Sprinter Life Elevated
Having enough headroom for an adult to fully stand up has been a dream of van life enthusiasts for many decades. Although there are a wide range of aftermarket modifications to accommodate those who did not want to stoop inside their vans, only VW had offered a factory option—until the Sprinter family of vans was released.
Offered under the Mercedes-Benz, Dodge, and Freightliner nameplates over the years, the Sprinter van has been adopted worldwide to fill every conceivable role, from dedicated workhorses to custom-built recreational vehicles. The Sprinter 4×4 is a game changer, and widened even further the appeal of this formidable vehicle platform.
The ROAMBUILT Sprinter takes the off-road van life to new heights. Cec Annett built this ’15 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter as his personal family adventuremobile, which led him to start ROAMBUILT to help others tackle the same frustrations he ran into when building this monster. He wanted a truly capable vehicle that would also serve as a comfortable base camp for biking, surfing, skiing and overland adventures with his wife and two young girls.
Annett isn’t new to the Sprinter life, as he bought a new Sprinter in 2008 and built it out for his family adventures. That rig proved the concept to his family, but he wanted more capability and safety, especially for snowy mountain adventures with the kids. When the 4×4 Sprinter was announced he was one of the first in line to get one, but had to wait 12 long months before his ’15 144 High Roof 2500 Cargo 4×4 in stone gray arrived. This gave him plenty of time to plan out this impressive build.
The first obstacle Annett ran into was being able to properly fit larger AT tires on the van. While the 4×4 Sprinter is four inches taller than the 2wd version, it has the same scrawny 245/75R16 tires fitted. He wanted to fit at least a 33-inch AT tire, but that would require a lot more work than he had anticipated!
“This durable, versatile and configurable interior design works great for a broad range of adventures, whether a week of adventure travel with the family or hauling a load of kids to soccer practice.”
He quickly realized that the 16×6.5 factory rim with 54mm offset and Sprinter only 6×130 bolt pattern was the limiting factor, and that he’d need to get custom wheels made with an appropriate size and offset to work with the larger tires, as there just wasn’t any aftermarket options. He had three wheels fabricated with different offsets, and then annoyed his local tire shop by trying two or three different tire sizes per wheel to find the best combination. He ended up with a 17×8 BeadLook wheel with military rings and R.A.D. (Rapid Air Down) valves wrapped with BFG All-Terrain KO2 in a 34×10.5R17 size.
In order to turn the wheels, and get full articulation, he needed to cut an inch of body out of both front fenders on his brand new Sprinter, and also fit wider wheel flares to cover up the body trimming and provide coverage for the wider tires. After a good run with the KO2 tires, especially in the snow, he switched it up to an even more aggressive and larger tire for summer off-road adventures, the BFG Mud-Terrain KM2’s in 285/75R17 size. This tire works great for aggressive offroading in the muddy Pacific Northwest, only provides a tiny bit more road noise and still clears all the previously modified body work.
“Annett also found a fabrication partner for his hard goods that has military contracts, which means they have some highly skilled welders and fabricators and can source some unique materials.”
The increased offset, trimmed fenders and bigger tires called for an upgraded suspension package that could elevate this Sprinter’s capabilities both on and off-road, while still being comfortable for everyday travel and long road trips with the family. Annett worked with John at Agile Off-Road to install the first Agile RIP (Ride Improvement Package) Kit on a 4×4 Sprinter. The package includes custom Eibach coilovers up front, eight leaf progressive leaf springs in the rear and utilizes adjustable remote reservoir Fox Shocks throughout.
Racks & Armor
Now that this Sprinter was ready to tackle whatever road conditions Annett threw at it, it was time to complete the aggressive exterior looks. Again Annett found the aftermarket offerings for the Sprinter lacking, and set about designing and having built his own roof rack, ladder, bumpers, skid plate, tire carrier and bike rack.
“It’s highly doubtful that this rig will encounter anything that explodes on its adventures, but rocks have no chance and it fits the military strength theme throughout the rest of the build.”
The ROAMBUILT Safari Rack extends forward off the B pillar, where other racks stop. This additional rack space provides more storage room for adventure sports gear and solar panels. It also provides a great spot to mount off-road lighting, in a tidy package. Going against the current trend of light bars, Annett went with five 8-inch round lights, inspired by the Camel Trophy and old school Baja race vehicles. The rack is fully covered in perforated aluminum, except for the two roof-vent cut outs, which makes for easy loading of a wide range of gear and a great elevated platform.
In order to access the roof rack high atop the lifted Sprinter, a rear door ladder was created. Annett’s previous Sprinter had a ladder with 1-inch round steps, which proved to be quite easy to fall off of. For his ladder design he went with 4-inch wide flat steps spaced at about 12 inchs apart, which makes it much more confidence-inspiring to climb and descend. It also looks much more aggressive and substantial, while remaining quite lightweight and easy to see through when looking out the rearview mirror.
“The increased offset, trimmed fenders and bigger tires called for an upgraded suspension package that could elevate this Sprinter’s capabilities both on and off road, while still being comfortable for everyday travel and long road trips with the family.”
For the front bumper Annett wanted a clean simple design that was aesthetically pleasing while providing solid recovery points and a winch mount. He accomplished this with a sleek tube-style design that follows the bodylines of the vehicle and has an integrated winch tray. He installed two Warn HID lights, a Warn Zeon 10-S Platinum winch and two Warn Epic Shackles to complete the bumper styling and functionality.
The rear bumper follows the aesthetics and build style of the front bumper and is designed to protect the rear corners of the vehicle, with its wrap around design. It also has secure recovery points and acts as the first step of the rear door ladder.
Annett also found a fabrication partner for his hard goods that has military contracts, which means they have some highly skilled welders and fabricators and can source some unique materials. He has created an engine skid plate for his 4×4 Sprinter from combat armor, true U.S. Department of Defense Military Spec MTL-DTL-12560J. It’s highly doubtful that this rig will encounter anything that explodes on its adventures, but rocks have no chance and it fits the military-strength theme throughout the rest of the build.
To finish off the exterior of the vehicle, Annett fitted a combination rear tire carrier/bike rack to the rear driver-side door. The larger tire size wouldn’t fit in the stock location under the vehicle and he needed to carry four mountain bikes, one for each of his family members.
After weeks of design and re-design he accomplished a swing arm design, through the use of two 3,000-lb spindle bearings and four heim joints, which allows the heavy load to freely articulate with the rear driver-side door, while transferring the weight to the vehicle frame rails. This design allows for full access to the passenger side rear door and roof ladder without swinging the bikes or tire out of the way, as well as full access to the back of the van as easily as if the tire and bikes weren’t there.
If you haven’t noticed yet, Annett likes to push the envelope on all aspects of his design and build. Now that the exterior was complete, it was time to tackle the interior. The Sprinter started off as a cargo van, so it was basically a large empty and noisy tin can. To kill the road noise and provide thermal insulation, the interior body was completely covered with Dynamat Extreme, then a layer of MLV (Mass Loaded Vinyl) and finally a layer of 3M Thinsulate. It’s impressive how quiet this monster is now!
Adventure Wagon installed the interior paneling and soft bag storage systems. The interior layout was designed to work well for his family of four. Two captain’s chairs were installed behind the front seats, and all were put on swivels and re-upholstered, with MOLLE compatible looping on the backs. Between the chairs, a floor-mounted table was installed to create a dining area when all four seats are swiveled inward.
Behind the seating is a small galley built of stainless steel, which houses an Isotherm Fridge/Freezer and a Smev sink/cooktop combo, utilizing a propane burner. In the back of the van is a bench seat that offers four more seat-belted seating positions and converts into an almost Queen-size bed. This durable, versatile and configurable interior design works great for a broad range of adventures, whether a week of adventure travel with the family or hauling a load of kids to soccer practice.
Annett took his completed van on a family road trip to San Diego, from his home in Portland, Oregon, for the first time in Februrary of 2016. Throughout the trip, he kept getting stopped with people asking questions about the van and how they could get the parts for their builds. Annett quickly realized there was a market for the products that he had developed for his personal adventuremobile, but building products for a one-off personal vehicle is very different than creating a company.
“Annett built this ’15 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter as his personal family adventuremobile, which led him to start ROAMBUILT to help others tackle the same frustrations he ran into when building this monster.”
It has taken some time to do the proper product development and scale production to create products to fit each customer and vehicle’s requirements, but ROAMBUILT is finally up and running. The company has several unique patent pending products, and some more innovative products launching soon. Garnering some quick interest and sales—with a current wait list on some products—product development and production have been the focus, while things like the company’s website have languished, as it is still just a splash page.
Annett’s personal van is still the test bed for most new products being developed at ROAMBUILT and continues to evolve. Since this story was photographed he has already designed and built a new roof rack design, called the ShadowRack. It is very similar in design to the Safari Rack, but with one big upgrade. The rack integrates a large marine-grade awning system which self deploys at the touch of a button, has no vertical support legs and can withstand 50 mph winds without damage. Sure it’s probably overkill, and not inexpensive, but you’ll rarely have to worry again about putting your awning away because of weather.
2015 Mercedes Sprinter
Suspension: Agile Off-Road RIP Suspension Kit w/Fox Shocks, Eibach Springs & Custom Rear Leaf Springs
Wheels & Tires: ROAMBUILT 17X8 Wheels w/Rapid Air Down Valves & BFG KM2 MT (285/75R17)
Roof Rack: ROAMBUILT Safari Rack 144HR & Rear Door Ladder, Thule Load Bars, Dakine Surfboard Pads, Scepter Fuel Canisters, Firestik Antenna
Off Road Accessories: Warn Zeon 10-S Platinum Winch, Oasis XD 3000 On-Board Air Compressor, 1750 Pelican Case w/Hi-Lift Jack/Snatch Straps/Tree Saver/Snatch Block/Winch Line Damper), Maxtrax, ROAMBUILT Fuel Can Holders
Lighting: Warn HID Lights (2), IPF 900XLS LED Lights (3), Vision X 8.7” LED Light Cannon w/Fog Lenses (2), Rigid Industries SR 6” LED Lights (6), VisionX DURA Mini LED Lights (2)
Protection: ROAMBUILT Front Tube Recovery Bumper, ROAMBUILT Combat Armor Engine Skid Plate, ROAMBUILT Rear Tube Bumper w/Tire/Bike Rack Swingout, LineX on Rocker Panels & Side Molding, Armaplate Sentinel Door Security Plates, Avery Dennison Matte Black Hood Film
Interior: Adventure Wagon Modular Systems Interior Package, Webasto Air Top Diesel Heater, Solid Surface Vinyl Flooring, Thetford Porta Potti Cassette Toilet, Smev Sink, Isotherm Fridge, Various Ram Mounts
Electrical: Zamp Solar Panels, 2 AGM House Batteries, Accessory Fuse Block, 2000W Inverter,
Zamp Solar Controller, Garmin inReach Explorer, iPad, Cobra CB Radio, Midland 15 W GMRS Radio, Kenwood DDX9903S Stereo Headunit w/CarPlay, Hertz & JBL Speakers
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the January/February 2018 of Tread Magazine.