QUEST FOR A NEW CAMPERVAN: Good Progress at the New Forest DIY Van Converters Meetup

Yay, good news at last! We made some really good progress on converting our Vivaro campervan,  ‘Big Red’, at a DIY campervan converters meetup in the New Forest in March. We had been feeling stuck for a while but, with the help of the Dorset/Hampshire/Sussex Self-Build Get Together Facebook group, we were able to get some of the more scary things done like, putting a solar vent in the roof and cutting a hole in the side of the van for the hook-up panel. And the great thing is that this has now given us the confidence to try more of the DIY work ourselves and we can see how to do some of the trickier parts as we have our ‘converters eye’ switched on now.

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Win the Spring Edition of Campervan Magazine: What is Your Favourite Camping Accessory?

Well, it looks like I have subscribed twice to Campervan magazine this year (senility is a terrible thing!). So I now have the spring edition to give away as the prize in my new competition – ‘What is the best camping accessory that you have found?’. Just let me know in a comment or by email and I’ll post the magazine to the winner. Intrigued to see what you come up with…

You can email your answer to thecampercookie@gmail.com

QUEST FOR A NEW CAMPERVAN: My Moment of Despair

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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…

 

 

Campervan Christmas Presents: The Hi Gear Stool/Table

Yes it’s nearly that time of year again so I am going to bring you a series of blogs on cool presents for your camping family and friends, or you can even treat yourself to one! Some of these clever products are great to use at home, too. So let me tell you about the Hi Gear Stool/Table which we have had in our van for a couple of years and it has so many uses…

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