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Old 11-04-2005, 01:20 AM
OkeeDon OkeeDon is offline
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Default Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

By now, I'm sure everyone has seen one place or another that I'm planning to buy a Class B Rv based on the Dodge Sprinter chassis. For those who aren't clued in, Class B is a van conversion of one sort or another -- the van body generally stays the same, at least horizontally, and the RV stuff is stuffed inside. Often, the roofs are raised and/or the floors lowered. If there is a shower at all, it's in a "wet bath" in which the bathroom compartment is the shower compartment. Usually either a sofa or dinette is used during the day for seating at made into a bed at night. They almost always include, fridge, stove, sink, microwave, etc. Often there is not a generator, but they depend on 12V or shore power. They're usually based on a Ford or Chevy chassis with a V8 or V10, and get around 11-13 mpg.

They're generally expensive, often more expensive that a larger full-size Class C or even some Class A coaches, because it costs more to make the components confrom to the irregular confines of the van body that it does to make a square fiberglass box, and because they often have to tear the van virtually apart and rework a significant part of it.

Mostly, they're chosen by folks who live in a restricted community where they can't park a full-size RV, or by someone who wants to use them as a daily driver and only occasionally as an RV. I was never interested, because a newer diesel Class A can get as much as 8 or 9 mpg and be purchased for around the same money, especially used. I was never willing to sacrifice the room and luxurious comfort of the larger unit for the slight savings of the Class B Ford or Chevy van.

A couple of things happened to change that. One was the current high cost of fuel. I don't mind spending money to get what I want, but I hate to keep spending it after the fact, I hate giving the oil companies all that money, and I believe in trying to do my part to conserve the earth's resources. Owning an RV is bad enough; owning one that gets 8 mpg or less is pretty bad if you feel the way I do. The second thing that happened was my health. Betsy won't drive a full-size RV. Ain't gonna do it, no matter what. It's entirely possible we'll get somewhere and I won't be able to drive back. She won't drive it, so a problem arises.

So, I went looking for something that was more economical and smaller for her to drive. I discovered something relatively new to the RV world. The Sprinter, first marketed by Freightliner and then by Dodge, has been around for about 4 years. You've most seen them as FedEx vans, but Coke has a bunch of them, and UPS has been experimenting with them, and more service people, like plumbers and carpet installers and such are getting them. They also have passenger versions and a few folks are going that way, although they aren't cheap.

Turns out, they're actually made in Germany by Mercedes, which is a part of Daimler-Chrysler. The engines are a 5 cylinder turbo-diesel with 154 hp and 234 ft lbs. of torque, a 5 speed automatic and a 3.73 rear end. The package gets around 30 mpg as a 10 passenger van. They have 3 lengths - 118" wheelbase, 140" and 158", the latter being almost 22' long. They have two roof heights, the taller one being over 8' (9' 6" with a rooftop AC) and 73" clear height inside.

It didn't take long for the makers of Class B RVs to jump on these things, and today, there are 8 or 9 manufacturers of standard models and at least 3 or 4 prominent custom builders. In RV form, with all the living stuff in them, they're still rated at around 22-26 mpg, and rated to tow 5,000 lbs.

The custom builders are either into extreme (XPlorer, Sportsmobile) or luxury (Creative Mobile Interiors). We just need a standard one. I plan to get rid of 3 existing vehicles (my Dakota, which I actually sold today, my Windstar and my Pace Arrow) and make the Sprinter my daily driver. That pretty much eliminates the Winnebago and Itasca versions, which are cutaway van fronts with a small fberglass box RV on the back. They're too big and too heavy for a daily driver, and Betsy won't drive them. The Westfalia, a German RV marketed by Airstream, is also to unwieldy and too European for us.

I looked at the Gulfstream, Forest River, Great West, Pleasure Way, Airstream Interstate, Leisure Travel and RoadTrek versions on paper. Of them all, I thought the brand-new RoadTrek design suited me best. It features 4 leather, swivel, captain's chairs in the front to serve almost as a normal van, with the galley, bathroom and sleeping area in the rear. The 4 captain's chairs swivel to face a central post-mounted removable table, or swivel to the rear for theater-like TV viewing, or to the front for normal driving. It's possible to leave the bed made up as a nearly-king size bed all the time, or convert it back to bench-like dinette seats. However, I have not yet seen a RoadTrek in the "flesh", because they are just being shipped. The RoadTek dealer is in Okeechobee, which is very convenient for service.

I discovered a dealer near Sarasota, about 2 hours from Okeechobee, which carries all of the other brands. Betsy and I went over there on Tuesday and looked at all of them, to be sure we were making the right decision if we buy the RoadTrek. Of them all, the Leisure Travel was the best quality. One of their floor plans has an electric sofa in the back that makes down into a king size bed. It has extra wardrobe space and a larger bathroom space where the RoadTrek has the 3rd and 4th Captain's chairs. To my surprise, Betsy fell in love with the design. She said that when we go out with another couple, she'd much prefer that she and her girlfriend sit all the way in the back so they can hen-chat without me and my buddy talking over them. Made sense to me.

So, I will wait for the RoadTrek to come in and look at it to be sure, but it now looks like we'll be going for the Leisure Travel. Lavishly equipped with all leather seating, real wood cabinets, laminate "wood" flooring, generator (2.5kw Onan LP), roof-top AC with heat strip, separate furnace, water heater, fresh water, gray water and black water tanks, SS sink, 2-burner LP stove, microwave, 4.0 cf 3-way fridge, coffemaker, back-up camera and monitor and a 17" HDTV LCD flat panel TV with built-in DVD player, it will list right at about $90K. I expect to buy it in the $75K range. There are some neat additional touches like an exterior spare, under-coach storage, built-in sewer hose, outside shower, crank-out awning and an outside mount for the flat panel TV. I have an additional receiver and dish for our Dish Network satellite TV, so I'll have satellite service in the RV for $5/month extra. I'm also planning on a satellite radio.

In order to get one the way I want it, we'll have to order it. We should see the RoadTrek in a couple of weeks; then, if we still feel the same way, we'll order the Leisure Travel, and it should be shipped in time for Christmas. Nice present.

Here's a picture of the exterior and one of the interior -- and a link to the site if anyone wants to look at the photo album they have listed.
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Last edited by OkeeDon; 11-04-2005 at 01:32 AM.
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Old 11-04-2005, 02:02 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Hi Don. They are nice units. My wife and myself looked at some over the summer (just because) and were shocked at the $90,000 price tag for its size. It is amazing how much they can get into such a small space and still have it functional. Can't recall the brand that we looked at (though I think it was chevy emblemed) and was very much like the photo(s) you posted. Good luck with it.
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Old 11-04-2005, 07:28 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Don, one of my business partners does some business with that dealer just outside of Sarasota. He had just told me yesterday about the Sprinter's platform and how much he liked them; also how popular they are getting. If you want, throw me a PM and I can give you his name and number. If he can't get you a lower price, at minimum he can get you the bottom dollar price right away without the need to negotiate for a week/month/months.
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Old 11-04-2005, 09:21 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

SEMI OFF TOPIC and in the form of a side note about the Sprinter for those unfamiliar with it. It is a Mercedes Benz product that was brought over here under the Freightliner name badge a few years ago. When Benz & Chrylser got married, Dodge was in need of a van. So Freightliner lost the product and now the same van is sold under the Dodge brand.

It is an amazing van that totally outclasses the offerings from Ford or GM. I own 1 Ford Van, 1 Chevy Van and 1 Dodge Cargo Sprinter. Anyone who's ever driven a Ford or Chevy full size van knows what they are. They are big boxes with limited visibility that rattle and bounce down the road.

The Sprinter drives so much like a car that it is unbelievable and difficult to describe. It is not crudely made with the same bad ergonomics (or total lack of ergonomics) that the American designed vans have. The whole platform is well thought out and vastly superior to our offerings. The base price is also CONSIDERABLY higher than a Chevy or Ford. So you have to really run the numbers on them to see if they are worth it.

For a camper type vehicle, they would make an awesome platform.
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Old 11-06-2005, 03:02 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

More progress, and off on an unexpected direction. Trying to leave no stone unturned, I poked around in RVTraderOnline.com, looking for dealer references, tyical pricing, etc. Imagine my surprise to see a listing for Jupiter, Florida, about 40 miles south of me. It was for a 2005 Leisure Travel "Free Spirit"; the one in which I was becoming more interested. It was listed with 6800 miles.

I called, it was a private owner, a wealthy individual who bought it for trips to his Northern home and back, but who is currently spending more time in Europe, and didn't want to see it just sit. I made arrangements to meet him Saturday morning. He pulled up in his Porsche Carerra with "Helicopter" something on the license plate frame (later in the conversation, he mentioned that he had the lowest price home in Jonathan's Landing, his gated community; all the others were $4 Million or above).

This guy has to be the most anal guy I've ever seen. The van was spotless. The Porsche was spotless. I mean, clean. I drove the RV and it was perfect. The speedo was up to 7800, but that hardly matters. It is less than a year old. It has almost every option I wanted, and a couple I wouldn't have bothered to get (like the rear view mirror with compass and outside temp displayed in it). He also had invested in extras like a bike rack, cover, extra auxiliary battery, Tempurpedic mattress topper, custom front table, and a lot more. It is also an LSS model; a special, silver and charcoal limited edition model.

List price would be about $91K. He said he paid $78K, which would be about right. If I ordered a new one, I hoped to pay $75K at the bottom, but expected it to be closer to $77K. He's asking $69,500. I tried out a firm offer of $65K with immediate payment, and he tossed it off. Said he didn't have to sell, his wife didn't want him to sell, and he'd let it sit until he was done his European activities rather than let it go. I'm sure he was also aware, as was I, that they only other used one I could find in the country was a 2003 model with cloth interior and fewer accressories for $55K. Apparently, they hold their value.

Betsy and I talked it over all day, and I'm going to make a deal with him tomorrow for $69K even (he indicated he's go that far). Counting the accessories he bought after the fact, and that I would like to have, like the bike rack, etc., I'll be saving between $8K and $9K. The added benefit is that the thing is better than new; the most anal guy in South Florida has already worked out the bugs (there were a couple; one seat wouldn't swivel properly, for example; all fixed, now) and it's probably cleaner than the dealer delivered it.

It will be a couple of days before I pick it up; I have to cash a couple of CD's (perfect timing; they were due to roll over, anyway). Here's the pictures he advertised; I'll have to more when I get it.
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Old 11-06-2005, 09:01 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Hope the owner ain't a member....................
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Old 11-06-2005, 09:40 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

OK Don, you now have 2 issues that you need to resolve.

I'd guess 3 gallons of "New Holland Blue" would take care of the first issue.

But the second issue is going to be a bit tougher. What are you going to name IT, and is IT a "him" or a "her?"
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Old 11-06-2005, 10:58 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

I take it that you don't like the silver color...I don't mind the silver, it sets it apart from other motor homes and makes it look more line a luxury van. The real problem is the trailer I bought to pull behind it is white. Most of the Sprinter RVs are white with a color band at the botom and a decal in the middle. I had planned to match the color at the bottom of the trailer and apply a duplicate decal -- now I'm going to have to paint the entire trailer silver and charcoal before applying the decal. Actually, I'm not sure I'll be able to do that easily; the trailer is made from pre-finished aluminum panels and they'll need a lot of prep work to take paint.

Is it a him or a her? I don't know. If it had a gas engine, it would be more towards a "her", but with a turbo diesel, I think it might be a "him". It looks a little like a space ship, so it might be an "it", something like a transformer toy, since it will switch back and forth so often from daily driver to "home".

The cabin we just sold was "Horner's Hideout", which had a double meaning. It was well hidden in the woods and we used it as a getaway, but before we owned it, it also had been briefly rented to a character on the 10 most wanted list; the place was staked out for a few days before it was surrounded and the guy arrested. I like names that have more than one meaning.
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Old 11-06-2005, 11:01 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Quote:
Originally Posted by OkeeDon
I take it that you don't like the silver color...
No it's because he only can see that damn NH blue!
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Old 11-06-2005, 11:20 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Quote:
Originally Posted by Big Dog
No it's because he only can see that damn NH blue!
I can see Kubota Orange too. And Cub Cadet Yellow/Cream. And Ventrac Red/Grey. And Snow Trac Orange. And Echo Grey. And JD Green. And Howse Red. And Troy Built Red. And LandPride Baby-Puke-Tan. etc etc.

But Don has a NH. So I figured he'd want to paint it the correct color.
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Old 11-06-2005, 11:53 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

One of these days I'm going to have to post a picture of my New Holland. It's still somewhat blue, but it's pretty chalky from fading, is rust colored at several scratches and a couple of gouges, and is often covered at least half-way up with black mud. If I hadn't already been banned from TBN for some bogus reason, I'd have been ostracized by the Clean & Waxed Tractor Police over there.

I work the thing. There aren't a whole lot of compact-type folks who have put on 800 hours in 2-1/2 years, despite sitting out for several months due to health. Unfortunately, it looks the part. I don't even hose if off more than once every few weeks when I clean the radiator screen.

I just got off the phone with the seller. We made a deal at $68,500. He showed it again yesterday after we left and was giving me first refusal. Now, he's going back over there and put the cover back on, because he doesn't want it to sit in the sun too long...Man, that is anal! But, to my benefit...
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Old 11-06-2005, 11:57 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Yep, Don does work it.....even upside down in the pond
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Old 11-06-2005, 12:06 PM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Hummmmmmmmmmm

Looks like we have NHBN here..........
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Old 11-06-2005, 10:54 PM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Now you've gone and done it Don. I'm going to have to go and look at some of these Sprinter based RVs.
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Old 11-07-2005, 12:44 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Quote:
Originally Posted by v8dave
Now you've gone and done it Don. I'm going to have to go and look at some of these Sprinter based RVs.
OK, I'll save you some research.

Winnebago View: Sprinter 3500 (dual rear wheels) cab/chassis with a fiberglass RV "box" tacked on with a cab-over bed, they call it a Class C, more like a Class B+. Single slideout, fair amount of room for what it is, crummy TV location, more like a traditional RV.

Itasca Navion: Owned by Winnebago; exact same coach except for interior and exterior color schemes.

Westfalia by Airstream:
This is the "James Cook" model built in Germany and popular throughout Eurpope. Westfalia is owned by Daimler/Chrysler so this is the "official" Mercedes Sprinter based RV. Daimler strongly discourages other converters from cutting the rof, but they do it themselves -- the Westfalia has a bulbous raised roof with a cab-over bed. This is a very Eropean design and will not appeal to anyone familiar with American RVs. It has some very weird features like a top-loading refrigrator which can apparently also act as a freezer, but only in one more or the other at a time; it's not tall enough for milk.

Airstream Interstate: This is Airstream's own conversion. I can't pin down the actual reasons, but I just don't like it, and based on my research, not many others do, either. It has to do mainly with layout; they just didn't get it right. Obviously someone likes them, hopefully including the original designers, but they aren't moving as well as others.

Forest River MB Cruiser: Poor execution and poor quality, not up to the level of the van. However, much less expensive than others (and it looks it, inside). Can probably get one for under $60K new with a little negotiation.

Gulfstream Vista Cruiser: Somewhere above the MB Cruiser, but not up to the quality of the others in the interior work. The layout didn't appeal to me.

Pleasure Way Plateau: quality is not all that bad, but there were just enough things I liked better in the top two (for me) that I didn't consider this one for long.

RoadTrek Adventurous: This is the one I originally favored, but switched after seeing the Leisure Travel. To be fair, I haven't see the RoadTrek yet; almost no dealers have them, yet. New introduction this past August. Quality is good, different people will differ about whether the RoadTrek or the Leisure Travel has the best quality. Some features the others don't have (all of them have some unique qualities to recommend them, with the possible exception of the Forest River MB Cruiser, and it's "feature" is price).

Leisure Travel Free Spirit:
The one I ultimately chose; tht doesn't make it the best, just the one best suited for me. Not cheap; but quality up to the standards of the Mercedes van it is. Biggest detraction is that the bath structure comes right up behind the driver's seat and makes it seem a bit "boxed in" when you're driving; also limits the angle of the driver's seat unless you're pretty short. It's on the edge, for me, at just under 6' tall. More than enough other features to make up for it.
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Old 11-07-2005, 08:59 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Congrats Don on an awesome find. An early christmas present! :)

I like the looks of those. I'd guess they will take the motor home market by storm once they catch on. They look so much easier to manuvure in traffic, about like a full size van. Other motor homes look and handle more like land yachts. It will be a few years before I'd be interested in one, but I'll keep an eye on these to see how they evolve.
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Old 11-07-2005, 11:32 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Quote:
I'd guess they will take the motor home market by storm once they catch on.
Remember, 22 - 26 mpg. The bed is larger than the queen size in most motor homes. Yes, it has to be made up each night and turned back into a sofa each morning, but that isn't a huge burden -- after all, it's an electric sofa. The cool thing is that it can be partially lowered and turned into a recliner with hassocks for evening TV viewing.

It only has a 2 burner stove, but we have rarely used more than 2 burners in our previous RVs. The microwave is small, but is "big enough". The limitations that will bother me most are the sink, which is not really large enough to wash a large skillet, and the fridge, which is much smaller than we're used to. We did pick the brand with the largest fridge, however, 4 cu ft instead of 3 in most of the others.

The bath is a "wet" bath, meaning that the bath compartment is the shower, all in one space. That's not as bad as it sounds, primarily means that the toilet exterior, etc. have to be wiped down after a shower, but we're used to wiping down the fiberglass walls of our current shower to keep them clean. Our current shower stall is not any larger than the bath compartment on this one. If we feel the need for more shower space, we can always use the ones at an RV park.

There is nearly as much interior storage in this can as there is in our current 28' Pace Arrow. The Pace does have large basement compartments where I carry folding chairs and tables, tools, bbq grill, etc. etc. My answer to that with this van was to buy a 6'x12' closed trailer with a ramp door and side door. I plan to build a wardrobe, pantry and tool chest across the front of it, make hangers on the walls for the folding furniture, and will take my golf cart, portable firepit and bbq grill with me, According to my measurements, there will still be room in the trailer for 2 of the small 49cc motor scooters.

The best part is that it will be a realistic daily driver. It gets better fuel mileage than either my Windstar or the Dakota I just sold. I can carry up to 7 passengers including me. The rear doors still provide access to the van characteristics. Without moving the sofa, there is room for several 2x4's to slide under it. I can put the sofa down into the bed position for large, flat boxes, or can press a button and slide the sofa forward for tall items. It's not any bigger to manueuver and park than a F350 crew cab with a long box.

I'll miss my pickup truck, but towing capacity on this rig is 5000 lbs., and I have a variety of trailers to choose from -- flat, 6' x 10' single axle, flat 16' tandem axle, 6' x 12' hydraulic dump, and the new 6' x 12' closed cargo trailer. I think I will also pick up a small, 4' x 8' stake-side trailer for the times when I don't want to haul around the larger ones. It will be perfect for lawn mowers, atv, golf cart, etc.

But, the best part is that Betsy will drive this one. She won't drive the Class A or Class C motor homes, so I have to do all the driving, which is getting a bit tougher as I get older.

For me, this is a LOT of money to put into a vehicle. I have never before spent more than $23,000 on a vehicle. Even my Pace Arrow was 8 years old when I got it, and cost me only $21,000. The most expensive was the Windstar, which had a sticker price of $26K, but I got it for $23K. Betsy's Focus ZX3 was only $12K and my Dakota was $14K in 1995. I can't afford to make a mistake. I suspect this may be the last vehicle I ever buy for myself.
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Old 11-07-2005, 05:12 PM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Don, glad to hear you found what you were looking for. Especially since it sounds like you found more for your money than you were looking for . I'm sure you will enjoy it!

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Old 11-07-2005, 11:06 PM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Thanks for the run down Don. We've been generally resistant to a RV but the lure of a North America tour gets stronger all the time. Your idea of the trailer for scooters is a good idea too. Somehow my wife will consider a scooter but won't ride pillon on my BMW. One of the mysteries of life I suppose.
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Old 11-08-2005, 01:08 AM
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Default Re: Progress report -- Sprinter Class B RV

Betsy and I had a similar conversation. I wanted to get a 150cc or 200cc scooter that could keep up in "real" traffic, but only one scooter would fit in the trailer with the golf cart. Betsy put the kibosh on that idea in a hurry..."I won't ride on the back of one of those things." To give her credit, she's been consistent, always refusing to ride the back of any two wheeler, all her life. We're 65 now; I doubt she's going to change.

But, I did push it a little, and finally got a grudging explanation: "I want to be in control."

Now, I'm sure not going to ride on the back while she drives, so I guess we're even. So, the only answer is: 2 scooters. The problem is, no matter how I manipulated them, the only way I can get 2 scooters in the trailer is with the little ones. The trailer is 12' long; I can get two 70" scooters in, nose to tail, up one side, next to the cart. The trailer is 69" wide, the cart is 48" wide; that leaves about 20" for the scooters. The only scooters that are 70" x <20" are the smallest 49cc models.

The good news is that if I stick with a quality scooter, like an Aprilia or Yamaha Zuma, the little buzzers are capable of 40 - 42 mph. That's comfortable enough for running around small towns or back roads, but it won't work on anything with a lot of faster traffic. I think we'll take a few trips to typical locations and try to imagine what it would be like to sight-see with the scooters before I make the comittment. Any time we have to drive any significant distance to get to a day destination, we'll have to break camp and take the Sprinter. With the smaller van, a crank-out awning and quick disconnects, that won't be as bad as it sounds. I guess the real test of the scooters is whether we can use them in a community like Branson.

Reading this, I suppose someone will ask, "Why not get a bigger trailer? The Sprinter can handle it..." Well, I'm really anal about getting the most fuel mileage I can get and still bring my toys. So, there has to be a compromise. The largest trailer I can get and comfortably stay with a single axle is a 6' x 12'. I ended up with a Haulmark Transport; the Transport is Haulmark's light-duty model. I chose it because it only weighs 1300 lbs. I'm trying to keep my overall weight to ~3,000 lbs. A single axle trailer not only weighs less, it has less rolling resistance. The Sprinter is higher and a bit wider than my trailer, so aerodynamics won't play a large role; I still got a vee-nose trailer to lessen what impact there is, and to gain a few extra inches in the front.

Anybody still wondering whether I'm obsessive about my research and analysis? I know the dimensions and weights of everything I plan to put in the trailer, and have a pretty good idea how everything will be mounted and tied down.
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...Don

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