I am converting a van to a camper van. And I now have a van to work on. Meet ‘The Donkey’, affectionately named because it has been a work horse for the past decade, carting materials and trailers around the UK – it’s a Renault Master LWB (long wheel base) high-top diesel for those of you that care. Whilst it is a little different from the old-school VW Camper I once dreamed of, it is a van and it is real, and I am starting work on it. It’s easy to talk about doing something – ‘I’m going to convert a van to a camper van’ – but now that it is here, I am committed to making this happen.
Before I show you around, I’ll tell you why I chose this van. I had two main requirements for my van:
- Low cost (cheap)
- Lots of space
This van fits both of those criteria very well. It was my dad’s work van that he was going to get rid of, making it cheap to acquire, and clocks in at about 32 miles per gallon. Whilst economic new vans of a similar size are now clocking in at closer to 45 miles per gallon, they are a lot more expensive to acquire in the first place. The internal area that I can work on (behind the seats) measures 3.5 metres long x 1.75 metres wide x 2.2 metres high, meaning I can stand comfortably and there is enough space to install a bed, cupboards, and a kitchen. Whilst the van doesn’t look as good as a VW Camper, it does allow me to be more covert with my camping and hopefully less of a target to thieves – with huge dents all over the van, I am hoping people imagine the contents to be of low value. I didn’t think of this when first looking at the van, but it already has a two way extractor fan (allowing you to extract or intake air) fitted into the roof which is very useful. And as the van has three seats, I can even pick up a hitchhiker.
There are of course, several negatives, but I feel these are hugely offset by the cost of the van and the space.
As you can see by the above photo, the van has a fairly unique paint job and rather unique curves (due to being dented and bashed continuously). Accepting the van for what it is on the outside, it is the inside that I am worried about and what I hope to improve. This is what it looks like inside…
All of this will be stripped out so that I can start fresh. You will probably also notice (from the video) that the van is filthy and the door seal has been ripped off. I’ll scrub it clean and find a new seal on the internet hopefully, because right now there is a big gap between the door and bodywork, even when closed.
As you can see from this picture of the interior, the van is REALLY filthy. As a work vehicle that carried tools and materials, it was always getting dirtier and never had to be cleaned fully, but a good few hours of scrubbing will fix this.
What is a little bit of an eye sore is the roof. My little brother once attempted to go through the McDonalds’ drive-through in the van. Unfortunately the van was taller than the drive-through and it somewhat ripped the roof of the van open and damaged the internal structure. As I won’t be loading weight on top of the van, I don’t think the structure should be a problem and I will fibreglass over the rip to keep it water tight. It has already been fibreglassed to cover the hole, but still leaks a little bit (I have been told). I plan on lining the interior with wood which will cover up any blemishes, so it won’t matter here either. I will not be going through any drive-throughs.
The van currently has a few light fixings, but they aren’t where I want them, so I’ll remove all of these. All the ply that’s in at the moment is wrecked from years of use, so I’ll be taking this all out as well.
So, there’s plenty to do, but this is The Donkey – which I will be renaming.
Excited, I headed out to the shops to get supplies, only for The Donkey to break down on the way back to my dad’s workshop where I am doing the conversion. It’s in the garage at the moment, but when it gets back, it’s full conversion ahead. This is the inconvenient location that it broke down…
I don’t know anything about converting a van and my budget for this is limited to three figures. In fact, I have only ever owned three vehicles in my life, one of which I crashed almost immediately and another that I only owned for a few months (but did attempt a one day conversion by adding a bed in the back), so this is a very amateurish attempt a conversion in the best spirit of ‘accessible adventure’ (adventure that requires little finance, experience, or courage). I once cycled 1,000 miles on a £30 bicycle without even knowing how to repair a puncture at the start.. surely this can’t be any more difficult… (!!!)
If you’re interested in following along or hoping to do something similar, I will be posting regular updates and advice (based upon my learnings) on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube – as soon as I get the van back and can start working on it – so please Subscribe on Youtube, Like on Facebook, and Follow on Instagram, and we’ll try to figure out this van conversion malarky together.