The ultimate ice cream van? Try an £85k Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

  • 2020 has been a tough time for ice cream vans
  • But has also meant more of them out in the community
  • Could this return to the good old days be one of those rare positives?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 a tough year for everyone. But it’s also shown the importance of adaptability – a challenge it seems some of the nation’s ice cream van operators have risen to like a perfectly pulled cone of the good stuff. Which in turn gives us the opportunity to talk about these amazing Whitby Morrison ice cream vans based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

Have you ever seen such a good-looking ice cream van? And you don’t just need to take our word for it – seems that despite the pandemic, sales of these cool (…) machines have remained buoyant, thanks in part to the adaptability of their customers.

Didn’t lockdown cause a massive problem?

The coronavirus lockdown wiped out the vast majority of outdoor events in spring and summer 2020 – instantly deleting all the business ice cream vans would usually do parked up and static as part of the catering for these events.

Whitby Morrison Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ice cream van, front view, red and white, 2020

But it seems that in response, many ice cream van operators took to the streets instead – bringing the ice creams to the people, in a traditional manner that had all but otherwise died out in recent years.

This kept the vans in the business and no doubt helped lift the spirits of many people largely stuck indoors this year – if even just a little bit.

So what’s the deal with Whitby Morrison ice cream vans?

Based in Crewe, Whitby Morrison has been in business since 1962, and builds ice cream bodies for all kinds of new and used vans – at the rate of about 85 vans a year. However (according to a press release from Mercedes-Benz Vans), it always prefers to recommend a Mercedes Sprinter if it can.

Whitby Morrison Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ice cream vans - Ed, Stuart and Kris Whitby

According to operations director, Ed Whitby: 'The Sprinter leads the field in terms of everything from reliability and durability, to fuel-efficiency and safety. It’s also more comfortable than its competitors, particularly the latest model, and the best-looking van out there – ice cream van operators invariably aspire to a vehicle with the Mercedes-Benz badge on the front.

'The aftersales back-up is second-to-none too,’ he added. ‘This applies not only here in the UK, where Mercedes-Benz Dealers offer night-time servicing and free emergency roadside assistance, but also just about everywhere else in the world.'

How much does an ice cream van cost?

Each Whitby Morrison ice cream van is hand-finished to individual customer requirements, taking six weeks to build. As a result, they can cost as much as £85,000.

Whitby Morrison Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ice cream vans - hand-assembled, hand-painted

‘We design and manufacture a premium quality product,’ says Whitby. ‘It represents a very substantial investment by our customer, so a really good chassis is essential. As far as we’re concerned, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is the best there is, and by a clear margin.’

In addition to the pictures here, we’re told there is a particularly fine example usually found in the vicinity of the London Eye, while Whitby Morrison has also exported vans to over 60 countries, as far afield as Australia and the Caribbean, Azerbaijan and Libya.

How has the pandemic impacted business?

In 2020, Whitby Morrison has ordered 55 brand new Sprinter chassis cabs (all L2 rear-wheel drive 314 CDI models) – which is ‘roughly’ in line with previous years. The adaptability of their customers has clearly helped.

Whitby Morrison Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ice cream vans - row of finished vans

Ed Whitby again: ‘Covid has had an huge impact on our industry, given that virtually every outdoor event, from concerts and county shows, to fairs and festivals, has been either postponed or cancelled completely.

‘What we saw, though, in the period between March and September when ice cream van operators tend to make their money, was something of a return to the 1970s – so instead of parking up at the same location for several days at a time, many of our customers were back on the streets and selling delicious, freshly pulled ice cream right outside people’s homes.

‘Of course, some operators have had a really tough time, which is very sad. For others, though, who’ve gone back to their roots, it’s worked brilliantly. There have been a lot more ice cream vans out and about in residential areas than in recent years, and that’s been really good to see.’

Despite this positivity, Whitby Morrison still reckons the pandemic has been the biggest challenge it has ever faced, and business has been maintained through hard work – maintaining relationships and producing the most attractive ‘acquisition packages’ possible.

‘We’ve done all we can to support our customers, and they, in turn, have supported us.’

Also read:

>> Our Mercedes-Benz Sprinter full review

>> Mercedes-Benz van conversions and the Sprinter Bodybuilding division

>> MAN to launch ice cream van