I have been dreaming of the freedom of a Campervan-life for years. The idea of being able to go where I like when I like.
Of course that’s not always the case! Yes I work. People often tend to think that as I am in a wheelchair I instantly get everything for free. That is not the case.
Up until recently it is no secret now, I was married, owned my own home, had a car on finance and had bills and Direct Debits up to my eyeballs. I am sure most people can relate to this, the life of imprisonment by your own made responsibilities. Well that soon all changed when my wife left and I got divorced. The house has been sold and suddenly i have a lot less bills and things holding me down. Again there are people out there that will relate to this situation as well, the moment you stop and realise that all of a sudden you are stood there and you just cant remember who the bloody hell you are.
Needless to say its been tough. I have had a lot of change. Not all for the good but also not all for the bad either. I have found that for the first time in years my bills are minimal, my outgoings are low and I have the opportunity to free up some of the time in my life to follow my dream.
first step was to find a van! I honestly thought this would be easy. however I know “NOTHING” about vans. The options are never-ending. Different sizes! all sorts of makes. And as for cost, that’s just an open ended cheque.
I decided to write a list of what I wanted and needed. The list got bigger the more I thought about it, then I looked into other people’s vans for inspiration. Places like Pin-interest, Instagram and the many Facebook groups and pages.
- A fixed Bed
- a sink
- storage for food,
- somewhere to prepare food
- A place for clothes, and some things.
- wheelchair storage
- a woodburner
- table to eat
- chairs to sit at
- rustic look
- good engine
- low mileage preferred
- It needs to be clean ‘ish’
- Can I stand in the van
- Bodywork in ok condition
- Side window
- rear window
Layout was going to be tricky. Getting in all the bits I want. A fixed bed. with storage under it to fit two wheel chairs. Storage for clothes and food. Somewhere for tools. I needed to look at my options for cooking as I didnt really what to fit gas. I have been looking at my choices for heating, What do I go for that is reasonably priced? and this is currently still a question i have to answer.
The Van I purchased step one completed
First I purchased a medium wheel based ford transit for £800, an absolute bargain. I was just waiting for everything to tie together when One day the guy I bought it off gave me a call.
He had just had a LDV convoy 400 in. It was longer, had only done 30,000 miles, was all in all in good condition and pretty much good to go.
It was a few hundred more but worth the money. looking at the van and for some unknown reason I fell in love with it straight away, she really is a bit of an ugly duckling but at the same time retro and cool. She was perfect!!
Stripping out all the insides was great Fun. Taking the old bus back to its shell and giving it a bit of TLC.
I found rust and lots of it. New steps were needed and the cab was soaking. The seats came out first then the cab liner. the Dash was a mess and damaged.
A cheap makeshift bulk head and all the wall boards were removed. The floor boards were lifted and the extent of the rust was apparent. Not to mention I had a fern bush growing under the front seat.
With a wire brush attached to my drill I was able to clean off all the light stuff. A grinder got rid of all the deeper rot and reviled a few holes in places they shouldnt have been.
Left with an empty shell and some welding to do it was soon decided a good idea to fit better seats. There was a rather exciting moment when a mate told me of a set of BMW seats he had out of a 5 series. (in leather). Well the seats where still in the BMW and the car was a scrap. The seats where green! These needed to be cleaned and then cleaned again and then modified to fit..
Welding and building.
Welding is an art form and not a skill I have at the ready but what I did have, a Mike. Starting in the back and rebuilding the wheel arches, big chunks of the floor and spot welding the smaller holes in no time at all the rear of the van was good to go.
With plates everywhere but the holes gone I could get back in to the next stage of building.
The front was where Mike really showed off his skills. The passenger seat was fine it had room to position and the new seat was only a single compared to the bench seat that came out.
The driver seat was a bit more tricky. with it being wider than the original, having a hand brake in the way and a step to think about it all had to sit centre.
Mike built a new step and amended the position of the hand brake. Took a few hours and a bit of steel but once painted you would never know.
I was advised to treat the whole floor with Zinc182 and glad I did. It offers a protection layer that is water-resistant. I remember painting it on and thinking that the van looked almost new when I finished.
Top Tip do it on a dry day with plenty of air flow.
Here is an area where I made a few mistakes but soon learned by my errors. first off I did it on a day I had nothing else to do. Then realised I still had to do the welding so ended up creating a massive fire risk.
I also done the roof and struggled my arse off with my girlfriend in assistance only to find that I couldn’t fit the timber tidy as it was in the way so had to strip it all out again and pack it behind the timber as I went.
Foolishly I thought 1 roll would be enough, I was mistaken and 5 rolls later I had used the lot. I don’t know the right or wrong way to be honest I know there are loads of different materials you can use, I went for loft insulation. It worked for me!!
I really wanted a timber look. I wanted a feel of my father in the van. Dad was a carpenter and loved working with wood. I was never very good at DIY and in fact it was a bit of a standing joke at exactly how bad I was.
I knew I was going to test myself but that was the idea so I kind of just cracked on.
The main issue I had was angles. The curve of the roof from side to side was obvious. The bow from the front to the back! not so!
I ended up cladding up the side so far and the making the roof flat and cladding up to the side peaces. This lost the bow in the corner and I made a nice little lighting feature out of it.
The Banding idea was something I really wanted. It covered the joints I had not done very well on and it gave the van a bit of character that i instantly fell in love with.
Pine is a very light timber and yes I could have kept it however I wanted rustic not new. To get the effect I wanted the timber had to be scorched with a blowtorch and then stained to dull it down. Deb was the blowtorch Queen.
The after effect was absolutely gorgeous and I couldn’t have been happier.
So here I was the body of the van, completed! The cladding internal shell was ready to be fitted to and now i had to somehow fit my list of wants and needs into the space that I had created.
The most important feature, and the storage underneath was going to be fundamental in the success of the concept. So that was where I started. Once that was in place i had ticked off the bed, the clothes storage and the wheelchair storage.
work top area
Next on the list was somewhere to cook, wash and prepare food. As well as the idea of storing food I needed to think about the gas bottle and water storage. Now at the beginning of this project I didn’t really want to fit gas. To be fair I researched a lot of options but gas was by far my best choice, so gas it was.
I built the unit off the side of the bed, Framed against the side wall and anchored into the floor it formed a strong and sturdy framework ready to clad the same as the roof to tie it all in nicely. With in the unit I created a space for the battery as well, a nice little bonus.
Once the doors where on and the timber was treated the same as the roof the look was awesome and exactly what I was looking for. A bit rough in areas and almost square it created a timber based rustic unit that covered off most of the wants and needs except the wood burner. This unfortunately was not to be but as time has gone on I think it was the right choice for my van.
The seating area gave me the opportunity to create two great storage boxes that could double up as seats, also it is a requirement for the DVLA so in they went. A simple design and one that was perfect. My tool box was created on one side and on the other lives the BBQ, a spare camping cooker (you never know) and a few extra bits that needed a space.
The over head Cab
This caused me some real headaches! the shape was horrible with loads of angles. My skills where just not cut out for this. I sat for a bit, did a bit then sat for a bit more. Didn’t like it so ripped it out and started again. Again I didn’t like it and out it came. Lots more sitting and in the end with a bit more help from the trusted Mike the idea was born to simply spray the inside black and use storage boxes to create the best use of the space. Why didn’t I just do that in the first place?
The Cab Header was taken out of a scrap box van and cut down to fit, this really finished off the look perfectly, gave a soft finish but still in keeping with the rustic look. I even fitted a retro light in the cab. Around the rough edges I used the banding to tie everything in together. The corner sections where the overhead met the side walls I created a beam like look using up some of the scraps and off cuts. Once the door was fitted and the wood made to blend in all the effort was worth it.
Electrics / Gas
Originally I was completely intimidated by electrical systems for Vans. Some of the drawings on-line was so complicated and terrifying that I really didn’t think I was up to the task.
Lots of Youtube videos, plenty of research and loads of asking advice the concept was actually made very easy to me by a friend who specialises in auto electrics. I wont lie, I can’t advise you how to do it, that would be wrong but i simply kept it simple. My switch panel came with all the fuses built-in. Everything goes into the panel and is isolated there. Idea is “keep it simple” my whole van is run on 12v so again no other added complications. I have a 240 cable in the back of the van for camp site use and that has 4 sockets on it so again nice and easy.
My lights are all LED and low voltage, Have two sets on centre lights and some reading lights by the bed. All fused! along side that i have some LED strip lights that run along the corners offering me a great mood light effect.
With 6 USB charge ports and 3 12v sockets I have plenty to choose from. These run my cool box, charges my phone and for music i use a pulse speaker with a usb charger.
Now for the Gas……. the area I really did not want to go anywhere near. Then I found a two burner hob. Instantly simple and as safe as houses. One gas bottle, one meter of gas pipe, two ring connectors and a regulator. Job Done!!
Completely, absolutely and with out a doubt. The van has already offered me freedom to go places. I am experiencing new people all the time. Time, something I can now enjoy. and do I recommend this for others? In a heart beat.
For me this was not only a dream, it became a journey. I wanted to test myself find out who I was. I met someone on the way who shared in this vision. We became connected with the van helping us along in a positive way. A bad day at work now just motivates us to get in the van and escape the holdings of life. Most of all now I am inspired to be who I want to be wherever that maybe and whenever I decide to do it. This van is more than just four wheels, it’s the key to escape the holding that reality forces on to us and with that comes freedom.