We’d like to introduce you to the star of the show, the MVP of Van Life Theory – Marlee!
Marlee is a 2008 Mercedes Sprinter 518CDi, long-wheel base with a super high roof extension that has been converted into the ultimate off-grid campervan, complete with a kitchen, living area, full wet bathroom (with hot shower!) and king-size bed.
She is an absolute beast and drives a bit like a boat, but we love her so much.
Marlee came into our lives in April 2020, right as the pandemic was taking hold of the world.
We had always wanted to travel around Australia in a campervan and explore our own backyard. But with our business, NOMADasaurus, we had been extremely busy with projects overseas and never had time to do this. We were flying from country to country, losing count of the number of flights we’d take in a year and only touching down in Australia for a few days at a time, if that.
When travel came to an abrupt halt in March 2020 we had just flown back from back-to-back jobs in Japan and Kyrgyzstan, and were days away from flying to California for our next project. Suddenly we were locked down in Sydney staying with family, hoping that borders would open back up sooner rather than later.
Once it became clear that we’d be in Australia for an indefinite amount of time, we decided to start the search for a campervan again. We didn’t want to spend all of our time encroaching on family space, and rather than dwell on how our travel business had fallen off the edge of a cliff (as had so many businesses), we decided to finally follow up on our dream of getting a van to travel the country and turn a positive out of a negative.
After a few weeks of looking for a van to buy we came across an ad for a 2008 Sprinter that ticked all the boxes we could have ever hoped for – off-grid, mechanically sound and absolutely beautiful.
We got in touch with the owner and organised a viewing of the van (being COVID-safe of course) and headed out to see it.
The previous owner and his wife worked online and had plans to live out of the van and travel Australia. They had spent six months building it out for the big adventure when she fell pregnant. Shortly after the baby was born the pandemic hit, and they decided to pack up their lives in Australia and move back to their home country of New Zealand.
That’s why the van was on the market.
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Working online, we had a few things we needed in order to make a van good enough for us to live in full-time. It had to have enough space for us to work during the day, and a decent power set-up so that we can keep our laptops and cameras charged.
It also should have a nice size kitchen so we have a bit of room to make nice meals. And we need to be able to stand up inside. Everything else would be a bonus.
Turns out this campervan had everything we needed, and plenty more.
There was a huge battery and solar setup so the van was fully off-grid. An inverter meant we could keep all of our main electrical items charged, and the power points and USB outlets were in the right place for us to work without cables running everywhere.
There was tonnes of space to spread out inside, with a large work desk that dropped down into a king-size bed at night.
The kitchen was very functional, with a water pump connected to 110L of fresh water, a dual-burner gas cooktop and a big fridge.
As a bonus it also had a compost toilet and shower, and had been designed beautifully.
The van was just about perfect for us, so we organised for a mechanic to come and give it a pre-purchase inspection. Once that came back all clear we put an offer in, and a few days later Marlee was ours!
Our Mercedes Sprinter Van Tour
Here’s a complete rundown on the van and everything that she comes with. She’s fully custom made.
- 2008 Mercedes Sprinter 518CDi
- Turbo-charged V6 diesel engine
- Long wheel base
- Super high roof
- 227,000km (141,000 miles) on the clock when we bought her
- Already converted to a motorhome (we just had to change the registration from a panel van, which was easy to do), with a walkthrough to connect the front with the rear
- Heavy-duty bull bar installed on front
- Dual wheels on the rear axel
- Two licensed seats in the front
- 4490kg GVM (can drive on a normal car license)
Here’s what she’s like in the back, where our home is.
- Separate wet room with shower (hot and cold water)
- Nature’s Head composting toilet and extraction fan
- King size bed when made up at night
- Adjustable Lagun dining table; move it where you want it
- Two bench seats for daytime use – can comfortably sit 6 people
- A large skylight above the bed
- MaxxAir MaxxFan Deluxe with remote control, rain dome, thermostat and electric lift
- Two Sirocco II 12v fans on either side of the bed head
- Lockwood large digital home safe, bolted to the floor inside a cupboard
- Super high roof gives loads of headspace inside
- Living area of the van fully insulated with Earthwool
- Side windows feature blackout insulated blinds, rear windows have custom blackout insulated magnetic curtains
- Fiamma 200DJ bike rack, mounted to the rear doors so we can open them without having to remove our bikes
- Fiamma 4.5m F45S awning so we can set up an outdoor living space in wet weather
We spend a lot of time cooking good meals in the kitchen, and the one in Marlee is set up perfectly.
- 130L Bushman 12V fridge/freezer
- Double hob gas stovetop
- Unique white tile splash back
- Large stainless steel kitchen sink with mixer swivel tap
- Overhead and under bench storage
- Large food prep space with countertops on both sides of kitchen
The only thing we’re missing is an oven.
All of the water and gas plumbing has been built professionally, and operates just like it would in a normal home.
- 110L fresh water tank
- 65L grey water tank
- LCD Dual Tank Water Level Indicator for fresh and grey water tanks
- Camec Instant Gas Water Heater
- Shurflo 4009 Fresh Water Pump with Filter located under the kitchen sink for easy access. Check out our post all about campervan water pumps to find out more
- B.E.S.T Hose Inline Water filter to provide the first round of filtration of water entering the freshwater tank
- Kitchen sink cold water line with built-in in line water filter to provide a second round of filtration. Hot water line connected to the gas water heater
- Cold water line at rear of van with spray hose for easy rinsing off feet or handheld outdoor shower
- Gas box houses a 4kg gas bottle, which lasts us about a month of cooking 3 meals a deal and making lots of coffee!
Electrics + Solar
This is how we manage to stay completely off-grid, no matter where we go.
With a large 200 Amp Hour battery we can easily spend two full days locked up in the van on cloudy days working without having to start the van. If we’re not on our laptops or charging the cameras, we can almost get 5 days.
The solar panel has a high voltage, which means even in low or soft sunlight a strong current is still delivered to the battery.
The 40 Amp DC2DC Charger charges the battery while we drive at a rate of 20% per hour. Both the battery and solar charge controller can be connected to via Bluetooth with their own smartphone apps so we can check our electrical stats at any time easily.
The 1000w inverter allows us to run all the appliances we need to feel at home – toaster, blender, laptops and cameras.
- Enerdrive ePOWER B-TEC 200 Amp Hour Lithium Battery
- Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100/30 Solar Charge Controller
- 40Amp DC2DC Charger
- Sunpower E20 327 Watt solar panel
- Synergex 1000 Watt pure sine wave inverter
- 3 double 240V power point sockets
- 3 double USB charge sockets
- 12V lights throughout on separate circuits with convenient switch locations
- 12V and 240V circuits each run into fuse boxes located in the electrical compartment under the couch
That’s it for our van tour of Marlee! We’ll be adding to this list as we get new items and do upgrades to her.
We are so over the moon with our campervan and cannot wait to keep exploring Australia in her together.
Hope this article gives you an idea of everything we have to make her a fully off-grid tiny home on wheels. If you have any questions about anything please don’t hesitate to let us know, and fee free to leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading, and happy travels!