Mercedes Sprinter 4x4
To assist recovery of our Hot Air Balloons, during flight, we have two Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 minibuses, both of which started out life as regular panel vans. Our first van is a 1998 312D (5-cyl 2.9 litre) and the other a 2002 311CDi (now 316CDi with 5-cyl 2.7 litre engine conversion). Both Sprinters are fitted with permanent four wheel drive with difflocks to both rear and centre differentials. It originally belonged to a national power company and would have been used for getting crews and equipment to remote locations. The exterior of the van was in pretty good shape, but the interior left a lot to be desired due to its previous abuse. The front half of the cargo area was converted to a kitchen with ply wall lining. There was even a gas cooker installed. The rear section contained a cupboard with gas tank fitted and a workshop bench. The walls, wheel arches and bulkhead had been significantly beaten up, as can be seen from the photographs..
Interior - front section
Interior - rear section
The interior bulkhead and ply lining were removed prior to purchase leaving the interior empty, but a little messy. A number of further improvements were immediately made to the van -
New rear step to replace the bent one
Later model rear lights
Soundproofing to side walls and doors (later removed - see below)
CD player installed
The purpose of buying this vehicle was to use it as a recovery vehicle for our hot air ballooning business. This necessitated towing a heavy trailer (the van already had a towbar and electrics fitted) and carrying 11 passengers plus a crew member and pilot. The Land Rover 101 that we had been previously using was sold to make way for this van. Clearly, more radical work was required!
A set of 12 minibus seats were bought from Ebay in the UK. These seats all had 3 point seatbelts fitted and were very comfortable. A trip was then made to Wilker Auto Conversions in Clara, Co. Offaly in the midlands of Ireland. They provided a quotation for carrying out a professional conversion to the van using my supplied seats. The work carried out was as follows -
Floor removed. Channel tracking welded to floor for the seat bolts of the outer seats (meaning that the seats could be removed and refitted without getting under the van). The inner seats were fitted with Unwin quick-release tracking meaning that 3 of the seats could be quickly removed to allow us to carry equipment. The outer seats can also be removed but this requires tools.
New flooring laid with anti-slip surface
Walls, ceiling and doors soundproofed with fire resistant material (unlike the material I had previously used!)
Walls, wheel arches and ceiling lined with charcoal needle-cord
Interior lights fitted with dim/bright settings
Rear speakers fitted
Grab rails inside side door to assist entry
External door step fitted with warning light/buzzer in case it's accidentally left out when driving off!
Eberspacher heater moved to place it under front three rear seats
Eberspacher digital timer/clock set into roof lining above driver
12" x 22" roof ventilation panel fitted
The 'After' shots
Alessio 16" wheels with 235/85R16 Grip Edge tyres (31.12" diam)
Side step and new seated interior
Interior - 15 seats including driver - note seats on quick-release 'Unwin' tracking
Second row of seats (fixed) - plus champagne cooler bag :-)
Rooflight - opens forwards, backwards or both
Boston Acoustics Pro 6.53 3 way speakers with crossovers
Interior showing DVD 10.2" DVD screen
Sony Xplod 12" sub and 800W amp mounted in MDF around seat base (Vibe CBR-12 active sub was too big to fit!)
JVC AVX-1 DVD head unit - note rear and centre difflock switches for 4x4
10.2" DVD screen
Parrot 3400-LS colour bluetooth kit including built-in GPS
OK, the Bronco tyres have been on for about 4 weeks and have now been removed!! Where there were clearance issues on full articulation (or with 15 passengers inside) the tyres could sometimes rub. This caused complete tread blocks to come away from the tyre carcase. This is the downside of using a retread tyre. The tyres have now been changed with slightly smaller 245/75R16 BF Goodrich Mud Terrains. These had their first outing at the Irish 4x4 Jamboree hosted by CLRI (Club Land Rover Ireland). Here are the photos of the Sprinter in action, which caused more than a few jaws to drop amongst the extreme Land Rover fraternity!!
Diary 14th April 2007
The Sprinter was put to good use in January, taking us across to Northern Italy and Switzerland where we successfully won 6 World Records in hot air ballooning. Not only did it not miss a beat, but it failed to get stuck in any of the snow and ice, without having to resort to snow-chains.
The van has also now been fitted with more equipment -
Front and rear strobe lights
3KW mains inverter
Interior parcel shelf running down length of van for storage
The van has now also been fully artworked for our ballooning business - see next photo
Diary 15th May 2007
New addition to the family!!
This is a 2002 LWB (4.025m) Hi-roof 4x4 panel van that has been converted in a similar fashion to my MWB 4x4 van. This van is also permanent 4 wheel drive with the centre and rear electronic difflocks. It is fitted with an 8,500lb Husky electric winch to the front. As you can see, I have already changed the wheels and tyres to 16 inch with 245/75R16 B F Goodrich Mud Terrain tyres. This required minor trimming of the front bodywork/bumper to fit.
Changes made so far :-
Wheels and tyres replaced
Interior fitted with 15 minibus seats with fitted belts and armrests
Roof lining trimmed in same material as seats, sunroof and interior lights in roof
Leather air-suspension seats fitted for driver and passenger. These seats are heated and have built-in massage system
Underfloor 6 litre air tank with Viair 380C compressor (and three trumpet train horns!) with capability to plug in tyre inflation hose
Dash wood trim kit
Side panoramic tinted window fitted
Tuning box fitted - supposedly 150bhp
Height adjustable towball
Winch stripped and fitted with kevlar/dyneema rope and wireless remote control
55W HID headlight conversion
Whelan 90W strobes fitted to headlights and rear roof section
Rear dual worklights
Separate heater fitted to centre of van for rear passengers
Second battery with split-charge system
3000W mains inverter fitted
Motorised DVD/TV head-unit with two motorised DVD screens for rear passengers
Alpine 2-way speakers and 800W active subwoofer
Update August 2009
In July 2009 the van went into the garage to have a 316CDi engine fitted (2.7 litre 5-cyl vs 2.2 litre 4-cyl). This increased the 109bhp up to 156bhp making a significant improvement to the performance, particularly when towing. Shortly after, the ECU was reprogrammed to increase the power/torque (now 190 bhp) and the performance is amazing.
The engine change did not go without problems. The 5-cylinder engine is longer than the 4-cylinder unit, so the gearbox-transfer box driveshaft had to changed (€700 from Mercedes - ouch!). The BF Goodrich MT's are due to be changed to AT's as the MT's were showing very peculiar tread wear.
How the van looks today (July 2015, with 20,000lb winch fitted)