Vanpire: Hey PJ, so this isn't your first van is it? Tell me briefly about your first van?
PJ: Yeah my first sprinter was a 2004 T1N, 140 low roof. I originally started looking at Toyota DE vans but hard to find a good one, that lead me to Eurovans, that I wasn't going to pay an crazy amount for. Which led me to my first Sprinter. The price was cheaper than the Eurovan, good gas mileage and longer running life and a bigger canvas to build upon.
The T1 started as a contractors van which I tore out the bed platform and structure. After soon realizing it was March and I wanted to actually enjoy my van for Summer. I took it to Van Specialties to price out a simple but modular build that I could add onto later. Their price was right and they were able to work me into their schedule. They put in their 3 panel bed system, flooring, insulation and wall panels, LED ceiling lights, and wheel box tubs. That worked pretty good for a while until I soon noticed that 2 seats in front didn't work if I wanted to take friends surfing to the beach, etc. A few years after having the Van I actually bought some Corbeau racing seats since they were cheap and light. Keep in mind your waistline had to be somewhat slim. No bubble butts in the seats. I took them back to Van specialties to install some removable captains chair bases to have flexibility still. I also had 4pt harness seatbelts installed with these. I mean aftermarket seats, I wanted my passengers to be safe
Vanpire: What lead you to upgrading to the new Sprinter?
PJ: I upgraded to the 4x4 144 high roof after owning 2 separate vehicles, one for the mountain a 4x4 car and a Sprinter for Summer excursions. 2 aging vehicles I figured I might as well make two vehicles into one once the 4x4 Sprinter was released in the US.
Vanpire: How was it rallying the 4X4 in the snow this winter up to Mt. Hood? What a winter right?
PJ: Mt Hood Trips were definitely a next level experience being able to stand up, get dressed, put your boots on even without opening the door. I had a new standard for my passengers this year. If they opened the sliding door before I got my gear on I was bummed. Letting all the warmth out of the van.
This winter was great! Tons of powder days but definitely wishing I had the rig ready to camp if needed and figuring out where to put.
Vanpire: What all have you done to the van so far?
PJ: So far mostly exterior upgrades but the inside is still an evolving Work in Progress.
• Wheel and tire upgrade
• Tint and clear bra
• Thule Awning
• Rear slider windows from Motion Windows
• Fantastic Vent fan
• Bumped the passenger seat back to the 1.5 location to create a larger living room space
Vanpire: Tell me about the bed system you designed?
PJ: From having the first van with the 3 panel bed system, I really liked how it worked and was modular. I really want to keep mine with a modular flexibility rather than full hardscape RV style accessories. Its basically built with the same idea of Van specialties and OSV. I wanted to keep it at the 36" height for bikes but also maintain a sit up height since I bought the High Roof this time. Whats the point if you still gotta be on your elbow when getting out of bed. We constantly think and see new ideas on how to make the bed system better. Are van projects ever done?
Vanpire: Are you thinking about adding solar?
PJ: Im kinda torn. I'd have to make sure its worth it and I need it for our needs. It would be great to be able to maintain an off the grid lifestyle if needed. I'm also not super confident in my ability to install a Solar system. Right now after Van Camping in Iceland. I think I'd like to install and Espar Heater as its a pretty nice feature.
Right now the only power Items I have in mind are: Interior lighting, an ARB or Dometic Fridge, Heater, and Fan. Probably a few power sources for running electronics.
Vanpire: Van camping in Iceland? Whoa, tell me more about that!
PJ: We recently took an 8 day trip to Iceland at the end of March 2017. We knew we wanted to make some ground to see the beautiful countryside while we were there. We figured since we are familiar to Van camping that we could manage it abroad as well. Unsure of the weather patterns of Iceland and the tail end of winter in March. VanLife is alive and well in Iceland at least for the tourists, very similar to the van campers you can rent in Australia.
We came up with (2) 4x4 vans that fit our needs without knowing what the weather would throw at us. Better Safe than sorry.
We ended up with the Mercedes Vito 4x4 (Metris) here in the states. It had your basic amenities: bed, cooking galley, espar heater, and micro fridge. Came to find out there are not that many camping spots open in the end of winter and its no longer legal to just camp anywhere in Iceland.
Overall it was a great trip and would highly recommend touring Iceland via Van. You get to experience some pretty amazing things. Wild reindeer, Icelandic horses, and more Insane Vans (see attached pic)
Vanpire: Wow that trip sounds amazing. The Espar heater sounds great for the Northwest. I actually want to put one of those in my van. What kind of interior are you going to do? Factory look and feel, or something totally custom?
PJ: I was going to go with the interweave fabric interior. I had it on my last van from Van specialities and liked it. Although I've been thinking about some revisions to use the coin floor for the bottom panels since they are kicked with shoes, and snowboard boots. Easier to clean too possibly. I want to run L track throughout the van too in hopes to make more modular items for flexibility. I go back and forth between something residential feeling OR keeping it Utilitarian for all the activities and camping.
Vanpire: What project are you working on next?
PJ: I gotta get the rest of my insulation in and panels installed. But with my slider windows I have to make some trim rings as it makes those Wall panels a little top heavy. After that hopefully some power and interior lighting for the ceiling. Besides that hoping to get a front and rear bumper and the long term goal a roof rack for roof top patio sunset sessions.
Vanpire: I think that’s it for now… do you have any anything else to add?
PJ: Pretty stoked to have such a good platform to build off of and even more of a good open source forum to bounce ideas off of. The community is super helpful, DIY gurus and no knowing what I want hoping to build more of it myself rather than paying someone crazy money to do it.
Vanpire: Obviously my first question is… how often do you turn on the sirens!?
Matt: Haha as often as I can but only in the middle of nowhere. The megaphone is really fun to use in town though.
Vanpire: How awesome! Have you turned them on yet and torn down the road passing people?
Matt: Man I wish! There just hasn't been the right emergency for it yet...
Vanpire: Well hopefully there are no emergencies... does the van have a name yet?
Matt: Intensive Camper Unit (IUC)
Vanpire: So good! Where did you get the idea to buy an ambulance?
Matt: My friend's dad in Colorado has one that he calls the Campulance. That was the initial thought of "man that is the perfect vehicle to convert." Then I just looked some conversions up online and was sold. I lucked out finding the one that I did. I love the old econoline style.
Vanpire: Tell me about the van. What plans do you have to build out the inside?
Matt: As is, it's pretty set to go. Tons of storage and sleeping space. So I don't think I'll make any major changes until fall/winter. My brother owns a metal fabrication shop in Hillsboro, he's going to be helping me with this build. First would be to remove all the electrical that I don't need, the oxygen system, suction system heater/ac in the back (which will be replaced eventually) things that I don't need. There is also slight draw from the battery that we need to figure out. As far as build plans, we are still figuring that out. Right now the interior has this really sick wood paneling I'd hate to remove. I'll probably keep about half of the cabinets in there and rip everything else out. Start from scratch and build with aluminum to hopefully keep the weight down. I'd like to have a small kitchen with a stove and sink, fold out couch/bed and a desk so I can work remotely if need be. Oh and most importantly, a 4x4 conversion for those winters on Mount Hood, but that won be for a while.
Vanpire: That all sounds pretty epic. Maybe do some solar to power any internal lights and/or fridge? You will have a serious mobile command unit.
Matt: Yeah for sure, solar panels are part of the larger plan. Right now the internal lights are killer, since they are meant to help save peoples lives. When switched all the way on they are super bright but there is also a lower moody setting.
Vanpire: Any big trips planned coming up this summer in the rig?
Matt: Not this summer, I'm taking off for a month long Euro trip to meet some friends at a villa in Greece. Any big trips will have to wait until winter or next spring/summer.
Vanpire: Does your van have a name?
Matt: The Intensive Camper Unit or I.C.U. You can follow on instagram @intensivecamperunit
Vanpire: See you on the road!
Crazy enough I first met Brian in the New Seasons parking lot. I found him standing next to my van, day dreaming about the van life. Fast forward to a few years later, and Brian has his own built out Sprinter that is completly pimped out. And now I’m referring to HIM for van advice. Go figure.
Vanpire: So Brian, tell me about your van, and what all have you done to it?
Brian: First off, I love camper vans! We first had a 1985 VW Westfalia, but struggled with reliability, and space. After seeing your sprinter camper (and a few others around town) I decided it would be the perfect solution to our reliability and space issues.
I wanted a simple setup with a minimalist feel and wanted it to be mostly non-toxic. I installed sound dampening, thinsulate insulation, LED's and interior panels followed by a panel bed system, truck fridge, awning, solar panel, and side ladder. I also installed upgraded speakers, an infinity subwoofer, bike rack tow hitch, and front brush guard.
List of upgrades to van:
• Fiamma Awning
• Aluminess side ladder
• Rear bike rack hitch
• Interior Curtains
• Infinity Speakers and Subwoofer
• 80/20 Panel Bed system
• Thinsulate Insulation and Applewood panels with Marathon Fabric
• Brush Guard
• Led Lighting
• Truck Fridge
• Aggressive off-road tires
Vanpire: I think adding Solar power to the van is one of the coolest parts of these conversions. Can you tell me more about your Solar set up? What did you install, and what does it power?
Brian: Having solar is great, it powers our lights, refrigerator, and outlets for iphones and such. I went with a very simple setup that includes a 160 watt panel, and controller under my seat that is connected to the auxiliary battery system. Now our fridge stays cold indefinitely (as long as there is sun).
Vanpire: So cold beers on tap 24/7?
Brian: Cold beers for days!!!
Vanpire: I really love the simplicity of your build out. It’s just so clean, with zero rattles and moving parts. Anything else your planning on doing to it, or are you finished?
Brian: I am done upgrading and working on my van for now, I just want to enjoy it and camp! Saving all of my build time for when I have a new 4x4!
Vanprie: Sick Brian, thanks for your time! See you on the road!
Full interview in the works...
Vanpire: Hey Silas, I loved your first van build. Now that your onto your second van, what are you doing different this time?
Silas: The newest van has definitely been an upgrade in regards to the build. I’m working with a lot more metal and custom parts as opposed to the wood job I did on the last one. That was a big learning curve for me. I’ve been taking this one slow so I could actually design the right items to have for vans in the future. I love this one, but my goal is a 4x4 so I’m just chipping away and saving right now hahaha.
The new bed panel system is rad. A lot like what you see out there from other van build company’s. This is a three panel system which makes it easy to pull out if you want more room. I went to what seems to be a common height of 36 inches from the floor. this way you can slide some bikes underneath. I designed some cubby’s that will go around the wheel wells to hide those, but also add storage. Gonna put my flooring in soon and build a removable table for the front and swivel the front seats to have a little dining area when we post up. This one is pretty clean and simple. Fan, fridge/ freezer, bed, some storage, and a little hang out area. We are excited to get it on the road!
This was the van that started it all for me. I flew down to LA and purchased the van from a band that had been touring on the Vans Warped Tour for 4 years (judging by the looks of the band members, that van had some stories to tell from the road). They handed me the keys, and I took off on my first van adventure driving up the coast, back to the Pacific North West.
I stopped along the way, surfing and hanging out at some of my old stomping grounds. That was an amazing trip... and I got my first taste of the van life.
Vanpire: Why did you decide to get a van?
Landon: When my wife and I had a kid, we had a long-bed Tacoma truck, and had tried a few times to sleep in the camper shell with the kid, dog, and all our gear at the same time. It was a total nightmare and I ended up with dog hair in my mouth and basically couldn't sleep a wink. So we decided we needed more space, and wanted the versatility and flexibility that a van offered, as compared to a tent trailer or anything that you have to tow. Especially since the coast has such limited camping, and we wanted to be able to just pack up and roll out without a bunch of planning. Since we are both passionate about surfing, snowboarding, and maintaining our active outdoor lifestyles, it was pretty clear that a van was our best solution.
Vanpire: Why a Sprinter?
Landon: The thing that separates a Sprinter from most other vans, is that it's diesel. The Mercedes diesel engine is considered to be a 400K mile engine, and these vans have a great track record for reliability. They get amazing gas mileage, drive great, and have a ton of room for all your gear.
Vanpire: Any drawbacks?
Landon: Since we go to the MTN in the winter as much as we can, the 2WD Sprinter was limiting for us because it handled horrible in the snow. We could only drive it up the MTNs if the roads were perfectly clear, so we basically never drove it which was a bummer because we always wanted to sleep up in the MTNs during the winter.
We recently decided to sell this van, and upgraded to a 4X4 this last fall. We are in the process of building out the van and are starting to drive it up in the MTNs. It's been a ton of work, but it's been super fun to have a van that can drive in all conditions.
We miss the old white van a bunch... it's crazy how attached you get to a vehicle after creating and sharing so many memories in them. But it went to a great new home.
Check out Landons new Sprinter here.
Full interview in the works.
So I have to admit, Silas' van is seriously what initially got me interested in Sprinters in the first place. I was walking down the street heading to the Farmers market, and I saw his van parked on the side of the road, and I literally was blown away. I took some pictures of it, and was showing all my friends, and then all of a sudden it popped up for sale on Craigslist. So I emailed Silas just because I was so interested. That lead to us becoming friends… and is what literally inspired me to get a a Sprinter, and in turn lead to the creation of Vanpire. So I have to say thank you Silas!
Vanpire: Tell me about your van?
Silas: Landon, that’s rad and I’m pumped to have kick started a love of vans for you. My family had always had full size vans growing up and we’d trek down to California or up to the mountains all the time. I’ve always loved the space and travel of being in a van. I didn’t personally dive into my own until 2012. Randomly my friend Ben Horan mentioned he couldn’t believe anyone would be making payments on a vehicle you couldn’t camp or travel in. It was so random because he didn’t have a van at the time he was just getting into the idea. That resonated with me instantly and for the next few months or so I was constantly looking for sprinters, but didn’t know anything about them aside from the fact that I liked the look of the newer body so I was looking at 2007 or newer sprinters. We were at a wakeskate contest at Ben’s place and I found one that was in my price range 6 hours from where we were. I drove my truck down that day and traded it in on the van. I drove 12 hours that day to get it all done. When I finally made it back to the event myself and all the homies were so pumped we were just driving around all these backroads full cargo van style. It still had the metal partition and everything, but we were so pumped cause you could literally see the potential. From there we did some basic mods for some road trips with our Wakeskate company Remote. I moved back from Florida to Oregon and started a full build out. That was a huge learning process. I didn’t know where to get materials, what to use, just had some basic know how of tools and basic build skills. In the end that one looked rad, but the guts of it weren’t pretty hahaha. All in all though it looked rad had a nice bed and tons of space and storage. We put a lot of miles on that van sometimes with 8 guys hahaha. It was stealth all black and we definitely renegade camped in a ton of spots and never got caught. This van went from full Cargo to Camper. It was a great start to Sprinter life.
Vanpire: 8 dudes in one van?! That's insane. So you used the van to tour the country with your wake skate team?
Silas: Ya it was crazy for some weeks. We did a 3 month demo tour while filming our team video called Good Ratio. The van is all over that video. It under remote wake skates on iTunes. Atleast it was. Not sure if it’s still on there. My partner Ben handles most of that stuff. I went on about a week of that three months hahaha. That was all I was into. I had been doing that stuff for the 10 years prior so just sent the team on their way. The week we had 8 in the van we slept all 8 one night above the golden gate bridge hahaha. Hammocks, people on the floor, one guy across the front. It was insane, but we’d been driving all day and couldn’t find anywhere to sneak tents out.
After that Andrea and I did a lot of trips up and down the coast with it. It was rough when we sold it hahaha. We hate not having a van.
Vanpire: So you sold the van?
Silas: I sold the van when we were getting ready to buy our house. Just needed to catch up ya know. I had a couple of westfalia’s in between, but always knew I’d be getting back into the sprinters. Once I got caught back up it took me about 4 months to find the right 2WD in the price range layout etc. Since I started all of this I’d learned a lot just from working on different vans and starting to help out at my brothers fab shop. Now the options are sort of endless.
Check out Silas' new van here.
Full interview in the works.