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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!


Chumley 07-22-2012 12:44 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
This is week 2 of the build itself.

I made one change this week, I added in the remotely controlled (wireless) Golight Styker GL-3051 (you can find it in the 4wd area in the bumpers and lights section). This will satisfy my need to know what went bump in the night when boondocking - at least until I settle into the routine and get comfortable with the idea of boondocking with just my wife. Due to my management background I will always keep a "change order log" so I know when I approved an additional item and how much the agreed upon cost is. I will share this with the SMB folks periodically to compare notes. If there are changes for any reason from SMB I will need to be alerted immediately so it can be added as this change order log will become the basis of cost reconciliation at the end of the project (we'll see how this works). No surprise is the best surprise.

I will confirm some fabrics next week since I realize that I am still not sure of the entire fabric selection for the van, even to this day. I came to realize that there are materials used for the headliners (a cloth material) and around the windows (a vinyl) that need to be confirmed. I assume that there is a standard color palate used when you pick brown or grey as your base color but I have too many material swatches in my standard sample set for the number of places where they might be used. Which ones will be used and which ones are extra for some unkown reason I don't know (different vehicles use different materials?). I also have two light tans in vinyl now so we have to figure out which one is going to be used (I was just sent an additional sample of tan leather and vinyl). To completely settle all of the material selections I will assemble a sample board, glue on samples of material to be used and identify it's location, and confirm it all with SMB so there will be no question later (or now for that matter).

I have some photos attached. The window openings have been cut in and the edges sealed with what appears to be some bituminous material (tar like - I have not received confirmation of the material). The generator is attrached. It is a Powertech PTRV-3, weighs 260lbs, and hangs just over 15 inches below it's mounting point. I should have a minimum of 6"-7". I could have as much as 10" clearance but I couldn't get a commitment, this is one of the reasons for the 3500 selection (+1" extra ground clearance). This is all according to the Powertech rep in Florida, not SMB. They are starting to pull in the electrical wiring and have the flooring/platform at the door installed.

I am going to visit briefly to look at the work and confirm the materials this next week. If there is anyone looking for pictures of their build please let me know.



Chumley 07-30-2012 01:48 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 3 of the build is behind us.

Not much to say this week. I added a backup light since it looks like it will be tough to get a good view behind me at night even with the backup camera. My experience is that the low light from the van's backup light isn't good enough to really light up the background well and then messes up the nightime vision of the backup camera. Besides, I am on a crusade to fill the blanks in the dash. I don't know how much it will cost yet since they might have to split a standard order of 2 lights or find another vendor.

I am still looking for a nice dash upgrade kit. Something to spice up the center stack. Mercedes used to offer a set of replacement dash trims, one that looked like black walnut and a painted silver set (termed "Cockpit Trim" kits) but no more. They were plastic, and no doubt expensive, but at least you had some options. Still looking but options appear limited. Apparently a lot of stuff offered for the previous version Sprinter are not offered in the same quantities for the new version, strange. Sportsmobile has promised to help me find something since they used to offer on the older version but it too fell by the wayside. I found one product from Remin but they only sell a whole kit for everything from the vents to the door locks which I don't need, I just want a few pieces on the dash and maybe the door handles. Any feedback would be appreciated (but I don't want the warped kit that RoadTrek offers on their vans). Note: After an exhaustive search I have found that there are really only 3 companies offering dash kits for our vans. I had to cross reference the Dodge Sprinter to get some listings. I found Sherwood and B&D consistently. At he Carid site I found Remin which appears to be made for them by a vendor that offers the same thing to at least one other company under their name. I read some disappointing reviews about Carid so may think about other vendors. In talking with the Sherwood folks I will likely go with their product as I can purchase direct from them or another site I found. Still have not heard back from SMB about their options.

I plan on visiting later this week to make up for last week. I have missed viewing some items I wanted to see or get pictures. Items like what the insulation looks like (is it standard residential housing fiberglass? I think it is), I wanted to see the electrical routing for the stuff on the roof and in the walls, and any plumbing stuff. I guess I like to see how things are fastened and protected from chafing. I also want to know where things are in case I do some work in the future or have a problem on a trip that I might have to look into myself. Hopefully I can see a van in process to see how things are normally installed and will post those pictures.

I also overnighted an approved sample of the tan vinyl we wanted to use for trim around the windows. I will update my sample board since I had the wrong one glued up previously, it's worth tracking this stuff for me. Again, no surprise is the best surprise for a control freak like me.

Here are pictures for the week.

As you can see I get a pretty tiny propane tank, and it was the biggest they could fit. It will fuel only the stove and heater so I should be okay, I hope. The generator really hangs pretty low but I still don't how low, still waiting for that dimension but I guess there isn't much I can do about it. There is a really long exhaust pipe on the muffler that looks like an old WW1 watercooled machine gun. That may be an issue for boondocking but I have a 4wd truck for getting back into the boonies so I will have to prioritize what I want to get out of a trip.

I look forward to this week's visit. This is going well and the communication with my salesman/project manager is quite good. Still no one trying to sell me on anything.



BroncoHauler 07-30-2012 02:28 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by Chumley
.... That may be an issue for boondocking but I have a 4wd truck for getting back into the boonies so I will have to prioritize what I want to get out of a trip...


I agree completely on the prioritizing. I've found that you can make a vehicle do just about everything, but only at the expense of the vehicle doing anything particularly well. It's all about achieveing the right balance, which is different for everybody.

Congrats on getting so close to taking possession. You sound like an expectant parent.


Chumley 07-31-2012 03:11 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

I agree with the "too much compromise" train of thought. I wanted the generator for everyday comfort and that is a priority but I love getting back on the remote dirt roads, I hope I still can on the better ones. Good news is that there are a lot of well kept dirt roads in California and I have some guides that list the road conditions sensibly. I drove the beautiful road from Bodie to Masonic and passed a couple of low slung street cars even though it just didn't look like they should be there. In reality there weren't a lot of places where they wouldn't be fine, you just don't see many people trying it. I think this new van may be able to drive that road, just need to learn what airing down the tires mean on one that normally takes +50 psi.

I was duly warned :b3: about the low hanging height of the generator but I did not know it was going to be set back that far. :t4: My fault but I didn't visualize it properly. One person, on another forum, warned me that the generator will drag on some driveways but I think it should be okay. The 3500 sits a little higher and it looks like maybe the rear is jacked up a little higher than the 2500, maybe (here's to hoping...).

I am trying to get a warning flap the same height as the generator set at the front of the van so that it will scrape and give me warning before I hit something, if for no other reason than to set my mouth guard before it hits. :n7:

I am asking a lot of questions of the SMB sales/PM because I love my details. I guess that is like an expectant father asking the good doctor if everything that happens is normal... at least I don't call in the middle of the night... :b1:

So Herb, when does your next project fire up? Taking a break from having a SMB for a while to plan those next trips? Hope you're on the road soon in something special, if you're not already saddled up.


Chumley 08-06-2012 07:23 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 4 is when you can really see things happening.

But first let's visit the dictionary for a moment:
Def: picayune (adjective) so small or unimportant as to warrant little or no attention <irritatingly picayune complaints>, Related words: hairsplitting, nitpicking, Example(s): Chumley

Def: project manager: A project manager is the person responsible for accomplishing the stated project objectives. Key project management responsibilities include creating clear and attainable project objectives, building the project requirements, and managing the constraints of the project management triangle (quadrangle), which are cost, time, scope, and quality. Forecast of possible scenarios resulting in avoidance of undesireable outcomes. Fretting a lot. Example(s): Chumley

I made no changes that I am aware of... Really there were a couple of changes afoot that were not cost issues just confirmation of items already in the works. I'll explain later.

During the week I got a call from the audio/visual guy Rob of IA. Rob was calling because of a question regarding switching, there is a lot of switching going on with this unit. God that worries me. Anyway I in turn asked him about where on the roof they installed the XM radio antenna. He said they don't, they install the antenna on the dash along with the GPS antenna. I did not know that and promptly let him know that I was surprised (I don't like surprises). My past expereince had always been that satellite radio antennas were on the outside of the steel (albeit perforated steel) boxes we travel in. I used to build a lot of RF (radio frequency) shielded rooms in the early days of cellular telephones for companies like GTE Mobilnet. These rooms were basically regular rooms with expanded metal panels in the walls along with some grounding. Okay, that's where my expertise ends but I use it to sound like I know what I am talking about. :b3: I don't. So I made my concern known and Rob was very, very accommodating in settling my concerns. He also went to the SMB shop and found out that the center speaker cover on which they usually lay their antennas can be removed so they might be able to place the antennas under it now. No guarntee about how well it will work but he will move them back on top of the cover if it doesn't. That is what I call customer service. He has been doing this a long time and likely forgot that someone picayune like me might come along and question his routine. He was willing to accept that I had a concern, founded in science or ignorance, and worked with me. I like that. I am going to once again be a guinea pig but as a BMW motorcycle owner I am used to the role. Only this time it won't cost me thousands of dollars to fill out the reports...

I went to SMB West last Friday to see the build progress for myself. I had been looking forward to this for a couple of weeks. I was hoping to go more frequently but things conspire to keep you away. At the current rate of construction I may only get to visit once during the build because it is progressing so quickly. I was told that they had an efficiency expert visit and make recommendations a couple months back and they are starting to realize the fruits of that effort. My van will likely be done before originally forecast. I should know later in the week when it might be expected. Gotta sell that old van now...

Something I just learned on this visit is that the SMB build process is kind of like watching a hot dog being made or a cow being butchered to make that rib eye steak. You will likely love the results but the process is not for the faint of heart...

It started with me being late again, I hate that. Apparently the SMB staff is pretty casual and don't seem to mind but I hate it since it can reflect a lack of respect for other's time. I just have bad luck... :b1: I met my Salesman/PM and as usual he was cheerful and welcoming. He had been showing what appeared to be potential customers the Fuso prototype, man that thing is cool. The wife and I have been discussing a 4x4 SMB option and maybe we will build a Ford 4x4in a few years when we have more time to use it properly. First gotta get this one done.

We started with the usual walk around and I noticed that an LED backup light had been installed.

That was great except I didn't know we had decided upon a light fixture or the associated cost yet. I had been thinking rectangular and it was round. Not a huge deal in its own right but a surprise. Saw the Golight mounted up front on top and it looked good. Later I was taken to a completed floor sample and shown the remote control and how well the light worked even in a fully lit workshop, impressive. The remote was like a small TV remote which turned it on as well as rotated and aimed up and down with the beam of light shining bright in the corner about a hundred feet away. Every annoying thing should have one of these.

Next I checked the generator. I measured it and the enclosure hung about 8" from the ground but a bracket with bolt on the mount for the muffler hung down to about 7". I can live with that. The decision to go with the 3500 seems to be paying off since it provided that extra inch (notice how I keep reaffirming my decision?). I say that because the van is likely going to settle a bit as it gets loaded with interior improvements. It already appears to have settled a bit since looking at in the parking lot that first time. SMB will work with me to figure out if a flap can be hung down below and warn me if clearance issues come up.

I went inside and it was impressive.

The base cabinet frames had all been installed. You can see how the cabinets are bolted thru the floor with "L" brackets and several small "L" brackets screwed into the floor to keep them from vibrating and help retain shape. Everything is screwed together and looks like it should last a long time plus I can perform any modifications or repairs myself. It was mentioned by another member that there are better construction methods available, like those used in the boating industry, but this appears to be a good balance between cost and effectiveness. I gotta say that I am blowing that one out of my arse, I am just familiar with the "L" bracket assembly and it works for me (but I bet that efficiency expert knows).

I then started looking around and the part about not seeing it in progress sunk in. There were plastic parts piled up on the unprotected dash. That just happens to be a pet peeve of mine. Dashes are incredibly expensive and I don't know why anyone would take a chance blemishing one but I was told that this is normal and they never have damage. Only time will tell, I'll let you know at pcik up.

There was a lot of glue on everything from the interior wood panels to the flooring and the body itself. I was told that they have detailers remove it all and am not really worried, it just looks scary and I'll be checking for it upon pick up (I wonder what that efficiency expert said about that). I wonder what the heck the workers look like at the end of the day, can they even sit on something without having to be pried off later? Bet they never drop their coffee mug. There appeared to already be a scratch on a wall but it may just be a splash that looks like a scratch. But edge trim covering part of it leads me to believe it might have been there before assembly... Mind you, nothing is perfect but a possibly damaged piece that is still installed does not meet my sh!t happens philosophy of acceptable goofs.

The cabinet base for the refer that sits at the edge of the sliding door opening is hanging out in space. The cabinet is pretty far over and maybe they have only one floor substrate plan for these vans so it just didn't fit, otherwise someone mis-measured. I would like to know how they would normally handle this. I have seen that they normally put a flooring covered panel as a closure plate under the floor extension. I could only hope that they find a creative way to put an operable door over the open end that looks like it supports the cabinet and make storage room for something.

I was happy with the amount of aisle room, I could pass my wife as long as I stay away from too many hot dogs and rib eye. The counter height is about 34"-35" (normal 32") since the refer is so tall and I like it since it is close to what we have in the kitchen at home.

Overall I am very excited. As a recovering project manager I know that many, many industries have an "ugly phase" where the uninitiated would freak out if witnessed. Most try to hide it, SMB does not. To me that means that they believe that they have it under control and are not worried, the end product will speak for itself. I hope that they can put up with the picayune project manager client in the meantime because it creates reason for fretting. When I fret, we all fret.

I would recommend SMB and my salesman to anyone in the future at this point. I think that there is still a minor issue with communication at times but I also think that if you have an issue they will listen and fix it for you. These guys are fitting a house in a van and there is no end to the possible complexity you can create but that is what you pay these guys for so they gotta perform. It appears they do. :b5:


ecopco 08-07-2012 12:28 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Why did you decide on the 144 WB vs 170 WB? Van looks great! I've wanted to go with a 170 but the 144 seems to hold all the major stuff.


tonyvoudy 08-07-2012 05:12 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
As always chumley, great update!

Chumley 08-07-2012 11:16 AM

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

I received a prompt response from my SMB Sales/PM to my questions which captured what I had also posted here in my previous post.

One issue was the backup light. They are changing it back to the original rectangular light. The reason they went with a round one was that they had one around and did not have to split up a pair or charge me extra. Now they will buy a pair and charge me for only one so there is one now available for a backup light (or?) for some other lucky person.

The issue with the dash will be resolved with whatever it takes to make sure the dash is not scratched when I receive it. That is all I want. Good to go.

There is no scratch on the wall, it was a splash. The evil eye cuts both ways, it cut me that time... I apologize for that one because it was an issue that could have implied they were trying to get away with something. Well I guess I did imply that but I was wrong, I do apologize.

The hanging cabinet will have an end panel installed under it. The face closure plate, as typically installed, will be installed under the floor. This additional plate (cover) will now be installed to cover the edge of the floor (not under) and the closure plate and will have to be notched on the top at some point where it meets the floor area further in towards the aisle because of the radiused return of the subfloor. This is not my first choice since now it might look like an afterthought. I will have to see this for myself to see whether or not it looks like an afterthought to me. I am a detail kind of guy, see picayune. Where I come from your work is judged by the details.

The window tint issue will likely be an issue that will haunt me to the end. If you order a van and you order one with the sliding door window and the rear windows option how do you know if the tint of the factory windows will match the aftermarket windows to be installed? You have 2 options from MBZ, light and privacy (dark) tint. There is no place on the SMB van order form to add tint. If you order the aftermarket windows for SMB to install they will be dark tinted (equivalent to the MBZ privacy tint). I think a factory tinted (privacy) option should to be offered on the order form and the customer informed that the option should be taken or a window film (tint) will need to be installed during the build if you want window tints to be consistent between factory and SMB installed. The cost of the film is over 2x what the option order would cost (if I have the right option noted, still not sure) and is not as durable, obviously. If the customer did not choose the factory privacy glass option or the window film tint it would not be a big deal to the owner until they looked at the side of their van and the sliding door window appeared clear compared to a dark tinted aftermarket window next to it but they made their informed choice in advance. Strange to me that this is not automatically addressed.

Can you tell that I am a person who deals a lot with establishing company standards and policy? I think that the picayune definition comes into play somewhere here... My employee file includes a picture of a bulldog foaming at the mouth with eyeglasses sitting crooked (eyeglasses taped together at the bridge) with a steaming pile under the tail. There are also pictures of a walrus and ferret in there too...

Taking a stinker for the betterment of all future SMB customers... I hope.

I am making quick judgements here becasue the build is moving quickly. There is nothing worse than not being able to make a correction because it was buried and became too much to correct in terms of distruption and possible lost time so remains unresolved. Many people/firms rely on this to keep from making corrections. SMB does not do this, that I now know. One more check in the positive column. I keep reading in posts that SMB will take of their issues, sometimes even well past warranty, and are committed to their customers. Seems true to me.

I am a tough customer but I will pay a fair price for my demands, just let me know where I am being excessive and unreasonable and what it should cost. So far no one has been able to define that line.



Chumley 08-07-2012 11:34 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

We chose the short wheelbase for urban convenience. We live just south of San Jose, California, and deal with going into the big city for work and other pursuits. This van is our 3rd vehicle and one that will allow my wife to carry more than one other person that her sports car dictates.

The 144" is over 3' shorter than the 170" model. A standard parking lot stall is usually 9' wide by 18' long. The 144" is about 20' long so fits well.

On the street a parallel parking stall is usually about 9' wide by between 22' to 24' long (although I have seen stalls as short as 20'). The van at just under 20' so should fit reasonably well where anything more really would be tough.

We also figured out that we could get most of what we need into the short wheelbase and it would be a little easier to drive day to day for the wife. The bad part is that I have put myself into a position where I have less storage space than desired though. I will post in the future about that since the SMB Sales/PM helped me figure that one out too.

If I did not need to venture into the city as much I would definitely go with a longer van. The incremental cost is nothing compared to what you can get out of it.



dig255 08-07-2012 07:51 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Many people/firms rely on this to keep from making corrections. SMB does not do this, that I now know
I would not make that statement after my build.
Still I really love my SMB despite some things taken out of my control and not shared till it was done.
my two cents from a centless person.

HappyCamper 08-08-2012 01:41 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Great updates as usual. Interesting that the van length question came up as I had intended on posting about length issues somewhere just hadn't figured out where yet!

Our first build was on a Ford E250 EB. We wanted 4 bucket seats for family travel and couldn't fit it all in with a shorter van. I think that was a good decision for us at the time. We included all the bells and whistles - grey water tank, city water hook up, porta potty, stove, refrigerator, microwave and heater. Jim at Sportsmobile, IN suggested that we leave a little space at the back of our van without cabinets. That space has made the van much more flexible over the years - at first it held a porta-crib, later a screen house and ultimately a removable wire rack system for groceries.


We are working on our second build now and have decided on the Sprinter 144 for many of the same reasons Chumley mentioned. The primarily reason the 144 is our choice is because we love the PH top and it is only available on the short wheel base Sprinter. Our build is likely to be much more minimal so that we can maximize our storage space. But, at least this go round, we know what we use!

The LB might be fine since the wheel base is longer but there are issues with EB vans:

Towing - the tow bar that was installed does not clear the van tire (exterior storage) by enough to allow us to mount a bike rack without an bar extension. (Probably an issue on all vans with exterior tire storage.) The extension combined with the extra van length and a 4 position bike-rack makes for very long lever arm. The back of the bike rack sags as the mileage accumulates and the bikes literally whip up and down on every bump. I would suggest using a trailer instead. It is actually easier to pull a trailer than drive with the long rack on an EB van.

Being Towed - We had the misfortune of needing to be towed twice on a recent trip. (What can you expect with an 18 year old Ford!) Once to the campground to unpack all gear and then once to the dealer for repairs. In both cases, the van could not be lowered to the ground without the hitch digging into the ground. On the sand, the tow driver kept going until he saw my reaction when the back bumper began to hit the ground! :b8: He had the necessary boards and blocks to lower the van onto the boards first and then to the ground. The second tow driver actually filled our hitch with the dealer's asphalt lot before realizing that it wasn't working. The dealer had the necessary board to get the van off the platform truck. The hitch probably saved the grey water tank from damage. The front of a back cabinet was popped out a bit but was easily repositioned and the screws retightened - great work SMB!

Net, I might consider the 177 for the extra space but will not do another EB.

frostyone 08-09-2012 06:08 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Great thing I will tell you though, speaking from experience. Have them run the Sirius receiver OUTSIDE the van. Reception inside sucks. Use a 50' home extension kit, run the cable from the dash, to the back of the van. Run the receiver up and out through the rear brake light on the roof. This is how Outside Vans does it and it works great(I had their audio guy do my Sprinter). I think you will have issues with the receiver in that center speaker spot...


Chumley 08-10-2012 11:20 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Thank you for sharing. I really want this thread to be a place where all comments of your experiences can live, good and bad. It would be nice to have examples of what is good or bad but sentiment has its place, it can often be the culmination of a broader experieince base where no one issue stands out. Upon delivery of your build I sense that the euphoria can override some of the poorer memories so just what does stand out a few months later? As a person who builds things for clients, all custom tailored to their needs, I rarely have a project without some hiccup. I just want to make it right and move on with enough successes to leave that long term positive memory. My business largely depends on positive word of mouth. So far, so good. I am not perfect but my past shortcomings allow me to also see those same things in others now. It also allows me to have an understanding of how things can go sideways on any project, how hard it can be to get the customer's confidence back, and to be harsh when I know it could have been corrected if someone just cared a bit more.

Don, I know that you had some issues based upon a thread you started in the "General" forum. I also understand that the major issue was resolved but there must have been some other smaller issues that left you thinking... It's always the "small" stuff. I too take every aspect of the build seriously. Most of us will have spent a substantial amount for our builds but besides the cost these builds tend to become personal because it can be so custom tailored to each of us. I have a vision in my mind and I expect that vision to be fulfilled. Any deviation and I will be disappointed. I hope that SMB can resolve whatever issues remain. Good luck.

Happycamper, thank you for that feedback. We all have different needs and it is nice to have the experience based comments that might help tip the scales. Back in the beginning I remember needing to make a lot of decisions and it took a while to get proprer footing. It's easy to forget how vague the process of planning a build is at the beginning because you amass a large amount of knowledge quickly. Deciding what size van you start with becomes the basis for the rest of the build.

Frosty, I am still a bit concerned about that antenna install location. I have forwarded your comment to the installer. I think he will say we are too far along now but besides that he said that he has not had any complaints on his current installation location. Could others provide some feedback and your relative location? I ask this because apparently the farther north you go the more common reception problems become. I have been warned that heading north and downhill will create problems for my installation but could do the same thing if mounted on the roof at the front too. I also believe that the installer will be honorable and take care of my issues, I believe I have an option for remedy.

I think my last few posts have included a lot of personal philosophy and I apologize if is trite to some. I will try to stay on topic but I personally start looking at corporate culture and how individual personalities can influence customer opinion. The future of a lot of my money is sitting in someone's shop right now and I want to know it is being taken care of the way I can understand and appreciate. I believe you get my money when I get my product and I am happy... usually... read that fine print... :b2:

Chumley 08-10-2012 06:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 5 has past, halfway point!

Another week down and I'm starting to get used to the SMB way. They appear to be moving at a good pace and don't call unless they have to, which is normal to me.

A previous post of mine resulted in a response about the XM radio antenna location. I have attached a picture of how it is normally done provided by the IA folks. This view is looking through the windshield onto the center speaker on top of the dash.

I forwarded the reply by Frosty to Rob at IA and he called me very shortly afterwards. He said that he could not do the installation as noted because the upper cabinets were already installed. Running it under the van and back up would just be too much and more prone to failure. His concern was for long term durability and ability to repair but also felt that the dash installation is good. He said that the XM network is different from Sirius and its drop outs are not as noticable by network design. He did qualify that satellite radios don't work as well farther north. I am okay with the installation and worst case is I get someone local to redo the antenna somehow. Really doubt that I will need to.

I received an e-mail from SMB informing me that the upper cabinet across the rear (additional cost option) could only be 18" deep instead of 24" due to proximity with the ac unit's interior component. I appreciated that e-mail and am reasonably sure that if I decided I didn't want the cabinet I could have deleted it at that moment. Actually that might not have been possible if the other uppers were made to allow for it, oh well, I'm sure we could've worked something out. I also received a call from SMB asking me about how I want the rear door windows treated from a window covering standpoint. You can have the same shades used in the other windows with the day and night shades but to do that they must box out the rear windows to square them up and you get a much reduced view out the back. The other option, which I accepted was to have a set of curtains that are on tracks installed. That left the trim contoured to the window openings for a larger overall opening and better rear views as shown in the picture of another van in progress (SMB's model).

Here are this week's photos from the front:

As you can see there is no moss gathering on any stones around here.

The picture with the heater at the bottom of the cabinet was a surprise since I was told the heater was the size of a shoe box and expected to have a lot of space above it. Turns out that a heater needs some ducting, my goof. I do get a drawer and a decent size cabinet space below for plates and bowls and such. The pots and pans will have to go under the sink, I think. I did get my additional electrical receptacle though. Now we can put our laptops on the counter for charging.

I really like the microwave on its own shelf. I guess I better buy a spare microwave in case this one pukes since the shelf appears custom sized to that unit. You know, come to think of it, this is normal in any type of construction and I can always come back and have them modify the shelf if necessary, maybe I don't need the spare microwave. You can also see where I have everything from the "B" pillar forward (the cockpit) is grey to match the majority of the MBZ factory color scheme. The tan in the black seats should tie in the cab to the rest of the van interior which is all brown tone. I hope. I am no color specialst and it could suck, I really hope not.

The upper cabinets are looking good.

The sink and stove counters look good. I wish the backsplash would have continued to cover the back of the sink area so it actually functions as a backsplash. Maybe line up with the upper cabinet that ends over the end of the sink area of the cabinet and does not go over the stove area. I understand why they did it so I guess I am okay but I wish it would do what a backsplash was meant to do. The problem is that if the sliding door is closed and water gets splashed down the back then you have to open the door to clean it up and you may not even notice you splashed the water. Simple solution is to put a groove in the bottom edge of the return on the back of the countertop so water drips away from the cabinet but then it drops on the floor and gets soaked up by the cut edge of the plywood (that's the real concern). There is a good reason this part of the countertop is called a backsplash. Good thing this is all warrantied for 50,000 miles. This is an example of the type of detail that I always try to make people aware of in advance because it looks kind of strange and if you don't know why it was done it could become an issue. Also, we have a flip up countertop extension which folds up at the stove's end of the galley countertop. I can't tell from the photos but I hope the edge of the countertop which meets up with the extension does not have a radiused bullnose and is cut square to allow the tops to form a single monolithic surface without much of a gap between. That is a detail not yet discussed and hope it doesn't get away from them. It's all in the details...

The back of the van shows that they put the batteries in boxes. I didn't know they did that and it is nice. Apparently there will be some heat put off by the inverter back there but there is not much I can do about it. Maybe it'll heat the water tank and I won't have to turn on the water heater (the engine in the case of the flat plate heater).

It may be done a week early but there is no commitment right now. Gotta sell my van right away to get ready to make room for the beast. I also looked at the tree branches over the driveway and it looks like I have to do some trimming.

We're at least half way there and I'm feeling pretty good about the build. :b5:

I better join Sam's Club and start ordering those special things that time to get.

mmitti 08-13-2012 01:41 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
It is karma that I've discovered your journey. I'm planning on planning on getting a Sprinter SMB, but am in the dreaming stages. I've spent hours and hours on the "design your own" place and have saved lots of plans.

I'm a single woman age 58. I'm finally in a position to start saving for the possibility of a SMB. I've dreamed of owning one for the past 10 years. I want the regular body Sprinter, and your discourse is so enlightening. I really want to get a grip on the realities and picayune details of building one and owning and maintaining one.

Your tips and things you've learned are really valuable to me as I start planning what I want. I'll be using the Indiana location. I traveled there one day several months ago and spent an hour looking around. It's pretty close, so I can go more times and really get to know what they do.

I'm planning on my own setup instead of one of the standard plans. The more layouts I plan, the more I tweak what I want.

Anyway, thanks for your info. It is really really helpful to me.


Chumley 08-13-2012 01:58 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Build clarification for some items from my last post.

I sent my Sales/PM some questions since I had a conversation with my boss (the wife) and I realized that I could not answer some of her answers difinitively, just provide my assumptions which were admittedly weak.

I asked why the shelf with the microwave just kind of hung there and did not tie into the forward overhead cabinet. I got a picture and explanation. Written explanation not necessary.

I asked about why the backsplash did not continue behind the entire length of the countertop. I was told that the backsplashes tend to get used as grab handles for stepping up into the van and get broken off. That makes sense. they will seal the cut edges of the base cabinet due to my concerns about water getting splashed around. I think that the customer should be made aware of the situation and then given the option but who wants a bunch of pictures floating around with broken backsplashes, right?

Another question was how the countertop extension is figured into the rest of the countertop. In otherwords, was the extension designed to be an extension with as little gap or noticable seam as possible? This would leave a square edge instead of rounded (bullnose) on both the main countertop and the extension where they abut so it appears monolithic. Or is it another surface that sits next to the main countertop so that the main countertop looks finished without the extension up and in place? SMB's standard practice is to bullnose both tops all around so the main countertop looks finished when the extension is folded. I assume that it is also a bit smaller so that when folded the extension does not stick out past the base cabinet on either side. Completed as shown:

I asked and I got answers. I am a little conflicted about how much information the customer should have and to what extent the customer should be involved in such minutia. It would be nice to know but then it could almost paralize a project. On the other hand a booklet of standard details or a place where you could go to see all of the details, like on the website, would help. This is what the construction industry uses since we don't like to leave much to interpretation because confusion and misunderstanding usually costs someone a lot of money. Pretty much always the architect and contractor.

I think that I will start another thread that could become a sort of a checklist where everyone could post something that they have learned that might not be immediately apparent to the 1st time customer. I have quite a list myself. I wonder if the Admins will allow it?



Chumley 08-17-2012 05:38 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 6 is done, woo hoo!

Just feel excited. It's only going to be another 3 to 4 weeks! I hope.

I wanted to say to mmitti that the planning is a lot of fun but the build is (can) be more fun. The anticipation is in high gear.

Of course I can rain on my own parade so I have some puffy clouds in the sky, just enough to make it interesting but with no fear of rain. I get the feeling that if anyone of my particular personality type goes to visit during the build it will be "interesting". I believe that most that go will be very happy with all of the explanations for why things were built the way they were and motor on very happily. I am cursed. I want to know that what is being done is the best (remember the cost for these things and expectation of long term rapture?) and is what I want and expected. Not always so but then almost everything has a perfectly sound explanation that I cannot or do not think is worth arguing over. Amost everything is really really well done. Almost...

As always the folks at SMB West are really nice when I show up. I don't know how often people visit their builds but being only 2 1/2 hours away this is my 5th visit overall. If they are this happy to see me arrive they must surely dance on their desks when I leave...

My Sales/Pm was really happy to take me to the van. I wonder if he is engaged in this thread? If so, hi! :d8: I am enjoying working with him and he does not shy away when I ask him things like "is that glove box door scratched"? Quick response was we'll replace it.

Philosophy point: if you make sure that nothing gets damaged in as tight a space as they work with and everything is as exposed as they need be for the necessary access something has to give. Either you slow productivity by being careful or covering things up repeatedly (also a source of damage) or you be as careful as possible and fix the occasional damage. I don't see much damage so they appear careful but they are keeping production up so it appears that the balance is between productivity and replacing damaged stuff. Works for me. Much better than the go like hell, damage stuff and say, oh well... Like so many other places these days. You know what I'm talking about. From what I have seen they border on "classy" but I'm not willing to say that yet.

So I started the tour with the walk around.

I see that the awning is on and doesn't stand out too much. I like the simple black and wet cement (tonyvoudy's apt description - how's the build?) color combination. The ac unit will be black too so it is very consistent. I think I have 2 of the colors of desert camo going on here. I better get a bright orange banner so if I need to be found I can be seen from the air.

The backup light has been changed to the Rigid Dually 4 lamp and I like it. The doors will have the curtains sliding on tracks which leave the rear window wiewing area much more open but I don't get those fancy "day/night" shades on the back.

Sales/PM tells me that they can't use the blank spaces on the dash to install switching for my backup light and the future driving lights (pre-wired by SMB for my future installation on a TBD nudge bar). You know, I just knew that it would happen. They will make a plate to cover the blank locations on the dash and put a couple toggle or rocker switches (prefer rocker - wouldn't knife switches be cool?). He will review with me before installation. Now I don't have to fill those blanks.

We go to the other side and I see the scratch on the glove box, and it has the lock in it too. Bummer. Oh well, have to keep him on his toes... So I see that wierd floor condition again, where it was cut short and the cabinet is just hanging there. I stopped and looked at another van and the floor on that was cut properly and the cabinet stuck out further into the door opening than mine. So I know that there isn't a "standard" floor template. So I asked, "did someone just screw up?". I know he feels bad and promised I will like it when it's done. Hmmm... boy this is going to take some creativity. You know, there was this point in time where it was noticed and the whole world had not yet been bolted down and it could have been made right. Opportunity missed. This could really determine my demeanor at pickup (refusal?). My wife asked me why I wasn't more upset with this, and a couple other things, since I normally readily fall into making comments about a person I politely rename "idiot". Not here. I see what they're doing and I get the issue with wanting to ask the customer questions and waiting or getting it done. I see the general quality and it is good. So the wife understands. But there are things I will not accept and I think I have found at least one, fingers crossed on the others.

We go inside and it looks nice. The cabinet behind the driver's seat is finished and I pull on the cabinet door. Surprise, it's not a cabinet but a drawer! It's a nice padded drawer and is better than a cabinet since I can use every square inch now. But it was a surprise!?! I like having the upper drawer for cutlery/silverware and the one below for dishes and drinkware but I didn't know it was happening. Maybe I should look at it this way - I did't know how much I would like it.

I didn't take pictures but the refrigerator that I supplied substantailly fit the cabinet they made. Unfortunately the flanges were too wide and they extened beyond the cabinet so it doesn't fit now. There are optional flange kits available but this looks like a hassle. I provided the refer so I will take care of it if it was not a SMB goof. I just want to see the installation instructions first.

I look up and notice that the cabinet upper over the sink is not there. I am told it should be fine because they put in a door trim before that section of cabinet but am confused. In some of their pictures I see the standard cabinet run across and over part of the sliding door opening. In others they have a scaled down cabinet that looks appropriate because it sits back further from the head and is higher up so you get more room to work. But I see both and don't know what I am getting so I ask. He will get back to me. Also, in this area, how do you get light over the cooking area and that counter extension of mine? I asked that question too. Waiting for answers. This goes on my checklist for the future.

General pictures. Looks pretty nice, don't you think?

I saw the shower stall. No that is not an optical illusion. The shower controls are at my ankles. Waiting to hear how that one will work out. My back is trashed so I really can't bend over too well until I loosen up in the morning. The bad knees don't help here either. Hmmm... shower only at night? Hopefully there is a valve on the shower wand. Cute little medicine cabinet in the shower stall, sorry no pictures.

I met Rob of IA and we confirmed the location of the safe. It is now much smaller than originally thought but the cost seems fair and it will be used for something. I think we have the sub-woofer location figured out.

We added a couple of mirrors on the shower door, kind of like the Roadtre, since we did not have one anywhere else in our build. Vanity does not take a vacation.

It just dawned on me. I do not know what type of finish goes on the sliding door and what blinds go on the window. Can someone tell me what I get?

As usual I reviewed my pictures at home and came up with more questions so have sent them off to my SMB Sales/PM guy. I will likely get good responses and we will go on to next week. I plan on visiting again in 2 weeks since things are getting to come to a close quckly.

I will go the day before I am supposed to pick up the completed van and review it to make sure it is truly ready. I prefer not to get into a routine where I have to come back for every little thing over and over. I want it to be visibly acceptable when I pick it up. I only want to come back right away for adjustments and re-training. If I find there are other problems later (hidden or latent I call them) then I will deal with that as they come up but I don't want to drive off with a list of items I know I have to return to have corrected right after I have taken possession. I expect to accept a new vehicle where it is as good as it gets (perfect?) at one point in time and this should be that time. But that's just me.

Thanks for hanging in there and I hope you have another week's worth of build info to help you understand the process, I do.


Chumley 08-20-2012 10:48 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 6 or 7?

When I started this thread I wanted it to be a place where someone new to the Sportsmobile experience could get a flavor for what the process of building one might be like. I assumed that my experience would be kind of typical. I also know that I am nit-picky so might find more issues than most. I also work in a similar industry so think I have a feel for the proper level of communication (translation – yell until understood), understand processes, and also what is reasonable to expect and what is ridiculous. I also understand we are all different. My elaborate diagnosis of “objective” observations seem normal to me but probably appear as pontificating at times (well, maybe always) or simply annoying.

Well, nothing prepared me for today’s visit. For some reason my visit last Thursday left me uneasy about several little things. I asked questions but had not received the usual prompt answers. This was explained when I learned that my Sales/PM was off last Friday but there was more to it. I had to see the combination of a series of dimensions for myself so I decided to simply drive the 140 miles and 2 ½ hours to see what was up. I am not usually this reactive and rash (no, seriously – do I appear at all like the spontaneous type?) but several little things bothered me. Most concerning was that the shower enclosure appeared to be more than the 36” long stall identified in the design. That issue stuck in my brain and it hurt, and kind of itched, kind of like a cranial hemorroid. I wondered where the extra room was captured from because this build was so tight and had to be on the mark. I thought that the stretched stall might be pushing up against the adjacent cabinet and into the driver’s seat so it wouldn’t swivel properly. That seat being able to swivel was the reason we gave up a full height closet and moved the shower stall back from right behind the driver’s seat and put a low cabinet in its place. I get there and the seat swivels fine and that is nice. It was something else.

I have to say that I really thought about whether or not to post this but after the conversation I had with my Sales/PM today I almost feel like I have to. We discussed how so many people complain about issues that had never been voiced so the honest offer to correct them is lost. I also get that a lot of people are non-confrontational but somehow something should be said, it really is fair for everyone. So I am telling the full story here so we can follow an honest effort to resolve a real problem.

The sleeping area is 3” shorter than planned (73"). That was a critical dimension that was clearly marked on all of the plans. So how is that a big deal? Well, let’s see. The shower stall has to be disassembled to make it 36” wide, that includes all walls and the ceiling, light fixture, making another medicine cabinet, moving the shower pan, plumbing lines... The cabinet with sink, refer and stove gets moved 3” – this exacerbates the hanging cabinet issue. The 2 ottoman have to be rebuilt and made 3” longer. The upper cabinets that go over the sink and those across the van that die into the shower stall get remade. A couple wall panels get replaced because of holes to be left by the “L” brackets now being relocated. The entire headliner may need to get replaced. Now all of the holes left by those very secure “L” brackets bolted through the floor will have to be filled properly and weather proofed. I will have to find out if the Mercedes factory outer body warranty (5 years/100,000 miles) covers the floor too. I have the extended warranty covering me to 6 years and 125,000 miles too so it has to be done right.

I saw and will also resolve a couple of minor issues too. The microwave shelf was off by ¼” across 20” as measured from the countertop below which I used as a reference point (the reference “level”). It was one of the things that bugged me but couldn’t put a sure finger on it. It is oddly noticable but not obvious until you look at it a bit. The two LED hockey puck lights over the driver’s/passenger seat will get installed. The refer will get installed so it is a flush (semi-flush?) fit and not stick out so far due to the flange kit interfering. It now sticks out well past the countertop edge. Seemingly big issues are now minor and will be taken care of.

As you can imagine I was not really that happy for a while since I had all of those little issues and then now this bombshell. The interior will practically be completely redone. This is pretty incredible. I met Alan Feld and don’t think I made a good first impression. So this is all bad right? Well, it’s not great but I think it will turn out good in the end. If you think I write long posts you should talk with me when I have issues. However, throughout the verbal barrage I never heard ”no” or “only” or “maybe” or “if” or anything else that would qualify as a qualification for the correctness and completeness of the repair work. I have been assured that it will be fixed until no one could tell it was not a new clean build. So often a person or company starts to qualify what the repairs will be like. They already face the prospect of losing a lot of money and many want to minimize that loss. They do it by simply doing less than what is necessary to do it right and turn away from the customer. I am sure you have seen examples for yourself, the negotiations to get you to accept less so they save more. Not these guys. They know they made a mistake and are humble and taking full credit for the goof. No excuses. Everyone makes mistakes, doing it right makes you the most money, fixing the mistake right the first attempt is the next best. Trying to cheap out and not fix it properly the second time is stupid because someone like me (maybe most of us) is going to make them do it a third time, and a fourth, so on until it is right. Suck it up and fix it. You’re gonna lose money so you might as well salvage something, it might as well be a relationship and some reputation. I think they’re doing it but we just got started.

It will take a lot to get me comfortable with a mildly perforated floor, replaced interior finishes, and furniture but I will give them a chance and I will report to you all honestly on how they do.

This is huge, it represents incredible odds and probability. Ah heck, I know nothing about odds or probability except to say that it is incredible odds that I would be writing this thread and all of this would happen to me. I mean, c’mon what the heck!?! I know I said I would take some heat for the betterment of all future SMB customers but this is too freakin’ much! Note: they were honest enough to say that this does happen from time to time but the frequency is something like once every three years. I tend to (want to) believe them but if anybody else has a story like this one plesae feel free to share it here.

You think I was nitpicky before? Now my time and anguish will put a fine point on my observations. I will try very hard to remain objective but if there is any potential for me to pay some price for a latent issue derived from all of this I may become unpleasant, or just talk them to death.

I will say that my Sales/PM guy felt really bad as did Alan Feld, honestly. Heck, I felt bad for them because they have to deal with me in this altered state now as well as put this project in reverse for a while before shifting into drive again. Options? I know I have all of the options I need but what I really want is the van done and right. It will supposedly be done when I had originally been told but I want it done right more than right now. This is also the opportunity to make it better than it was so let's get it all right. God, I wonder what that efficiency expert would have to say…

I can't believe what strange set of feelings prompted my visit today. I would have found out eventually but to be there as it went down was something else. I am not sure where they were when i first walked in since they had at least one guy working in there when I showed up but I don't think they installing anything more at this point. Ouch!

Thanks for tuning in. Time for about 4 fingers of scotch or bourbon, neat.


ecopco 08-20-2012 11:03 PM

My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Sorry to hear about this major setback. I've met Alan several times through a friend of mine who has had 2 SMBs. Alan is a stand up guy and he stands behind his company and their workmanship. Good luck with the rest of the build. Keep the faith!


Chumley 08-21-2012 12:25 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Thanks for trying to help settle my shaken, well, confidence in SMB.

I know mistakes happen but after about a day since first finding out about the goof the mind tends to wonder if it will get worse or better first.

The first issue is how Mercedes is going to react and if their demands on the floor patch make it too difficult to even pursue. Could you imagine if we were where there was a lot of seaspray or road salt corrosion? I think they would be excreting masonry units about now. The next thing is me knowing that most people or companies will immediately promise the world when a goof of this magnitude is discovered only to later settle down and backpedal as everything is put back into a normal setting and perspective, kind of like admitting to the police at an accident scene that it was your fault only to recant later. I don't think I see any issues in these guys but it is only day two of the first day of the rest of this build's life.

I expect to know exactly what is going to be replaced and what to expect as far as schedule, it looks like more visits are in order. That little goof on the floor cut short has got to be somehow fixed perfectly in my eyes, especially now. All of the little issues need to be fixed. There is just a lot of little stuff that got magnified and it has all got to get fixed properly. Does this have to be the most perfect van ever built by SMB? NO. But when I see issues in my van and I can walk over to another sample in their display floor and show them how it was done properly there, which I think we could all easily agree was correct, then I expect to see it on my van too. Simple. No unreasonable expectations. Do it all right not just most of it. The magnifying glass is out. I hate to be this way but when something like this happens it just shakes the confidence. They have to get it back in about 4 weeks or the day of preview before pick up will be a long one. That day will be the day that I decide that I drive my dream SMB or? I have told them all of this so this is no secret.

So do I think they will pull it off? Yes. Am I still worried? Yes. Will I accept any compromise? No. Will I move on and forget about all of this if they pull it off? Heck no, I will respect the company more for taking this situation and fixing it when the odds just became stacked against them.

Good luck SMB, good luck me.


Chumley 08-23-2012 11:08 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 6, revision 1 is about past, whew!

Wow, what a week this last week has been! I am really happy to know that this issue of mine is so rare because I would hate to have others need to deal with this. It would also put Sportsmobile out of business. It’s certainly a lot more to think about than I had ever anticipated at the beginning of this journey.

I now know a lot more about what will be done to correct the 3” dimensional error. Monday I found out about the problem. At that time it appeared that SMB would just replace the shower stall, parts of the 2 ottoman, and 2 sections of overhead cabinets. They would also move the galley unit over and that would be it. Scroll forward 2 days and it all changed! I found out yesterday that the entire thing would be redone! It had been virtually stripped of all finishes and furniture. They even removed everything mounted underneath so they could patch all of the holes properly, even the generator.



This is what a diesel generator looks like sitting on a cart.

Okay, this was initially very disturbing. I know a little about rework projects and they scare me. Whenever you try to reinstall stuff there is an increased opportunity for some materials to fatigue since some items aren’t meant to be installed more than one time and can develop slop at fasteners and connections. Plastics are a good example. Stuff moved and tugged on can get loose and not be immediately apparent. Problems then show up some time later when it is hard to determine when and what caused the problem. Electrical connections and friction fit items as examples. It is a process that I hate to deal with. With all of this in mind I met the shop foreman and the person who handles customer’s issues after the sale and delivery and looked at the van in all of its naked glory. I have to admit I thought I was prepared for the sight but it still sucks to see the van in this condition. I really had not been prepared to see how completely gutted it was yet have some systems plumbing and wiring still in place hanging like life support equipment. So the shop foreman takes responsibility and says it is his baby and he will watch it to the end of the rebuild. He told me how they came to the decision to just gut it and redo everything.

A complete rebuild is no small thing and it simply negates the possibility of making any profit on the project. The decision was based partially on the realization that it is just so hard to work in the confined area with the amount of rework initially planned and not damage everything left in place and the extra effort it requires to retrofit back into areas out of normal construction sequence. The issue of the floor that was cut short was also a factor since I had become rather demanding in that aspect of the build. I completely agree with this decision by the way. They will now be able to work in a way that is normal and in a familiar routine and sequence which I think is a good way to reduce potential issues. Virtually everything is new so it won’t have possible damage and they now fix the floor issue properly. The undercarriage is now completely accessible to patch the unused holes. These holes will be spot coated with a factory undercoating material (still waiting for that factory floor patch spec). I would think that another part of the decision was that they just wanted it right and it was the right thing to do.

So the foreman is really really sorry for the goof and promises to stay on top of it until the end. I guess you can’t get any more assurance than that, well besides the Sales/PM also focusing on this project. Also, the foreman is a good man, I think I can safely say that. It was the primary focus of the Sales/PM’s comments about him, not that he was a great tradesman or built 5,000 vans, just that he is a good man and cares. You can’t teach that quality so I’ll take it when I can get it, well that and his competence at what he does too. There is some good and bad to this but I am seeing more of the good than I did a couple of days ago.

I see the bad:
1. Everything I mentioned above.
2. Delays the completion schedule.
3. They ran out of the countertop material so now will have to pick another color. Of course this means we have to accept a color we originally didn’t want. Compromise? Hmmm… I may have to call to talk about another supplier’s offerings.
4. Possible damage to a part of the van that they can’t easily replace, like a scratch or dent on the body. The more the van is there in this work environment the greater the chance for “lot” damage as the auto dealers call it. Next big worry.

I see the good:
1. I get a roof mounted XM radio antenna since the headliner is out.
2. I get a chance to make all of the corrections that I want to the design. I will say that I would have gotten these corrections anyway since they were based upon mis-understandings of the work or SMB goofs.
a. Full backsplash on the countertop.
b. Location and design of the spice rack (originally installed short and of a design that virtually did not allow functional use).
c. Proper overhead cabinet over the sink with 2 lights that were not included before.
d. Floor fixed without multiple attempts at compromise correction.

I have asked for only one additional item that they are reviewing and I can tell you it is a no cost issue but that’s all I will say.

What a week. I have a van worth that of a house in some parts of the country or a condo in Truckee that is sitting in someone’s shop and I am not really freaking out anymore. Am I still concerned? Sure, but less so knowing those in charge of making it right. Will I let up or keep the microscope out for the rest of the build? Well, yes. I will be going every week now. I went back and read Angel’s post from a few months back and that is what he recommended and I agree here. If you can do it why not?

My Sales/PM guys is a good guy and he will be doing his best. He reiterated again that of the thousands of vans that he has designed and built that he can’t believe that this happened to me after all of my e-mails and discussions about how I want things done. If you think I have shown a particular abundance of overbearing concern on this site you should have seen my correspondence with him. Well, just think if I handn’t sent the e-mail asking him to confirm the dimensions of the shower stall last Thursday.

What have I learned this week? That SMB may make a big goof but they have every intent to make a big save. I would not bet against them right now.



windguy 08-29-2012 08:43 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

that's quite a story you've got going on.
can't believe they gutted that van. ouch!
SMB should have handed you a big bottle of Prozac on your last visit.
hope the rebuild goes better this time.
you know they are going to be all over this van like stink on a monkey.

best of luck!

Chumley 08-30-2012 10:40 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 8 Going on 5

So I’ll recap what I remember about last week.

I felt funny about some dimensions so did a knee jerk thing and drove 2 ½ hours to see for myself. I find out that I was right and it was also discovered by SMB after I asked about the shower stall. Fixing the shower stall started out looking like a lot of work but actually relatively easy in comparison to what was coming. A couple of days later they decided to just gut the whole thing and start from scratch. Okay, lots of gut wrenching concern and costs being thrown about now but we have a direction and off we went.

Windguy, from what I understand I think there should have been 3 bottles of something handed out, SMB Sales/Pm, Foreman and me. I agree and fully believe they will be on top of this to the end. I got a call about a dimensional issue where they said they would normally just make a judgement call on their own and go - good thing they called because it didn't go the way they thought.

Today I went to make my now routine weekly visit. I get there and am shown the van by the shop foreman and he seems a little more relaxed, we know what is going to be done. Parts of the van are protected but we’ll see how effective it is in the long run. I see that they started with the same type of protection before but it gets slowly moved out of the way - but they are trying.

The interior of the van now has the new floor and flooring installed and it has the correct overhang to support the cabinet now – that is a huge positive. There is more insulation stuffed into the walls as I had requested. Note: I asked about the use of a spray in foam and apparently Mercedes does not allow it since it will possibly block weep (drain) holes in the body. I noticed that there was a set of dimensions for cabinet layout on the inside of the van on the walls to make sure that everyone follows them, I think he said it will be future common practice. One of the things that came up this week was that there was apparently more than just a 3” goof and must have been more like 4 ½”. I had to decide whether to lose an additional 1 ½” from the shower stall (making it 34 ½”) or take it from the cabinet with the heater. We decided to keep the full 36" shower size but now that made the cabinet behind the seat only 17 ½” or 18” wide. BTW: the shower measurement is an inside clear measurement. That cabinet was also 1 of the 2 they had been hoping to reuse too. The shop foreman agreed to maximize the height of the large drawer by minimizing the space used for the heater as much as possible in that cabinet now. All I could ask for at this point. This made the microwave shelf (remember the pictures?) so narrow that it will have to vent into the forward cabinet but it does fit. I guess I won’t put clothes up there. Hmmm… maybe I should think about that one a bit more…

Outside I am offered a creeper and slid under the rig. I look for the myriad of holes but can’t find them until I look closer. The holes have been patched and covered with a material from Mercedes that appears to be the same as originally used as factory undercoating (yes, Mercedes includes some kind of undercoating (maybe for sound deadening?)). I probably wouldn’t have noticed but it was applied with a tool and not sprayed on. Looks good

Overall it appears to be back at about week 4 and I can see a lot more clearance in the wheel wells again.

Something really nice to report is that SMB found an aftermarket switch that fits into the blank switch locations on the dash for extra lights and such. At the last meeting I wasn’t sure if I liked the proposed fabricated flat plate blank, installed covering the factory switch location, with switches installed on it. I asked for something to go in the switch location like fitting a toggle in an actual switch plug blank. It appears that there are others who wanted this and SMB found someone who addressed the issue. They are still trying to figure out if it will work but I think it is perfect if it does. Maybe some good will come out of this for everyone.

The final stop was to sit down and review the floor plan and understand what I was getting by going around the floor plan and identifying each item. First though I had to confirm the countertop color. The former “Onyx” (black with white specs) we originally used was now no longer available so we had to switch colors and selected a darker brown and I like it. Okay, so we reviewed the drawings and now I understand exactly what I am getting and I thought I did before. Everything really is based upon the standard units or modified units so look at their standard furniture plans and understand what it is you are getting. Thinking back on the last week it would be really good to understand every dimension so that even SMB has to double check the dimensions. I saw no written dimensions anywhere except for one for the upper cabinet width. I think putting the dimensions on the walls of the van is a good idea and could be a good way to avoid problems like this in the future.

I am feeling pretty good about this and am looking forward to next week.



tonyvoudy 08-31-2012 01:25 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Glad things are back on track! Can you post any specs on where to get the aftermarket switch?

WeLikeWheels 09-02-2012 01:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I just read this whole thread. Thank you for all the details about the process, Chumley! I own a business that makes custom products, and I must say, just reading your posts made me feel anxious. God bless the guys at SMB West. Really watching your process has made me feel a sense of confidence in going with SMB. Just waiting to see your happy outcome in a few weeks.

Chumley 09-04-2012 05:10 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Tony, yeah, up and running again. I don't know about the switches yet, they might not even work for all I know. I will let you know if they tell me but if they put a lot of effort into finding a "secret" stash they may not be so open about providing the info but I'll ask.

WLW, I guess I started to really feel some concern after a while in my weekly reports and it must show. I tried to end each report with as much positive attitude as possible but it may not have come out that way. It's interesting to read for me because it is a diary that reflects my thoughts at the time. This project started out with me having issues and somewhat recovering and then to slip back into some doubt. I have to admit that since I did not fully understand the plans (until last week) I was always uncomfortable and therefore hovering and questioning everything. I like it when you can understand exactly what you are getting, developing the confidence in the team, and then just let it run with a few check-ins to see where it's all at. It never happened on this job so I just rode it, hard. Since I know what they do, after basically seeing it done once, I think it will go easier for me after it gets rolling again. I actually feel better now than I have for the last few weeks. I know they have a commitment to get it done right.

I still can't believe that this happened to me. I am sure SMB has found out about this thread so I am pretty sure they can't believe it either. Bottom line is they will fix it right and this will sharpen their guy's attention and may have prompted proceedures to make sure it won't happen again. Maybe a wake up call that makes everything better in the long run, it already appears that way.



llamadave 09-05-2012 10:01 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hi Chumley,

Thanks for your great thread! My build starts in November so your comments are timely. I will go for a full backsplash with reinforcement. For bed length I have specified 80 inches since that is a queen/king standard. However, I am 74 inches tall and I think 78 inches will be enough. How much longer is your bed than your height? As you very well know, a few inches here and there make a big difference.


WeLikeWheels 09-05-2012 12:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chumley - it seems like it's been a bit of a rollercoaster for you, but as long as the end result makes you smile every day, I 'spose it'll all be worth it - may even make you appreciate it more, knowing what went into it.

Llama Dave - I have been using your website for inspiration. I love how you made all the cut-out views and laid out all the systems. The detail is fantastic.

The two of you are very helpful in understanding the minituae for a prospective SMB purchaser. Chumley, for your anecdotal experience and LlamaDave for your drawings and build ideas. Thank you both for sharing - I am looking forward to seeing both of your SMB Sprinters.

Chumley 09-05-2012 03:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Tony, all I know now is that the dash switch vendor is Del City online. It appears that the switch will work and I am jazzed. Sometimes it's the little things that make me happy. :m5:

David, how is it going!?! Mr. WLWheel is right on about your advance planning. From my experience I would add that I would want to understand every cabinet, shelf, enclosure, whatever to make sure that it is all the same as you expect. I know that all of the shops are different so maybe this is wasted typing but I feel that my salesman knew what he was going to build but I never completely did and to get that confirmation is really important to me now. Little things like expecting to get a cabinet and getting a drawer, getting a spice shelf that was practically unusable until it was relocated, getting a microwave shelf that hung independent from the cabinet next to it, etc... Turns out some of this was just fine but I had no idea that it was what I was getting. I did not have the "this is how we always do it and we've never had a complaint" plan or game book. I would take the time to go over each and every component. You may get a lot of "this is figured out by the guys in the shop" but at least you will have expressed yourself. Ai-chi-wah-wah, I am doing it again, pontificating! :t1: Ahhh, just be careful. Whew, close one. And the bed length thing, good question. I am getting a bed 5" longer than I am (who knows, maybe by the time the build is done it will be 6" longer). I will ask my sales/PM for the normal calc but I just figured that laying on my face (likely passed out) my feet extend my toes out about 4" more than when standing. It was also about as far as I could push everything without losing more functionality (therefore the complete tear down when I lost +/- 4 1/2").

MLWheels, I think I am now officially immune to motion sickness now. I guess my sleep pattern is telling. I sleep good and when I do wake up I am not thinking about the van build anymore and can go right back to sleep. Yep, got to that point for a week or so, something about not knowing what might happen to a lot of my money. I think the shop foreman and I now both share this sleep pattern, thankfully. It seems like years ago now that I said that I was going to know this van really well since I am raising it from a puppy, I just had no idea it would have to survive a case of parvo. You are very very right, I will have an incredibly strong connection with this van. I have to say that if things keep going this way I will keep my plans of having a Ford 4x4 someday alive. From what I am reading I better do it quick or it might end up looking just like the Sprinter, kind of.

SMB is the only company that works for me to have this kind of build performed. Even after everything that has happened I would go back and do it again. I liked most of what I saw right before the redo and I dream of sitting in the back reading or taking a nap while being able to look at some of those incredible places I see in the trip reports section. Yeah the dreams do include getting out but I can do that without the van.

Going to see the van again this week. Can't wait.


Chumley 09-09-2012 11:13 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 9, Going on 6?

Well all, this build is really starting to wear me out. I have been up, down and all around and I feel that it is still going that way. I went for my now mandatory weekly visit last Friday to see where we are. My SMB Sales/PM guy was out so I met with the shop foreman, whom I really like. But this is where I think I start hearing the clank, clank, clank of the roller coaster being pulled to the top of the first hill somewhere in the background of my imagination. I guess I am flummoxed. I just want the build to be finished and finished well.

I wanted to talk to my Sales/PM guy before posting another report but also wanted this to be an honest diary of what is going on during my build. Since I will be mired down for a couple of intense days of review of a controversial land use and annexation application I will post this now and hope things work out and I have another update in a couple days. At least this is an honest report in real time.

As usual I get there and everyone is nice and Alan Feld is manning the front desk when I arrive. I have to say that everyone is really nice and that is a part of the appeal here. I go back with the foreman and things start out nice and we review the build in detail which is the new norm. One thing to note is that if you visit it is nicest in the morning during the summer. Fresno easily hits +100 and there is no air-conditioning in the work area, unless you are near a van with operating ac in which case it will be running full blast.

This is what I saw when I walked up:

At this point I’ll just try to tell what happened in an objective manner, I’ll save my subjective analytical narrative for later.

The foreman and I discuss the following:

Microwave installation – the shelf for the microwave has been reduced to a little over the 18 1/4” of the microwave itself. I ask about venting and am told it needs none so they don’t do it. I said that my Sales/PM guy told me that it was necessary and that is why the original microwave shelf ended short of the front storage cabinet and left that unusual gap. Foreman says no and I again tell him that it is just what I was told and what my research has told me. I am just repeating what I was told in response to a question why the microwave shelf was installed as it was the first time. I have a picture of my first installation and one installed without the venting like he says.

I happened to have looked up the unit to see if it might be cheap to get a spare and found something on the Q&A section (look for “Reviews” and you will see “Q&A”) and it clearly states that the unit requires 3" on either side for venting but SMB says that it is okay and does not need it. I buy that it might only need it on the exhaust side but...( ... ES0736SPSS ) I’ll let you decide. The reason the shelf is an issue is that the whole project layout has collapsed due to the mistake with the bed. I went from something like 21” to 18 ½”wide. Maybe some of you can comment on this. Am I just being too critical? Also, with the shelf now being so tight and custom build for the microwave should I spring the $100 and get a spare now just in case?

The shower stall looks nice but is very different from before. Last build the entire enclosure had FRP panels (white plastic like panels) on all walls. They were to have cut in the window opening later and I did not know what size it would be. This time it was built with the window opening already established by just installing a panel above and below the window opening so nothing has to get cut out later.
How it is now:

Before (see stall with FRP covering window in background):

Apparently they plan on installing a piece of FRP shaped like a window frame and will install it so that water won’t get back behind the wall. This will allow for installation of the standard day/night shade and then install a hanging plastic curtain to cover it all, it also allows full control of the window vent cranks. This appears to be what is shown on the SMB website on the RB examples (the RB110S modified) which was my inspiration. This appears acceptable but they are doing it completely differently than the first time. What do you think?

The shower stall is now 35” wide. Last week I thought that I made it abundantly clear that I wanted a 36” shower stall. Also - I want to add that I confirmed that the shower dimension is an inside “clear” dimension and posted it in last week’s report (that means that the inside should have been 36" from surface of wal to surface of wall. As I reported the first dimensional issue was a loss of 3” but then another 2 ½” was discovered so maybe they had to take it and did not tell me? So now the shower stall is 35” and my wife, the nice one who has made no demands except this one, was the one who wanted 36”. Should I be upset? It’s only an inch.

We talk about the cabinet between the shower stall and the driver's seat. This had been +/- 19"-20" wide and is now about 17 1/2" - 18". This cabinet also had the heater in the base. The holes were already in the body from the old location that was centered in the cabinet so I ask the foreman about how this will be handled. He had not thought about this so I told him to just set it off to one side and put the electrical outlet where it looks lke it was all planned that way.

We go to the back of the van and look at the layout in tape on the rear doors. I wanted to add some pockets or a shelf somewhere back there so I could place my glasses and iPod/iPad (yeah, I play solitaire to get drowsy) somewhere nearby so I don’t have to get up. The pockets on the doors are just too small with the speakers and storage doors in place. The foreman said that maybe he could put a couple of pockets on the bottom of the overhead. Perfect, I’ll just send dimensions for magazines and the electronics and we’re set.

The foreman also offered to make one wall basically all vinyl by expanding the window trim to continue to the next corner. On this he would add some pockets for storage. I initially said yes but I will now be telling the Sales/PM no because I want to keep it more simple.

I looked over the window film installation (tinting) closely for the first time and just did not like the quality. I am asking for it to be redone since it was not trimmed near the edge of the body opening and the cut edge wanders a bit. I will call my usual tint guy on Monday to get some quality standards info but in the meantime here are a couple of pictures. If it looks good to you please tell me so. I may just be overreacting at this point and may be losing my perspective.

I go up a ladder to see the roof. I see how the XM radio antenna is installed and it does worry me. I will cover it with a piece of “U” channel made of aluminum and set it in adhesive I guess. Easy fix for my concerns. Anyway this is what it looks like now.

This is what the roof fan looks like installed. I guess I should check it often since I have no confidence in clear sealants like this that are exposed to the sun all day, every day. I would like some pigmented UV block or paint on it myself. Maybe I will do that when I get it home.

I have a picture of the new dash switches and they look good. I'll laugh if they are momentary switches because that would be about my luck right now.

I am not sure where I am in the confidence department. Maybe some of you can tell me what you are thinking. Am I just pushing too hard or what?

I am told the van will likely be done at the end of the month. A few weeks ago I was believing that I would have picked it up last Friday or this Friday worst case. As usual this has multiple impacts and this qualifies as whining so it could be skipped if you don't want to hear a grown man whine a bit. We are selling our minivan and it looks like we may have a deal but now we’re stuck without it for the rest of the month. The minivan is our "beater rig" so we take it on shopping trips, drive the elders around, and use it for transporting the slobbering and door scratching dogs. Also, the SMB deal has to happen now since the minivan will be gone and we have to buy another minivan or what - if this craps out? My wife was going to get a new car after we pick up the SMB van but will now likely get pushed out until mid-November after the van deal closes since she goes on work trips and we go on vacation (sure, maybe not a big deal but when you were looking forward to a new car is waiting 2 more months fun?). We're selling her car first and it's a convertable so selling it in nice weather is our preference. We want the best rate on our SMB van RV loan and we don’t want a ding for a new car loan showing up before the deal closes. Basically nothing happens until we pick up the SMB van so our credit history is as good as possible. This all also happens right when the wife goes on a couple of business trips so that may effect when we can pick up the van now, we had planned a 2 day pickup approach. We will go late in the afternnon of the first day to sign the paperwork and do a pre-delivery inspection, stay in a hotel, and come back the next morning to pick up the van and go through training while they wait in the hotel and then follow me home. All for the dogs so they don't get left alone too long (remember they were the main reson this build happened sooner than later). The wife will push out her (our) vacation for the second time just to be on the safe side because we don’t want to leave for 2 weeks without knowing the rig. All of this is seemingly petty stuff but it just means that everything is just a little more inconvenient and I am not sure how this is all going to turn out yet. Yeah, I guess this is what you call whining. I am not starving and we have our health so I guess I have to remember that this is a good problem in life to have. I am just getting a little tired of the ride and just want calm waters to sail on for the rest of the build.

Thanks for tuning in and please provide feedback.


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