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The “old Fritz” – a 407 D conquers the Pan-American Highway.

A Mercedes-Benz 407 D on a road in the nature

A big, grey and indestructible van: In their Mercedes-Benz 407 D, nicknamed Fritz, Jana and Fabian are travelling along the longest road in the world, the Pan-American Highway.

Starting out into a new adventure.

San Diego, California. In front of their van, Jana and Fabian have made themselves at home and are soaking up the Californian sun. They began their journey in Long Beach, County of Los Angeles, in early April and are now heading south. For their Vanlife, both of them quit their management jobs in newly established Berlin companies. Why? Because they did not have enough time for the beautiful things in life. “We just felt that the ’life’ part of the work-life-balance was falling by the wayside”, they assert. A travel destination was soon found: Both of them barely knew the United States, and Central and South America were completely unknown to them. “As journeys of discovery are always the best, we decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean in order to explore the Pan-American Highway.” On their website they share their travel experiences.

From the driving seat of a Mercedes-Benz 407 D, Fabian is looking out of the side window

Jana and Fabian found their Mercedes-Benz 407 D from the eighties in the small ads on eBay.

A home on four wheels.

The idea to go on a journey with the van was the obvious next step for them – the feeling of freedom while taking your home along wherever you go: this is as good as it gets. It seemed to be a lucky twist of fate that soon after, they became aware of a “vanlife meetup” in Berlin. This is where they saw the 407 D for the first time. “Initially we thought: ‘Man, how big it is!’, but somehow, the idea also appealed to us”, they recount. The driver, a hard-core 407 fan and automobile enthusiast, immediately started using all his powers of persuasion. And it soon became clear that this van was exactly the right choice for their trip. “The prefabricated extensions by Westfalia and other types of camper van equipment simply did not appeal to us.”

The Mercedes-Benz 407 D stands on a parking lot in a rugged landscape

On Facebook and Instagram, Jana and Fabian share personal experiences of their journey of discovery along the Pan-American Highway.

All the blood, sweat and tears that went into the conversion have paid off.

Shortly afterwards, they discovered what they wanted in the small ads on eBay. Fritz, however, was not yet ready for departure. “Judging by the pictures, the van’s condition was terrible. It had been parked on a meadow for a whole year, and with its broken windows and leakages, it looked as if it had come straight from Loch Ness”, they recall. Fortunately, a brief inspection revealed that the van’s body and frame were solid and could be restored.

For the mechanical work Jana and Fabian relied on expert help, while they took care of the interior fittings themselves – with active support from friends and family: “You will learn the skills you need little by little if you have the courage to embark on this adventure. Anybody is capable of converting a van into a camper!” According to them, a total of 106 work days – as well as lots of blood, sweat and tears – were expended on improving the van, but they also experienced many wonderful moments and successes. “We are really proud of the result – although we would do some things differently next time.”

We are still very much in love with our van when we see ‘Fritz’ parked somewhere, thinking: ‘Man! This is our home!’

Looking back on days past.

They were also confronted with a number of difficulties: “Whenever things became difficult, there was somebody there to let us off the hook. Whether it be the person who, without further ado, rewelded the supports of our roof rack overnight because it did not fit any more, or the one who gave us a parking space in a heated hall when the onset of winter threatened to thwart all our plans.” In converting the van, Jana and Fabian learnt a lot about Fritz’s past: They suspect that the 407 D used to be a kind of security vehicle in its first life, as it was originally painted in orange. Stickers on the rear doors, dollar coins and an old Coca-Cola bottle told us that Fritz had been to the United States before. “It is nice to know that Fritz has travelled the United States, and probably Mexico, without us before – so at least one of us knows how to get to where we want to go!”

  • A man is standing in front of his converted Mercedes-Benz 407 D
  • A couple sits in the sand in front of a van
  • A man sits at the beach watching a sunset
  • The Mercedes-Benz 407 D stands out on sandy ground off the coast

Driving along the highway without stress and hurry.

Many people find it hard to believe that they are travelling at a speed of 75 km/h only. For American highways, this is a very slow speed. “Deceleration on the road is an issue that needs to be tackled urgently, we definitely benefit from it!” Despite the moderate speed, breakdowns were inevitable. So far, however, they have always been pretty lucky. “When we had problems with our exhaust pipe in Santa Barbara, after less than two minutes, a German was standing next to us and recommended a local garage where he used to have his old Unimog repaired.” Their exhaust was repaired temporarily and for free, and soon after, a new piece of piping was welded on in a specialized workshop. What made them opt for a Mercedes-Benz vehicle? For their journey, the couple relies on an old diesel which can cope with bad fuel, if necessary, and be repaired by any mechanic even in the smallest of towns in Guatemala.

Fabian sits besides the Mercedes-Benz 407 D in the desert watching a sunset

Deceleration: The moderate speed allows the couple to consciously gather new impressions on their journey.

A Mercedes-Benz 407 D that will open new doors.

One thing is certain: Fritz is a real eye-catcher and has opened them quite a few doors during their journey. “Every day, people approach us because our van has attracted their attention – over here, it is a true rarity.” Many enjoyable encounters and even friendships have evolved from that. When entering Mexico, they will cross their first border. “We have no objective and no schedule. That is very important to us. But if we managed to do so, it would be great to drive Fritz to Patagonia at least once!”

A Mercedes-Benz 407 D on a tow truck

In April of this year, Jana and Fabian set off on their journey from Los Angeles along the Pan-American Highway.

View of the Mercedes-Benz 407 D prior to the conversion work

Fritz prior to its conversion: Despite having already been transformed into a camper van, the 407 D required renovation from top to bottom.

During the conversion work, the Mercedes-Benz 407 D was completely gutted

Upgrading their Mercedes-Benz 407 D was quite demanding on the couple – but the result speaks for itself.

View of the renovated interior fittings of a Mercedes-Benz 407 D

Jana and Fabian carried out the interior fittings of their Fritz single-handedly.

The Mercedes Benz 407 D is driving through the desert and giant cacti

Jana and Fabian consider Vanlife as an alternative form of life.

The shown conversions were carried out by independent third parties. The suppliers and conversions were not checked by Mercedes-Benz. In this respect, these illustrations do not represent an assessment of the supplier and/or conversions by Mercedes-Benz.

Photos: Jana Schilling & Fabian Menzel

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