Updated: Sep 28
Building or converting your own camper is no easy task. It is made even harder when your base vehicle is in worse condition than you originally thought. Grant has faced some setbacks whilst building his dream camper but with hard work and perseverance, he has created the perfect van for his family to go camping and create everlasting memories, twice!.
We hand over to Grant to tell you his story.
'My conversion started in 2015 when the Mercedes Vito I was building developed a terminal issue with the chassis. So we bought an ex-council carpenters panel van from a dealer near Gatwick and started ripping it apart to allow us to see the scope of the canvas.
When we bought the van, it had no windows and was fitted out with all sorts of wooden shelving and spaces for carrying materials and tools. There was sawdust and old screws in every conceivable hidden space.
The first iteration included installing a 240V consumer unit, mains sockets, lighting, and an old ZIG unit from a Swift caravan. We purchased some kitchen cabinets from B&Q and tambour units from somewhere online and away we went.
I cut the holes and fitted the rear door windows and added a Seitz side window to the driver's side.
To provide some warmth for those chillier nights I fitted electric underfloor heating and for cooking a dual ring induction hob was installed into the previously mentioned B&Q units. A cheap pine futon bed, fixed to the floor through a bespoke homemade hinge sorted out our sleeping arrangements and I made a drop-down bed for our daughter. For the fixed table I modified an old clothes rail to hang the table off and this was enough to be sent to DVLA for Motorhome status. Those were the days, eh?
We sold our house and had to live on a campsite in this configuration for a month between house moves.
It worked perfectly, but is a van conversion ever complete? Well, no.
We had a new addition to the family, therefore had to rethink the design and rebuild the whole interior!
The first job was to add an extra window to the sliding door to get better ventilation in the back, a lesson I learnt following last years road trip through France.
We have changed out the completely useless absorption fridge for a Dometic CRX50 and changed the passenger seat to a single seat so we can walk through from the driving position to the back.
For the revised sleeping arrangement, my wife came up with the idea of the 'pods' for the kids. We designed them around a standard cot mattress for sizing and fashioned them in bunks! This major design change meant we had to rip everything out and starting almost from the beginning. So, once the basic design was roughed out on paper I started measuring it up in the van.
In a twist of fate, we found a major issue when we stripped the interior out. When I originally installed the Dometic window I had not built in a strengthening frame and being that vehicle panels flex, the silicon holding the window in had split and water had been dribbling in for a couple of years. This time I built a frame, and bonded the new window in which has cured the problem but it did mean we had to replace the flooring and mop up the indoor swimming pool we had inadvertently created!
In the original conversion I had retained the bulkhead and insulated this with a double thickness of 10mm carpet underlay. Not exactly conventional, however we were never cold, even in the coldest days free camping down on the south coast in November.
To build the new units we recycled the corner cupboard of the original kitchen area, but to fit it into the van we had to remove the bulkhead. This created both more space and light but we had lost our wall of insulation. To overcome this we invested in new 'Remis' blinds. These expensive units are normally found on Ducato
based motorhomes but they work perfectly in our little van.
To finish off the new furniture, we collaged pictures of us, our travels to date, and the build of the van into the new kitchen worktop.
Once I had the bed pods built in 15mm ply I did some final measurements and commissioned RS Customs to create the rock and roll bed using purple and white as the principal colours. Before I drove to Wales to collect the seat, I laid down standard contract foam carpet underlay right through the van and then in the floor area by the sliding door. Whilst I was there I installed electric underfloor heating mats with a normal domestic carpet spray fixed on top.
As previously mentioned it's not finished, there are things we will need to do again, and I am even thinking about design 3 as I am bored of this one, it's been in there nearly 2 years!
Thank you so much to Grant and his Family for telling this wonderful story. It really is an inspiration.
Leigh and the Team
Its all a bit of a crouch for me as the interior height is about 165cm and I am 183cm but it works for everyone else.
We are just back from our camping trip to France for this year, and we had to do the full experience of Quarantine, but the van worked well in the new format with the single passenger seat and side window for ventilation in the back on those 35 degree plus days.
Our little camper van conversion - are they ever truly complete'