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Old 11-30-2019, 03:12 AM   #1
Robert Foster
 
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Default Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

I've had my Sprinter Westfalia for five years, during which time I have taken trips ranging in length from one to six weeks. The original interior of the Sprinter Westfalia is a huge design success, having full accommodations for two adults and two children, but I am not a family of four. As a soloist, my needs are very different from the intended target market, so from the start the Westfalia's interior did not meet several of my needs or wants.

The Westfalia version of the Sprinter has an extra tall hardtop that creates space for a foldout upper berth. With a large operable skylight right above your head and an awning window to each side, the upper berth is quality space for sleeping that can't in my opinion be called camping. The proportions and quality of the interior space, contained within such a small vehicle is what appealed to me about the Westfalia. The ten years prior to purchasing the Westfalia, I traveled by dual sport motorcycle, which had me sleeping on the ground. The most spartan trip was a four week coast to coast along an extended version of the TAT riding a Husky TE450. TransAmerica Trail I'm now completely spoiled by the Westfalia's luxurious accommodations and there's probably no going back to weeks of sleeping on the ground. The Westfalia has permanently replaced the camping gear stuffed in my motorcycle panniers and a mountain bike and folding kayak have replaced the motorcycle as my conveyances of choice for wandering around.

As I enter semi retirement, with increasingly longer and farther trips on the horizon, the differences between my unique needs and the Westfalia's intended target market are only increasing, making this a good time to reevaluate my vehicle choice. One of the biggest shortcomings of the Westfalia's design for me is the absence of storage, most notably dedicated mountain bike and kayak storage. A few years ago I removed the bench seat/second berth from the central living area and have been stowing my mountain bike and folding kayak right in the middle of the van. This works, but is increasingly less than desirable the longer my trips have become and/or the more inclement the weather is. For me, hanging high end mountain bikes off of the rear of the van isn't desirable long term, especially considering some of my bucket list dream destinations. A rear storage area within the vehicle is a big want for me.

Over the last couple of years, I'd been considered other vehicle options and sketching out what I wanted spatially-nothing that I could find was readily available at a reasonable price point in North America. I like small spaces and small vehicles, and kept coming back to a vehicle the size of a class B van. The Sprinter Westfalia, which is on a 140 inch wheel base, has enough square footage for me, but the space in the Westfalia is not configured well for my purposes. While considering other van options, it was difficult to spatially overcome giving up the luxurious upper berth because the extra space in the tall hardtop opened up the entire first floor for day time living and MTB storage. The other mental obstacle that I had difficulty getting by was that the appealing space I already had was paid for, and was sitting on the well regarded, sorted out and extensively DIY supported T1N chassis and engine. It repeatedly made the most sense to adapt what I already had. In fact, I had already been simplifying and adapting the Westfalia since the day I purchased it, so continuing down that path with a total refitting of my own Sprinter Westfalia seemed the logical decision, which is what I've begun and why I am starting this thread.

I've just about finished the demo. It's tall in there at just shy of 7'-10". The box I am standing on represents what will be my new finished floor height, giving me a "basement" with a height of about 14" clear for storage and housing/running utilities.



My former accommodations were quite a bit smaller than the Westfalia...it's difficult to fit a refrigerator and bathroom on the back of a 450 dual sport.



More to come...
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2005 Sprinter Westfalia ... currently undergoing a complete refitting
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Last edited by Robert Foster; 11-30-2019 at 03:45 AM.
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Old 11-30-2019, 04:49 PM   #2
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

Robert, I like where this is going. The super high roof has always been the Westy's secret sauce, which in turn, makes possible the best bed in the van world, in my opinion. The fact that it folds up is also huge!

You have so much cubic space to play with, and in my opinion, is even more useful than a longer wheelbase in some ways.

I've always been impressed how boat designers can stuff maximum utility in minimum space. Am looking forward to see how your vision unfolds. It's a luxury to design only for one's self!

Pat
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Old 12-01-2019, 10:59 PM   #3
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

One of the first things that I did to my rig shortly after purchase was to remove the air conditioner mounted on the roof, and the LP generator mounted where the spare tire typically resides. These two items, plus a pair of uniquely heavy inverters used to run the air conditioner while under way, represented about 400 lbs - 150 of which was in the worst possible place, up high and to the rear. The improved handling, especially while cornering, was immediately noticeable. Lightening the load became one of my design goals going forward.

The air conditioner left a big hole in the roof, so did the roof window that I removed from the bathroom. Now I had two big holes in my fiberglass. I have always wanted to learn how to work with fiberglass, but four years ago I didn't have the time or mental bandwidth to take on any new learning projects. So, I simply cut out an aluminum panel and stuck it down to the roof over the two large holes with VHB tape. The continuous strip of VHB tape kept that temporary repair water tight for four years-no caulking needed. At that time I also installed a Maxxair Fan in the aluminum panel.

This past Spring, I wanted to quickly set up an electrical system with a solar panel, B2B charger and inverter prior to heading out to Colorado. Electrical is one of the weak links in my skill set, so even knowing that I would be changing this system out as some point in the future, I wanted to get some experience under my belt. At that time, I didn't know that just six months later I would go all in and totally gut my rig. To install a panel I needed to make some space on the roof so I moved the Maxxair Fan forward. There were also three smaller holes in the roof, (plumbing vent, cook top vent fan hood, and fresh air vent) all of which I no longer needed. I decided these three holes would be a manageable testing ground for learning some fiberglassing skills.

Here are the three smaller holes in the process of being fiberlgassed, and the two big holes that I was planning to quickly VHB another aluminum sheet over to make room for a solar panel.



The fiberglassing on the three holes was simple work and unexpectedly gave me the confidence to jump all in and fiberglass the two big holes. I needed to get competent with fiberglassing, as the success of the new floor plan that I was increasingly honing in on was going to be dependent on my being able to pull off a unique galley floor/drain pan/grey water tank that seemed suited to a wood and fiberglass layup.

On the big holes I followed West Systems guidelines for repairing a boats hull. Bonding coat including five layers of biaxial cloth over the joints, several fairing coats to fair out the roof's surface, finishing with three barrier coats of unthickened epoxy for water resistance. The epoxy is subject to UV degradation and needs some protection, so knowing I would be revisiting the roof extensively in the future, I quickly rolled on a light coat of exterior latex house paint. I mounted my solar panel on two aluminum rails adhered down to the epoxy (not the cheap latex paint) with VHB tape.











Most important lesson learned from my first attempt at fiberglassing: Its just like carpentry where the quality of the framing determines the ease of the finish work. The unevenness in the Westfalia's roof, my lack of precision in my initial wood infill panels, and epoxy bonding coats/fiberglass cloth layups, caused my fairing coats to take more work than they should have. Slow down and do a more craftsmanly job from the start Robert.

Speaking of the roof, the Westfalia's roof is really flexible and known to sag. There are no Vanlife photos of bikini clad women on the roof of a Westfalia for a reason. To reinforce the roof, I cut out curved ribs and inserted them between the two layers of the roof through the openings I was creating. I used thickened epoxy to adhere them to the original fiberglass and my wooden infill panels.






I connected the solar panel and my engine alternator charging input to a Kisae DMT-1250 B2B two input charger. I also installed a small Samlex 600 watt inverter. Then I headed to Colorado for six weeks of MTBing and paddling.





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Old 12-01-2019, 11:36 PM   #4
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

What did you rig up for a work platform to work on the roof? That's always been a pain in the nuts to do any work up there.

Now that I'm thinking about it, the bathroom bulkhead probably supports the lion's share of the AC unit. When I replaced my bathroom fan with the FanTastic unit, I put as much insulation as I could in the roof shell cavities. Figured it couldn't hurt.

What kayak is that?
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Old 12-01-2019, 11:48 PM   #5
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

Quote:
Originally Posted by Riptide View Post
What did you rig up for a work platform to work on the roof? That's always been a pain in the nuts to do any work up there.

Now that I'm thinking about it, the bathroom bulkhead probably supports the lion's share of the AC unit. When I replaced my bathroom fan with the FanTastic unit, I put as much insulation as I could in the roof shell cavities. Figured it couldn't hurt.

What kayak is that?
I have several ladders and put three of them up, one on each side.

Agreed, the bulk of the air conditioners weight was transferred to the bathroom bulkhead.

I am brainstorming and trying to figure out what, if anything I can do to insulate the entire fiberglass roof assembly. The minimal fiberglass that's in there is useless and missing from large areas, including the entire rear 25% of the roof. The absence of any insulation in the Westfalia's roof/upper wall assembly was and is a big oversight in the original build in my opinion. Not that the lower walls had any insulation either...

It's an Oru Kayak. Great little boat, that is perfect for my needs.
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Last edited by Robert Foster; 12-01-2019 at 11:50 PM.
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Old 12-07-2019, 02:35 AM   #6
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

The acrylic awning window located on the side wall behind the drivers seat on the Westfalia has a known weak spot and some have started to crack as the years have gone by - mine included about two years ago. A replacement awning window is not readily available in North America. I had mine taped up for about a year, then about a year ago, as I was honing in on my redesigned floor plan, I decided to go ahead and close that opening in with a piece of aluminum.

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Last edited by Robert Foster; 12-07-2019 at 02:39 AM.
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Old 12-07-2019, 03:34 AM   #7
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

A year of bumpy roads and rain under my tires and the technique that I used to install the aluminum sheet appeared to be working, so it was time to pull the big window on the passenger side and replace it too with aluminum.

I cut the aluminum to size to leave a 3/16 inch gap between the shoulder of the window recess and the aluminum. The gap was to serve as a caulked joint after I adhered the aluminum to the window recess flange. I placed 3M VHB tape #5952 on the window recess flange. I had called 3Ms technical support a year earlier to get a recommendation for exactly which tape to use. I hot glued wood blocks to the body panel to precisely guide my placement of the aluminum. Then I gently slid the aluminum into place, followed with a roller working from both the exterior and interior surfaces, to firmly press the mating surfaces together. As an added layer of security, I cut out some small aluminum plates, buttered them up with polyurethane adhesive and adhered them to the back side of both the aluminum and window recess flange.







An aesthetically pleasing caulk joint starts with a consistent taping job. I had chamfered the outer edge of the aluminum prior to installing it, so it was easy to apply the inner tape to follow that chamfer. The outer tape was a little more difficult to get fair around the radiused corners and a consistent width along the straights. I used a scribe to give myself a line to work towards. In the radiused corners I ran the tape continuously, then sliced it and filled in the gaps.











I cut the nozzle on the Sikaflex 221 Polyurethane Sealant/Adhesive to match the gap. Then I slowly pushed the caulk into the joint. Slowly pushing the caulk ahead of the nozzle, instead of pulling the caulk behind the nozzle, has the advantage of ensuring the gap is completely filled with consolidated caulk. If you push just the right quantity of caulk to maintain a small "bow wave" ahead of the nozzle you end up with the surface of the joint being nicely convex with minimal excess to strike off. Once the gap was filled all the way around the window, I used a latex gloved finger sprayed with denatured alcohol for a final consolidation of the caulk. I then removed the tape and have what to my eye is an aesthetically pleasing caulk joint that will hopefully last a decade or more. Time will tell.



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Last edited by Robert Foster; 12-07-2019 at 10:35 AM.
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Old 12-07-2019, 05:23 PM   #8
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

Nice job!! The caulk came out perfect!!

2 questions: How hard was it to get the black cladding off the rear panel? And did you put any curvature into the aluminum panels prior to adhering them to the opening? They seem to fit perfectly...
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Old 12-07-2019, 09:43 PM   #9
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

And what was the reason to remove the passenger window? Something to do with the new layout I assume? Or was the window damaged?
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Old 12-09-2019, 05:51 PM   #10
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Default Re: Sprinter Westfalia #248 Refitting

Riptide:
1.The two black rear claddings themselves were easily ripped off of the rear doors with my bare hands. It was and still is (see below pic) the three different adhesives used for their original attachment and subsequent repairs that is a PITA to remove. I will have to finish removing the adhesive with a heavy sanding and priming. Conversely, the larger drivers side panel was very difficult to get off, yet the adhesive mostly came off with a scraper blade mounted in a flush cut tool. I literally had to take a dremel tool and cut the panel into small pieces in order to detach it from the van/adhesive to prevent deforming the underlying side panel.
2. No precurvature of the aluminum needed prior to installation. I simply selected a gauge of aluminum that I figured would bend relatively easily to the existing body side panel curvature.

Kiltym
You are correct, there was nothing wrong with the passenger side window. My new interior layout has it below counter top height so there was no reason to keep it given the weight and thermal penalties.





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