When I was a kid in the 60's, my dad once hired a Ford Thames dormobile motor caravan and took us on an adventure all around England. It was such a memorable experience, and when I had children of my own I wanted to repeat the adventure and in 1973, bought a one year old VW bay window microbus with a Danbury conversion. We had some great holidays in that and 8 years later fitted a lift up spacemaker roof, re-sprayed it and refurbed the interior.
My first K reg Bay window Veebub on holiday in corsica in 1979
As the kids grew up the VW became a bit cramped and so I embarked on converting a VW LT28 into a motorhome. The original van already had 90000 miles on the clock but we kept it for over 10 years and with nearly 200000 miles before the rust bug finally got the better of it.
The 1978 VW LT28 which I converted from a van
When the children were all grown up, I had a spell without a camper, but when the grandchildren came along The desire to restart the adventure was rekindled and I found an F reg VW LT35 which had been converted by Youngs.
The Youngs converted F reg VW LT 35 just after I bought it in 2004
This was in need of some TLC and so I refurbed the interior, and resprayed the body with some smart graphics and turned it into a great camper. It was fitted with a 2.4 ltr 6 cyl. petrol engine whch was a joy to drive. quiet, and responsive. although it was'nt too keen on going up steep hills.
The LT35 after a re-furb and re-spray
The kids loved it and we had some great times in it. The downside of this van was its thirst for petrol and we began having to think twice about going anywhere in it. At 20 years old she began to show her age and so , not making much use of it and having recently lost my job we thought it wise to sell it. It wasn't long before I began to miss my camper and so began the idea to buy a more modern van with the proceeds , dip into some savings and begin to convert it into the camper we wanted. I have been a carpenter and kitchen fitter in the past and so was confident that I could tackle this project successfully.
So the search began for a base van . Initially I was convinced I should go for a long wheel base van with a 4 mtr load length. This would allow us to have a full size bed at the rear with forward facing seats at the front. I scolled through the van listings on Autotrader an narrowed the choice down to a LWB Sprinter or VW LT. The Iveco Daily was a contender but on closer inspection it really is very truck like. I also had my eye on a Ford Transit Jumbo van, but quickly found that these are scarce and usually highly priced. I had set the budget for the van at £4000 but anything decent with mileage under 100k was generally more than that. I visited the auctions and looked at 04, 05 and 06 reg vans but many of these were pretty bashed about and anything that was clean, tidy and low mileage was quickly snapped up by dealers at more than I wanted to pay. Then there is the business of the VAT. Every price you see, you have to add another 15% . I then considered again what we really wanted from this camper and began wondering if a monster van, parked outside the house was what we really wanted. Also when out and about, touring, such a big van can be a hindrance, getting into car parks and down narrow country lanes. I began to lower my sights and started looking at Medium wheel base vans which offer up to 3.6 mtrs load space Citroen, Peugeot, Ford Transit LWB etc. I had begun to eliminate the Mercedes and the VW because the prices were so high.
After weeks of searching, I began to occasionally look at what Ebay was offering and one evening I happened to find a Ford Transit, LWB Hi roof with 58k miles. One owner, private sale, no VAT. I made an offer , agreed a price and the following day went to North London to check it out. This van had only ever been driven by one person from new and whilst it had a couple of rust spots , it was very clean and well looked after. We shook hands on the deal and I collected it the following day.
The Transit LWB Hi roof . the base van , the day I bought it.
The van was originally used by a window fitter, so the inside was a little tatty but he had had the seats covered from new, so these are like brand new.
The interior as I found it.
I set about stripping it out and removing the factory fitted steel bulkhead and I gave it a thorough clean inside and out. I patched up some of the rust spots and now it was ready for working on.
All stripped out and ready for conversion
I had drawn out a number of options for which lay out to use. The previous VWLT camper had a dinette opposite the sliding door with the kitchen and toilet at the back . that worked well, except that you could not make use of the rear doors and the bed making arrangements were a bit complicated. This time I thought I would have the living area at the back with the toilet and kitchen in the centre leaving just enough space for 2 forward facing seats with seat belts for the children to travel in. Initially I was going to remove the twin passenger seats and replace them with a single swivel seat. But that is proving to be complicated because the fuel tank is under that seat and it needs to be removed to access the bolts. Any way I 've decided to keep the twin seats which gives us seating for five with the only inconvenience of having to stop if you want to get into the back. I may reconsider all this when the conversion is complete.Project updates
I priced up all the equipment required and put it on a spreadsheet. The total amount was quite horrifying with the main appliances costing well over £2500 if bought new.This bought the cost of the materials for the conversion to well over £6000. More that I could really afford to spend.
I hunted on Ebay to find some bargains but many of them are hundreds of miles away and by the time you've either travelled to collect or paid the carriage , it is often not such a bargain after all!
In my search for the base van, I came across a guy selling an old caravan he had tucked away in his garden. Initially I dismissed it, but had a quick look inside. On reflection, he had offered me the complete caravan for £500 and I thought that if I stripped out all the good stuff, I could save hundreds, especially as this caravan, old as it was, had not had much use. I phoned him up, did the deal, and after having a towbar fitted to the transit, went to collect it near Leatherhead, only about an hours drive from where I live. The next task was to fire up all the equipment to check that I had not bought a pig in a poke! Bingo, everything worked. I've got an oven, hob, fridge,water heater, toilet, shower tray, taps, space heater, doors, fittings, electric controller, gas bottles, etc. I spent two days stripping out what I needed and then paid a guy £30 to dispose of it. I think He made trailers from the chassis. I loaded up the van with all my goodies and stored it in my shed until I was ready to fit them.
The Donor Caravan
After much deliberation, and lots of drawing and measuring I finalised a plan that would work and began to make a project list to prioritise the jobs to be done and to make a detailed list of all the material that I would need. I then trawled the internet to find suppliers of all the other bits I would need such as water tanks, water pump, windows, plumbing fittings, plywood and timber, fastners, sealants etc.
The other bit question was , how was I going to fit seats with seat belts ? Where could I anchor the belts to the chassis and how could these seats be able to fold away.
With the seating located at the back, consisting of two benches which would convert into a double bed, It was impossible to make these into travelling seats.
I had in the past, owned a Renault Espace with folding/ removable seats , all with 3 point seat belts . So I thought I would adapt these to resolve my problem. I visited a few breakers yards and found a VW Sharan with some good seats. and removed the two rear seats, floor mountings and seat belts. I got the lot for £50!
The next consideration was the water tanks. I had decided that a 60 ltr fresh water tank would suffice and as there's plenty of space under the transit I decided to fit a waste water tank of the same capacity. One has to remember that 60 Ltrs weighs 60 kgs so there's not a lot of point increasing the weight uneccessarily. The benefit of the waste tank is that you don't have to keep putting a waste tank under the van, #every time you stop to have a cup of tea. I also had to decide on the type of plumbing I would use. The old caravan had flexible plastic tube, but most new caravans and motor homes are fitted with semi- rigid 12mm pipe and push fit connectors. Pricing up this option looked very expensive and so I decided that I would use 15mm plastic pipe and push fits that you can buy from B&Q and plumbers merchants. Mind you, that still pretty pricey stuff and all these little fittings add up to a tidy sum.
I carefully measured the available spaces under the van and then looked up various suppliers . I settled for Leisure shop direct who offered tanks of the correct sizes and also the required fittings. I allso ordered a Shurflo water pump, a 240v hook up lead and inlet socket, water filler and bits of pipe.
Having decided where everything was finally going to be fitted, I had to think about the windows. This proved to be a time consuming undertaking and resulted in a lot of head scratching. Most modern vans are now offered with factory bonded windows and whilst these look very neat, they have the disadvantage of not always being the size or position you want and if you want opening windows, they are horribly expensive and not that practical to use. So I went on the hunt for a supplier of conventional rubber mounted , aluminium framed sliding windows. I finally settled on a company Leisure Vehicle Windows, who offered windows of any configuration and they were also available tinted as standard as opposed to having to be retro-treated.
I worked out , pretty much, how much timber and plywood I would need and went on the prowl to find the best deal. This you cannot really get on the internet but local timber merchants have deals and I decided to get most of the ply wood befor starting the work.
I also decided that , in an effort to save on weight, I would build the furniture as a timber frame and clad this over with lighweight ply. My previous van had the conversion done mainly in MDF,and whilst its easy stuff to work with and gives a great finish, it allso weighs a ton and can seriously affect you fuel consumption and ultimately the payload of your finished van.
The next consideration in the planning stage was insulation. If you don't insulate the van you will be plagued with condensation problems and if you want to use the van out of season, it will be bloody cold!. This is one thing you have to consider right at the begining and I chose to insulate the roof with 30mm Celotex cut to size and glued on with expending PU foam. The sides I decided to insulate with 50mm rockwool cavity slabs. This is eazy to work with and does rattle about or squeak. It isn't really advisable to use expanded polystyrene because it can squeak as you are going along. Very annoying and difficult to remedy!.
So now that the concept and the planning was complete, I was ready to start the conversion, and embark on a new challenge which will, I know be time consuming and demanding on all my skills and abilities, least of all my patience.
It goes without saying that no one should embark on such a project without having the practical skills, the time to devote, and the money set out by the budget.
Good carpentry skills are essential and the abilty to handle a jig saw, circular saw, router,and drill with confidence is a must. Good quality tools go a long way to producing quality work. So it's worth investing in the pofessional grade tools.
I have a Festool plunge circular saw + aluminium track, Bosch 2000 pendulum jig saw, Bosch 1000 electric drill, Fein multimaster osilating cutter. Makita laminate trimmer, Dewalt 1000w router, Pneumatic 50mm nail gun , Ryobi 14V cordless drill and angled drill. Plus, of course a good selection of handtools for carrying out plumbing, electrics. You'll also definately need a small angle grinder.
If you are looking at this site with the view to convert a van to campervan yourself then good luck . I will gladly be available to answer questions and offer help where I can.
You can keep up with the progress of the conversion on the conversion page.
I can supply a more detailed 60 page diary of the conversion with more photos on a CD for £15 ( £10 for SBMCC members) please Email me : firstname.lastname@example.org