Family-friendly bike-carrying camper build
Not been on here for a while, but wondered if anyone might be interested in this little project — I’ve seen similar things being discussed on the forum, so thought maybe some people might find it useful. We had a small camper, we wanted a bigger one that would carry (and sleep) four and have space for bikes for all of us inside. Started with this:
That was the middle of December, much (possibly tedious) detail available if there’s any interest 😉Posted 7 years ago
you know the requirement: Pics and regular updates!
Brilliant idea. I had some ideas about doing similar around a LWB T4 with a bunk bed along the back for the nippers and a pop-up above for the grown ups.Posted 7 years ago
Hell yeah, post more details!Posted 7 years ago
The backstory: We’d had an SWB high-top T4 for six or seven years. It was ace, we had a lot of fun trips in it, but it was starting to feel a bit small. The kids are 8 and 4, one of each and increasingly not terribly good at sharing a small roof bed. The bikes had to go on a rack, which meant we usually took vaguely sacrificial (ie crap) ones that we didn’t mind leaving on show if we went for a wander around town or something. We also wanted a decent sitting area inside that was unhindered by childrens’ beds so they could go to sleep at one end and we could sit up at the other. Munging all these requirements together gave us the basic layout. There isn’t anything quite like it available from proper motorhome companies, and if there was we wouldn’t be able to afford it, so we decided to build our own.
Spent a lot of time looking for a suitable van. Having looked at all sorts, we settled on the current generation of Ducato/Boxer/Relay because they’re wide enough to fit beds crossways, still fairly new and, well, dozens of pro converters can’t be wrong. The next challenge was tracking one down that was within budget, not impossibly leggy, a private VAT-free sale and not too wantonly abused. Missed out on a couple and finally took a bit of a gamble by hitting the Buy It Now button on an ’07 XLWB Fiat Ducato. Which came with this spendidly Clarksonesque bonnet badge:
It’s a 3.0 turbodiesel, which didn’t half get a shift on when empty. It’s also the “Heavy” version, with uprated suspension and bigger wheels — GVW is still only 3,500kg, but replating it to 4,000kg is just paperwork. No intention of doing that for insurance/ferry/other reasons, but it means I’m comfortable with it banging up against 3.5t in regular use. The empty van is a bit over 2t, so that’s roughly 1,500kg to play with, which has to include us and all our kit.
As bought, the van was like this inside:
Eeeuw. Previous owner was a heating engineer, so the interior was clad with a curious plywood/heating oil composite material. First job was to rip all that out and also remove this:
which did not feature in our plans 🙂
An awful lot of this kind of thing came out:
but we eventually got to the point where it was a bit more convivial and ready for the first of many trips to the timber merchant:
Posted 7 years ago
Ooo very close to what I’m after…..currently trying to decide between quality of wildax Solaris the budget trigano tribute or diy/ part diy similar to yours.
V interested in what you are doing and pricePosted 7 years ago
Is the Solaris the one with the lengthways bunks in the back and a washroom in the rear corner? That’s the closest we found to what we wanted. Still £40k, though, and you can’t have bikes inside and people sleeping in the bunks at the same time. The plan was to bring this in for under £10k total, I think we’ve probably missed that by a bit. FWIW the bare van was just under £5k.Posted 7 years ago
Ooh, insurance, I knew there was something I meant to mention. Insuring vans as private vehicles can be troublesome, the ins cos tend to assume that you’re a builder really and charge accordingly. Our old van was insured with the Camping & Caravanning Club, they do a self-build policy that lets you insure a van as a camper on the understanding that you’ve got it to a suitably camper-y state within 120 days. Premium was £200, which seemed very reasonable. Other self-build policies are available 🙂Posted 7 years ago
Yep Solaris has bunks the tribute has double size bunks across the back. Same problem with bikes though. We always take cheap bikes when away with the kids anyway so the garage bit looks good but not essential.Posted 7 years ago
Sorry to hijack/jump ahead is the front bed going to be formed with the box/bench seat thing at the front meaning you can just use a standard van seat for the kid.Posted 7 years ago
Mm. Part of the plan with this is to be able to take nicer bikes 🙂 If you’ve got the time/inclination, DIY is a big money saver. You could fit this layout into an LWB (rather than an XLWB) if you did without the garage.
We looked at the Solaris at a show (while nicking ideas, no intention to buy one 😉 ) — it’s pretty nice. The front end arrangement is quite versatile.Posted 7 years ago
Yes — the box/bench pulls/folds out (partially across the bases of the travel seats) to make a transverse double bed. The travel seats came out of a minibus and have integrated seat belts, I’ll get onto those in a few updates’ time 🙂Posted 7 years ago
I will keep an eye on this then with much interest.Posted 7 years ago
Seeing as my Transit has just failed the MoT as a result of tinwormitis, I’ll be following this too.
Time for a new van, so what will it be?Posted 7 years ago
We had a Ducato converted by Autohaus / Acare and it’s 95% of what we wanted – we made a few spec errors because it was only our 2nd camper. It’s absolutely great, excellent for 2 or 3, with a semi-permanent double bed in the back.Posted 7 years ago
The truck itself is absolutely fine, bought new 4 years ago for about 15k, the same as a Fiesta !
The ducato/boxer is used by all the converters as they do a chassis cab version with essentially no roof so they are very easy to convert. Other vans don’t have this option so are more work for the companies.Posted 7 years ago
They’re not bad vans but the engines on them (the smaller ones) aren’t the most reliable so make sure the service history is perfect. My mates that he converted needed a new (second hand) engine at 73k after it failed spectacularly.
Certainly true of the coachbuilt outfits (although there a few Transits and others around). Not sure all the companies doing only panel van conversions are too bothered by the chassis cab option, though 🙂 That said, Fiat in particular clearly court the motorhome market. They do have certain other advantages, like the right-hand handbrake that’s out of the way of seat swivels and a bit more interior width than most of the others.Posted 7 years ago
I never did get around to doing anything with my Ducato (LH handbrake on LHD). I sold it recently after 15 years of reliable service having got no further than insulating the roof.Posted 7 years ago
Someone on here did a similar conversion starting with a silver base Ducato. That was a stunning conversion. Iirc the rear bunks folded up so the bikes could be transported, but had to live outside when the bunks were occupied.
Can anyone find a link?
Edit: Here is the thread http://singletrackworld.com/forum/topic/anyone-gone-from-a-camper-to-a-van
Look at carloz’ flickr page – amazing quality!Posted 7 years ago
Heh “Munging”Posted 7 years ago
That silver one’s nicely done, but wouldn’t fit our needs — bike store needs to be useable at the same time as bunks. Can’t see where the fridge or toilet are, either 😉 Also our layout means that you can still use the kitchen with the bed deployed. RIB bed is well smart, but out of budget…
Houns: It’s all about the munge.Posted 7 years ago
Based on our experience, consider a rock’n’roll bed as the back seats, and restrict your cooking to 2 rings, which will free lots of space.Posted 7 years ago
Can you get a 2nd hand capsule loo-shower room from an old caravan?
Mike one quick question, how many bikes can you get in the garage bit? (ie can you get the kids bikes in as well?)Posted 7 years ago
Are you going to take the bulkhead out and fit captains seats?Posted 7 years ago
Moses: All the considering has been done, these pics are three months ago 🙂 There isn’t space for a rock’n’roll, we need to have the bed transverse to have room. Also most R’n’Rs don’t make great seats, and the ones that do are massive money. I wouldn’t be happy using anything less than a properly crash-tested one, which would represent 60% of the conversion budget straight off 🙂 Two rings yes, and we’re just building a washroom from scratch because then it can be made to fit the space rather than having to fit other things around it.
lastuphills: Garage will take four adult bikes. Either leave wheels in and twist stems, or take a wheel out and turn bars. Two at floor level, two on a shelf halfway up.
geoffj: Bulkhead out, been on ebay and long gone 🙂 Seats are (now) two singles, no swivels though. The transverse bed base makes swivel seats a bit pointless, having them would make more problems to solve, like raising the rear travel seats to the same level to make a sensible dinetts and working a bed in there somewhere. Also swivels are expensive, and we’d need lower seat bases to compensate for the extra height they introduce. Finally, leaving the cab essentially separate from the living area means you can dump stuff in it, and put a bit curtain across where the bulkhead was to keep things warm rather than faffing with silver screens and so on.Posted 7 years ago
Mike_D – Member
…Also swivels are expensive, and we’d need lower seat bases to compensate for the extra height they introduce…
There’s plenty dead Renault Espaces around. Many of them have have swivel seats in the front. You could probably pick up a set in leather quite cheaply.Posted 7 years ago
I’ll be following this with interest too.
My own plans wouldn’t feature as featured a kitchen and might not have a shower, but I’m sure the rest will be relevant.
It’s a shame there isn’t enough room for 4 up front. Would make family vans much easier. There were a few bus-shaped-objects with 4 front seats in NZ, but not very practical for back lanes.Posted 7 years ago
epicyclo: If we’d wanted front swivels, we’d probably have gone that way (or Galaxy seats, millions of those around too). But we didn’t want them for the reasons mentioned 🙂 The other issue with the “half dinette” using cab seats is that only three of you are actually sitting at the table — whoever’s in the passenger seat is out on a limb. Rest assured that a lot of thought went into this — the original plan did have spinny seats but once all the other constraints were in place (especially the main bed) they added nothing of use. If we’d got an extra-high-roof van we might have done a drop-down roof bed which could have worked with a half dinette, but they’re all out of budget.
Alex: If you don’t put a kitchen in it’ll never officially be a motorhome, which has speed limit and insurance implications (not insurmountable, but worth thinking about). IKWYM about the shower, this is only having one because we wanted a toilet with reasonable privacy and once you’ve built a space for that you might as well have a shower. Also it’s the sort of thing that any subsequent owners would expect to see.Posted 7 years ago
Following this too as I want to do something similar in the next couple of years. If the front seats don’t swivel round where do you sit? Or is the plan to have an awning on this side as ‘living ‘ spacePosted 7 years ago
V interested in this . Keep posts/pics coming .Posted 7 years ago
Alex: If you don’t put a kitchen in it’ll never officially be a motorhome, which has speed limit and insurance implications (not insurmountable, but worth thinking about)
For speed limites, I guess that depends if it’s possible to keep the motorhome below 3.05 tonnes unladen weight as that’s where the rules change. Should be doable.Posted 7 years ago
Thanks for the response mike, I really like your design I can see it would work for us too. I also like the fact you are only paying for what you need by diy not some of the frippery and extras included in a proper motorhome.
My big choice would be garage at the back or smaller van? I keep going around in circles….smaller van easier to park etc…but we always take bikes on a rack making the van longer and around I go. 😀Posted 7 years ago
Alex…not sure that is right, my t5 would be subject to reduced speed limits if it was a normal van. It’s a kombi so registered as a diesel car which is why they do not apply to mine.Posted 7 years ago
I think I’m confusing you – Motorhomes under 3.05 are same limits as cars.Posted 7 years ago
Vans will have reduced limits (unless car-derived van).
So I think we’re saying the same thing. Originally I was assuming that the OP’s project would be over the 3.05 limit, but perhaps it wont be.
Just going from this. https://www.gov.uk/speed-limits
mark: seating is on the bench seat behind the cab seats.
lastuphills: Yes, the length is a trade-off. This one’s 6.4m, a bit long for normal parking spaces but shorter than a 6m van with a bike rack on it. I think a ferry to France is about £30 more than a 6m van would be.
Alex: You’re right, I was stuck in T4-land for speed limits. Van might be 3.05 unladen, but are the limits based on unladen or GVW?Posted 7 years ago
Moses – any chance of posting some photos? We’re thinking of doing the same thingPosted 7 years ago
My van is a shade under 6 metres, this is my first incarnation on the left then rebuilt it to that on the right. Although there is less floor space, the new layout is much better, the fixed bed is brilliant as it creates two separate spaces in the van, you don’t need to move all the bedding and cushions twice a day, and you can chuck coats etc on it during the day.
Underneath the bed is space for two bikes in the big DHB soft bags, plus small BBQ, levelling ramps and a couple of boxes for bike stuff.
The table sits behind the passenger seat when travelling, but it has a double jointed leg so it can go anywhere from across the sliding door, to between the front seats right up against the dash.
Our kitchen is quite large as we have a compressor fridge and a full gas hob/oven, and also the water tank is under there as I needed to keep the weight forward to ensure we didn’t go overweight on the rear axle with our very heavy trailer.
Nice. When the kids stop coming on holiday with us, it’ll be fixed rear bed all the way 🙂
Anyway. The latter half of December was spent measuring and ordering parts. How people converted vans before the internet in general, and ebay in particular, was invented, I have no idea. Shortly after Christmas, some actual forward progress was made, starting with some lines on the floor:
Which we then promptly covered with a load of wood:
25mm battens stuck to the floor with Sikaflex, which is fantastic (but also evil) stuff. The gaps in between got filled with 25mm Celotex insulation a bit later on. In the foreground you’ll notice the corner of a seat, here they are mocked up in position:
I wanted the rear seats bolted directly to the floor, so the floor was put in around their final position. The rear seats came from an ex-council Mercedes minibus that a local bloke was converting into a camper — he was in a wheelchair, the bus had a lift at the back but more seats than he needed. £60 for three seats was a bargain even though we only needed two — they only had four sets of legs between the three, so it all needed taking apart and putting back together in a different order. Built-in seatbelts, not the nicest fabric but that can be sorted.
The other important bit of floor is this:
which is where a load of pipes and cables cross the van. Water tanks are underneath, kitchen’s one side and washroom the other, so the water needs to get from one side to the other. Similarly, the leisure batteries go under the rear seats and cables need to get to the kitchen side. If you’re planning to convert a van and take just one thing from this thread, take the service trench 🙂
Then we needed to cut a load of plywood for the floor, which necessitated a bit of CAD:
Yes, that’s Cardboard Assisted Design. Bit surprised at the branded cereal packet, it’s usually Sainsbury’s own-brand round our way. Must have been an offer on. But I digress. A bit of circular and jigsaw action later:
Probably didn’t need to be quite such a neat fit given that all the edges will be hidden by wall linings or furniture, but never mind. The rest of the floor continued in a similar vein.
Then the fun really started. A lot of measuring and even more masking tape:
ERMAGERD I GONE DONE DRILLED HOLES IN THE VAN!!11! AND THEN ATTACKED IT WITH A JIGSAW!
Continue until this happens:
Clean up the edges with a file, slap some paint on to cover the cut edges. Then stick some timber around the inside — the Seitz windows we’re using are designed for a minimum wall thickness of 25mm, which is a bit more than the 1ish mm of the van sides, so you need to make up the thickness:
(Yes, that’s the other side of the van, forgot to take a picture of the sliding door side at this stage). The other nuance is that the windows are designed for completely flat sides, like a coachbuilt motorhome or caravan. The sides of this van are slightly curved, which gives two options. First, you can not worry about it, bosh the window in and let it pull the panel flat at the edges. It’s OK unless you look pretty closely, but the distortion is more obvious on non-white vans. We went for the second option, which is to curve the face of the battens and only have the outer frame in close contact with the van sides in the middle. You have to do some extra sealant work on the outside, but you might want to do that anyway. Presto:
Then do it all again on the opposite side, which involves taking out an anti-vibration strut across the panel:
Useful bit of weight saving:
I should point out that you can’t just cut out random bits of steel on a whim, but these ones are OK to remove — they’re spot-welded top and bottom and seam-sealered to the thin panels to stop them drumming (a bit). The window and frame do the same job. Cut another hole:
Wood blah blah fit window:
Once more for luck:
(Epic exposure fail in that one, sorry.) All of which left the inside looking like this as of the first week of January. Yes, a few showers may have possibly made things awkward:
More soon!Posted 7 years ago
This is NOT helping my need to build a camper.
It’s like Dexters ‘dark passenger’, but less the urge to kill, more the urged to build..
Once you have a van, what are your estimated conversion costs? (Not including price of van)
DrPPosted 7 years ago
Your seats (the frame at least) are almost identical to mine. They came out of some sort of taxi…I asked for the spreader plates etc and was handed a pile of washers and assorted bits of metal that looked like they had been collected from the floor of someones garage…incredible that they got away with such a shoddy install for a taxi! I went and bought some 5mm flat bar, 8.8 bolts and some box section to bring the seats up to the level of my insulated floor (which was already in due to it being a refit)
Well done on not using a hinged Seitz behind the sliding door, and for using Sika on the floor battens. I used expoxy and during the following few days of driving the floor unstuck itself and it took months for it to settle down and the creaking to stop!
I take it you have found and joined the SBMCC?Posted 7 years ago
Nice work, looking good so far, and i like your layout. Déjà vu from when I did mine, some good memories, some not so good 😉
@ Spooky, the fixings supplied with Unwind tracking for seat fitting in taxi/minibuses are just M8 bolts with big washers. Doesn’t seem enough, although I do have a tendency to over engineer in such situations.Posted 7 years ago
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