I had a campervan that you might remember that I was super proud of. It was one of the vehicles that I kept hold of for more than five minutes. I had it – wait – over three years. Oh my!
It was a T4 from ’03, the last year they made that model. It had a 5 cylinder 2.5l TDI, which is the good one and it looked the mutts nuts. It wasn’t a rocketship but it wasn’t meant to be fast and it would have gone on forever.
Unfortunately it only had two seats, and I need at least 4 these days. In my infinite wisdom, I bought a new Golf GTi to meet this requirement and I kept the van too.
NB, the money-saving scheme where you spend £30K on a new car, to avoid spending £5-10K may not represent sound financial advice.
Once the Golf arrived on the scene, the van did almost nothing. Even when I had the choice of van or car, the van generally lost because the Golf GTI is literally everything you ever need and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The times that I did choose to jump back in the big green machine, the neglect would show itself big time. Rusty discs, flat batteries, under-inflated tyres. Everything creaked.
I felt so guilty. I loved that green bastard, but not enough seats, no air-con.. vans of that era were a bit basic. Leaving it stationary also began to cost me in repairs. It had to go, so I sold it to a nice man from Plymouth and banked the money.
By the way, the fella from Plymouth came on a coach hundreds of miles leaving his house at 4AM. He had no return ticket and almost no option but to buy the van, and I still knocked money off the asking price.
Only three weeks passed but I couldn’t stop thinking about campervans. Could I find a way that a weekend camping machine could also work for everyone as our only family car?
One Friday afternoon at work browsing the the classifieds I spotted a year old Transporter panel van for sale in Wales that I just about couldn’t afford. I was pretty sure though that it could be the solution, a top-spec highline model that would be a good base for a new campervan and not be too rustic to function as the family wagon.
I drove across the next day, just to have a look at it and obviously I drove back home in it.
I’ll admit that it was initially tough to see how this was a good decision. In the pitch black and the rain, parked back on my street the ply-lined panel van with no windows and a bulkhead didn’t look like a good place to stash two kids under a year old for trips to the shops.
Luckily, my wife has vision, and is very tolerant. Never the less the pressure was on, this clearly could not be one of those never ending projects. So I started in the rear for some quick wins.
I took out the top half of the bulkhead and then rang Dean at Vandoc to book him to come up to the house ASAP to fit some windows. He fit the last ones to my T4 quickly, properly and without me having to drive anywhere. Same again please.
Onto Banwys website. Ordered a 112CM RIB seated for the rear, with headrests and ISOFIX. These are the best seats available that also convert into a bed, end of story. They are crash tested, absolutely solid AF and come from the factory in all the VW fabrics. Don’t buy anything else.Of course I ordered a Kiravans fitting kit to stop the seat coming loose and killing everyone in a crash.
Although far from complete at this stage, I thought we could at least all now go somewhere in it. We had seats, windows and a could see/get to the kids from the cab. Except.. the child seats didn’t fit when I put them in. Shit.
The RIB seats had ISOFIX which was fine, but the height of them meant that the third leg on the child seat no longer reached the floor. After some research and taking a bit of a punt I ordered two rear-facing seats on Amazon made by a Spanish firm called Concord. These turned out to be awesome and with the legs extended to their absolute max they fit a RIB Campervan seat just perfectly.
After that I took out the rest of the bulkhead. I ordered a ply floor, swivel seat, diesel heater and fridge from Kiravans as well as some Altro commercial vinyl off fleabay. Then I sent the van to Deans workshop to fit a pop top roof with a bed and carpet-line & insulate it all the rear.
I got the train up to the Vandoc lockup to pick it up and it finally looked like a camper. On my return I got Travelvolts to come down and do the electrics then I set about fitting all the stuff I’d bought.
It took a lot of spare time over the following few weeks, but none of it was too painful. The biggest slog was a full week of evenings in the garage building the units I’d ordered from Evomotion whilst the van was away with Dean. In total though, from day of purchase to fully fledged camper van.. 8 weeks. So it’s doable fast if you’ve got a good enough credit card.
Which brings me onto how much it cost because even though these vans have always been popular.. they are rapidly becoming even more so. Everyone wants to know if they can do it. So here goes.
The van, was £20K. I spent probably another £15K on all the work in total. I have spent more since then. New wheels, tyres, decals, daft stuff like bedding, wedges, hookup cables. You can go mad.
Did I save money doing it myself? Undoubtably. £35K at that time would get you most of the features you see above from a converter.. but not at the same quality. It’d be a cheaper seat, probably wouldn’t be bracketed, no fridge or heater for that cost either. Having everything you want in the colours you like and the right places you want them.. is a huge bonus too.
It was a lot of dough, but my van was particularly low mileage – 13K – and only a year old. They hold their value and it’s a good spec now anyhow.
If it were for sale you’d say something like:
2015 T5.1 2.0l TDi (103hp). Highline model. Remapped to 160bhp by Pendle
- Pop top roof, with double bed, vented canvas, screens etc.
- RIB rear seats, with headrests and ISOFIX. Folds to fully flat double bed.
- Swivelling double passenger seat
- 2KW diesel heater
- Top-loading Webasto fridge
- Gas hob, two rings, sink with running cold water and 12l internal tank
- 110aH battery, split charge plus 240v hookup with 7aH charger and 240v sockets.
- Fully insulated, ply lined, sliding rear windows and barn door windows
- USB charging points, battery status panel, LED lights along ceiling, over sink and bed.
- Insulating fixed blackout curtains on tracks
- 17″ Black Rhino York wheels, BFG KO2 All terrain tyres
- Undeseat storage, floor to ceiling wardrobes
The freedom it buys you is ace and if you haven’t just sold your only car and don’t have a 1 year old and a new baby to move about the place… you can take your time adding all the accoutrements.
I thoroughly recommend a Campervan as a family wagon. I mean, as well as going all over the place on holiday in them and getting away at weekend, just changing a nappy and all that hideousness is so much easier when you’re out and about.
I don’t why anyone buys anything else.