Monafly build

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Finally getting around to posting info about my build. A lot of my build ideas have come from this forum, so it's time to give back.

I've done some things a bit differently than many other that I see, which will eventually get posted as I work my way thru the process.
Just to peak folks interest:
I have mounted my extra seat brackets uniquely.
I have what I think is a unique dining table location.
I have built a knock-off of the MOAB bed and it's mounting.
Third seat is atypical.
I wanted self-contained and off-grid capabilities for multi-day trips.
The van had a salvage title when purchased. I'll tell some stories about that shortly also.

Anticipated use was originally for me (in retirement) and occasionally would include my daughter and grandson, or my hiking/biking/boating buddy. Now it also includes my new girlfriend. It's still very much a work in progress, but was functionally used within a week of purchase and has been used ever since in it's various stages of build-out.

The van started out as a 2015 cargo (used w/40k miles when I bought it) in the spring of 2017.
It replaced the AWD Previa van which I'd been using as my camping and adventure vehicle for many many years, but which could no longer be relied upon due to a leaky head gasket (at 250k miles). The idea of having more room and that a couple of friends are very happy with their Sprinter conversions was what lead me to "Monafly". For the story of the name see: http://www.simpleorganicsolutions.com/tomato.html
sprinter vs previa and barn.jpg
Here is a size comparison with the Previa. The Sprinter looks (and IS) so much bigger. I'm lucky enough to have a shop that I can actually get it inside of to work on when the weather isn't cooperating.
original inside from back.jpg
original inside thru slider.jpg
Here's what the insides looked like as purchased. It had been used by a carpenter. First thing done was to remove the bulkhead so that we could get into the back from the front. Next up was to build a simple bed platform because we had a trip to Death Valley in a week.
early van conversion back.JPG
The first iteration of the bed was fence brackets screwed to the walls, 2x4's across and a sheet of plywood for a bed platform. We needed room for gear and bikes underneath. Temporarily moved the storage rack to the front and off we were for our first adventure. early van conversion insides-sm.jpg
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
First night was at Walker Lake NV. It was way colder than we expected so we were up early and on the road so that we could use the heater to thaw ourselves out. early van conversion-sm.jpg
Then on to Death Valley and our favorite place-Racetrack Playa. early van conversion racetrack 3-sm.jpg
Friends joined us there for another very cold and windy night. We later learned that winds that afternoon had been up to 60mph gusts and the temp was a bone chilling 19F that night. Playa dust.jpg
Friends and I have been involved in the research project that led to the understanding of how the rocks actually move.
Playa rock tracks.jpg
See http://www.racetrackplaya.org/
for additional info and references.
Days warmed up nicely and we mtn. biked down (and back up!) Lippincott Pass.
After returning from this trip, work on the van conversion began in earnest.
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Back to the build.
Here's the roof.
Nothing too unique here other than the rails themselves.
8020 with one side smooth was used for the rails.
After initially installing 1/4" spacers found that I couldn't attach stuff to the side channels. Changed to 1/2" spacers and now it's easy to mount to the rails-top, inside and outside.
MaxxAir fan in the forward designated area.
2x100W solar panels.
Room for 3 and I wish I'd installed a third one. Now I can't find one the same size to add to the system.
Thule awning. Simple L brackets made to hold it in place.
Thule cross bars (for hauling long stuff). The gap between the rail/roof/awning is small enough that I can't mount the cross bars on the awning side w/o adding a riser on top of the rail to clear things.
roof rail ready to install.jpgroof rail w:solar and gutter mount rack.jpgawning mount to 8020.jpg
 
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Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
I will be using the van for more than just an adventure rig, so wanted the flexibility to haul cargo etc. in addition to camping in it. Looking at the forum and options out there, I really liked the concept of the MOAB bed, but thought the cost was exorbitant. I decided to make a comparable one of my own design. I'd never actually seen a MOAB, just pictures of them.
Here's what I ended up with. First was to find suitable materials. I located Al telescoping tubing which would be the 'adjustment' for width. Lighter Al tubing was used for the cross bars, etc.
bed frame telescopic tubing closeup.jpg
I know that Al-Al is a recipe for gauling, so needed a way to 'lube' the two pieces. I didn't find out until welding up the frame that one can get teflon coated anodizing. I was only able to do this for the smaller inner piece, but if there's ever a V2 I will have both pieces treated. The teflon/anodizing seems to work ok, with a bit of traditional lube added.
bed frame w:extender closeup.jpg
Here's the final Al panel with cross supports. Two identical panels for front and middle and a third for the rear. The extending section isn't shown in these pictures.
bed frame middle finished.jpg
bed frame rear finished.jpg
Next up was the surface. 1/2" birch ply, finger jointed for the adjustment was the ticket.
cnc bed cut closeup.jpg
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Bed panels in place.
bed all panels in place 2.jpg
View from below showing the side rails and gas shocks (small black lines on the right) used to provide outward pressure to push the panels open. There's a small catch to hold it closed (shortened) for storage etc.
bed panels all from below.jpg
Here are some shots of the side rail supports. If I was to do this again, I wouldn't use the double size 8020. It's overkill, as regular size would provide plenty of strength.
bed mount brackets w:rail.jpg
These rails are attached front and rear to L-track via brackets for easy, no-tool vertical adjustment. I'll detail later the L-track.
bed mount detail back.jpg
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Here's more on the L-track mounts for the bed platform. In one of the above pictures you can see the two L-tracks, one on the rear pillar and the other on the C (?) pillar. In order to mount them, I had to bend them to the shape of the walls.
l track bent.jpg
To make these bends, I used a the following technique. Took some care, but was pretty easy once I got the hang of how much force to apply and where. Small pieces of plastic decking protected the surface.
l track bending method.jpg
After fitting for shape, I drilled holes for the Rivnut mounting.
l track hole drilling.jpg
On the C pillar I could mount about every 6-8". The rear has a section toward the bottom where it has no support for 8-10", but is mounted securely below and above where feasible. It's not going anywhere. I was careful to mount these supports parallel, so no adjustment of the bed rail mounts is necessary when one changes their positions.
Ultimately, the L-track will support the wall coverings.
Bed was finished off with two 4" thick foam pads, covered with upholstery fabric. The bed panels are all 2' which gives 6' long bed. The rear pad (pictured) is 2' deep has the corners cut off to match the rear door contour. The other is 4'. We find it very comfortable.
bed back cushion.jpg
The only issue I have with them is that we usually sleep in sleeping bags and the static build-up is shocking.
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Next up (in my write-up) is the flooring and extra seating mounts. I like the stock floor material for it's durability, especially in the rear where I expect to be hauling all sorts of materials. I decided to improve the insulation and noise issues by adding 1" of pink foam under the floor. Support under the cargo tie downs and the seat brackets and L-track was also provided.
floor insulation and seat bracket.jpg
This is the early layout with the seat bracket locations. L-track still to come and sections of the insulation to be cut out for the wooden support underneath the seat brackets, cargo hooks and L-track.
floor and seat bracket fitting.jpg
Here's routing the seat brackets recess.
floor routing l track 2.jpg
and routing the L-track.
Next the floor supports were attached to the back side of the floor. All 'hard points' were supported so that I wasn't relying on the pink foam for support.
floor and under support.jpg
and under the L-track
floor l track under support.jpg
The pink foam was cut back to clear all of these supports.
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Here's the finished floor, showing the layout-floor brackets between the wheel wells, L-track in the forward area and front and back edges finished off with L-track.
floor finished.jpg
By raising the floor 1" the edges don't fit well with the sides of the van, leaving a gap that looked like a great place to lose a screw or something more important. I taped off and then spray foamed the edges to fill this gap. After trimming excess foam it was sealed over with a layer of silicone sealant to sort of water proof the area and make it more durable.
floor sealing edges.jpg
floor sealed deges rear.jpg
By raising the floor, the front edge didn't match up well with the floor between the front seats. Again L-track and pink foam to the rescue. I pulled up the stock rubber mat between the seats and fashioned a tapered piece of pink foam to fill that space and match the height at the rear of the mat with the floor. Sorry-no picture of that, but here's the L-track installed to make that transition.
floor front detail.jpg
In addition, a couple of pieces of plywood were mounted behind the seat bases to bring all of it up to the same level. The L-track holds the mat down just fine.
l track rear test fit 2.jpg
Here's a close-up of the rear L-track. You can also see the seat bracket supports and other supports that were fitted under the floor. The rear L-track had a piece of Al welded on to make a clean, strong edge across the entire back of the van.
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Seat brackets.
Here's where I deviated from anything I've seen done on other builds. I didn't like the idea of drilling into the frame and putting in Rivnuts to mount the seats. I know that MB mounts them with capture nuts, but I just wasn't sure whether Rivnuts were the same strength in this application.
Instead I found that square U-bolts were the same size as the round members of the seat brackets and also just fit around the frame rails underneath.
First the round pieces in the seat brackets were ground out and then cleaned up on the mill.
seat bracket modification 1.jpg
Here's the U-bolts that were welded back in.
seat bracket w:U bolts 3.jpg
The silver u-bolt is stainless steel, but I wasn't able to find longer stainless ones that were needed for the rear location as the frame rails are thicker (deeper?) at the rear location I wanted to mount the brackets at. I found regular steel ones.
seat bracket w:U bolts 2.jpg
These were welded up and the gap at the top filled with a spacer.
seat bracket w: bolts tacked.jpg
and the final piece.
seat bracket weld detail.jpg
After welding these up they were cleaned up and painted. From the top they barely look different from the stock brackets.
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Continuing the seat bracket installation. Obviously this was all done before the installation of the floor as noted in the previous post.
Because of the added 1" insulation, I needed to build a solid support under the seat brackets. Here's my solution. A routed out piece of 2x6. In retrospect, I should have made these out of plastic decking or something else that couldn't ever rot out. All of this should be dry, so it's not a big deal. It's all under compressional forces.
seat bracket under support 2.jpg
Here's how it was all designed to fit.
seat bracket test fit.jpg
Underneath pieces of Al angle were used to clamp the U-bolts to the frame rail.
seat bracket under frame bracket pass 2.jpg
and another location
seat bracket under frame driv front.jpg
The middle was not over a frame rail, but was positioned so that it caught one of the frame cross members.
seat bracket under frame middle brackets.jpg
The front middle angle captures the frame cross member and the rear is supported by a pretty good sized piece of angle. Some minor trimming to make sure that these brackets didn't interfere with any brake lines or other stuff underneath there and I was happy with the fitting and install.
 

Walker1271

Social Distancing.....
Great to see this build making progress. I appreciate the level of effort you put into your post. Keep going!
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
The only minor interference was on the passenger side where the bracket and the exhaust pipe were pretty close. To prevent them from banging together, that bracket was carved back more than the others were.
seat bracket under frame pass bracket 3.jpg
I was able to move it around and make them hit, but have never heard it happen when driving.
After all of the install was done and I'd driven it a bit to make sure things were ok, I sprayed all of the bolts, brackets, etc. with spray undercoating to rust protect them and make sure the nuts wouldn't work themselves loose.
 

zcashio

@steadystreamincashios
Nice attention to detail and thanks for taking the time to give detailed posts. It all looks great. Love the u bolt idea. It looks really nice and looks strong underneath with the angle. Keep up the good work!
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Here's a few minor things that I've done.
At a Sprinter gathering shortly after I got the van I saw a rear grab handle out of PVC pipe that I really liked. I didn't need one at the back, but thought that this would be great to help get in thru the slider. I find it to be one of the most useful things I've added.
handle installed 4.jpg
Being full length even my grandson can use it to help boost himself in to the van. Here's some detail of how it was built and installed.
handle supports.jpg
handle support making 2.jpg
The PVC parts were warmed up enough to deform to better fit the B pillar shape.
handle support placement 2.jpg
The only problem with this whole thing is that one has to be careful because it comes close to interfering with the door handle.
handle installed 3.jpg
It's a bit of a pinch point, but works fine and I'm willing to just be careful with it.
I used the existing holes from the partition/divider that the van originally had. This was done before learned about the advantages of Rivnuts.
 
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Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Seats:
I installed seat swivels on the front. I wasn't sure the added height would work, but I've so far learned to live with it. I needed a third seat and found a jump seat out of a Ford PU that I've adapted to work for him.
seat jump seat.jpg
It is installed in the rear, partly to the middle seat bracket (rear) and to the L-track (front)
seat jump behind.jpg
and from the front.
seat jump front.jpg
It is also possible to install a regular bench seat.
bench seat installed.jpg
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
I also liked the idea of seat heaters and found that they are readily available to install in most any seats. Turns out to be quite easy.
seat heater cover:install.jpg
seat heater back install 2.jpg
Love them!
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Windows:
CR Laurence behind the driver and in the slider. Install went pretty well, but I don't like the screws that they use to hold the interior frame in place.
In the rear side panels, I went with Arctic Tern's. I didn't want to put a slider like most folks use, since I live in the PNW and it rains here a lot. I wanted something that I could open for air w/o letting the weather in and they seem to be the ticket. window rear drive hole.jpg
Here's the driver side installed, and in the full open position. It easily clears the rear door when swung fully open.
window rear driver full open clearance.jpg
On the passenger side, the window clears the slider when it's in the slightly open position, but would get hit by the slider if it was fully open.
slider clearance.jpg
slider hit.jpg
Slightly inconvenient, but I can live with it. I built a stop for the slider track that I can use to prevent the slider from opening all the way and thus hitting the window, but that also means that the slider won't stay open by itself. Eventually I'll fix that with the little ramp that I've seen others use as an intermediate holder for the slider. It's shown here fully back so the slider operates normally. Only takes a few seconds to move it forward to keep the slider from hitting the window.
slider stop.jpg
 
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Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
I like the Arctic Tern's especially for the built in netting and shade, but the interior install posed some problems. When ordering one has to specify the wall thickness as there are three? different trim rings for different wall thicknesses. I first tried to use pink foam as wall insulation and as the 'trim ring' on the wall. The biggest problem was that it compressed and the shade couldn't be mounted because one needs the trim ring flush with the wall for the shade to mount.
window rear driver w:solid insulation.jpg
The solution was to build a more solid trim ring. For this I used Celtec (expanded PVC). Then surrounded the install with Thinsulate (which was used throughout the build). Because of ongoing design changes and issues with how the shade mounted, I had to order a second set of trim rings to accommodate my build.
window rear pass clearance to slider.jpg
The highlighted circle is how the screen/shade attaches to the window frame.

window rear frame installed w:insulation.jpg
In addition to the bracket, the shade needs to be screwed into the 'wall'. The highlighted circles are nut inserts I glued into the frame. Celtec is great for compression, but doesn't hold a screw at all.
I'll go in to more detail of my wall coverings in another thread, but here's what the finished install looks like.
wall finished pass rear.jpg
I'm quite happy with the end result.
 

Monafly

2015 2500 short tall 6cyl
Time for something a bit different.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this van was purchased used with a salvage title. Friends and I looked it over pretty thoroughly, drove it and all seemed to be good. It was taken on a 2000 mile trip within a week of purchase. After returning, it was time to get it professionally looked at. That's when the fun began. A minor oil leak had occurred on the trip, which turned out to be a simple O-ring that needed replacement. The MB dealer discovered that the DEF tank had fallen down and was disconnected from the fill pipe. Turns out we'd missed that the repair work hadn't properly mounted the DEF tank and a few hundred miles of gravel washboard (on the trip) had torn it loose. I was very fortunate to find a used one locally that I could install (that saved $$$ over a new one). In addition they wanted to run software diagnostics/updates, which I approved. That's when the real fun began. It was clear to them that it had been hacked and that DEF had likely been deleted and I also got an SRS light that hadn't been on initially. They updated things, as my feeling is that MB knows better than some hacker does about how to make it run longer/better. I also found an insurance web site that showed what the damage had actually been.
front end.jpg
pass front.jpg
It was more extensive than I had imagined, but didn't appear to have intruded into the cabin.
interior cab.jpg
The rest of the van didn't appear to have suffered any damage.
pass rear.jpg
The site also supplied an estimate of the repair costs which were in excess of $26k. I paid way less than that for it in it's repaired state. I never could find out where it got repaired but suspect that it went thru a couple of hands after repair before it got to me.
It took some time to figure out the SRS issue. Turned out that the passenger seat belt squib had not been repaired. That was an easy fix. The only other issue I've had since owning it (30K miles since purchase) was a fairly expensive repair when the engine fan blew apart and took out the radiator and various hoses. Consensus was that it was damaged in the accident or the repair part was damaged and it finally failed. After that was repaired, I haven't had any issues with it at all.
 

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