Camper Van Project – My Camper Van Conversion Part 1

One thing that I don’t enjoy about my kayak and boating hobbies is all the time spend travelling and by that I mean the driving.  I enjoy visiting new places and trying out new locations but being sat in a vehicle for what seems like hours had started to become a bit of a chore.  My next project was to look at ways to improve on this and reduce the driving.  I’d been looking at purchasing a camper van for a while now but most ready made camper vans were not suitable for carrying boats without major modifications.  Also the price was a factor as well.  It would be a shame to spend out on a top spec camper van or motor home only to destroy it with the modifications.  So my next idea was to buy a van or minibus then convert it into a camper van myself, that way it would end up exactly as I wanted.  So what were my requirements?

Size: no longer than 18ft so as to fit on my driveway.

Height: high enough to stand up in but not too high as it would be carrying kayaks on the roof.  Getting them up and down off the roof would also affect my roof height decision.

Windows: Yes please, side windows would be nice and give it that camper van feel.

Taking all this into account I decided on a long wheel base medium roof Ford Transit minibus and after a few months monitoring the Auto trader website I found a low mileage example and managed to purchase it.  Now the camper van conversion project could begin.

The first step was to remove the seats.  What should have taken an hour or so took a number of days as there was so little room between the seats, it was near impossible to get any real leverage on a ratchet bar to loosen the bolts.  Also the bolts were so tight I managed to shatter two torx sockets in the process eventually having to buy a impact socket bit instead to do the job.  Even then due to the lack of room I was only managing to get a quarter turn on each bolt per pull.  This took ages as the bolts were about 3 inches long each.  How I wish I had an impact driver.

With the seats out I could finally get a feel for the available space inside and come up with a camper van design for the interior.  I first wanted to tint the windows as I didn’t want nosy neighbours looking in and as I would be spending a fair bit of money on the van I didn’t want to risk an opportunist break in so tinting would hopefully keep prying eyes at bay and hide anything valuable inside.  I looked around for a suitable garage to do the tinting but there were none local to me so I went online and purchased the materials so I could do the job myself.  It’s a job I’d done before in my early twenties so hopefully I’d manage it again and save some money.  The tinting film was purchased from a company called.  I ordered extra just in case there were any issues and also purchased a mini squeegee and a cutter.  The total cost for the materials came in at.  

The following weekend I set about the tinting process.  The job should have been relatively easy.  Spray the window with a water and washing up liquid mixture.  Peel the backing off the tinting film, spray the back of the tinting film, position the film on the window then using a squeegy press out all the water, starting from the middle then working outwards then trim any excess film from the edges.  After cleaning the inside of the windows thoroughly I began with the first window, one of the large side windows.  I measured the window and cut the film allowing a an inch or so around all edges, I would trim this off later.  Once applied I began the squeegee process.  It turned out to be more difficult than I remember.  I somehow managed to get a few pieces of grit behind the film and when I squeezed the film I tore the film in a couple of places.  Only small holes but still not great so I removed that piece of film then tried again.  The same thing happened again.  I think that the static caused when peeling the film backing was just attracting anything that was nearby.  No matter how many times I hoovered the van and cleaned the windows I was still getting the odd piece of grit appearing behind the film.  By now I’d come to the conclusion that it was never going to be perfect so I had to do the best job I could.  It took a full day to do all the windows in the van, I didn’t do the drivers and passengers front windows as I need complete visibility at the front for driving.  I think in hindsight I probably should have got it done professionally and paid the extra, next time I will.  Looking at the van from the outside it looks a professional job, no air bubbles or streaks, it’s only from the inside that you can notice a few tiny holes that appear as white dots in the film.  Nothing a black marker pen won’t sort out.

Next was to tackle the floor.  I’d noticed that the floor felt spongy in a couple of areas so I began removing it.  There were a couple of plastic sections at the front holding it down and a metal strip at the rear entrance also.  After unscrewing and removing them I could then remove the floor.  It was clear to see the cause of the sponginess.  It looks like the previous owner had spilt a drink or something which had soaked into MDF floor then turned mouldy.  A two foot section of the floor was totally damp and rotten.  Fortunately it was just the floor and the metalwork of the van had not been compromised.  

Camper Van Project old floor

To create a new floor I purchased 3 sheets of 6mm plywood and lay them down side by side then used the old floor as a template positioning it over the top then drawing around it.  I then used a jigsaw to cut out the floor sections.  This worked well as you can see from the pics.  You are probably thinking that 6mm ply seems rather thin for a van floor but I wanted to keep it light and after testing a piece beforehand I decided that it was more than strong enough for what I needed.  I’m 16 stone and I couldn’t break a piece by jumping on it whilst it was on the van floor.  With the floor sections in place I used pieces of batten underneath as support struts which doubled up as something to screw the pieces to.

Camper Van Project new floor ready

Now it was time to find some suitable vinyl for the floor of the camper van.  It took a while to decide the colour but eventually I went for a black and white checkered style as I’d seen this in other camper van conversions and I thought it looked pretty nice.  I used the same technique to cut the vinyl to shape, laying the old floor vinyl over the new then drawing around it.  The vinyl was then put in place and held into position using the plastic edging sections removed previously.  I did not glue the vinyl straight away as I may need to get underneath to install a table base or floor mount.  I’ll save the gluing until last.

Camper Van Project vinyl flooring inside van

Whilst all this was underway I was keeping an eye out for suitable kayak roof racks.  There really was only one option for a van of this size.  The Karitek high loader.  I’d spent a while firing emails back and forth to Karitek trying to get a quote and after about 3 months I finally got a quote and it came in at over £1000 for the kayak lifting system with enough J bars to support 2 kayaks.  That didn’t even include the roof rack to mount it to.  Yes a grand for a few pieces of aluminium bolted together in the form of a frame.  Fortunately one came up on Ebay which I managed to get for £310.  This was the high lift loader model which are extremely rare to find secondhand, you normally see only the car or small van versions.  I then bought a roof rack for £80 so for under £400 quid I was sorted.

So now I’m starting to get somewhere.  Seats out, windows tinted, floor replaced, new vinyl down and the kayak roof rack system sorted.  It’s starting to get that camper van feel to it.  Next is the heating system and the box bed.

To be continued…….

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