It all started on a camping trip through Namibia in 2011, with my son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. One night, sitting around a campfire in a red-wine induced mellow mood in Etosha, I had a disagreement with my wife, Maureen, about who had driven our Land Cruiser 200 through a door-handle-deep waterhole in Lesotho. To cut a long story short, I bet her anything she wanted that I was right. I lost, and she claimed a motorhome… 4X4, nogal
So, in 2012 we purchased a Mercedes Sprinter with an Iglhaut 4X4 conversion from Travelstar.
They constructed the interior to our specifications. In December, we set off to the Serengeti in a convoy of 8 vehicles and 20 people. In Kabwe, we unfortunately hit a “sleeping policeman” speed-bump at about 50 km/h, which eventually resulted in a failed CV joint and starter motor.
We limped through the Serengeti, and when the CV failed completely, had the vehicle transported back to RSA on a 7-ton lowbed. On this trip, my truck was nicknamed “Rory se Lorrie”. We sold it some years later.
After retiring in early 2015, we missed our motorhome terribly; and after a lot of time, the story of “Rory se Lorrie Number 2” came about. We took delivery of a new MB Sprinter 319 CDI AWD in May 2016. Four Dometic windows (with blinds and mozzie nets), a nudge bar, tow bar, and rear door brackets with baskets and spare-wheel holders were installed by BusTruck. Needless to say, these interfered with the factory-fitted reversing camera and PDC (park distance control). However, a locally fitted camera and modified PDC sensors solved that problem.
An operation to my Achilles tendon, which was then infected with the “hospital bug”, resulted in a very slow construction-start (nine months), but the planning was good. In August 2016, we purchased two Fiamma awnings, a Hansen geyser, a water pump and pressure regulator, a Victron 1200 inverter and controlling instrumentation, three Royal 115Ah batteries, two lightweight, flexible 150-watt solar panels and an external shower, plus all the electrical cables, switches, Circuit Breakers, etc.
In September, the work started in earnest. With a lot of trepidation, I cut holes into the side of this brand-new vehicle to house the geyser flue pipe, the shower-head, the campsite electrical plug and the water-tank feed nozzle. I pulled the cables (220V and 12V) through the empty shell of the vehicle − labelling each one for future fault-finding − to all the points where I would install plugs, switches, instrumentation and the like. I told you that the planning was good!
Before installing the 20mm MDF floorboard, I lined the MB metal floor and wheel arches with EasyFlash insulation to dampen noise and heat. This board was then covered with Gerflor vinyl flooring for an attractive and durable finish.
When the wiring was all in place for the lights, plugs, switches and instrumentation, I packed the sides and roof of the vehicle with Isotherm insulation to control temperature and dampen sound.
I made wooden frames to glue to the sides around the windows to attach the Masonite panelling, and riveted them all in place on the sides and roof. Before the roof panelling was completed, I had a Dometic Fresh jet aircon fitted into the roof by Angelo Kayter. Additional brackets to hold the roof-rack were made and bolted to the roof before the panelling was installed.
In between all this, I started manufacturing the interior cabinet and cupboard work, which was constructed using Birch ply wrapped with Windsor Cherry vinyl wrap. First out of my workshop was the cabinet to house the 80 litre Engel upright fridge and three drawers. This was followed by the grocery cupboard, overhead cupboards and island cabinet. The tops of the cabinets are Formica mottled-granite kitchen counters.
I measured and designed a 134-litre stainless steel water tank to fit under the vehicle in the space where the spare wheel used to be housed. The inlet pipe and the pipes for the pump, drain and air release were then fitted and taken into the vehicle.
The Masonite panelling was then carpeted (more insulation and sound damping) and holes were cut to fit the LED lights and plugs.
The installation of the fridge cabinet, island cabinet, grocery cupboard and other cupboards then began in earnest. All the instrumentation and computer and cell-phone plugs and USB ports were installed on one side of the grocery cupboard, so that easy access to them was available when the driver’s chair was swivelled round to the desk.
The beds were designed in a U-shape for easy access and customised to our heights. Underneath the beds, I fitted the electric setup, a linen cupboard and a Porta Potti for easy access from the interior. The electric setup consists of a Victron 1200 inverter with external control panel, a solar regulator, a Cyrix controller to regulate the charging of the 115Ah batteries from the alternator, and a 220V distribution box and 12V racks.
Also under the bed, and accessible through the rear doors, are the Engel 40 litre fridge/freezer (on a slide), the gas bottle, the geyser and pump, a rear door to remove the Porta Potti for cleaning, the plumbing and gas reticulation, and storage space.
The mattresses were custom-made of 25mm dense chip foam topped with 75mm dense foam, and finally 25mm memory foam for a truly comfortable night’s rest. Two foam cushions (made of the same material as the mattresses) were velcroed to the hollows in the back door to provide comfortable head boards.
The island cabinet was mounted at the sliding door to enable outside access to the Dometic gas stove and sink when the drawer is pulled out. Some clever engineering and planning was required to ensure that the gas and water and drainage reticulation was also able to slide out and in. Note the sliding partition to shield against wind, and also to stop people putting their hands on the hot stove.
On top of the island is a Dometic 2-plate gas burner and sink with hot and cold water. On the side of the island cabinet are plugs for 220V, 12V sockets and a switch for the awning light.
The final job is to fit handles and catches to all the doors and drawers when they arrive from Germany.
The mild-steel roof rack was designed to fit on the brackets installed earlier on top of the roof; it holds the awnings (one side, and one rear) and also protects the aircon and awnings when traversing dense bush. The two light-weight solar panels are fitted at the rear and can easily be removed if one is parked in dense shade for a few days.
Finally, Firestone airbags were installed between the rear axle and body to provide lift and a very stable ride when (the van is) fully loaded. A compressed air plug-in point was also installed on the front nudge bar to inflate tyres easily.
This was a lengthy and most enjoyable project, and has resulted in a vehicle customised for our comfort and needs. Excluding the time for my labour, the total project has cost about R1,3 million.
By Rory & Maureen Kirk