If we decided to do some kind of crowdsourcing experiment and asked, "What to you is the ultimate overlanding or trail rig?" there's a high probability we'd see nary a hint of "van" within the responses. Then again, if you know, you know, and Bart Miller knows. That's how he ended up with a 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. We saw his 4x4 in action on our 2019 Four Wheeler Overland Adventure, and we understood the appeal of the "house on wheels," as he calls it. In fact, overlanding in a van is kind of an obvious consideration, given that there's a built-in living area and off-road capability straight from the factory.
Bart comes from a life of traditional 4x4s. He's had Jeeps. He's had a Toyota Tacoma TRD. He's also tinkered around with motorcycles. So, this wasn't an uneducated purchase made on a whim. "I felt like it was a good all-around platform and would allow me to customize it to fit my needs," says Bart. "The big difference that I found with coming from a Toyota Tacoma to an M-B Sprinter was the size and off-road capabilities. I do miss the Tacoma for its articulation and making a hard trail look easy."
But here's the interesting part: He hasn't really done much to the Sprinter; he's built a simple overlander that he can point and shoot to get to destinations—even those remote ones. What has been customized was done by Bart, because "doing a build yourself is part of the fun. This also helps when issues arise, and making repairs out on the trail seem to be a lot easier because you know how everything was put together in the first place." Having built overlanding vehicles before, he didn't fully wing it here—but must-haves included a fridge freezer, onboard water, cassette toilet, onboard air, extra fuel, oversize spare tire, and front bumper capable of housing a suitable winch for self-recovery, plus custom interior odds and ends.
The Sprinter is also his daily driver, but thatparticular usage no one questions. "On my recent trip out West, we decided to make a detour on the way back East and hit Moab. We did a trail called Fins and Things and as we were on the trail, everyone that we ran into said, 'Dude, are you lost?'" A vehicle like this on a trail like that? "I felt like we were at a rockclimbing competition with all the bystanders!"
Every van has its fan, and with this Sprinter, the fanbase keeps expanding beyond just Bart. "I would say the thing I like most about this build is the fit and finish of the final product. I get a lot of people asking what options are these and does Mercedes-Benz offer different layouts. After explaining to them that it was a custom build, they are kind of star-struck."
At a Glance
General Vehicle: '17 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
Owner: Bart Miller
Stomping grounds: Salisbury, Maryland
Build time: 9 months
Drivetrain Engine: OM642 six-cyl BlueTec turbodiesel
Transmission: G40 five-spd automatic w/OD
Transfer case: ZG3
Front axle/differential: Stock
Rear axle/differential: Stock