factory printed brochure might be better but have you ever tried to get a hold of one? Note: MBZ finally did send me one but it was a 2010 Freightliner catalog. Well the color we selected won’t get it remembered for anything other than how unmemorable it is so it’s perfect for us. Anyway… I thought that the 3500 series dual rear wheels would also aid in the rugged look as well as provide increased load capacity (and are part of the package that promises to take care of my handling concerns). Well the dual rear wheels look nice but the front wheels look kind of spindly and don’t fill out the wheel wells, not exactly what I expected. I wonder if the skinny wheels will effect handling? Maybe one of you with a 3500 can comment. Those front tires (all of them for that matter) are only 215/85-R16, the standard 2500 tires are 245/75-R16. I guess I can upgrade to a larger front tire width later but I can’t get too wide since the rims are only 16 x 5.5” (2500s are 16 x 6.5”). I also thought the mud and snow tires I ordered would look more rugged but it really didn’t work that way – they have huge freakin’ snowflakes all over the side and normal looking tread. Oh well, at least they will likely wear more rapidly than standard tires and I plan on moving quickly to new tires anyway (we are planning for Alaska next year, hopefully, and want more rugged off road oriented tires by then). The van looks kind of anemic right now but that will change soon enough. Adding in the windows will help, as will loading it up as it should drop it a bit on its suspension, how much I don’t know. Speaking of windows… upon returning home and looking at the pictures I took I noticed that the windows in back and on the sliding door looked very lightly tinted, not at all like the ones shown on the website or what I had seen in the shop. I spoke to my salesman and he said that the windows as they are now won’t match the window tint on the windows to be added so they will tint them to match, this is apparently routine but had not been included up to this point. I don’t remember seeing any dark window tint options from the factory for cargo vans but you might want to look into this anyway. Darker glass is more durable than window tint. Edit: I did see some options for tinted windows but did not see one that I thought applied to the 3500. This is one of the problems with me digging into all of the factory options lists meant for the dealers to use and not the general public, I may have informed myself into mis-information. Anyway… Looking around inside I am still amazed at how little you get for your money in these rigs, I guess that’s the cargo part of the van equation. I found some factory accessory plastic replacement dash panels that look like fake wood or a shinier silver paint to break up the monotony of the dash. Might give that a try. At least it’s better than the cheesy wood veneer that was rippling and buckling on the Roadtrek dashes I saw (Roadtrek salesman: gee, I’ve never seen that before, Me: yeah pal, it’s the same on all three on the floor right now…). The interior is nice and simple, ripe for improvement. I hate to see all of those empty switch locations filled with blanks on the dash, just looks tacky. Looks like I’ll have some projects for some time to come. I’ll put some pictures of the van as it looks now in my gallery.

It took all of 10 minutes to sit down and finalize the design and quote. The previous design meeting was very complete and I had been re-reviewing the pricing the previous week. What took some time was the going back and forth to completed vans on the floor and those still in assembly looking at various options that I wanted to confirm. This was so helpful that I consider it to be a critical part of the process, especially for my nitpicky personality. I was shown a van in assembly that had a kind of a tan insert in the otherwise black seats. The look reminded me of a Volkswagen CC and I really liked that combination, kind of classic and yet modern. Their tan is more of a light yellowish tan than an orangish tan like you would see in a British car. We also decided to go with that same tan in vinyl for trim around the windows, headers, etc… The rest of the interior is more brown, with the cherry wood color and edging, so instead of the light grey trim we had originally selected we made the change to tan and hope it will not be trendy or look dingy in the long run. What was convenient was the salesman taking high quality pictures on the spot and sending them to my wife for her review while we spoke to her on the phone. I made the final interior color scheme changes and gave the gentleman my 20% deposit and we were good. It’s now about as real as it can get.

The project should take about 10 weeks so that puts the anticipated completion in mid-September. Still plenty of time for a trip to the Southwest this year – that’s a bonus we had not counted on! We’ll see how close the actual build schedule meets that target.

The excitement is here and the mind wants to turn its focus to trip planning and daydreaming. I know it’s obvious but it’s really sinking in that this van is also a motorhome so I thought that I’d better start thinking like an RV owner. I needed to understand more about what is out there and available for the RVer. I wanted RV focused information like trip route planning help, overnight camping options, all the special little necessities and conveniences, even insurance. I think that the Sportsmobile can pretty much go where most cars can go - but maybe that is not always the case… My common sense said that I should be fine for most of my desired destinations but wouldn’t it be fun to get more info and do some research while I waited for the rig to show up? Research is fun, right?

I have a lot of travel guides on places to go in the West and the Southwest but they focus mostly on four wheel drive and motorcycle touring. A lot of it still pertains but I wanted to know as much as I could find out about all of the other places I could now stay as a self-contained motorhome while understanding where I couldn’t or shouldn’t go.

There are so many guides for RV traveling that it boggles the mind. There is a guide for everything. Big guides like Woodall’s and little ones like the blog and guides from I saw that there were RV “campgrounds” that were really resorts for RV owners and the KOA sites that have become the basic standard. I also found out more about boondocking (camping in the boonies or at least away from established sites - look for those "dispersed" camping sites), usually free and usually with a view and less crowded. There really is an RV camping guide in some form for everyone and every mood in every part of the country from what I can tell. This is getting good. I have found civilized places to stay with hookups and all of the conveniences you could imagine near some of my favorite destinations and others I am still dreaming about. What is becoming very appealing to me is that I am finding a network of websites that openly discuss boondocking options. The places where I love to travel, like most of Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, and New Mexico, are just chock full of potential boondocking sites. The Sportsmobile will allow me to go and stay in the middle of the landscape that I used to pull over and only look at in the past. I had something like this in mind when I designed my Sportsmobile the way I did, I just didn't know that there was a whole segment of the RV travel world committed to it. As a person who grew up hiking, camping, sea kayak camping, whitewater boating, flatwater canoeing, and motorcycle touring this Sportsmobile is really appearing to be a natural extension and progression of what I have been doing all of my life. This type of motorhome is just so versatile, one day at the resort chumming it up with the martini crowd, the next swatting mosquitos where there are few other victims for them to share, and the next comfortably parked in front of the best burrito joint in San Jose. Okay, okay, back to the guides.

I purchased several e-books in the “A Frugal Shunpiker’s Guide” series to get me going and the daydreaming kicked into high gear. I liked these books because even if you are staying in established for-pay campgrounds there are a lot of recommendations for things to do in the area written in a narrative style and not a "sidebar" style. I am just now touching the surface of this whole industry of guides. I am not promoting the resources I am using but just giving you an example of what can be found and if I found them anyone can. I have also been following some Sportsmobile/travel oriented blogs like “TwoLost” which I found right here on this forum and “Advanture Trek” as examples. What I had missed, until recently, was how good the trip reports are on this very site. I am reading everything I can on this site now. What an incredible resource this site has been. What incredible travels some of the members have experienced! And I see that a lot of those trips are to the Southwest. Looking at all of the pictures posted by members in the posts and in their galleries make it hard to get anything done around here.

There is so much more about preparing for travel that I will expand on what I have stumbled upon in another post. There is a huge industry surrounding this whole RV travel thing with so many facets that it will take a long time to dig in and sort out what is useful and what is just flotsam and jetsom.

At this point I wouldn’t change a thing about the basic design of my van conversion. I have gone back and forth several times with my salesman, now project manager, as my build began this week. I got the final shop drawings for the floor plan and the upper cabinets plan and approved them. Everything is as originally intended and I understand even more about the build, little details. Believe it or not I ended up only adding upgraded flooring this week. I am proud of my discipline.

I really enjoyed seeing my van for the first time. Even though it looks unspectacular now I am sure it will be something special in a few weeks. I am glad I saw those lightly tinted windows now. I am glad that I spent some more time with the Sportsmobile folks and made my final design decisions while in the presence of real physical examples. I am glad that I did do all of that questioning and nitpicking and general harassing of the SMB staff in the past as it made the day to sign the paperwork a non-event.

I am still looking for nice and rugged looking steps (like hoop steps) and a front push bar so if you know of any recommendations please let me know.

This is exciting.

tonyvoudy 07-12-2012 05:40 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chumley – Great writeup, as always. Couple of notes to compare with my recent trip to Sportsmobile in Indiana:

I hate to see all of those empty switch locations filled with blanks on the dash, just looks tacky.
I thought the same thing when I saw mine last week! I had applications of fog lights, outdoor lights, etc spinning through my head.

Speaking of windows… upon returning home and looking at the pictures I took I noticed that the windows in back and on the sliding door looked very lightly tinted, not at all like the ones shown on the website or what I had seen in the shop.
If you take a look at my sprinter van pictures below, I did specifically ask for the factory dark glass from MB. Comparing your pictures to mine, I do believe my tint ended up being a lot darker than yours. (Also happened to get the same “wet cement” paint job too. :a3: )

I made the final interior color scheme changes and gave the gentleman my 20% deposit and we were good. It’s about as real as it can get.
As an FYI I was prepared to pay a deposit, but was told – “We have your van, that is a good enough deposit.”
Lastly, Indiana has a good 5 or 6 other sprinter conversions in front of mine. They had two vans in production and 3 others sitting on the lot in waiting.

Questions / Comments:
Is Sportsmobile doing the radio addition or is that being done by someone else? I was also pretty disappointed with the speakers (and lack thereof in the back) and am interested in upgrading.

I am going to have to dig up the link from another computer (I am sure someone has it here) but there is a great www site where members list free places to camp and provide dated updates on who to ask/ what the process is. Members who find and post places get “credit” to use the site for free.

I believe you already know Outside Van has some prerunner bumbers / nudge bars on their site for sale (


my3kids 07-12-2012 11:09 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
At work we run a giant fleet of Sprinters to shuffle people to and from buildings. They are all duallys. Tires are 245/75-16E all around. Wheels are chrome or have chrome covers so I cannot tell if they're OEM wheels or aftermarket. Upon casual inspection the mounted tires don't appear to be too squished .. meaning they don't look like they're mounted on 5.5in wide rim, looks more like 7in wide rims to me.

Sometimes they're queued up like taxis at the airport, want me to snap a few picts of the tires/wheels?

Hope this helps™,
06 E350 RB

BTW, this is a wonderful writeup. Thanks for sharing.

Chumley 07-12-2012 09:26 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hey TV,

Yeah, I'm gonna have to figure out how to fill all of those switch locations. Auxilliary lights up front is all that I have in mind now. Hmmm... I think that more lights are in order...

As far as the tinted windows I wonder if I was a victim of going for a 3500 series and not the 2500? This is also the last evidence of the problems in getting information from our first salesman. I have an e-mail dated the end of February, right before the van order, asking about the window tint. No response. The SMB van order form does not list it as an option yet all of their photos show the dark windows. I wonder if they normally just add this in but my order confused them since this appears to be the 1st RB 3500 they ordered (and I got pretty involved with the dealer directly), but the LBs and EBs are all 3500s from what I saw, so? Ultimately it's my fault for not remembering to check this before the final order. BTW: one MBZ options list says NA, another shows availability, and another says it comes with a driver side side window - confusing for me. The cost for one of the options is $120 but now I am paying $255 for tinting which is not as durable as glass. So far it's the only goof so I guess that it'll be okay, just annoying after I had worked so hard to get everything right. I don't know how it is usually handled but I would advise that anyone ordering a van that wants the tinted windows make it abundantly clear to the salesman.

The stereo stuff is an outside vendor at SMB West, Integrated Audio. Apparently they (IA) have been working with SMB West for many many years. I have seen some of their work and it looks pretty nice. From what I have heard the systems sound nice too. When in the shop you'll notice that the workmen use the vehicle stereos for their listening pleasure. The workmen are very professional so it doesn't appear to be an issue.

I did call OutsideVan a long time ago about the cost of their brush/grill guards. They have some very nice ones but they are very expensive for my taste. I never got the info from OutsideVan directly but while on the phone with Van Specialties they told me that they could have one made up for me (from OutsideVan?). For the simple single horizontal bar it was around $1,600 to $1,800, installed. It didn't sound like they were interested in shipping them (but hey, no sales tax in Oregon). The ones with more bars would obviously be more. They look very nice. I was looking for something like what they sell in Europe that they call "nudge bars". Same as a push bar here. They have them in the US for almost every other truck or van but not the Sprinter, odd. There is one available from but have been warned that the product sold there may not fit well and there has been some poor vendor response to complaints. Everythiing from Europe or Australia I have seen is stainless steel but I am looking for simple black (did you know that in some European countries they are made of ABS? Apparently pedestrian issues). Still searching. BIG EDIT: I went back and actually hit TV's link to OutsideVan! It led to an area that is either new to the website or I just missed, I admit I am not the most interrnet savvy but it is a pretty obvious location. There are 2 very nice bumpers, and a rock rail, that are definitely worth checking out. It's nice to see that they settled on 2 bumper designs since it appears that each van they have designed has a different one. I just sent them an e-mail asking about mounting and shipping costs so I should be able to get back to you in a month or so with a response... I like the stuff these guys have but they take laid back to another level...


I would love to see some pics, that would be great but I don't want to put you out. I don't remember thinking that those tires and wheels looked so Kate Moss.

One of the other options to find out about wheels is calling the folks up at Upscale Auto in Oregon. They are a great resource. I guess the area around Portland Oregon is the center for a lot of Sprinter van stuff. Road trip is in order. Maybe that OutsideVan brushguard... no sales tax... more places for lights... fewer blanks on the dash... it's all adding up...

Thanks for getting me thinking in that direction.

The van has been on the floor since Monday, I wonder what has been done? I think that I may have made it through the first week with no changes other than flooring type. Kinda proud of myself.


Chumley 07-16-2012 02:48 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Here are some pictures of the van as it looked Friday. I got slammed in the Yahoo e-mail hacking issue and did not get some e-mails until recently (although apparently some got e-mails through me from my alter ego in Pakistan...).

It's real! It's underway. I am pretty sure that the van was not worked on continually for the entire week so there will probably be more work noticably completed this week. Heck, with this kind of progress it should be done in about 3 weeks... :q1: Well, maybe not... Just dreaming.

Windows are cut in and it's on the rack getting ready for the generator straps.

I am finding out that the people I am dealing with really know what they are doing and can really help you when they are engaged. I guess you just have to be patient at the beginning when looking for answers, they are busy and probably figure that you will find a lot of answers on your own. But this doesn't mean that you do not have the right to get timely responses, you just have to figure out how to get their attention. :b4:

Thanks for all of the support on this site. You all could've flamed me and said that this thread was a waste of time but everyone has been very accepting and helpful. I hope that this makes someone's life a little easier with the de-mystfying of some of the SMB process - if someone needs it. I just noticed that they have updated some items on their website which may help. It's already getting better.



tonyvoudy 07-17-2012 08:06 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Thanks again for the great updates Chumley! Keep us up to date on the progress! Mine van is still in a long queue in Indiana and may not even get started on until the middle of August... :a6: At least their economy seems to be doing well!


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