You find me in a defiant mood at the moment, which may lead to disaster, but I have just had enough of trying to find subcontractors who can help us with our campervan build. I have no idea how we are going to make this happen but, sod it, we’ll do it ourselves!
We got our Vivaro panel van (who is called ‘Big Red’) back in July and it is now October and we have barely started the conversion. So, what happened…?
Today you find me feeling a bit down on my campervan conversion quest. It is proving to be harder than I thought to find skilled help to convert our new Vauxhall Vivaro van as we want a bespoke design and need to do it on a reasonable budget. But I will find a way…
We Lose Our Builder
Our craftsman-builder Terry has decided, after spending some time with the van, that he doesn’t feel confident about doing some parts of the build and has decided to hand the job back. He has been able to do the first fix electrics with the help of a really amazing auto-electrics supplier called Rayne Automotive, http://www.rayneautomotive.co.uk/ . The guys at Rayne have been outstanding and actually designed and cut looms for my design which I described to them over the phone. They then supplied the whole kit (not leisure battery as I had that already) for £288 with a schematic for Terry to follow which I think was a great help for him. They have also happily advised him over the phone and have supplied a couple of extra bits that we found we needed as we went along.
Terry has also designed and created a nice, neat battery/fuse box behind the belted chair that we have kept in the back behind the driver’s seat for extra passengers and to use as a desk chair for when we want to work on our laptops while we are away in the van. He will also complete the floor with a grey oak-style vinyl covering and we are really excited about the sink/fridge cabinet that he is building for us and I’ll show you some photos when it is finished. However, he didn’t feel that he could do a good enough job on the wall and ceiling coverings and to create the seats that convert in to a bed from scratch.
Only 2 Ways to Convert a Van
So, I am on the hunt again to find a converter/craftsman who can work in a create-from-customer-design way that it a little bit out of the box.I have realised that there seem to be only 2 main ways to convert a van from scratch at the moment:
- Hand the van over to a professional converter who will do everything for which you will pay anything from £6-12k+ to do a small-medium panel van. They also seem to prefer VWs and to fit the standard interiors i.e. rock-and-roll bed with Smev side kitchen/sink units with the cupboard behind. You also get a full Waeco fridge (around £500), gas cylinder cooking system and diesel heating (all of which we just don’t need for our style of camping). You may also have anything up to a 6 month wait on their waiting list. But yes, they do look sleek and glossy and if that is what floats your boat then that is fine. But I get the feeling from campervan people I meet and connect to on social media that many want something different now but don’t know how to achieve it.
- Do the whole thing DIY. So, you will need to design and build the interior from scratch yourself which is great if you have DIY skills or a family member who has (and these will need to be fairly high-level DIY skills – don’t kid yourself that you can do this if you can just put a few shelves up!). You will also need some serious tools and some space to do the work in with access to mains power unless you have lots of battery tools. If you don’t have a covered workshop then you will be at the mercy of the weather and, as we tend to want to do the conversion in the winter so we can be camping in the summer, this can be a bit challenging. We managed to do the insulation ourselves but just do not have the skills or kit to do the paneling/furniture stuff. Of course, you could forget about styled interiors and just throw a mattress and a few boxes in the back with a gas cooker and blessings to the people who do that.
A Bit Disheartened at the Moment
But I want to do the middle-ground which is design it myself (and find the materials) and have a skilled person do the actual build which I can’t do and it seems to be hard to find craftsmen/contractors who can do all the parts needed. I am thinking the only way might be to find several craftsmen who can do different parts of the job, e.g. electrician, carpenter, vehicle bodyworker and they do their own bits. It would take a bit of project managing but I wouldn’t mind doing that to get the van we want.
So, it is a bit disheartening at the moment but I am determined to find a way to create unique, campervans in our style within a reasonable budget.
I know how we felt when we first went looking for a campervan back in 2014 on very little budget as Glyn was still paying maintenance for his first family at that time which didn’t leave a lot to play with. We went to the shows and saw all the sexy vans there usually for £30,000-plus (this year they seemed to be £40,000-plus!) and knew this was completely out of reach for us as it probably is for many people.
We eventually found Bumble Campers who were able to give us a converted Toyota Previa for under £3,000 so we were able to start having a campervan life even if it was in a small way.
We have a little more budget for our Vivaro conversion but it still has to come in at under £8,000 total and this would be virtually impossible if we just handed it over to a converter to do the lot and it would probably have to be the glossy, standard side-kitchen design that we don’t want. I do appreciate the hours and skill that go in to these conversions but it does make it prohibitive for many people.
Even More Passionate About Finding a Way
In a way, this frustrating experience has made me more passionate about finding a way to create a professional, comfortable-design campervan without having to take out a second mortgage. And maybe to share that with other people eventually.
I really love the campervan life and I meet so many people who would love to do the same thing but just assume that they can’t afford it so never even try. If I do manage to find a way to do this, I am thinking that maybe I should start looking in to creating vans in the new design for other people on a budget too so that they can ‘live the dream’ and have the amazing experience and freedom of owning their own campervan.
Watch this space…
When I asked people on my Facebook campervan groups what they thought was one of the most important things about converting a panel van to a campervan they often say – FINDING A GOOD BASE VEHICLE. The décor and fittings can all be easily changed but if the van isn’t right you are not going to have a good campervan. So, I asked Barry Winterton who, with his wife Jane, tracks down and sell Vivaro/Trafic vans, what to look out for when choosing a base vehicle.
I’ve been a bit quiet on the Campervan Quest front lately because I have been experiencing an ‘interesting’ struggle to find somebody who can help us convert our Vivaro van in the way we want it to be converted. I don’t think our design is that weird but, is it just me, or are there only 2 ways of converting a campervan at the moment – Do-It-Yourself or an expensive, standard conversion by a professional converter who has a 6-months waiting list? I was feeling a bit down about it, but the Fates have provided a solution and I am really excited about it now…
Well, our search for a base vehicle for our new campervan conversion is now over – he has arrived at last and a very handsome boy he his! Our red, Vauxhall Vivaro is a bit of a hunk but needs some TLC to bring out his full potential. Now the only thing we need to do is to work out how on earth to do the conversion…
We are getting closer now to buying the base vehicle for our next campervan and Barry, our van-hunter extraordinaire, asked us if it was important to have air con in our van. Just thinking about camping in the extreme hot weather that we had recently means the answer was a big “Yes” but getting air con is not always so easy. In fact finding a good van these days at all is not so easy …