Overland Build


Engineer In Residence
After a year of sprinter ownership I finally have enough details to start a build-out thread.

My wife and I are engineers. After working desk jobs for a few years we decided that we wanted to do some traveling. We disliked fly-in fly-out tourism as it places so many limits on schedules and accommodations. Plus we really like the in-between places. At the core of our personalities, we are overland travelers. Albeit, not as extreme as many (no 4x4 up the mountain side for us).

On a whim we bought a 1982 Vanagon Westfalia which became our home. We drove the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Panama and back. Details are on our blog here.

After over a year and 60k miles, we were ready for some transportation updates. AC when driving would have been nice, maybe some more headroom as well. After going through the total costs, reliability concerns, and comfort factor we decided on a T1N sprinter for our next home. None of the off the shelf conversions met our needs, and with the costs of customization included we were better off doing the conversion ourselves.

The Purchase:
We stumbled upon a low miles 2004 140” T1N in florida. A couple of flights and 2 days of driving later we had our next ride in the driveway! Ironically the sprinter cost almost exactly what we sold our Vanagon for. Other than a resonator change in a Wal-Mart parking lot and the crappy paint we have had no issues other than maintenance items on the sprinter.

The Plan:
We are tentatively planning on leaving our jobs next year to do a shakedown cruise out west and maybe into Canada. Following that we will ship the van to Australia where will be flying to meet it. We will stay until the vans import permit expires.

The List:
Unlike many first time/DIY conversions we have a very good idea what our needs are. While we did sacrifice in several areas moving to the sprinter, I think we really have a good conversion on its way. I would classify us as on the minimalist side of American campers/RVers. However due to the extended amount of time we plan on spending in the sprinter we are splurging on some options.

Some Wife (SWMBO) requirements:
  • Full time, or less than 1min deployable bed
  • Permanent swivel table
  • Hot/warm water in less than 10 minutes
  • Indoor shower (temp or fixed)

Some of my requirements:
  • Bed length of 73” minimum
  • 72.5” headroom minimum
  • AUX power for 2 laptops for 2-3 hours, Lights, Fans etc.

Combined requirements:
  • Sink
  • 2 burner cooktop
  • Compressor fridge with freezer
  • 4 cubic ft of storage accessible from indoors
  • 30 gallons of water minimum

The Layout:
Given we only needed to sleep 2, and that we had good success with the Westfalia layout we decided to start there. Well, actually I modeled about 4 other layouts for our 140” and all of them were either to cluttered or totally unbalanced weight wise.

Here is what the layout looked like at the very beginning of the build out.

We have a galley which is 45”L 21.5W 36.5”T. This will have a dual burner induction cooktop and SMEV 5.5” deep by ~15 sink.

The bed is deployed full time and is situated transversely. It hinges up from both ends for storage access.

The tall cabinet on the drivers side has been truncated to make room for a swing out table, and to allow napping on the bench seat.

There is a cabinet over the cab, as well as overhead cabinets on several walls. There will likely be some pull out storage under the bed to be accessed from the rear doors. I have not yet tackled that project. I used Solidworks to make models for all the cabinets.
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Engineer In Residence
I won't cover the electrical/solar in detail here as I have another thread on that topic.

Since we often find ourselves in inclement weather during our travels we decided to maximize what insulation space we had available.

This started with 1" of closed cell spray foam in the walls and ceiling.

We also installed a Maxxair fan between the 2 forward ribs.

Next the cab floor was insulated with 1/2" of medium density neoprene.

All the remaining space in the roof and walls is filled with thinsulate.

If you are wondering about the window flare the details are in this thread.

The floor was removed and 1/2" polyiso insulation was added along with reflectix to fill the gaps.
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Engineer In Residence
Love the hinged bed.

It took several weeks of head scratching to work something out that didn't take up tons of space. Looking back I would probably use compression latches similar to what is used on car doors.

The bed panel itself weights about 65lbs with the 1/2" plywood face. deflection is very reasonable with the 16 gauge steel tubing. :cheers:


Engineer In Residence
Here are some pictures of the galley construction.

I used 1/2" plywood and 1x2" poplar stock for the front face.

Here we have it test fitted.

All the OEM floor rivets have been replaced with 1/4-20 rivnuts. I am using many of these to mount cabinets.

The ceiling is covered with 5mm plywood.

I used plastic h molding for the joints, and FGRP for the curved sections.

The bench seat is made from 1/2 and 3/4" plywood. I used aluminum extrusions and wooden gussets to provide support where needed.

Due to the bump out aft of the slider door, the bench seat ended up being a tight fit. It requires some gymnastics to get in place.

Here is the interface with the galley.



Engineer In Residence
The overhead cabinet was a bit of a challenge. With no square edges and the bulkhead mounting flanges it became quite the exercise in cursing.

I ended up with 2 rivnuts each side on the upper frame member. I used those to mount a wood block which is flush with the back of the headliner. The aluminum angle in the picture below is attached to that block.

The upper edge of the front face is secured to a 2" aluminum angle. The angle is anchored to the roof rib above with sheet metal screws.



Engineer In Residence
The vertical cabinet aft of the galley is coming along. Not sure how I am going to do the doors and shelves yet. Maybe 2 doors with a horizontal split? :idunno: Again I used 1/2" plywood and 1/x2" stock.

The the aft face of the galley is home to the swing away table.

I used this mount. Its a good quality product. It has ratcheting handles and the table can be rotated vertically for storage.

You can just barely see the mount in the picture below.

The water tank is the blank 40 gal unit below.

It is installed directly behind the bench seat and shares its fwd tie downs with the bench seat. There is a total of 8 1/4-20 rivnuts in the floor holding the tank down.

Here is one of the tie down brackets. The base is 1/8"x1" steel angle stock. the straps are 1/8"x1" flats.

The tank itself is made of polyethylene. Which means the only way to add fittings is by welding (spin or hot air) or using a physical attachment method. I chose to use a hot air welder. I used the one below from harbor freight. I also needed PE filler rods. Proper prep, a bit of practice, and some googling had me making water tight joints right off. :rad: It went so well that I am considering making a custom under-body grey water tank from raw plastic.

Note that you need to follow the instructions closely to avoid damaging the unit. Also this process is very temperature sensitive, and force sensitive. So do your homework.

I have 3 fittings on the tank.
Fill=1.25" smooth bore hose

The pickup fitting is located in the middle aft face about 2" from the bottom. I formed and welded a piece of PEX tubing to the inside of the fitting prior to welding it in. This lets the pump use all but the last gallon or two in the tank.
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Engineer In Residence
I started the long finishing process last weekend. The first step if filling all surface voids with a quality non-shrinking putty. Then sand with 220 grit (start lower if on solid wood)

After the surface was as smooth as possible without breaking through the veneer I started applying the surfacer.

I used this product. It is water based and surprisingly high build. In direct sun it dried enough for sanding in under an hour.

I did 2 or more coats sanding in between with 220 or 300 grit. The result is a smooth grain free finish. I thined it about 25% with water and sprayed at at 45psi using this gun.
Neiko® 31216A Air Paint Spray Gun, Gravity Feed | 2.0mm Professional HVLP

The topcoat we chose is a waterborne acrylic alkyd. I sprayed it the same as the surfacer. I will remove my guns filter next time as my flow rate was a bit low.

Here is the bench seat after 1 coat. Note that the only exposed surfaces will be the horizontal one to the right, and the 3/4 of the front on the left.

The line where the surfacer starts is obvious.



hi--what did you use exactly for your vent fitting on the water tank? ie to relieve pressure when filling & vacuum when emptying?



Engineer In Residence
hi--what did you use exactly for your vent fitting on the water tank? ie to relieve pressure when filling & vacuum when emptying?
I used this fitting. These are spin weld fittings, but they hand weld well.

Edit: I am using a gravity fill method. If you are using a fill method with a pressurized line directly connected to the tank, it may be prudent to use a larger vent fitting. This reduces the risk of filling the tank to quickly and causing it to burst/leak.


Engineer In Residence
Progress has been slow this month. Lots of obligations planned vacations etc. I have a week of vacation I need to use, so maybe next week I will make some serious progress.

We started the finishing process on the cabinets. It’s not nearly as time consuming as it first appears. The key is to get the technique down prior to making a mess of things! The galley and vertical cabinet are starting to come along. They will need plenty of minor changes such as doors, wiring pass through and hardware.

The maple butch block countertop for the galley arrived. I will be trimming it soon.

I installed the backup camera and ran its wiring. I am using the same pass through as the solar panels. The wiring uses braided sheathing and runs under the solar panels. I used VHB tape to attach the camera bracket.

I ran a 4x18gauge drop cable down the A pillar and started splicing into various wires in the dash harness. I am splicing the following wires for future use.
  • Reverse Light
  • Dash Backlights
  • High Beams
  • Recirculation Solenoid

I ended up needing to drop fuse block 1 to access the High Beam wiring. On the cables I unplugged I noticed some corrosion on a couple of pins. I cleaned them well and applied dielectric grease. If you are have to drop the FB for any reason I would perform this step.

The reason for the cable drop is to run wires for the heads up switch panels. I have two 45 degree switch panels I will be mounting to the right of the driver. Below are the cut-outs in the overhead cabinet. The switches will include:
  • Recirculate Overide
  • LED Light Bar
  • Air compressor
  • Backup Lights and Camera

Here are the switch panels I am using. They required some trimming to for my application. They accept contura switches. I got mine from otrattw.net



I have one of these light bars in my living room waiting to be installed. Besides being dirt cheap, it seems to be good quality. :rad:

Here are links for the camera, monitor and maple countertop. Thanks to Type2Teach for the camera and monitor suggestions in his thread!



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Engineer In Residence
The awning arrived on Monday. F45 Eagle with pearl grey fabric and electric deploy/retract option. This model will self retract in high winds.

This awning is about 12 ft long, and deploys to around 8ft. Due to the this model being self supporting the mounting considerations are a bit more substantial. I have plastic shim stock and sikaflex 252 on order. Because I have wide rooftop solar panels I cannot use the rooftop mounting brackets (several could be made to work). I will be mounting to the side of the roof above the rain gutters.

The gorillas at the freight carrier managed to find every single weak spot in the packaging. :thumbdown: If you order one of these make sure to check for damage and REFUSE the shipment if the casing is damaged in any way. Thankfully I will be repainting this unit so the scratches are a big deal. However, I did have to request new motor side end caps as they were badly cracked.


Engineer In Residence
I have have the whole week off. Been making decent progress. I would have made more, but the window regulator in my Jetta crapped out on my wife Monday morning. Why can't German cars have decent power windows? :wtf:

Started welding up the Gray Water tank. I am using 1/4" LDPE. Two 24"x48" sheets set me back about 80$.

The foam for the bench seat finally arrived. My Landlord accidentally took it off my doorstep? Strange business.

The foam is 3" on the bottom and 2" on the back. Both will be covered with 1/2" dacron and have 2 layered removable covers.

The awning comes with some poor excuse for a harness. I am not sure how they expect you to get the enormous plug into the van? They also used grease filled tap splices inside the awning itself... Ridiculous!

This crap is not going to fly on my watch. I rebuilt the harness with weather pack connectors and correctly sized wire.

Then up onto the van it went. I mounted the bracket with 10 1/4" bolts through the van wall. They all had backing plates or large washers.

I had to make shims to compensate for the curvature of the van (in both planes). I used 1/2" polypropylene plastic. In addition 2 tubes of Sikaflex 252 were used to bond the bracket and shims to the van. This is not going anywhere. Note that the apparent gap in the photo below is due to the back corner curving in, this is not typical of the entire length. Also the mounting bracket came from the factory drilled wrong. Not a big deal, 10 minutes with a 1/4" drill bit fixed it up nicely.

Here is a test fit prior to setting with the adhesive.

The awning has adjustable inclination. Due to the shim thicknesses I selected the awning body was tilted about 4 degrees above the horizontal. I ended up adjusting the awning to its maximum downward point which was just about right. As a note, do not trust the stickers with degree markings on them, they are placed by hand and have a large variance!

The first switch bank and the reverse monitor have been mounted.

The Awning control switch and MATE have been mounted in the over-cab cabinet face.

The wiring for the awning control module and switch. Per the Fiamma instructions I have wired the control units power through a NC relay triggered by the ignition switch. This way when the engine is running the awning cannot be accidentally deployed. Excuse the mess, this will all be wrapped up once I get all the runs worked out.

I have a good spot marked out for this little guy. Still need to decide on mounting hardware. Maybe rivnuts? Backing plates would require dropping the headliner.... Not really desirable at this point.

We have been doing the finish work on several cabinets. There is also tons of behind the scenes work, such as running cables, prepping for plumbing etc. These projects just eat up the hours. Sometimes it takes an hour just to drill a hole! Then you get half way into a project and discover you need to complete 2 others first. :smilewink:


Engineer In Residence
The remainder of last weeks accomplishments.

The gray tank is welded up minus fittings.

Getting the top on was a bit of a challenge. I ended up welding tabs inside the tank and using clamps to keep the piece from migrating down due to the welding pressure. Total capacity is around 10 gallons. Dimensions are 36"x7.5"x9.5" externally. Note that for maximum strength and to equalize warping i welded both the inside and outside of all the joints.

Here is the planned mounting location. Drivers side next to the fuel tank. This is directly below the galley, so drain routing should be short.

I have to trim about 2 square inches of material out of the inner side of the body skirt.

Here is a close up of the trimmed area.

Mounted clearance.

The water tank and heater are mounted.

I am working on ideas for the enclosure cabinet where the pump and accumulator will be located.

Ran a ton of wiring. Here is the primary chase. Its located just aft of the galley on the drivers side.

The bench seat is in, hopefully for the last time...

The electrical is in and functioning. :thumbup: So much wiring... The solar controller case fan seems to run whenever the interior temps get over 95 degrees. Its not terrible, hopefully the bench seat bottom will drop it considerably. If anyone wants more detailed review/info on any of the components let me know.

It took 45AH to bring both batteries up to 100% today. Max array output was 265W. The panels are dirty and the AUX bank was around 95%. I am hoping to see 400W peak on average. I will say that the Mate2 and FlexnetDC combo allows for very detailed monitoring. I also have 180 days of solar logging.

Started on bench seat upholstery. This is the slip/under cover. 5/16" staples hold the fabric on.

The Galley paint has been finished. So the next chance I get I will be diving into this monument.

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