XLWB Campervan build – what I’m learning

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  • XLWB Campervan build – what I’m learning
  • Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Inspired by Mike D in this amazing thread and seeing how he managed to squeeze 4 people and 4 bikes in a van, I started looking for a Boxer/Relay/Ducato L4 of my own.

    It took me a year to find one that I thought was cheap enough to cover the risk (I couldn’t afford the less risky ones) and I travelled down to Stratford-upon-Avon Summer 2018 to pick up my ex-flooring fleet van.
    2015, 114k miles, white (wanted silver but wasn’t prepared to pay the £1k extra they seem to command).
    It’s a Peugeot Boxer 435 Professional with a 2.2L transit Puma engine.

    She looks a bit bigger in the car park than I imagined!

    While looking for a van, we’d been working on loads of different layouts and working out the compromises we were willing to make.

    One difference to Mike’s van was that my 2 sons are already nearly adult-sized and one is 6’2″, so big beds and big bikes need to be catered for.

    Top priorities:
    4 adult-sized beds (one bed can be a double, but not a priority)
    4 belted seats
    4 bikes hidden from outside view and separated from living space
    Fridge
    Heating
    Room to sit around a table
    Some kind of cooking solution
    Some kind of toileting solution
    Under £4,500 build cost
    Lots of storage space

    Second priorities:
    Swivel cab seats to create more space
    Room for people to sit up in bed
    Attractive and unique interior that keeps me motivated to build

    After looking at a million van layouts we decided that the rear seats like the Wildax Solaris or Auto Sleepers Windrush (also called Sussex BB) would be our preferred layout, so we contacted them and asked if they would sell the seats. They wouldn’t 🙁
    So we went all around the houses thinking of alternatives, but kept returning to wanting that layout.
    I contacted loads of rock’n’roll bed manufacters with pics of the Wildax seats, but none wanted to supply.

    Anyway – down the pub I mentioned one night that I might have to design and get someone to fabricate them and I got offered the use of someone’s welding equipment. Even though I was scared, I kind of knew that it was inevitable that this is the route I would go down.

    So we started drawing out what we wanted and eventually got it all into CAD on Fusion360.
    Looking at the materials I could see it costing soooo much less than off-the-shelf rock’n’roll beds, but know it would take me ages to achieve.

    Looking back those seats account for about 4 months of the conversion time of the van!

    Agreed layout:

    The seats work by sliding forwards and then an infill piece goes in the middle.
    You can also use the infill as a sofa back with just the far seat slid down.

    Now we’ve camped in the van, this layout works really well.

    Pros:
    – 4 beds, 4 comfy seats, 4 bikes in garage
    – Can use swivels to make a nice large lounge
    – Nice big beds (all adult)
    – Nice big storage area under the high bed.
    – All 4 people can sit up in bed
    – Can probably go with friends mountain biking and not just family
    – Easy access to cab from living space
    – Large items (inflatable canoe was our main one) can go at the bottom of the garage and penetrate under the rear bunk.

    Cons:
    – Rear seats aren’t same height as front seats
    – No room for bathroom, or private toilet space
    – Infill for double-bed has to just hang around on one of the other bunks while made into seats
    – Kitchen can’t extend into sliding door area like some builds
    – Not much privacy

    What we learned so far:
    1. L3 and L4 Ducato/Relay/Boxers are in big demand for converters keeping the price high
    2. I don’t know anything about engines/etc so didn’t trust myself to appraise a van
    3. Fitting what we wanted in a van makes every mm count. For example, because we needed to use the c-pillar seatbelt points, we couldn’t really deviate from a 1400mm wide double bed, a 1900mm long high bunk and a 600mm garage.
    4. Van parts are really expensive. As I took a risk on a cheap van, I had some reserve, but after reading around on forums it’s not really enough to cover multiple large faults like the gearbox/clutch/engine and even smaller faults can add up quickly. Fingers crossed!
    5. So many van layouts you see looking amazing on pinterest/forums are for 2 people in a large van. That would be sooooo easy!

    I’ve got 250 photos of the build so far. I’ll post more when I get chance.

    Premier Icon timidwheeler
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    Excellent. I’m really looking forward to seeing the photos.

    Premier Icon Tiger6791
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    Brilliant, need to see this as we are on the same journey now.

    Same requirements as you to sleep 4 but we need a shower / toilet also.

    Looking at a van on Monday.

    Still scratching my head with layouts

    Premier Icon P20
    Subscriber

    Good work. Looking forward to the pics and play with Fusion 360!

    Premier Icon duncancallum
    Subscriber

    Looks good.

    Van bits are not that much dearer than big car stuff.

    I’ve a small T4 which suits us just but I’m wanting to build a bigger van

    I’m not too convinced about having a shower unit either though a toilet is a must.

    I thought about rigging over of these to the rear doors and using a couple of poles and shower curtains as a cubicle and using Gas shower

    As it would be small and keep the condensation out of the van.

    trail_rat
    Member

    We have a toilet. Would not be without it now even though I thought it was extravagant.

    Don’t have a shower though.

    We throw a kettle of hot water in the mobiwasher and use the shower head on that post ride.

    Van parts are really expensive. As I took a risk on a cheap van, I had some reserve, but after reading around on forums it’s not really enough to cover multiple large faults like the gearbox/clutch/engine and even smaller faults can add up quickly.

    Not really compared to comparable cars. Even comparable quality tires for the big van are cheaper than the size for the partner combi.

    TheDTs
    Member

    Also interested in how this goes.
    Am I missing something obvious buT why are pop tops only used on smaller vans. A normal transporter pop top on a boxer van would free up loads of space.

    Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash
    Subscriber

    MrsMC and I have the occasional van conversation. Love these kind of threads.

    She wants a small van, I want bikes inside. Suspect we could have a lot of nights in Premier Inns for what we’d end up spending.😄

    trail_rat
    Member

    . A normal transporter pop top on a boxer van would free up loads of space.

    Seen a few done like that.

    One issue is weight. Often with big vans you are drawing close to the max allowable weight 4up.

    Often the vw sized vans with conversion 4 up with bikes on the back etc are also over weight.

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    trail_rat Yes we plan on doing something similar with a shower. Haven’t tried yet. The build is usable but very very incomplete at the moment.

    TheDTs I’ve had a Bongo which was a superb roof, but I didn’t want one in this van for many reasons. They’re cold in the season extremities, annoying to pack away wet, require more sealed joins/surfaces, take away a bit of the stealthness of pulling up at the side of the road/layby. They’re also pretty expensive and complex. Most of the ones I see on VW are there for daytime headroom rather than berths.

    I’ll try and put up a post about the first job we did – windows – tomorrow.

    This is ours built over a year from a brand new L3H2 Boxer nartound 600hrs work but so worth it!

    <img src=”

    ” alt=”van” />

    andykirk
    Member

    Alex – can I ask what software you used for the 3D layouts?

    Premier Icon oldtennisshoes
    Subscriber

    That’s a funky looking layout. What happens if one of the singles needs to get up in the night?

    TheBrick
    Member

    5. So many van layouts you see looking amazing on pinterest/forums are for 2 people in a large van. That would be sooooo easy!

    This is a big point! I was considering a van convertion rather than the van plus tent we use at the moment but unless you go coach built 4 in a <3.5 t van is a challenging layout.

    trail_rat
    Member

    The only challenge would be making the bike garage big enough surely.

    Either that or your using the wrong base van

    We get 5 sleeping in the post bus on strathpuffer weekend .

    2 in the rear bed 2 in the front bed and 1 across the front seats on a self inflating mat (room for 6ft )

    And all but the short straw in the front seat can get up and use the toilet without disturbing the others.

    Premier Icon paladin
    Subscriber

    And all but the short straw in the front seat can get up and use the toilet without disturbing the others.

    They could just wind the window down surely 😃

    trail_rat
    Member

    They could but We don’t condone shitting in lay-bys. To many folk already doing as their default option at popular spots and making bad name for the rest of us…..

    Premier Icon paladin
    Subscriber

    Was said in jest.

    I made a hammock thing to go in the front of our van, turned out fairly comfy too

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    @Blazin-saddles – That looks amazing. Particularly like the top lockers.

    @andykirk – This is the incredible Autodesk Fusion 360. Free for hobbyists! Use it all the time for 3D printing, CNC routing and general design work.

    andy8442
    Member

    Bookmarked! Good luck.

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    @trail_rat Re: complexities of fitting 4 people. Yes, the garage is what makes it tricky especially if you can live without a bathroom. I can’t imagine wanting to leave bikes on a rack though, if I was parking in a honeypot area and going hiking for a day for example.

    Premier Icon downhilldave
    Subscriber

    @AlexSimon, looking forward to some updates and photos. Also thanks for the Autodesk Fusion link, downloading it now.

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Windows

    Took ages to decide whether to go with bonded or plastic double-glazed windows. I think what finally swung it for me was a) the difficulty of finishing the inside against the bonded windows and b) some reasonably-priced Polyvision windows came up on Ebay from Magnum Motorhomes.

    The Polyvision windows were massive (1100×550). I could only find one other person who’d managed to fit them on a Ducato and info was sketchy. Measured about 10 times and decided it should be possible. It’s caused complications, but the big windows are ace and all issues have been overcome.

    First job was to make some internal frames.
    All these caravan/motorhome style windows assume that you’re fitting it to typical caravan/motorhome sandwich wall at about 20-30mm thick so we had to make a wooden frame to make the van up to this thickness. They also assume your surface is flat, so you have to make a decision on whether to try and pull the panel flat (which is easier on smaller windows) or try and make the frame follow the curve of the van and then leave the outisde window relying on sealent to fill in the gaps at the top and bottom edge.
    We opted for the latter.

    So the frames need to be curved vertically and our first issue caused by the large window size meant that a square-cornered frame wouldn’t fit in the sliding door. We could have done it out of shaped wood, but we thought using our 3D printer would be cool and we could get the 3D curve perfect.

    It all worked out well.

    Second job is cutting the hole out of the van.
    This was scary as it was the first job to do and I’ve never done anything like this before.
    Advice from Mike D and others was to do the sliding door first, so that if you mess up you can get a whole new door! That doesn’t really settle the nerves!

    We applied very wide strips of masking tape so that the jigsaw surface wouldn’t scratch the van. We also took precautions inside the van to catch metal filings as they can be the start of rust.

    Anyway – I will say that it was an absolute doddle. We used a stepped drill bit to start off, then Jigsaw and Wickes metal blades worked like a dream and it was easy to follow my curves. Cut the top edge last, so that the panel is supported (althouth we added masking tape after cutting the sides so that it was supported even more).


    (this pic shows the double-wall skin of the van. We put string inside to stop metal filings going down – we hoovered it as we pulled it out)

    This is where the second side-effect of choosing large windows showed itself. We’d cut up to a double-wall part of the skin which didn’t really want to push together so we thought it best to fill this. I didn’t fancy having wood in here as it might hold moisture, so I bought a UPVC window ledge and sliced it up with a track saw to make some strips to fill the gap

    BTW – Loads of clamps are essential for building a van. These are cheap and great in addition to some heftier quickgrip clamps or g-clamps: https://www.toolstation.com/roughneck-spring-clamp/p75191

    Left those overnight to glue then glued on the inner frame


    (this pic is from the kitchen window but it’s all the same process)

    Left that overnight

    Then it’s more scary stuff!
    These Polyvision windows don’t have an internal frame – just loads of metal clips that you have to screw put on in a specific order

    I haven’t got any photos of the next bit because you have a time limit!

    Basically you’ve got about 40mins while the Sikaflex 221 is still nicely wipeable. So you put a bead of Sika all around the window, offer it up to the outside, then fit about 20 of those stupid clips to the inside of the frame – not too tight at the top and bottom, because that part of the window is going to NOT pulled to the side of the van – our calculations made it a roughly 6mm gap top and bottom that you have to fill with Sika.
    It swallows loads of the stuff to fill that gap. So we cut the nozzle quite wide so we could quickly stuff in a load of it.

    Then we used baby wipes over fingers to shape it, clean it and kept topping up the Sika where needed. The baby wipes were absolutely perfect! Quite stressful, but we just kept at it until we were happy. We were struggling for time on a couple of bits and the Sika starts to drag a bit and doesn’t go completely smooth, so we left those bits to come back to with fresh Sika over the top later.

    Anyway – it all came out good – you can see the 6mm gap filled with Sika in this photo:

    Praise The Lord for Sikaflex 🙂

    Repeat all of the above 3 times to get a full set! (although we didn’t need the 3D printed corners for the other 2).

    One complication was that we could only find a cheap sliding kitchen window in grey and not black.
    We considered just putting up with grey, but I thought I’d go to my local car body place and get a quote to spray it. He was amazing and said that it wouldn’t be worth his time, but that I should do it myself with a rattle can and spent about 10mins diving me loads of advice and also gave me some scotchbrite to rub it down with.

    His advice was to do 3 very thin coats, using a hair-dryer to warm the metal frame beforehand and also warm the spray can in a jug of warm water. It worked perfectly and my nervousness of the paint flaking hasn’t proved founded in 14 months of being sat outside and driven. The hardest part was masking around all the seals/brushes on the window.

    Next: Rooflights.

    surfer
    Member

    Tidy work, well done!

    Premier Icon tillydog
    Subscriber

    Nice! I like the 3D printed corners – easier than whittling away at battens.

    If you haven’t discovered them yet, Everbuild Wonder Wipes are like baby wipes on steroids – they are extremely good on silicone and PU adhesives and don’t leave a residue. Must have’s for a van build.

    Everbuild Wonder Wipes

    ElShalimo
    Member

    Any good for the post-vindaloo toilet shuffle?

    Premier Icon tillydog
    Subscriber

    Any good for the post-vindaloo toilet shuffle?

    If they don’t shift it, this will:

    grinder!

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Just a note about Fusion 360. It’s an amazing tool and for me, much easier to use than SketchUp (or at least I get stuck less often), BUT you do need to do everything in a specific order to get the most out of it, so it’s worth taking the time to watch several official tutorials.

    When you do it right, the flexibility is amazing. For example on the above drawing of the van – because we’ve parameterised any dimensions that might change – we can change the thickness of the floor, or cladding, or size of the box section for the seats and the whole of the rest of the drawing updates to fit them in.

    ElShalimo
    Member

    I’m always very impressed by these builds as I have none of the talent, patience or time to do it myself.

    Some questions:

    how many hours do they take and do you guys really stay on budget?

    Also – what is the final weight of the vehicle? This will affect the payload in a 3.5T van

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    Awesome build, fantastic detail. Enjoying the build photos.

    For anyone trying Fusion 360, Lars Christensen on Youtube is excellent.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5bc9c3S12g

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    @ElShalimo
    How many hours? Lots and lots and lots. Every time you think something’s going to be a couple of hours, a day goes by. I haven’t kept a record, but it’s hundreds of hours for 2 people.

    Do we stay on budget? Nope. As with anything, the more time you invest, the more you start choosing fancier materials, more expensive components, etc, etc. I was on budget until I decided to use Birch Ply for all the walls/surfaces. Roughly double the cost of the normal ply used and it takes longer due to it not hiding any mistakes – i.e. because I’m leaving a raw oiled finish, I can’t use filler/paint/ugly joints/etc.
    Also – all the tubes of sika/tape/screws add up to much more that you imagine at the start. I have a full spreadsheet of every penny spent, so I know! I’ll publish it sometime.

    Weight? You have to be a bit careful (i.e. don’t overbuild anything or have massive slabs of wood), but you should end up with about 500Kg for people and kit. This can be worse if you’ve got 100L water tanks, large gas tanks, loads of batteries, etc.

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    Rooflights

    We really wanted large ones of these – for light and ventilation, but the price really ramps up and there seems to be only one manufacturer which probably contributes to the high price.
    So we settled on 2 normal 400x400mm ones

    During the process of specifying the van I seem to have grown an aversion to the Dometic/Fiamma/Seitz/Waeco/Smev/etc/etc cartel (they are all the same company).

    So I chose MPK VisionStar Pro rooflights because they are pretty cheap, infinitely adjustable (so we can open them just a tad in the rain) and nice and clear. They seem good so far.

    The only real difference between fitting the windows and the rooflights is that instead of using permanent Sikaflex, I used a non-setting mastic so that they can be removed if needed.
    This was based on advice from a number of sources.

    I used Hodgeson’s Seamseal bedding mastic from Magnum Motorhomes (who supplied the rooflights).

    The position of the one at the rear was critical, due to other things in the van and the planned domestic-sized solar panel, so it meant chopping through a roof rib. There are two very close to each other here, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.
    Used an angle grinder with a box underneath it to catch the bits. Whenever we revealed bare metal we painted it with UPON X182 Zinc primer and then Hammerite smooth white. Forgot to mention that we did that on all the windows above.

    Then taped a box under the rooflight position

    Then got on top of the van for the first time. It feels pretty solid to walk around on although I only weigh 60Kg
    I drilled centre holes for my 50mm holesaw. (the radius spec is probably different for different rooflights)

    Then the holesaw

    Then I laid a wide strip of masking tape to jigsaw the rest. These jobs are all really really noisy. I got shouted at from someone up the street (who I’ve never met) for doing it at 10:30 on a Sunday morning “It’s a Sunday morning for ****’s sake” she shouted at the top of her voice. Ah well.


    You can see that the piece has dropped into the box as planned.

    Then dry fit the rooflight to check


    (A hint of how much light these might let in)

    Minion #2 couldn’t help himself

    The front rooflight (shown above) was on a flat area, so that was straightforward, but the rear one was over some ribs, so you have to make sure the area where you seal is flat. You can buy plastic plates designed for the van, but they are £40 or so, so learning from Mike D, I cut some uPVC pieces to fill in the gaps.

    On this part I went back to using Sikaflex, as it’s a permanent addition.

    No problems in the 11 months since this.

    Again, the rooflights expect a typical 20-30mm motorhome/caravan ceiling thickness, so you have to put in a frame inside the fan around the edge. We used 25mm timber just like the windows. The blind for these rooflights has screw points a little further away than 25mm so we did an ‘H’ shaped frame and stuck it on with all the clamps as per usual.


    (I didn’t get a good pic of this, so this is a pic from further on in the build showing the wooden frame shape inside the van and the plastic clips used to fasten the rooflight in place)

    I had to leave this to dry overnight, so we covered the van in a tarp

    Then the next morning applied liberal amounts of mastic and set the rooflights in.
    All went well. IT wasn’t quite as easy to shape as Sika, but it was ok (and you have tons of time because it never sets).

    Next: Clean out and sound deadening.

    Premier Icon AlexSimon
    Subscriber

    As mentioned in the post above.
    When fitting the windows, whenever we revealed bare metal edges we painted it with UPON X182 Zinc primer and then Hammerite smooth white. If we were in a hurry we used a hairdryer, but most of the time we just left it overnight between each.

    Also – all the tubes of sika/tape/screws add up to much more that you imagine at the start.

    Same building a house. I’d budgeted every part of the build except consumables and it was amazing how much screws, sealant, spray foam, tape etc etc adds up.

    how many hours do they take and do you guys really stay on budget?

    Also – what is the final weight of the vehicle? This will affect the payload in a 3.5T van

    I have around 600hrs in mine, give or take. It seemed at the time like 500 of them was insulating the damn thing, seemed to take forever.

    Budget – Yes, but I had a healthy budget for our build, I had £12.5k to convert on top of the cost of the van as I knew I wanted a high spec. I had a spreadsheet of every penny spent. We took advantage of the scene tax on our old VW Transporter which turned a nice profit so it only cost £8K to build this one on top of the old van. all in with purchase of brand new base vehicle we spent £27.5k.

    Weight – ours weighs 2750kg with fuel, water (120l) and undercounted LPG tanks full. we used lightweight boards to build all the furniture and walls but didn’t skimp on stuff, for eg. I used full bearing drawer runners, we have 2x 110ah batteries, I over built the garage and fixed bed and still have plenty of spare weight capacity for loading.

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