Growing up in LA, I was immersed in all styles of automotive culture and as a kid I was drawn to the import and sport compact scene. The street racing days were becoming hard to do as local racetracks were closing down. Oh, and the speeding tickets racked up quickly. I was introduced to the off-road scene by my good friend that started with him convincing our group of friends who didn’t own trucks to buy quads. This then led to the most expensive toy I’ve purchased as I needed to buy a truck to play in the dirt. The rest was history and I became hooked on going off-road and exploring.
I’ve had a 2005 F150, 2007 Tacoma, and 2009 Polaris RZR S in the past. My first off-road rig was the F-150 that I used to haul the quads. I’m like a kid that can’t leave anything stock. I quickly researched what modifications I could do to personalize it. Back in 2005, it was all about huge lifts and tires so I put a 12” lift with Weld Wheels, 38” tires and a full audio system. I took it off-roading and sunk the truck in the mud frame-deep at Azusa OHV here in California. Thank goodness my buddy was able to pull me out. It was a fun truck but I quickly realized it was the most impractical build for the dirt.
I moved on to a Tacoma that I could take off-road and haul motorcycles to the trails and track. Some friends at the track had Sprinter vans and I became interested in their rig setups. At that time, I was looking for something that was more flexible and modular than a pickup truck. With its spacious cargo area and optional factory 4 wheel drive, the Sprinter van was a great candidate to upfit for my purposes. I wanted to build a van that could take my toys to the dirt, go on family road trips, and camping with friends. More of a rugged van build out instead of the normal RV-style builds.
I’m obsessed with researching the various options for parts and I’m a firm believer in you get what you pay for. Do it right the first time instead of wasting money and time on cheaper and inferior options, even if it means taking longer to build. On this project, I tried to cover the basics and keep everything more modular. Being over prepared rather than underprepared almost became my battle cry and I didn’t want to become that guy who held up the group on the trails because I cut some corners. I tried to do some of the basics of the van build like sound deadening but building a Sprinter is nothing like building a truck. There’s a lot more that goes into outfitting a Sprinter because it starts life as an empty 4-wheel drive cargo van. Building this van the correct way once with everything I needed to allow me to get to new locations I’d like to explore was a top priority. It took me three years of research and talking to other Sprinter van owners and upfitters to finalize my build list.
The Build Out
I started with the interior and had Tint Evo apply nano ceramic window film from DUB IR as the massive windows let in so much heat and it made a tremendous difference in thermal regulation! Next on the checklist was sending the Sprinter to Jermiah at Luxe CC in Torrance, California, who has a ton of experience working on Sprinters, while not gouging customers with out-of-this-world pricing. He was a huge help and together we refined my build list. We added and took off items from the list based on his experience with other builds. They installed the insulation and sound deadening using Second Skin and 3M Thinsulate on the roof, side walls, doors and under flooring. A full modular interior kit from Adventure Wagon was also installed and includes bracing throughout the interior for a reliable mounting system, new walls, ceiling, and Maxair ceiling fan while incorporating L Track anchor points throughout. The L Track also works with Adventure Wagon quick release/adjustable height MOAB bed, which I opted for. Once the foundation was laid, we then addressed storage. I went with the 2 Adventure Wagon Mule overhead lockers for quick access and no rattling while driving. A custom Truck Vault drawer system was installed that span the full length of the cargo area with two drawers that came out at the rear of the van. A shorter drawer also came out to the side door, fully utilizing all space underneath the cargo floor. The TruckVault system allows me to safely and securely store valuable items in the van.
Hexis BodyFence Matte paint protection film was installed by Impressive Wrap in El Monte, California, to protect the paint from chips and scratches. This gave the Sprinter an “armor” of protection and subtly changed the look of the factory pebble grey color; just giving it a matte look. I then had it finished up by Line X of South Los Angeles who sprayed the lower section of the van to shield it from whatever the tires fling up.
From there, I took the Sprinter up to CA Tuned in Sacramento, California, to have their Vader front bumper installed, keeping a clean factory-like look while cradling a Warn Zeon Platinum 12S winch, Epic Fairlead, and Epic Shackles, and KC 4” Gravity fog lights. By the time this was added, a rear swing out bumper from Backwoods Adventure Mods was waiting at Luxe CC to be installed to hold a spare tire and cabinet, which holds my generator, Yankum rope, and other small recovery gear. We also added a TrakPak which mounts to a spare tire to hold my Action Trax recovery boards, shovel, and axe.
With a wheelbase this long, I decided to swap out the ugly stock wheels with some tough looking Black Rhino Arsenal wheels and 35×12.50R18 Yokohama Geolandar X-AT tires to give a nice quiet ride on paved roads while also being able to have added traction to explore unbeaten paths. I had a Van Compass 2” Striker lift installed to make sure I have the clearance when going off pavement and making this a real off-road beast. We also installed Van Compass front sway bar quick disconnects and completed the rest of the armor from Van Compass, which included rock sliders and full skid plates under the engine, transfer case, rear differential, and fuel tank.
I went with Terrawagen big fender flares as well as a snorkel and pre-filter kit to help the engine breathe clean air out on the trails. With the majority of the heavy mods complete, it was time to weigh the van and send it down to Agile Offroad in San Diego, California, to install their signature RIP (Ride Improvement Package) kit, which consists of coil assist and secondary Fox shocks for the front and Fox Adjustable shocks and new leaf spring pack for the rear. The RIP kit is built so the spring rates and shock valving is set up to the van’s actual weight to maximize ride comfort and stability. We then reached out to Ward at Long Range America to see if they had a fuel tank solution for me. Ward informed us they had just confirmed a fitment and after a 30-minute conversation, the order was placed and a few days later Luxe swapped out the stock 24-gallon fuel tank for the Long Range Automotive 45-gallon tank.
Proper lighting is essential for a build like this and I couldn’t find a simple way to mount lights on the van. I decided to have a custom roof rack made by Ed and Yen at Mobile Weld Specialists. I’ve known Ed for a long time and love his craftsmanship and they fabricated a sturdy roof rack with provisions for mounting LED lights. I’ve always loved the round classic lights from KC HiLiTES so I ordered the Gravity Pro6 50” combo pattern light bar and 2” C series area lights to be mounted all around the rack. I wired up the KCs using Seaview cable glands for a watertight seal to run wires through the roof. A ladder from Van Compass to gain access to the roof seamlessly mounted to the rack above and to the sliders below for a clean, easy install.
The Shake Down and Family Trip
Once I was comfortable with the build I headed out to Joshua Tree to do some shake down wheeling and to be honest, I was kind of nervous not knowing what the van would really be able to handle. To my surprise, the Sprinter was more capable than I thought. The trip was a great weekend since I was able to take my family with me on its maiden ride.
As I got more comfortable with the rig, I found a hill with loose rocks and wanted to see if I could make it up. It was steeper than I had anticipated but luckily I aired down and was able to get the extra traction needed to make it up and over. No battle scars on the trails with the most difficult thing being me getting used to the size of the van and weight on the dirt. It’s definitely not like wheeling in my old Taco…we live and learn.
For trip planning, I search a lot on the Internet, forums, YouTube, and talk to others at local meet ups. My friend just told me about a GPS navigation app called Off-Road, which inspires me and gives me the confidence to go explore a lot more. I love the offroad community as everyone is so helpful and friendly and it’s truly a family and friends driven lifestyle. I’m planning to take my family and experience the Mojave trail for our first multi-day camping trip with the Sprinter and there’s a growing list of places to go and so much to see.
Armor / Bumpers / Sliders
- CAtuned front bumper
- Backwoods Adventure Mods rear swing bumper
- Van Compass gas tank, engine, transmission case, and rear differential skid plates
- Van Compass rocker guards
- Fully wrap with Hexis Matte paint protection film
- DUB iR ceramic window tint
- Line-X lower section and bumpers by Line-X of South LA
- Terrawagen fender flares
- Terrawagen snorkel
- Custom Roof Rack
Suspension and Brakes
- Van Compass 2” Striker lift kit
- Agile Offroad RIP (Ride Improvement Package) shocks and springs
- Agile Offroad SS brake lines
- StopTech rotors and pads
Lighting and Mounts
- KC HiLiTES Pro6 light bar
- KC HiLiTES 4” DOT Gravity G4 fog lights
- KC HiLiTES Pro6 lights in-grill
- KC HiLiTES 2” C Series area lights
Gear Storage and Organization
- Adventure Wagon interior conversion kit
- Adventure Wagon Moab bed
- Adventure Wagon Mule over head bags
- TruckVault custom drawer system
- Front Runner Wolf packs
- Pelican 50ST Cooler
- Pelican Air Case
Tires and Wheels
Electronics, Communication, and Mounts
- Maxxfan Deluxe 7500 ventilation fan
- Espar Diesel heater
- Switch Pros custom mounted by Luxe CC
- Adventure Wagon Dual battery tray
- Long Range America 45 gallon fuel tank