Introduction to Fritz, MB407 from 1981
Many of the questions we get on our Instagram and Facebook pages evolve around Fritz. And although we sometimes feel a bit left out, we do understand that he is the center of attention. I mean – he is for us as well as he is not just an epic travel companion and the coolest vehicle we could ever own, but sometimes also a proper pain in the butt! If you have read our first travel articles (Breakdown I and Breakdown II), you know what I am talking about. So in this blog post we happily tell you a little bit more about our MB 407D – at least from what we know, because Fritz has already lived 36 years without us.
Fritz’ Main Specs
Fritz is a Mercedes Benz 407D, a so called Düsseldorfer Transporter (or “Düdo” as Germans lovingly call them) named after the location they were produced at. This model was produced from 1967 to 1986 and there are tons of them driving around in Germany. We did notice that this is not the case in the States or Mexico, as Fritz gets even more attention around here than back at home because of the sheer rareness of the van. The Düdo had undergone a general facelift in 1982 (they changed the front between the lights to plastic!!), but he is from 1981 and therefore one of the latest models of his kind. A lesser known fact is that these busses are also called T2, like their little Volkswagen brothers, but hardly any people would think about a Mercedes when they hear that term. His milage was 262,000 kilometers (= 163,000 miles) when we bought him and he takes between 12-15 liters diesel for 100km of travel depending on the terrain (that is around 16-19 miles per gallon).
Fritz’ model „407“ tells you a lot about his specs and can be read like this: Fritz can carry a weight of up to 4 tons and has around 70 horsepower (PS). His bigger brother, the 508, can carry up to 5 tons and has around 80 horsepower and the 609… you get it, right? The engine is a OM 616 4 cylinder engine and is also called taxi engine as a lot of the old Mercedes taxis have exactly the same one.
A little engine for a big car
But wait a second – that means it is a massive van with a car engine? Yes it is indeed. So carrying around that kind of weight and dimensions with such a small engine means that travel with Fritz is slow and I mean really slow. We go at a top speed of around 45 miles / 75 km per hour, and that is only on straight roads. Uphill it can be a lot slower. And while we could go a little faster (around 85/90km/h) it just doesn’t feel good and experts say that this motor is not build for going at full speed all the time. We don‘t mind (most of the time) as traveling slowly means we get to enjoy the scenery and really take time for the journey itself. The only people that usually mind are the ones stuck behind us on a one lane road.
Generally speaking, we chose this vehicle / engine mainly for three practical reasons (and of course the looks!)
- The engine has been produced an incredible amount of times (I think several million) and can be found all over the world.
- There is hardly any electrics built into the van and it can be easily fixed without needing any fancy reading equipment (like for instance a Sprinter), which we might not always find in the countries we travel to
- It is an old diesel and can handle any quality of fuel, which can vary a lot per country. It can also handle being run on vegetable oil, if you want to know more about that and speak German, you should check out Philipp’s article on his blog “Today is a good day”.
Why do we do that to ourselves, you might ask? Well, to be completely honest, when we bought Fritz in August 2017, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. Fritz, who was actually called Krümelmobil, a derivation from the Cookie Monster (Cookie Mobile) was already converted into a camper van and the person we bought him off didn’t really know anything about the vehicle. But we pretty much saved him from the dump so now we will take good care of him, even if that means not having the most agile vehicle in the world.
That also means that everything we know about his history is a guess paired with findings we had throughout the conversion. So here is our theory: we think that Fritz was some kind of city owned security vehicle in his first life. He was originally orange and the cabin was separated from the back by a wall. He didn’t have any windows or seats in the back, so he must have been some kind of transporter.
When we ripped the whole interior out, we found lots of interesting things:
1. Stickers in the back of all the countries he has been to
Obviously nobody knows if Fritz has really been to all these countries that he had a sticker of on the back, but let’s assume he has: that is pretty freaking awesome! Not only has he travelled all over Europe and for instance to the old GDR, which not a lot of campers have probably done, but he has also toured all around the USA! For us that was always a very comforting fact to know that he had already crossed the Atlantic once and that he knew his way around the US and Mexico already. Might sound silly, but still – I thought it was cool to take him back.
2. A logbook documenting every kilometer he has been driven up until around 210.000
The camper van owners he had were definitely some really thorough Germans! They had a ton of massive folders documenting van conversions (it was like an offline Pinterest) and kept everything there is to this vehicle. One thing they did was to document all their journeys and where they had taken Fritz. It looked like the first few thousand kilometers were still official documentation, as it also stated how much money was spent on gas and then after a while it was just kilometers and places, so I think most of that was already as a camper van. It looks like for a couple of years, they must have taken him out at least once or twice a year for a bigger trip. They went all over Europe with the van, must have been a pretty cool couple!
3. Physical proof from the other side of the ocean
My guess is that at some point, Fritz was sold by this couple, maybe because they got too old or god knows what. But I think there was a second camper van owner that then took him to the States. The stickers already indicated that, but we also found US dollars, Mexican pesos, a water bottle from the US and a Coke can from Mexico in the van. None of this was documented in the log book though. I think the second owner did a lot of strange things to the conversion. It was just quite contradictory: on the one hand, only the best old materials were used, from cables to carpets, climate control to stove – you could see that someone put a lot of money and time into decking this vehicle out. And that goes well with the detailed documentation of van layouts, their trips, etc from couple #1. But then, Fritz had the weirdest insulation in the front cabin, some really overdone audio system and was very used and not well cared for when we got him. So I think this person was the second owner that than sort of dumbed the van and somehow the guy who had him before us got him for really cheap. Because we bought Fritz for 800€ & I bet he didn’t pay much more for it!
So this it is, my theory. One van that cannot talk and a lot of ideas about where he has been. At the end of the day, all of this doesn’t matter anymore. We love Fritz, he is our home and we will use him as our adventure vehicle as long as he wants to carry us around. Which we hope will be a long time!
So here is to Fritz, our big grey metal friend and mostly sturdy travel companion, we love every second with him!
If you want to find out what sort of troubles we already had with him, read the beginning of our travel blog.