Sprinter: The next hippie bus

Every generation has it’s do-it-all vehicle: John Steinbeck crossed the country in his GMC camper truck, Rocinante, the Beach Boys immortalized the Ford Woody surfer truck, Hippies put the VW Bus on the map, in the 1980s, customized vans were the rage, and 1990s retirees made Winnebago RVs a fixture on America’s highways. Now the Mercedes/Dodge Sprinter is about to take its place as the do-all, go-everywhere vehicle of a new generation of wanderers.

The Sprinter was born in the mid-1990s as a general purpose delivery/service van built by mercedes for the European market, and first arrived in the US in 2001 under the Freightliner name. Then two years ago, DaimlerChrysler began selling it under the Dodge name as a successor to the venerable Dodge Ram Van (kissing cousin to the GMC van made famous in the 1980s by the TV show The A Team), and sales have outstripped inventory ever since. The first Sprinters found life as service and delivery trucks, ambulances and as minibuses, but private individuals also began purchasing Sprinters, turning them into mobile homes, windsurfing carriers, pedigree dog show transporters and, of course, surfer vans.

Tellingly, I have yet to meet a Sprinter owner who wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about their van and eager to extol its virtues. Customizers are popping up everywhere, ready to turn Sprinters into everything from RVs to luxury limousines and even off-road vehicles. One customizer even offers a substitute grill that allows Dodge Sprinter owners to put a proper Mercedes insignia back on their hood. But whatever the logo, Sprinters are well on their way to becoming the road warrior icon of this decade. Maybe they won’t have flowers painted on the side, but just as their parents once wished for a VW Bus or a custom van, a whole new generation is falling in love with the Sprinter and the foot-loose freedom it symbolizes.