Sportsmobile’s Ford Transit Van Conversion
Back in the day, a fledgling van converter in Indiana called Sportsmobile specialized only in converting Volkswagen vans into mobile domiciles. Today, you can see one of these museum pieces at the Sportsmobile showroom in the Fresno, California. Fast forward 16 years and at Sportsmobile’s Fresno location you will find a long list of vans and chassis they convert or build upon that include Ford Econoline E-350 Cutaway, Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, and Ram ProMaster, among others. Each of these platforms are offered in various wheelbase lengths; 2WD and 4WD; low-line, standard height, and high roof line models; and a host of engine displacements that include both gasoline and diesel. Standard and optional creature features allow the client to tailor a van conversion to their specific needs. Sportsmobile continues to pace the van conversion industry, taking backcountry, primitive trail, and off-road vehicles to the next level.
Over the years, we have reviewed several different Sportsmobile conversion models, with the next in line being their latest van conversion that uses the Ford Transit as the chassis platform. Bringing 55 years of converting experience to their latest iteration, Sportsmobile is again on a success path.
The Sportsmobile Ford Transit conversion is offered in three body lengths (219.9 inches, 237.6 inches, and 266.1 inches) and three roofline heights (83.6 inches, 100.8 inches, and 110.1 inches). Three engine choices are available: a 3.7L V-6 gasoline engine, 3.5L EcoBoost V-6, and 3.2L I-5 diesel engine. By far the most popular Transit Van conversion by Sportsmobile is the 3.5L EcoBoost V-6. The engine develops 400 lb-ft of torque while yielding 310 hp. This model is rated to tow between 7,000 and 7,300 pounds. The most popular roofline is the low-roof conversion that accommodates the Sportsmobile Penthouse stateroom pop-top. Once a destination is reached, the Penthouse sleeps two adults comfortably while providing interior stand-up room inside the unit. There are two different sleeping choices that can be made in the Penthouse area. One is a sleeping surface (mattress) that measures 55 inches wide by 6 feet, 2 inches long, while the other extends total length to 6 feet, 5 inches. The mattress uses 3-inch-thick high-density foam. The choice of bed size is yours to make.
A full 6 feet, 8 inches of interior height is more than sufficient for most folks. When the penthouse is folded for travel, the interior dimension height measures 55 inches from floor to ceiling, which creates the road-ready low-line profile. The effort associated with popping up or raising the Penthouse is nearly transparent to the end user. Three mechanical latching devices are locked for travel. Each latch has its own locking pin that must be pulled before the latching device can be released and then uncoupled. A toggle switch located on a wall control panel activates a DC electric motor that slowly raises the pop-top to its extended position. When fully extended the composite-material pop-top is 28 inches above the low-line van roof. The electric motor that raises and lowers the pop-top has the design capability to raise the Penthouse roof with 150 pounds of cargo stowed on the adjustable roof racks. In addition to the 150 pounds of cargo weight, the DC electric motor also raises the twin 100-watt solar panels mounted on the roof forward of the penthouse. Two choices for an optional ladder (side or rear) permits access to cargo stowed in the cargo pods or the toys that are attached to the roof racks.
When the Penthouse is raised, features become accessible that add quality of life, comfort, utility, and functionality, such as reading lights and USB ports. The five panels that make up the vertical walls of the Penthouse are multi-layered with zippers for each layer. The top exterior of the roof is a lightweight cast composite material. The vertical panels from the exterior to the interior include weatherproof woven fabric. The inside layer is a screen fabric product that permits cross ventilation, while keeping insects out. Both layers on three of the vertical panels can be unzipped and zipped as needed. This is a feature that is especially appreciated by enthusiasts such as wildlife photographers who want to capture images of early morning wildlife. Taking advantage of this simply means pointing your camera at the object without ever having to get out of bed. Often these are the best shots of the day.
The only cutouts Sportsmobile makes to the Ford Transit shell are made to accommodate the pop-up composite roof and the rear cabin windows. The main side-entry is the siding cargo door that comes standard with the Transit. The structural integrity of the van is not compromised, which means the Ford factory warranty stays intact. The exterior of the Sportsmobile fabricated composite roof is matched to the factory paint job. The Ford exterior body colors include 10 choices. However, Sportsmobile also offers the client endless possibilities when it comes to choosing full body graphics to personalize the unit the way he or she wants it to be.
One of the neat things the Transit comes standard with is a center split rear cargo door. These doors offer two open-position possibilities. The first position takes advantage of locks that hold the door fully open, preventing them from being closed inadvertently by forces such as wind. The second position permits each of the rear cargo doors to swing around and lay flush with the sides of the van. Doorstops ensure the doors do not bang against the exterior wall of the van. Sportsmobile takes advantage of this access through the rear of the coach in two ways. One, there are sliding door cubbies and closets in the rear of the unit that can be accessed either from inside the coach or through these rear doors. The functionality of this ease of access becomes apparent when it’s time to pack, unpack, everyday use when you’re in a primitive camp setting, or if you’re spending the night fully hooked up at a luxury RV resort. Let it be noted that the obvious luxury look of this Sportsmobile Transit conversion does not go unnoticed, be it in the backcountry or at an RV resort. Second, when the rear bench seat folds flat, the raised platform behind the bench seat slides into place, converting the rear lower interior into a second sleeping quarter that nicely accommodates two adults or three children.
This unit features a full-service galley with a two-burner cooktop (LPG or diesel), a galley sink with hot and cold (pressurized) water, and a 2.7 cubic-foot refrigerator. With good planning and attention to efficiency the residential features the Sportsmobile can support days on end of stand alone, primitive camping. A hot and cold outdoor shower and a chemical toilet (it has its own closet) are options. A recirculating marine toilet is also an option. Tank capacities for fresh and gray water are 10, 16, or 20 and 12 gallons, respectively.
New state-of-the-art heaters, water heaters, air conditioners, and auxiliary generators provide a residential environment for any setting or scenario in any climate. One option is the diesel-engine preheat function the water heater provides on diesel-powered conversions. Heat exchangers inside the heater preheat engine coolant, while at the same time heating water for domestic use. A 12,000-BTU air conditioner can be roof-mounted or tucked up underneath the coach. Forced-air furnaces and water heaters can be gasoline or diesel-powered, depending on the engine. A 9.8-gallon propane tank is also a choice the client has.
The unit has a separate house battery that receives its charge from the 220-amp engine alternator, the auxiliary generator solar panels, or 30-amp shore power at a campsite. A 2,000-watt true sine-wave inverter powers the 1,000-watt microwave oven. The 2.7 cubic-foot refrigerator freezer is two-way (DC and AC). It defaults to DC unless it senses the presence of 110V AC. Entertainment features can include DVD, amplifiers, subwoofers, and GPS.
The standard interior décor packages include 44 different floor plans to select from or a design-your-own plan with four interior wood choices available. Leather upholstery is an option. The client can add a wide assortment of racks, ladders, and exterior lighting. The base price starts at $80,000, while models with all the accessories can hit $110,000.