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Right now, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is one of the most popular vehicles on the market, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Before the creation of the Sprinter van in the ’90s, German-based Mercedes-Benz made its first vans in the 1800s. While the Sprinter van is relatively new, the model has been a long time coming.
Dating back to its origin in 1869, here’s how the Mercedes-Benz van came to be and how it evolved over time.
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In the 1800s, Mercedes-Benz invented one of the first motorized vans.
Carl Benz built a “combination delivery vehicle” in 1896 as a commercial vehicle. This early van was described as having “small coaches with a detachable box body,” according to Mercedes-Benz. The vehicle could carry 300 kilograms (660 pounds) and had a chain drive.
In 1929, the Mercedes-Benz L 1000 Express van was created.
The Mercedes-Benz L 1000 Express was in production from 1929 to 1936 and could carry 1,000 kg (1.1 tons).
Mercedes-Benz’s L 319 was introduced in 1956, bringing a new layout to the van model.
Around the same time, the company released the O 319 bus. Both models placed the engine in the front, and the driver’s seat was the closest to the front of the cab than it ever has been, according to Sotheby’s.
In 1967, the L 319 vans were eventually replaced by the L 406 D model, which became known for its large payload.
Postal workers, construction companies, and furniture stores all used the L 406 D van when it was in production.
“Larger and more powerful than a delivery van, more easily maneuverable and lighter than a truck: these characteristics were the key to its success,” Mercedes-Benz’s site reads.
The newest model in 1977 went by many names: T1, TN, Bremer Transporter, or Bremer model. Despite its lack of branding, the model became the most popular to date.
During the ’70s, the TN —Transporter New — was the highest-selling van for Mercedes-Benz. The company believes the smaller van became so popular because it came in varieties. You could purchase the TN as a van, crew bus, minibus, or platform vehicle. You could even choose between a diesel and a petrol engine.
In 1986, the T2 was introduced as a larger alternative to the TN.
The T2’s payload was between 2.4 to 4.6 tonnes, according to Commercial Motor.
After several decades, the first Sprinter van was created in 1995, and it revolutionized the industry.
For starters, the Sprinter made history because it was the first Mercedes-Benz van to have an actual name, rather than a series of numbers and letters. But the Sprinter was also notable for its independent front-wheel suspension, rear-wheel drive, and its comfort.
“Another of the Sprinter’s outstanding attributes is its spacious, comfortably appointed cab,” the company’s website reads.
In 2006, the second generation of the Sprinter van was introduced, allowing for customization of the model.
Customers who bought the second generation of Sprinter vans had the choice between two ceiling heights, three lengths of the vehicles, and two weight classes. This generation of vehicles was considered a success, as Professional Van and Light Truck Magazine named it Van of the Year in 2007 and 2008.
According to the company, this vehicle was safer than the last because the new generation had a longer front, which allowed standard front airbags.
In 2018, the third generation of the Sprinter van — the first with front-wheel drive — was introduced.
As the Sprinter van became increasingly popular, they have been used commercially, transporting goods and people. They have also been used by police forces and ambulances around the world.
Today, there are four Sprinter van models: cargo, crew, passenger, and cab chassis.
The starting prices for these Sprinter vans range from $34,395 to $41,095. They include 360-degree cameras, brake assist, touchscreens, and gasoline engines.
Today, the Sprinter van has become a popular vehicle to convert into luxury campers.
These days, people are buying older versions of the Sprinter van to convert into luxurious tiny houses on wheels. Some owners have renovated them to include showers, toilets, kitchens, and even bedrooms. These renovations can cost up to $250,000.
THEN AND NOW: How Mercedes-Benz turned a cargo van into the popular Sprinter van