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Old 04-07-2016, 08:18 PM   #1
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Default Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

Hey guys. Long time lurker here but this is my first post on Sprinter Source! Just wanted to start by saying how great this forum is. There is simply a ton of great information from a lot of smart people in here. My name is Rob Peterson and I’m the Co-owner and engineer at Van Compass LLC. I’ve spent the first decade of my professional career in the off-road world, designing parts for Jeeps, Dodge trucks, and full on rock crawlers. Mark (Keepmoving on here) and I had worked together for nearly 10 years at our old job and we got to the point where we decided we needed to try our hand at starting our own business. We both really loved the Sprinter platform but were disappointed in the lack of aftermarket components for them. So our goal with Van Compass is simple; Bring high end suspension and off-road components to the Mercedes Sprinter world.

As many of you know, we are an upstart company and want your input on everything we are doing! The more we hear from you, the better products we can design and bring to market. So we are going to do our best to explain the reason behind the rhyme on all of our products and projects. There are no secrets here. We want to show you our products in detail every step of the way so that you have confidence about all of our products.

With that said, we figured it was about time to start a build thread on the affectionately named “Pita Van” I’m told it started life as an On Star surveillance van. Maybe one of you could shine some light on that theory. The gentleman I purchased the van from was in Fresno, CA and had a large Pita bread bakery. This little gem was one of 3 Sprinter delivery vans he had. Happily I was in the right place at the right time to score this 118” WB high top bread runner. Dirty, and neglected, the relatively low mileage short van was the perfect candidate for us to use as our development / test vehicle.



Phase one started with development of our Scout 2.0” lift kit. As many of you have seen already, this van was used to develop and test our 2” lift kit for the T1N platform. The lifted van with 33x12.5x15 tires went on several long road trips and was used extensively for nearly 5k miles straight without issue.



Phase 2 involved development of our fox shock package. With all initial prototypes being developed off this van, and final testing being done on Mark’s “Tall Can” 158” wheel base van, we are able to really dial in the mounting brackets as well as develop both a “heavy shock tune” for longer wheel base, fully outfitted vans and a “light shock tune” for smaller wheel base, utilitarian style vans.



Phase 3 and current stage of the van came about from a lunch meeting one of our friends in the off-road magazine world who has a deep love for 4wd vans. I had mentioned how I would like to develop a 4x4 conversion kit using all Mercedes parts, specifically, the running gear out of the Mercedes ML 4x4 SUV platform. Given that the ML uses a 4wd version of the NAG1 transmission, as well as a 2.64:1 low range transfer case, it seemed like we could get a lot of the parts we needed to make the swap happen and still be able to service it with off the shelf Mercedes parts anywhere in the world.
With Overland Expo West looming and that being the finish date goal in mind, we picked up a junk ML430 and set to work.





We stripped the ML of the front / rear suspension, transmission, t-case, front / rear differentials, front / rear drive shafts and cut out the suspension mounting points of the frame to use as a reference to develop our conversion brackets.






Step one was swapping the 4wd transmission in. We swapped bell housings from the 2wd Sprinter trans onto the 4wd ML trans. We retained the Sprinter torque converter as the diameter of the Sprinter’s flywheel is slightly smaller than that of the 4.3L V8 of the 430.







Step two involved removing the front suspension sub frame of the Sprinter and lots of head scratching. We temporarily welded some motor mounts in place and got to work with measuring, drawing and fabricating the conversion brackets needed to get the ML’s front suspension sub-frame in place.



With concept and initial design figured out, a couple hours on the torchmate and welding bench, we had the first stage of a rough bracket sorted out.





With the sub frame bolted in place as low as we could get it and still have adequate room between the differential and oil pan, we could start building upper control arm mounts. Again, careful measurements, lots of head scratching and a couple cuts through the “frame” and we had room to tuck the control arms in place. Matching the OEM geometry of the ML’s suspension, we were able to keep the van at just a 2” lift over stock 2wd ride height. So, 2” lower than a brand new factory 4x4 Mercedes van.







At this point came more tedious measuring, lots of removing brackets, re-installing brackets, test fitting motor mounts and sway bar mounts, measuring for shock placement and clearance. Tons of work, but the end result is a completed bench welded bracket that is basically your ML front conversion all in one piece. Sub frame, upper control arms, motor mount, shock mount and sway bar mount. Everything indexes off of 2 factory sprinter sub frame mounting points so it self-indexes in the correct spot.





Now on to the torsion bar mounts. I’m on the fence with the torsion bars and am curious to see how they do under the van. I’ve had plenty of torsion bar sprung vehicles and do like them for several reasons, but the main downside in this application is the loss of ground clearance. Because we ended up with such a low ride height, these hang down much lower than I would like them to be. I have plans for a front Fox coil over or air shock on the next go around, but we are sticking to our initial concept and keeping the Pita van 100% ML parts.





The torsion bar mount is completely removable and ties into the transmission mount. It is also the front gas tank mount. The gas tank did need to get shifted back to clear the t-case but all the original components still work. We just need to extend some wiring and hoses to get the fuel system all hooked back up again.


That brings us up to where we are at today. Right now we are painting brackets and working towards wrapping up the van to get it out to Overland Expo West in May. Fabrication is about 90% done. We still need to get the steering shaft hooked up and fabricate a rear gas tank mount. Then it’s onto the nitty gritty of hooking up brakes, fuel systems, wheel speed sensors and all that other fun stuff.

We still have a ton of work to do, and this is all a rough first go of it, but our hope is to get this dialed to a point that we can offer this as a very complete, polished kit with detailed instructions so that a person who is confident with a welder and tools can perform this conversion themselves in their driveway in the matter of about one months’ time. Let us know what you guys think and please ask away! We want your feedback and thrive off the input.

Come check the Pita Van out in person in our booth at Overland Expo West in Flagstaff AZ May 20th-22nd.

-Rob
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Last edited by Desertbound; 04-08-2016 at 01:24 AM.
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Old 04-08-2016, 02:52 AM   #2
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

subscribed!!! Let's make this happen VC. About time someone is doing this!
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Old 04-08-2016, 07:43 PM   #3
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion






........searching craigslist for dead MLs.....
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Old 04-14-2016, 11:42 PM   #4
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

Holy smokes. This is so sick! Finally someone trying to take things to the next level!
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Old 04-15-2016, 03:53 PM   #5
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

I have to commend the creativeness and craftsmanship. Definitely subscribed.

I am guessing import restrictions, or parts availability is the reason you are not using the factory 4x4 configuration? I figure the bolt on nature would be cheaper (considering the labor) than the modification heavy approach you are using?

How are you approaching control of the transfer case? Transplant the system from the donor? Or a custom solution?
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Old 04-15-2016, 04:54 PM   #6
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

Thanks for the compliments guys!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Midwestdrifter View Post
I have to commend the creativeness and craftsmanship. Definitely subscribed.

I am guessing import restrictions, or parts availability is the reason you are not using the factory 4x4 configuration? I figure the bolt on nature would be cheaper (considering the labor) than the modification heavy approach you are using?

How are you approaching control of the transfer case? Transplant the system from the donor? Or a custom solution?

Part availability was one of several reasons. ML's are dime a dozen, cheap and very easy to source parts for both here and abroad.

The ML has a transfer case control module, but we are going to try to cheat the system and simplify it to just engage 4LO at the push of the button. It has an electric motor to engage from 4hi to 4lo. We kept the module and button (which is the same size as the factory sprinter dash switches btw )

I'm hoping to simplify it and just utilize what is needed for switching from 4hi to 4lo and lighting up a dash light to notify of engagement.
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Old 04-15-2016, 09:29 PM   #7
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

No personal experience, but I suspect that all you need is position sensing and motor drive control input/output. A combination timer/latching relay in with a SPDT switch may work. I agree that using the factory module sounds too complicated IMHO.

That low ratio is fantastic. All you need is a TBD/LSD for the rear. Hmm, someone needs to import some sprinter compatible Quaife TBDs? I would buy one.
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Old 04-15-2016, 11:31 PM   #8
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

Will the ASR and ABS be available on all 4 wheels? Wondering how the ECU is going to interpret the 'new' information.

Last edited by vanski; 04-15-2016 at 11:33 PM.
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Old 04-18-2016, 05:53 PM   #9
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

Quote:
Originally Posted by vanski View Post
Will the ASR and ABS be available on all 4 wheels? Wondering how the ECU is going to interpret the 'new' information.
The ML has individual tone rings at each wheel same as the sprinter. Whether or not the tone ring count and interpretation will all jive remains to be seen. Hopefully be tackling that project by the end of the week.

Currently we are waiting for some steering shaft components to show up so we can get the rack connected to the steering wheel.
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Old 04-18-2016, 09:06 PM   #10
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Default Re: Van Compass "Pita Van" 4x4 Conversion

Very interesting - the one thing I can't figure out is that the ML is listed as having a 3.70 diff ratio and the sprinter is listed as being 3.73? I guess that is close enough since there is a central / non-locking differential?

3.70 = 37 ring 10 pinion

3.73 = 41 ring 11 pinion

I suppose those Sprinters with the 4.11 diff ratio will need to change to the 3.72 as I don't think there is a 4.11 ratio even in the European versions of the ML series.

Here is a great site with lots of info:

http://4x4abc.com/ML320/ML_specsIII.html


Last edited by twocyli; 04-18-2016 at 09:18 PM.
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