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Mercedes in Morocco

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Readers Ernst & Helga Hegebarth took their upgraded Mercedes-Benz Sprinter to the harsh deserts of Morocco, and returned with some advice for other owners of the sturdy van.

We tremendously enjoyed Richard van Ryneveld’s article in the March edition, on his trip to Botswana in a Mercedes Sprinter 4×4. Since we know all these places and campsites quite well from many trips, I would like to comment a little on the Mercedes Sprinter’s 4×4 performance from our own experience.

Our first overland trip, from Germany to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and all the way to Nepal, was in 1973 with a Volkswagen named “Bully”.

Since then, we have been in a number of SUVs and 4x4s over the years in different parts of the world.

From our home of 17 years in Knysna, we usually travel through Africa for two to three months every year with our trusty Toyota “Troopy”, which was customised by Alu-Cab in Cape Town. On our Toyota 78, we use BF Goodrich KO2 tyres with good results. It is not only the size and “footprint” of the tyres which matter. Reinforced sidewalls will definitely contribute to the longevity of the tyres, and thus reduce the overall cost of overland journeys.

From our home in Germany, we use a Mercedes Sprinter 4×4, which is comfortably equipped for overland trips. Beside a snorkel, Webasto heating system, kitchen, shower, loo and what-have-you, we also mounted a separate spare-wheel carrier at the rear door, and, most importantly, fitted an air spring system.

I understand that the Sprinter which you used was not loaded to the limits. As we all know, apart from the right tyres and tyre pressure, weight is quite often the limiting factor for driving in deep sand.

We took our Sprinter to Morocco to test it in the Sahara, where it performed very well in deep sand. Unfortunately, the Sahara Desert is not just sand. We also had to tackle long stretches of very sharp rocks and stones. The tyres we used were General Grabber AT3s, which performed well in the SA4x4 shootout (February 2018).  In the Sahara, we destroyed two of these tyres within the first three days. Their weak point is the sidewalls. New tyres had to be shipped at high cost from Casablanca to Erfoud, deep in the desert.

Our Mercedes Sprinter 4X4 is customised by a small but very exclusive company based in Germany. For the Sprinter 4×4, they suggest using 16-inch wheels fitted with BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/O KO2 265/75 R16 tyres which have a load Index of 119.

From our experience, it is mandatory to include a Votronic Booster VCC 1212-45 for charging the batteries, in order to be independent of solar power when travelling “Out of Africa”.

On a last note regarding Jannie Rykaart’s summary of his experience with the Mercedes Sprinter 315 CDI 4×4 in Botswana, his claimed diesel consumption was 6.9 litres per kilometre – probably a printing error. Ours, in the Sahara of Morocco, was 12.5 litres/100 kilometres! (Ernst, the correct figure was 6.9km/litre – approximately 14.4 litres/100km. – Ed)

In August this year, we plan to ship our Mercedes Sprinter from Europe to Montevideo/Uruguay for an epic trip to South America. From the Pantanal in Brazil, to photograph Jaguars in the wild, we will travel to the Andes in Bolivia and Peru, crossing passes more than 5000m in altitude. From there, we will traverse the Atacama Desert in Chile and move down to Patagonia in southern Chile and Argentina. This will be a very serious test indeed for the Sprinter!

I had to smile a little bit about the idea of modifying the “Look” of the Sprinter to that of a more exciting expedition vehicle, rather than the appearance of a delivery car in a transport company. On purpose, we designed the appearance of our Mercedes Sprinter in such a way that it looks more “low key”, in order to travel “under the radar” a bit. In Morocco, the folks in towns almost did not take notice of our vehicle – what an advantage! Now we can park the vehicle anywhere, as we did during our trip to Scotland last year, at the harbour site of a small town or even on the parking lot of St. Andrews Golf Club, without anybody complaining.

By Ernst & Helga Hegebarth

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