No ordinary panel van
Customised 4×4 panel vans with actual off-road capability are not exactly a dime a dozen, so like the cat, this got us curious and we went to investigate (without the fatal outcome of the proverbial feline).
Cape Town-based Dale Upton, owner of this unusual workhorse, worked in the film industry for over a decade. Recently, he noticed a gap in the market for a crew cab that could ferry film crews over tricky terrain right onto the doorstep of their location – no matter how wild and rugged the terrain. With this in mind, and after much research and planning, Dale purchased a 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 319 CDI Oberaigner 4×4, set about customising it, and birthed his new company, Outlandish Services.
This high-roof permanent 4×4 Sprinter comes standard with a 3-litre V6 diesel mill that delivers 140kW of power and 440Nm of torque and with six-speed manual transmission. Although it hails from the Mercedes stable, it’s not a luxury vehicle. It’s a capable and well-built workhorse. The sands of Atlantis, no problem, the Namib dunes, no problem, up a muddy mountain track, still no problem. “On the road, it drives like a car,” commented Dale, which is not surprising seeing as Mercedes-Benz has imbued these vans with car-like dynamic safety features, climate and 4ETS electronic traction control. Sprinters also come with Crosswind Assist that works with the standard stability-control programme and brakes individual wheels to reduce wandering due to strong winds or sudden gusts. Had it been summer time in Cape Town, the south-easter may well have put this feature to the test.
When driving the Sprinter 4×4 off-road, there are four buttons to engage the various settings, depending on the terrain and how you need the van to perform. The first engages the central differential, the second the rear diff, the third is for the front diff, and the last button selects low range to enhance traction. The 4×4 Sprinters are not readily available here and have to be ordered from Mercedes-Benz. The company then sends one of the three-litre V6 Sprinters to Oberaigner in Austria for conversion, before it is shipped to South Africa. It was here that Dale’s was transformed and three mechanical differential locks – longitudinal, front and rear differential locks – were installed. The front axle was also raised by 120mm and the rear by 45mm. Oberaigner rate the fording depth at 600mm – not half bad, although quite a bit shy of the 1 000mm on Mercedes G500 4×4².
This particular van was ordered from Mercedes-Benz Sandown Commercial Vehicles in Montague Gardens by a man, who after the six-month waiting period, was no longer able to purchase the vehicle. This left Mercedes with the unusual 4×4 sitting on the showroom floor, until Dale walked in looking for just such a rig. Dale was fortunate enough to scoop it up for a relative song at R963 300 as a demo model that already included a number of the optional extra features.
Fit for a crew
Despite the price tag, the vehicle was far from ready for Dale’s purposes and so a barrage of modifications ensued. The cab interior was completely overhauled by Climatic Technologies. This started with the removal of the rear window and the installation of a second row of seats. The company then set about lining the entire interior (floor, sides and roof) with marine-ply cladding and added strips of rather pricey aluminium anchor points. These anchor points will allow film crew to secure boxes of camera and other equipment within the van. Custom-made seat covers were also added to protect the six seats.
The bumpers were replaced through Maniac 4×4 – the new front bumper has a winch, just in case the vehicle needs to be recovered, and the rear bumper has been fitted with a tow bar. Rainbow Polyurethane provided the aluminium ladder and roof rack. The rack is designed in such a way that you can walk on it. This feature allows a camera crew to climb on top of the vehicle for added height and a different vantage point, potentially eliminating the need for scaffolding. Finally, a touchscreen Alpine radio was installed and the Sprinter was fitted with BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres (LT 235/70R16).
Currently, the van costs R788 000 in stock trim, without extra factory equipment like the high roof, swivel seats, steering wheel controls, automatic transmission, air-conditioning, radio and more, so prices vary accordingly.
Engine Six-cylinder turbocharged, intercooled diesel, direct fuel injection Capacity 2 987cc
Power 140kW @ 3 800 r/min
Torque 440Nm @ 1 400 r/min
Drive System Six-speed manual transmission with transfer case
Suspension (front) Shock-absorber-strut independent front suspension with transverse-leaf parabolic spring and stabiliser
Suspension (rear) Rigid rear axle; with parabolic spring and shock absorber
Towing Capacity 2 000kg
Fuel Tank Capacity 100 litres
Text: Elise Kirsten Photos: Kian Erikson