This is the story of how to convert a van into a campervan.
I decided to put in a concentrated, pretty much full time, effort into getting this camper van operational before the end of August. In undertaking this project I quickly
After having cleared the van of all the ply lining, I decided to leave the ply floor as it was sound and removing all the PK screws seemed such a hassle.
The first task was to measure out the location of the layout and mark out on the floor where everything was going to fit.
I then set about insulatiing the roof. For this I bought 3 sheets of 30mm celotex and cut it to size and glued it with expanding PU foam and held it in place with props.
Insulating the van roof with 30mm
The following day, When the PU foam was set I marked out the position of the roof lights from the inside and having made templates of these, transposed them on to the roof and cut out the apertures with an extra long metal jigsaw blade. Because it is a ribbed roof, I had to make up spacers from closed cell foam and glue these in place to end up with a flat surface to fit the roof lights too.
I then sikaflexed them into place and fitted the internal frames.
Because of various reinforcements in the body and the chassis cross members, you cannot cut out holes anywhere you would want. so careful planning as to where certain appliances would fit had to be made.
Instaling a water heater
The Carver water heater has to have a hole made in the side of the van but as the van side is not flat I had to consider a suitable position where it would not be in the way of anything else yet to be fitted. I decided to locate it under where the oven would be.
Again with the use of a template I determined where it would be inside, drilled a hole to the outside and made the cut out from the outside.
I now had to fit the flue cover, making a foam spacer to accommodate the curve in the body work.
I now had to find a location for the Carver 1800 gas heater. This is designed to fit in the base of a wardrobe but because of the chassis members, I could only position it just behind the driver’s seat and only 300mm in from the side. this leaves a void behind the heater which I will use as a small hanging space within the wardrobe.
Fitting the heater requires quite a large hole to be cut through the floor . because the floor is ribbed, it is important to fill in the voids with foam and seal the edge of the hole so that moisture and fumes cannot penetrate between the steel floor of the van and the plywood
The fire was then passed through the hole and screwed down to the new section of ply I fitted. The gas has to be fed to the underside of the van and so provision has to be made of how to do this at this stage.
Folding forward facing seats
The next major job was to locate the position of the folding forward facing seats. I had removed these seats from a VW S
I then routered out the ply to a depth of 10mm to sink the floor mountings so that they would be flush. I then cut the ply to size and screwed it to the floor and then through bolted the seat mountings through the plywood and the steel floor, using large washers and 10mm bolts with
Because I wanted the seat positioned as close to the sliding door as possible I had to extend the plywood over the step and through bolt this with support tubes to the floor of the step. Quite a tricky job.
The next thing was to start building the frame work for the wardrobe and the housing for the heater. I did this using 32×18 battens glued and nailed.
I now was able to locate where the kitchen unit would be and I could cut out the lower vent for the fridge I also fitted the water filler and the carver crystal filter filler from the old caravan. I was going to use this to fill the tank from an outside water container as this includes a power source for a submersible pump. I also took this opportunity to insulate the lower parts with Rockwool.
While all this was going on I had designed and ordered a seat belt anchor frame from a local steel fabricator. This was made in 50mm angle iron and 10mm bar reinforcement. This, surprisingly, only cost £40. I had asked for no holes to be drilled so that I could put these in exactly.
I now securely bolted this to the floor of the van bracing across chassis members and also to the main upright pillar behind the sliding door. I ensured that I had metal to metal contact by using spacers where the ribbed floor created a void. I then fitted the seat belts salvaged from the VW Sharan.
I now had to build the toilet enclosure around this frame so that it would not be visible. In designing the frame I had to ensure that the dimensions allowed the Thetford toilet to fit in precisely and to make allowances for the thickness of the metal and the plywood that would make up the walls. This took quite a lot of double checking but I am pleased to say that it all worked out well.
I then clad the outside of the enclosure using 9mm ply. this involved some skillful scribing and jigsaw cutting.
The location of the toilet worked out well in that when the sliding door is fully open there is just enough space for the cassette to be withdrawn outside the van without having to cut any openings in the side of the van. It also worked out well because the toilet in the caravan had a left hand casette. The downside is that its a manually operated flush toilet.
I looked on Ebay for a 12V flush alternative but prices were too high and anyway its no big deal to have to twist a knob instead of pushing one!
The next step was to clad the internal skin of the toilet. I did this with 6mm ply and as the grain was quite attractive and I made a good job of the joinery, I’ve decided to varnish the ply and leave it natural. I then fitted the toilet and the basin. I could not use the vanity unit as it was in the caravan, so I cut out the bathroom cabinet and inserted it into the inner wall of the enclosure.
I had ordered two 60 Ltr water tanks from Leisure Shop Direct but when these arrived, sadly they were the wrong size. It’s a real hassle when this kind of thing happens especially when you order over the internet.
Anyway, they were very apologetic and agreed that when the new tanks were delivered, the courier would collect the wrong ones. I have to say that, notwithstanding the delay in getting m water tanks fitted, Leisure shop was great to deal with.
Having located where the tanks were to be fitted, I had to find suitable fixing points on the chassis. I opted to use threaded rod and 18mm ply bases to support the tanks. For the fresh water tank, located behind the
For the waste tank, located on the near side just behind the oil cooler, I was able to use the hooked rod for all 4 fixings. It’s a gutty job fitting tanks, crawling about on the floor and having to make numerous fitting attempts before it will work. I did a complete dummy run and then marked where the various fittings had to be. then I dismantled the whole thing so that I could cut the holes and insert the fittings and also paint the wooden support boards in weatherproof paint. I used 2 coats os Sadolin for this and a messy job it was too!
My next task was to install the gas and I decided to do this in 10mm copper pipe with soldered joints to 8mm reducers and on to 8mm pipe to the isolation cocks for the appliances.
I decided to keep the 4.5Kg Calor bottles which were in the caravan as most of our
I can easily change to Camping Gaz if we decide on an extended tour of the continent. I blanked off all the pipes and did a pressure test prior to paneling in all the pipes. The bottles will live in an isolated box under the rear seats with ventilation to the outside.
The only problem I encountered was the connection to the water heater and the whale shower mixer which had originally been connected to 1/2″ pvc pipe. I over came this by connecting flexible pvc hose to the heater and then connecting this to the barrier pipe with jubilee clips.
The Windows finally arrived by courier from Leisure Vehicle Windows. Very good company to deal with. reasonable prices, good quality product, massive choice, and very well packed.
The job of fitting the windows took me just over a day and the first task after unwrapping the miles of bubble wrap was to produce templates for each of the different sizes of windows. The cardboard templates have to be 8mm larger than the window all round and I did this by taping 2 pencils together and scribing around each window and then carefully cutting out the templates with a Stanley knife.
I then had to locate the position of each window on the inside of the van by attaching the template and then drill four small holes in the bodywork. then transpose the template to the outside using the holes as a guide and then scribe around the template with
This is now the cutting line and by cutting an elongated hole to accept the jigsaw blade, it was just a matter of carefully cutting along the line. I took care to cover the jigsaw foot with a few layers of gaffer tape so as not to scratch the paintwork.
After cutting out the hole, it’s important to de-burr the bare edge and
When this was dry I inserted the rubber strip and cut it about 5mm too long so as to force it in position an make a good seal. Then the window glass or the slider frame is placed into the rubber groove and then you patiently prise the rubber lip over the edge of the glass. Finally, you bang it into place and apply a bead of non-setting sealant under the rubber lip and then apply the rubber locking strip with the special tool provided with the windows. Sounds easy ? well I suppose it is after you have successfully put in the first one. I had to repeat the process 8 times so, in the end, I was quite good at it. The secret is not to rush on and to double check all the measurements and the scribing before putting jigsaw blade to metal.
This is the most satisfying job because it now really looks like a camper and you feel you’ve made some real progress.
With the window fitting out of the way, I now concentrated on building the framework for the kitchen and this was done using 18mm x 32mm battens glued and screwed or nailed.ensuring that the dimensions would accurately accommodate the fridge, oven, hob and grill and the sink. I used all the appliances from the caravan except for the tap for which I splashed out of a new single lever mixer. I bought a length of 30mm gloss laminate bathroom worktop which I found at a car boot sale for £8.
So once the framework was built I was able to cut the worktop to size and cut out the holes for the hob and the sink. I did the 1st fit for everything and coupled up to the final gas pipes. I was also able to cut the top fridge vent hole as I now knew exactly where it had to be.
With everything in its proper place, I was able to start running the electrical cables to various parts of the van. I had purchased a job lot of auto electrical cable at an autojumble. there were only a few
I ran separate neutral cables for each application back to a central source close to the location of the battery rather than using the body of the vehicle as the earth. I then terminated all the live cables at the location of
I decided to have halogen downlighters for lighting and remotely switched these in one bank of switches rather than
For the charging system, I purchased a Ryder self-switching relay which feeds current from the vehicle battery to the leisure battery only when it needs it. It also supplies 12 volts to the 3 way fridge directly from the vehicle charging system only when the engine is running. It was also my intention to have a 20w solar panel on the roof to supplement battery charging when not on a mains hook up and when not driving around.
At this point, I also ran all the cables for the 240
The next task was to make the internal frames for the rear side windows and the top windows and then to panel in the walls and ceiling with plywood.
Framing the windows was not an easy job as there were many curved obstacles to contend with and not much to fix to without making holes in the side of the van. However with careful scribing and measuring anyone can do a good job.
For the top windows, I made a rectangular frame in plywood and then used 2mm polypropylene sheet cut in strips and heated with a heat gun to shape the internal reveals of the oval shape of each window.
The next job was to panel in the walls with plywood. To do this I cut the ply to size and cut out the apertures for the windows a few millimeters small. When everything was in place and screwed down I went around the perimeter of each hole with a laminate trimmer to get a perfectly flush edge with the window to reveal.
I was now able to finish paneling in ant to start building the structure for the top lockers and the seat boxes. I did this in planed 32x 18 carcassing timber. Because I was using the doors from the old caravan, I was dictated by the size of the available doors, so I made the apertures to fit these.
When this was complete, I began to face all the furniture up with 4mm Oak faced ply which I
I now began to make the ceiling panels in 4mm ply covered with a close weave ployester fabric which we chose for the walls and ceiling
I also lined the splashback of the kitchen area with an offcut of mosaic tile effect vinyl flooring and trimmed it around the reveal of the window .
Now this was done I concentrated on trimming the sides with fabric and I did this by glueing it on with neat PVA glue. You kind of get one shot at applying it but its OK if you have done all the measuring and cutting right in the first place.
I was now able to connect all the electrics fitting the downlighters and the 12v control panel , the switches and the radio speakers.
I was now able to fill the tanks with water, fit the battery, connect up the solar charge regulator and the Zig battery charger and fire everything up. To my great satisfaction, everything worked and , initially, no leaks in the plumbing system. Result!
Next on the list was to line the toilet walls. I originally had intended to leave them in
I re-cut the foam from the cushions in the old caravan to fit my needs and
So the cost of cushions is not to be underestimated. If we had had to buy the foam, the cushions would have been the biggest single expense. we considered a DIY job but now we’re glad we spent the money.
I had an extra cushion made to fit between the seat boxes so that with the back doors closed we would have a comfortable U shape seating/ lounging area.
For the table I used the 2 folding table legs which came with the caravan and made a new table top from Beech effect Contiboard which I radiused on all 4 corners with a router and edged with iron on edging tape. The table is free standing so that we can move it about to get around it and also to take outside for al fresco dining. The table, folded up then becomes the base board for the bed. The bed is 1750mm long and 1400mm wide so by lying slightly diagonally it is about 6’4″ long. We’re only short people so this layout works for us. If you are much taller you may have to think again or have to go for the extra long wheel base vans.
The next important job was to lay the carpet. I went for carpet instead of laminate or vinyl because it’s
I now just had to fit all the doors, catches etc. They’re not a perfect match with the oak paneling which has come out a little darker due to the wood oil but, so far no one has made any critical remarks on that. perhaps later, I may go to the
So now the job’s pretty much done. Just a few finishing touches. I finished off the steps at the side door and I’ve made a larger step over the tow hook step. We won’t be towing often and if I do, the step can be removed with a couple of bolts.
The final job was to find some suitable graphics to put on the sides and after much hunting around and being horrified at the cost of custom decals, I finally found some on eBay which is quite subtle and effective for less than £20. Bargain!
The van cost £3350 + around £4000 in
The Ford Transit is a great van to drive. a bit clattery at slow speeds but purrs along effortlessly at 70+ and returns about 28MPG. This one has the 125 more powerful engine and pulls up any hill like a train. Definitely recommend it as a good van for conversion.