Family-friendly bike-carrying camper build

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  • Family-friendly bike-carrying camper build
  • spooky_b329
    Member

    DrP, my conversion cost was around £6k, but I bought almost everything new, the big items were best part of £1000-£1200 on three windows and two rooflights, £300 for spray foam insulation, £350 for underslung LPG tank (much cheaper to have a bottle if you have the space) £400 for a propex gas heater, £450 for a compressor fridge (much cheaper to have a 2/3 way gas/12v fridge) and £450 for a gas hob/oven, (much cheaper just to have a hob) £250 on a second hand gas water heater. Can’t remember what I paid for the seats.

    Parts only, fitted everything myself.

    If I were to do it again I would be more cost concious, but then again things that seem OTT like the LPG tank make sense when you can just fill up in a petrol station for pennies and it doesn’t take up any space inside, the oven gets used fairly regularly (including extra capacity for pigs in blankets and roast potatoes when the turkey hogs all the space in our normal oven at Christmas!) and you don’t need to worry about switching the fridge onto gas every time you’ve parked the van up.

    The final expenditures that I haven’t yet justified are a solar panel (I can go for a lot of drives to charge the batteries for the price of a big panel) and I’d really like to get the van wrapped in silver vinyl as its getting a bit scruffy.

    Premier Icon Stoner
    Subscriber

    Loving it, Mike.
    Looking forward to more.

    mark90
    Member

    Its scary how much the little bits add up, electic cable and fittings (12 and 240 volt), pipes and fittings, sikaflex, glue, screws, p-clips, etc, etc.

    ElShalimo
    Member

    Mike_D: I’m really enjoying this thread. Thanks for sharing

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Excellent walkthrough. Managing to follow it pretty well 🙂

    Premier Icon ratherbeintobago
    Subscriber

    Out of curiosity, why didn’t you go for glazing the full window panel (like on factory combis/minibuses)?

    spooky_b329
    Member

    Personally, because Seitz are double glazed, bigger opening, integral blackout blind and flyscreen, and much easier to make good on the inside. Bring ply lining up to a bonded window is much more fiddly to do neatly. Also in my case, the bonded windows were too low so would go below the height of the seat backrest, worktops etc. Not such an issue in fwd vans with a lower internal floor.

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    What spooky said — bonded windows look good on the outside, but the actual aperture isn’t all that large and you don’t get much of an opening. Also they’re single-glazed glass, which is heavy and not that well insulated. And you’d have to make blinds/curtains for the inside, while the Seitz ones have integrated blinds/flyscreens.

    Costs: Original estimate was £5k, more likely to be £6k-ish. As others have said, it’s a few big-ticket items plus millions of sundries that you don’t really allow for 😉 Had a few ebay/used bargains (seats, water heater, toilet, roll-out awning) but a lot of bits are new. The cheapest approach is to get a donor caravan and use everything out of it — the SBMCC reckon that £3k is about the baseline cost for something worthwhile.

    Edukator
    Member

    I’m thinking of putting a password on this thread because if Madame sees “Mike-D” she will look in here. The vague idea of another “Wendy house on wheels” will then be added to my list of things to do. I’m safe for a few more weeks thanks to a carpal tunnel op’. Anyone got any ideas for something to do on a rainy day with just one hand?

    bob_summers
    Member

    Great project. I’m very envious but can’t do anything like that here (Spain) as it’s almost impossible to change a vehicle from original spec. The easiest way around is to build everything removable for the biannual “mot” ; you actually see people pulling out all the woodwork in the testing station carpark.

    lastuphills
    Member

    Mike can I ask what your background is? I’m reasonably handy but don’t think I would have the confidence to cut holes in the van/ fix the seats in etc

    Premier Icon Northwind
    Subscriber

    Mike_D – Member

    The cheapest approach is to get a donor caravan and use everything out of it

    Be warned, my neighbour did this, he ended up becoming a caravenner instead. We more or less had to take a half dismantled Convoy off his driveway with brushes and shovels. Then the original donor van turned out (unsurprisingly) to be rotten so he bought another one. Then he replaced his car so he could pull it better.

    orangeboy
    Member

    Well done , I’m rather enveious
    I had a master lwb high top as my daily drive for two years while I failed to build it into a proper camper
    I just never made my mind up on the layout so never started more than a very basic kitchen unit and fold out bed

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    lastuphills: I work at a desk typing stuff. But I’ve done a fair bit of house DIY and have a decent selection of tools. A lot of van stuff is regular carpentry/wiring/plumbing, it’s only the metal stuff that’s novel. The hole in the side you see above was the first hole I’d cut in a motor vehicle, unless you count bodging up rust holes in my old Escort 😉 There are plenty of resources on the net to point you in the right direction. None of it’s that hard, but it is time consuming. The aforementioned Self Build Motorcaravan Club (www.sbmcc.org.uk) is a good place to start – £15 membership but you’ll save that the first time you buy anything 🙂

    spooky_b329
    Member

    Always do your first window in the sliding door…it may be a pain but you can always get a whole replacement door if you royally f-it up!

    Its a simple process of measure 43 times, cut once. And don’t be tempted to cut too tight as its a real pain trying to trim a few mm from a wobbly panel – didn’t make the same mistake on the other windows! 🙂

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    Wise words 🙂

    Having done all that on the sides, it was time to climb up on top and repeat the process for the rooflights. Nearly made a catastrophic blunder because I had the dimensions for the two big side windows stuck in my head — the y dimension is the same as for the big rooflight, but the x is different. Managed to notice before I cut a hole 200mm too wide in the roof… Marked out the right size:

    The instructions call for a 12mm radius at the corners, I deemed 12.5mm from a 25mm holesaw to be close enough. Also the holesaw matches the van, which is nice:

    Then join the corners with the jigsaw. It’s a bit awkward across the roof because it’s corrugated:

    Look out below!:

    Lets a bit more light in. You’ll also notice some floor insulation going in:

    Timber frame as per the side windows. Yes, it had got dark by this time, and a bit cold — not ideal conditions for Sikaflex to cure, but it seemed to work:

    After a night with nothing but a sheet of thick polythene and some gaffer tape to keep the weather out, the rooflight went in:

    Not pictured is the almighty faff filling in all the corrugations to give the rooflight an effectively flat surface to sit on and seal against. After a couple of failed (ie leaky) attempts, success was found with pieces of rigid PVC from a building plastics place cut to fit the shape of the hollows and bedded on Sikaflex. Two layers of mastic-on-a-roll between that and the window seems to have done the trick.

    Then repeat for the smaller rooflight over the bunks towards the back:

    And if anyone’s wondering what the lifespan of a cheap 25mm holesaw from Screwfix is, it’s about eight holes. OK, seven, the eighth one was a bit slow:

    As if two rooflights isn’t enough, there’s a third one going over the washroom. Partially for ventilation, partially for light, partially so I can actually stand up in the shower — the shower tray is a little higher than the floor and while the headroom is adequate in the rest of the van, a little more bonce space will be useful in the washroom. So the end result is this:

    Third week of January and it looks quite a lot like a camper. On the outside, at least… Around this time the original double passenger seat came out:

    New single seat base (sourced for a company called Cabmasters oop north, if anyone ever needs a single Ducato passenger seat…):

    And the seat itself:

    Had to work a little bodge with the seatbelt tensioners — the double seat has two, the single has (naturally enough) one. However, the van electrickery expects there to be two and puts the airbag warning light on if there’s only one. Apparently you can’t persuade it otherwise by plugging in a laptop or anything, so I spoofed it with a 3.3ohm resistor across the cable to the missing connector.

    While the double seat might have been occasionally useful, it wasn’t the best seat — it’s fixed, with no adjustment of anything, and was set well back so it intruded into the accommodation space quite a lot. The single is much better, and leaves a nice big gap through which we can clamber into the back.

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Looking very nice indeed!

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    So, fitting seats then. Quite a minefield, and there are an awful lot of hideous bodges out there. After lots of research, I found a handy VOSA document about minibus safety which had specs for bolted-in rear seats. Seats with built-in seatbelts have to be more strongly attached than thos with separate belts, because all the seatbelt loads are going through the seat mounts. If the seatbelt is separate then the seat mounts only have to hang on to the seat rather than having to deal with an occupant as well. Integrated belts are a lot easier, though, because you don’t have to find somewhere to attach the belts to. The Ducato has provision for a belt on the offside C pillar, but inevitably it’s not quite in the right place for where we want our seats and we need two belts anyway.

    As previously mentioned, we sourced a pair of second-hand minibus seats. The VOSA spec calls for M10 8.8 grade bolts and minimum 75x75x4mm spreader plates, under the floor for the rear bolts and above the floor for the front ones — if you decelerate suddenly, the seat’s trying to pull itself out of the floor at the back and punch through it at the front.

    First I had to work out where the bolts could go. Fortunately the legs can be shuffled sideways on the seats, because there’s an awful lot of stuff to miss under the van:

    All those hatched areas (well, most of them — some are in the wrong place :roll:) represent hollow chassis rails. No point drilling there, you won’t be able to get a nut on the other end of the bolt.

    Having identified places for the bolts to go, I shaped the front spreader plates a bit so they sit flat to the floor between corrugations. The plates were made up by a local fabricator from a usefully-sized offcut — they’re actually 6mm thick but this is one area where I don’t mind a bit of overspeccing. They’re also big enough that I’m comfortable with lopping the corners off with an angle grinder:

    so that they fit snugly like so:

    And yes, that’s the driveway you can see through there. Repeat where necessary (a couple of them went in unmodified) and bolt the legs in:

    The rear bolts have plates underneath:

    That’s the handbrake linkage in the foreground, one of not many things under the van — it’s front wheel drive, the exhaust comes out behind the driver’s door so between the transverse silencer and the back axle there’s nowt other than the handbrake linkage and some brake pipes and wires at the edges. This will come in handy later.

    With the legs securely mounted, the actual seat frames can go on:

    And the bottom cushions:

    Handily, the cushions are held on with a single handwheel bolt under the front edge. The bench seat will be at the same height as these so everyone’s sitting level, the travel seat bottom cushions can be quickly removed so the bed can pull out over the seat bases.

    View looking forward:

    To give an idea of scale, the area behind the rear seats is as long as the entire interior of our old T4. Even with the seats in, it still took 8×4 sheets for a while, until the rear bulkhead went in…

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Bravo!
    There looks like acres of space between the back seats and the front. Is that going to be a double bed?

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    Yup, the bed makes up to 186cm long (basically the full width of the van) and 130cm wide, so 10cm narrower than a standard double. More importantly, 20cm wider than the bed in our previous van 🙂 The rear-facing bench is also split so you can pull out the bit by the sliding door by itself to make an L-shaped seat so you can sit six (comfortably) or seven (at a push) around the table. Or two people can both sit on it with their feet up 😉

    The compromise is that the gap between rear seats and rear-facing bench comes out quite small, so if two adults sit opposite one another their feet end up overlapping. But there’s enough room that knees don’t collide, so that’s OK.

    growinglad
    Member

    Enjoying reading about this….keep up the cracking work, looks a great project.

    DrP
    Member

    I ruddy love this.
    GOt my keen eye on a hi top LWB vivaro….

    DrP

    sugdenr
    Member

    Small tip – maybe useful maybe not – about wot someone said earlier -if you fit LPG tank you cant use le shuttle. Fit refillable LPG tank (gaslow etc) and you can.

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    Eurotunnel is fine with fixed tanks up to 93l as long as they’re for powering cookers and stuff rather than actually fuelling the vehicle. We’re using an underslung 38l tank.

    ElShalimo
    Member

    C’mon Mike ……. more photos of the conversion process pls

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    Go on then, a few more for lunchtime 🙂

    While we’re discussing LPG tanks, here’s one:

    It’s a vapour take-off tank, so not the same as the sort that LPG-fuelled cars use. In theory you can get this size with welded-on mounting lugs, but they were proving hard to get hold of at the time, so this is a regular one. Needs a coat of underbody paint before carting it around under a van:

    Then bolt the mounting frame to the underside:

    The tank’s held on with steel straps. As standard, the frame comes with two, but that arrangement’s intended for putting in a boot with the tank on top of the frame — the straps just need to stop it moving. If it’s actually hanging, the supplier recommends a second pair of straps. They’re a right faff to fit, being adjustable for length by threading them through a buckle/bracket thing. Just like you might use for holding a tent to a bike rack, except made of steel :/ Also there’s not much room around it. Eventually, though:

    Getting it up there was entertaining, involving a trolley jack, various bits of wood, and swearing. It sits up out of harm’s way between the chassis rails — the thing in the foreground is the exhaust silencer, the tank is higher than that and higher than the fuel tank, so should be OK.

    Also under the van are the fresh and waste water tanks, shown here not under the van:

    Before fitting, I had to make holes:

    To fit the sender for the level gauge (an actual gauge for fresh, just a full-up warning for the waste):

    Then fill the hole with a screw-in hatch from the boat shop:

    They go up under the van too — they’re specifically made for these vans, so fit neatly around the various bits of chassis. They’re supported by steel cradles hanging off J-bolts through holes in the chassis rails:

    25mm for the floor, 40mm for the ceiling, 50mm for the walls. Cosy 🙂 Here’s the insulated floor:

    Then the ply can go back down and we can mock up the washroom:

    and mark out where the kitchen’s going:

    Around this time we also fitted a cheap ebay reversing camera:

    It’s a fairly mad wide angle, you can actually see the top corners of the van in the screen, which is stuck to the windscreen pretending to be a mirror:

    Yes, the camera needs adjusting so the picture’s actually level. Also it distorts quite a lot at the edges, my guttering’s not that bad… Camera and screen are hooked into a spare switched live in the fusebox, so they’re on all the time the ignition’s on. You could piggyback off the reversing lights so they’re only on when reversing, but I decided it’s handy to be able to see behind when driving.

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    Oops, mucked up a pic link — here are the water tanks underneath:

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Vehicle electrics scare me

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    Fortunately I don’t need to mess with them too much. Camera feed just involved sticking a spade connector into the front of the fusebox (where a fuse would normally go) and adding an in-line fuse holder to the wire. Then earth the -ve wire to a handy bit of bodywork. We’ll gloss over the malfunctioning bypass relay in the towbar wiring that allows everything to work except one indicator — it’s currently unplugged pending further investigation.

    dux
    Member

    Best thread ever… Its like being in an episode of The A-Team. Keep up the good work and posting pictures

    ElShalimo
    Member

    dux – Member 
    Best thread ever..

    +1,000,000,000

    Wish I had the tools, skills, know-how and time to do something just like this

    C’mon Mike, we’re waiting for the next installment!

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    More coming when I get home to a proper computer 🙂

    Time is the hard one. All the rest can be acquired as you go along 😉

    mogrim
    Member

    Great project. I’m very envious but can’t do anything like that here (Spain) as it’s almost impossible to change a vehicle from original spec. The easiest way around is to build everything removable for the biannual “mot” ; you actually see people pulling out all the woodwork in the testing station carpark.

    +1 on the great project, I love threads like this!

    Spain – it doesn’t look that complicated to pass the ITV (Spanish MOT) with a modified van, just (potentially) expensive and tedious.

    http://www.roulot.es/consejos-bricocamper/equipamiento-de-la-furgoneta-paso-a-paso/que-necesito-para-legalizar-mi-furgoneta.html

    … but the removing bits before heading to the ITV(MOT) is pretty common, I’ve seen it loads with motorbikes 🙂

    Premier Icon ratherbeintobago
    Subscriber

    Great project. I’m very envious but can’t do anything like that here (Spain) as it’s almost impossible to change a vehicle from original spec. The easiest way around is to build everything removable for the biannual “mot” ; you actually see people pulling out all the woodwork in the testing station carpark.

    Thinking laterally, does it have to be original factory spec, or spec when registered in Spain? Could you get someone in France to modify a van then register it across the border once done?

    mogrim
    Member

    Thinking laterally, does it have to be original factory spec, or spec when registered in Spain? Could you get someone in France to modify a van then register it across the border once done?

    No – after 6 months you have to register the car in Spain, and at that point you have to pass the test – and that means having various bits of paperwork in order…

    Not sure how they could tell if your car has been in Spain more than 6 months, though.

    Edit: applies to vans / motorhomes, too!

    Premier Icon jairaj
    Subscriber

    Great thread, really interesting to read.

    Mike, I like the way you make everything sound so easy. “yeah cut a hole over here … put a bolt in there … done!” 🙂

    nre
    Member

    Glad I found this thread, have wondered about a conversion in the past, this is great inspiration!

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    jairaj: I’m skipping the parts about the hours of research, thinking, scribbling, measuring and staring at things with a mug of tea in hand because it’s not that interesting 😉

    Apologies for tardiness of updating, have been out and about and pesky Actual Paid Work keeps getting in the way. Will have more very soon, stay tuned 🙂

    Premier Icon Mike_D
    Subscriber

    Right, finally, here we are again. This is, er, early March sometime, maybe. A while back, anyway. Van still capable of carrying big piles of Celotex:

    Which gradually got cut up and stuck to the sides:

    We used expanding PU foam out of a gun to stick it up, much more controllable than the aerosol stuff and you can also not use it for a few days and come back to it rather than having half a can you just have to chuck away.

    Next up, the toilet. Got a second-hand cassette toilet out of a caravan, which I must say was impressively clean. Which is good, because the waste tank came out of the wrong side and had to be reversed by taking out various spouts and putting them back in each other’s holes:

    Then position the loo against a mocked-up wall to see where the hatch needs to be:

    Although there aren’t many options due to the structure of the van — it has to go exactly here:

    So actually the exact position of the loo is governed by the location of the hatch rather than the other way around. The loo has to be raised off the floor slightly to avoid the hatch going through the actual sill. Pull the plastic panel off the outside (the hatch will slightly overlap this):

    Then it’s pretty much like doing a window. Pilot hole from the inside so you can see where you are and mark out from there:

    Holesaw, jigsaw, you know the score:

    And from the inside — not much margin for error (strayed slightly onto a double-skinned bit, but not a problem):

    Offer up the door:

    The waste tank can then be extracted from the van like so:

    Added a timber frame on the inside to give the screws something to hold on to. The various awkward shapes meant some rather fascinating bits of wood:

    You may be thinking that a slightly tatty, off-white door in a blue van is going to look a bit rubbish. And you’d be right. Fortunately you can take the door apart and remove the panel. Dig out a bit of handy blue-painted steel from a previous window hole:

    Draw around the white bit and cut out:

    Get some plastic primer and suitable paint and spray up the frame and surround:

    Put it all back together again:

    And put in the side of the van:

    To finish off, seal around the edge with Sikaflex, trim a bit off the top edge of the exterior trim panel and put that back on. BOSH:

    That was one of the last substantial holes in the side of the van. But not the very last…

    Premier Icon geoffj
    Subscriber

    Adds Mike_D to the list of folk on here who make me feel inadequate 😡

    😀

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