Our Camper

Why

We purchased a townhouse in the costa del sol a few years ago. The only problem was how to transport our boxer dog to and from Cadiz. Both of us did not like the idea of putting Bruno in a plane or leaving him in a car on a boat. We thought about purchasing a motorhome, but we were put off with the expense of them. Louise’s dad suggested a camper conversion, they had purchased an LDV 400 Convoy to take their furniture to and from their new house in Malaga. We purchased it off of them and started to plan out Daisy.

On looking at how we could convert our LDV we purchased the Haynes book “Build Your Own Motorhome”. After reading through it a couple of times we decided to go for the donor caravan approach. Our next task was to find a caravan that would suit the inside of our van. We did not want to pay too much money for a caravan, but we made a list of everything we needed for our journey. It was decided a cassette toilet, shower and water heater was a must for such a long journey. We also wanted a 3 way fridge, cooker and oven. We decided a 6 foot 4 long bed would be best as this would allow Barry some comfort.

We were very lucky as we found our donor caravan within a week. It had everything we needed and all furniture could be placed in the van without much modification. We purchased an Avondale Leda Quantock 2 berth Caravan. The picture below shows Daisy pulling the donor caravan from Lochgilphead.

The Idea

Barry put his skills to work and planned out a couple of simple layouts on 3D Max (a CAD/3D Graphics application). Louise’s dad cut out scale models of the van and caravan furniture. This allowed us to move the furniture around to see what was feasible. Both of these planning methods allowed us to rule out a number of layouts.

We moved the furniture around and came up with 2 possible layouts, 1 keeping the back door usable and another blocking off the doors with the bathroom/wardrobe. Eventually we opted for closing off the backdoors for a few reasons; first it saved “dressing up” the inside of the doors; second it allowed us a “work” area for the gas bottles, toilet, tools and other stuff we didn’t want inside the living area. This we thought was a much better option than being able to use the back doors as a loading bay (it’s a camper, not a van).

Barry then continued with the 3D max version by modeling the virtual van accurately in terms of height and shape and building the layouts we’d chosen. We scanned and downloaded swatches of fabrics and wallboards to help decide what would look best before we purchased the materials.

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The rest of this website shows the various planning stages, any problems we encountered and resolved and all important pictures documenting the build.

We applied to have the V5 body type updated from ‘Panel Van’ to ‘Motor Caravan’ in May 2009, we were requested to present the van for inspection at the VOSA site in Bishopbriggs. We passed the inspection and the V5 was sent to us a few weeks later with an updated body type.

The photographs below show the van in one of its incarnations of completeness - after all a camper conversion is never complete. Some of these photographs were used for valuation purposes by our self build motorhome insurer.

Showcase

Now photographs of inside the van!

Where

There is no point building a campervan if you don’t take it afar, so here is a map of places we’ve been. Most of these stops are somewhere we’ve stopped to explore. Overnight stops on a long journey aren’t plotted.

Panel Van Changes

Skylights

We started wallboarding the van whilst it was still insured as a ‘Panel Van’, this meant we could not cut holes until we’d changed the insurance to a self build motorhome type. However, we could install the roof vents, we opted to recycle one from the caravan (MPK) to be used in the bathroom and purchased a new Fiamma one to be install in the living area.

One evening in Spain we found the van was very warm inside and colder outside. We left the door open slightly to get some of the ‘cold’ outside air in the van by blowing it in with some 12v fans. We investigated replacing the skylight with an omnivent type fitting, but in the end we opted for 2 computer fans mounted on an aluminium frame inside the skylight. These fans are set to exhaust the air out of the roof vent. We looked around for the least noisy fans we could find, these are Nexus computer fans. For the moment they are both set to maximum speed however they are PWM fans so we could control the speed using a PWM signal should we decide we want to lower the speed for overnight use. They are much quieter than the 12v fans we used beforehand!

Windows

Once the van was reinsured as a self build motorhome conversion we started cutting holes in the side of the van. We reused the rectangular windows from the Avondale donor caravan; the medium sized caravan galley window was to be installed in the dinette and the small caravan bathroom window to be installed on the side door. The caravan front window was too large and front side windows were oddly shaped to be useful, however we recovered many of the fittings as spare parts. The rubber seal for the windows was reused, but we purchased new white tape to fit inside the black seal.

The gap between the interior wallboard and the dinette window was significant, so we opted to install a Remis blind in the dinette. We filled the cavity with carefully cut wood and installed some wallboard to act as a ledge, we then dressed the edge of the wallboard with white PVC angle.

The blind was reasonably straight forward to fit because we didn’t need to cut it down, however because of the window ledge we needed to trim the runner catch at the bottom and remove the handle from the fly screen.

Finally we opted to dress the window surround with in the same fabric as the seats.

Interiors

Overhead Cupboards

All caravans/campers need storage space and we although not fitted at first, we had planned overhead cupboards.

We salvaged the cupboards from the caravan and refitted with our preferred handles.

There is a plastic shelf above the driver cab which housed the charging unit taken from the caravan, to the right of this unit we have installed white hardboard base and sides and the ceiling board curving to the front. This brightens up the overcab, storage area and will form a cupboard to store towels and blankets. This is ideal, because we have used the existing frame of the shelf for strength, but hidden it with nicer looking materials. Once finished, this gave a height measurement for the planned over-kitchen and over-seat cupboards.

The facia was some wardrobe backing purchased from the bargain corner section of IKEA for £1 each which matched our furniture colour very well.

The left of this cupboard has since had the Zig unit removed, and replaced with a blank facia, however it still houses all the wiring behind and inside this cupboard now resides the fuse box for all the electrical wiring (documented later).

The over kitchen cupboard is basically the frame from the caravan’s cupboard modified and screwed to a base also extracted from the caravan. The underside was fitted with a piece of aluminium. Without this, the interior of the cupboard got very warm when cooking or boiling the kettle! The IKEA backing was used to face this cupboard.

A later modification/afterthought was to fit an LED light, we were able to drop a cable behind the wallboard from cupboard to the light and run this at the back of the cupboard, we purchased a piece of plastic strip to hide the cable which was routed via the bathroom.

For strength, these are screwed and glued onto the wall at the back, the bathroom wall and ceiling. We found the metal ribs in the van roof and screwed the frame into these making it very sturdy.

The cupboard over the dinette needed to be the height of the over cab cupboard so it gave the appearance of wrapping around that corner, it also needed to be deep enough to hide the new solar panel fitted to the roof and wide enough to fit between the wardrobe and the cab. Once measurements and heights were known, the frame was manufactured from existing caravan cupboard frames with additional framework to support the increased width and depth. It was again faced with the IKEA wardrobe backing and fitted with the cupboards from the caravan and new handles. The floor of the cupboard was a carefully cut piece of white hardboard which had to follow each curve of the van. The cupboard was also attached to the roof ribs and side walls with screws and much sikaflex. Within the floor of this cupboard we fitted 3 LED downlights switched at the end. One switch controls the central light and one switch controls the two outer lights.

Seats

The cab area originally had a double seat on the passenger side which we felt could be replaced with a single seat to provide more room for getting in and out of the back. Later we’d planned to replace both seats with swivelling versions. We found an LDV driver seat online with the same upholstery, we then ordered some brackets from LDV to attach it. Holes exist in the floor for left hand drive fitting. We then installed a wood skirting board between the cab and living area with an aluminium divider to fill the gap between the cab rubber mat and the living area linoleum.

We eventually decided to replace the two LDV seats with more comfortable swivelling seats. We had a good look around at captain chairs and swivel plates, but in the end settled for a pair removed from a Ford Galaxy which were in great condition and being sold at an excellent price. I did some research online and found that people were installing these on T4 bases, since a lot of people stated this I assumed they were right and sought out a pair of T4 bases. When I got them home, I realised I was wrong - the Ford Galaxy seats do not fit the T4 bases directly. The Galaxy seats are slightly narrower than the holes in the base and longer by about 25mm. Louise’s Dad fabricated a new set of seat bases from these T4 bases to fit the Galaxy seats. Additionally, since the height of the T4 bases plus the height of the Galaxy seats would be too high, they were cut down. An angle was incorporated to simulate the driving position of the LDV seats we were replacing.

Bathroom

The bathroom was recovered in entirety from the donor caravan. The shape and size of the LDV bathroom was dictated by the caravan’s shower base. To save some space we opted to install the cartridge toilet within the shower base, this required a small cutout to be made in the shower base side to accommodate the cartridge removal. The sink would be above the toilet.

After a few years, we decided to replace all the parts of the bathroom. We decided to remove the old shower and shower basin as it was hardly ever used.

We found a second hand caravan parts dealer nearby who had salvaged a nearly new sink and vanity unit complete with tap and long shelf from a recently storm damaged caravan. Whilst looking at photographs I enquired about the Thetford Swivel toilet with electric flush which he also had. We agreed on a price and I picked them up the following weekend.

Unbelievably, the sink unit shelf fit perfectly lengthwise without any modification. The new toilet required some effort to accomodate the different shaped cassette, cutting and refitting new wallboard solved this problem. We placed a sheet of white hardboard inside the bathroom underneath the shelf and behind the toilet to hide the old cassette access which had to be moved from its previous position. Above the new sink and vanity unit we fitted a large perspex mirror to hide some of the marks from the previous unit. On the opposite wall we fitted a series of pockets for medicines, plasters and other things, again to hide marks from the previous unit. We purchased an offcut of lino (2m x 1m) from a local carpet store for a few pounds to fit to the floor.

Furniture Modification

We reused the furniture from the van, however it would never be a straight swap so modifications were required.

The kitchen unit from the caravan fitted perfectly length ways, but we had to cut down the width and make it flush (originally the fridge, sink and hob were recessed slightly). We didn’t want to buy a brand new worktop because we felt it may get damaged during the build, so we obtained a scrap wardrobe from IKEA and cut one of the sides to size. The unit has been designed to allow the worktop to be removed and replaced after it has been installed.

We wanted a large bed to comfortably accomodate two adults with a decent length. To fit the original requirements of a fixed table you could sit around we designed a system which could be a bench seat, a central table and two single chairs facing each other along with a fully flat bed.

Rendering of how the bed frame could work
Rendering of how the cushions could fit

We halved one of the bench seats from the caravan to make two seats facing each other. They were positioned at a distance to allow the table we purchased to fit in between which in future would form part of the bed.

The aisle between the kitchen and dining area needed to be wide enough for 2 people to walk past each other, yet small enough to allow a bed to be extend across easily.

There is a minimum distance between gas burners on a hob and combustible materials, since the wallboard is combustible we installed a splashback. This is aluminium and was purchased from IKEA, it is actually a safety frame to stop children from reaching pots on a hob, but we found we could reverse it easily and attach it directly to the wall.

Here is the plan for the replacement bed, this was designed after 2 years usage of the previous (temporary) system. We tackled the problematic and inconvenient features of the old style one. Specifically the ability to easily pull it out without too much effort, to make it completely flat across tables and pull out sections and to avoid having to store a table (i.e. incorporate it within the design).

The new bed was finally assembled, the original seat frames were reinforced tops removed and slats were fitted. The pull out sections were assembled with plenty of glue, screws and steel reinforcing.

Wallboarding

We then refitted the plywood originally fitted to the side walls and glued our new wallboard to this. Battens were installed near the roof so the wallboard could be fixed at the roof.

Cushions

From the design we had decided how many and what size cushions we require.

Luckily the foam from the cushions in the donor caravan was still in good shape we reused it along with the wadding covering them. That way we only needed to make new covers, we purchased fabric from eBay and zips from a local haberdashery. Louise’s mum then manufactured the cushion covers for us from the upholstery fabric which we slipped over the cut down caravan cushions. Longer term we could replace the foam and reuse the cushion covers.

Partioning

Once we had put up all of the wall boards and ceiling board it was time to partition the van into separate areas.

The bathroom shower base fitted perfectly between the back door and wheel arch, it even had an indentation where the diesel filling pipe was situated. It was as if it was made for it.

Combined with the fixed size shower based extracted from the caravan, we had the measurements needed to define the modifications required for the kitchen unit and the wardrobe location. Originally we planned to have a half height wardrobe above the gas bottles at the back giving some floor space in front. This was shelved in favour of pulling the wardrobe behind the chair giving a full height version conveniently hiding the wheel arch (where a set of drawers were originally planned to fit). This would give us more room for essential storage!

When installing the seats we had to make sure the fresh water container would fit under one seat and that the gas water heater would fit under the other as we didn’t want the fresh water tank outside the living area. Louise’s dad cut down the caravan seat and made up additional supports for bench mode and bed mode.

We needed to use the van before deciding how to finish the bathroom door so to begin with we took the bathroom door from the caravan and resized it to fit over the new bathroom door. On the first night we realised it collided with the bed out so we couldn’t get into the bathroom when the bed was down!

We therefore opted for a bifolding door. The door looked quite bland so we decided to fit mirrored acrylic plastic on each side.

How the sliding door would look

Over the winter we had the bathroom door trimmed and cut into two halves and hinged them together to make a bi-fold door

We ordered some plastic mirrors from a local company (QD Plastics) which we stuck to the bifold doors with Sikaflex. The back of the doors were rebuilt using the bathroom wallboard material rather than the original wood effect. We fitted a matching cupboard door handle to the bathroom door for consistency throughout the van.

We found the mirrors warped in heat when we holidayed in Spain, so these were later reattached inside a wooden frame so they could expand and contract. Additionally white PVC plastic was fitted around the two bifolds.

We purchased some thin wood to sandwich between wallboards to construct partition walls for the wardrobe and bathroom. The bathroom was sized to match the shower basin we recycled from the caravan and the wardrobe sized to match the available room ensuring one of the caravan cupboard doors could be used. We used thicker wood to form a more solid wall between the rear doors and the bathroom.

We wanted to store the outdoor gear in the back of van accessible through the back doors, this would be the water filling and waste pipes; electric hookup cables; the gas bottles; camping chairs; tables and any other outdoor equipment. Also accessible from within the back doors is the cartridge toilet and flush access.

Noiseproofing

We found a company called ‘NoiseKiller Acoustics’ which offered sound proofing kits for a variety of vans and 4x4s, we found the LDV noise loud and after reading some reviews online we opted to purchase a kit. It did make a significant improvement as we could hear each other easily when talking to someone in the back whilst driving on the motorway! Unfortunately it didn’t quite fit the bonnet, presumably their template was from a different type of LDV, but it didn’t take long with a pair of scissors to fit!

Noise Killer Accoustics Van Sound Proofing Kits

Insulation

Louise’s sister had some left over insulation from her garage conversion, so we kindly took it off of her hands. The rest of the insulation came from the caravan roof which conveniently was not glued in place. We used sheets of acoustic foam insulation purchased from a Leroy Merlin in Malaga for the roof and various door insulation.

The acoustic foam was fitted between the braces and fiberglass roof. The van already had a plywood floor, we added a layer of rubber for additional insulation and noise proofing. Because this work was being done whilst the van was insured as a ‘Panel Van’, we could not cut the windows, so the wallboard was precut where the windows should be and they would be cut out of the van later.

Utilities

Electrics

We did not put anywhere near enough thought into what we wanted in the van before we started wallboarding, as a result we ended up finding novel ways of hiding wires behind furniture and facings rather than behind the wallboards and ceiling boards like we should have. The following wiring diagram has evolved over time and given hindsight, should have been the first thing we did!

We originally used the ZIG CF2000 unit recovered from the caravan to distribute power to appliances and charge the leisure battery when driving by connecting the ZIG to the leisure battery and van battery. The fridge would be wired directly to the van battery. The only wiring we planned for was the battery connections; fridge (12V and 240V); bathroom light; toilet flush; a 12v socket at the kitchen; and a single light in the centre of the van. We calculated how much wiring was required for the submersible pump and microswitch cabling would be routed along side the cold water pipes where possible through the furniture and wallboards during construction.

We connected the ZIG to the leisure and van battery using 35A capable cabling, installing a 30A fuse for each feed. The 2 runs of 35A cabling was fed around the engine compartment, through the bulkhead and up the a frame into the over cab space. The fridge was wired directly to the van battery with 15A capable wiring with a 15A fuse and via a relay which switched on only when the alternator was generating power. We hid the fridge wiring and cabling for the bathroom light and toilet flush behind the wallboard along with cabling for the ceiling light behind the ceiling board. We originally used figure 8 cabling to connect the leisure and van batteries to the ZIG unit, this was a mistake as we should have used the van body as the return path and given the length, we should have used thicker cable.

We installed the 240V hookup from the caravan with a garage consumer unit to house the fuses. The 240V feed for the ZIG was connected to this consumer unit so the ZIG could charge the leisure battery and we could power the fridge directly from a 240V supply.

Later we installed a 240V socket in the galley area. We’d originally considered installing a gas blow heater, but felt for the cost of purchase, we’d be better paying for electricity and using an electric heater for the times we go camping during the winter. After much deliberation, this was the most appropriate place in terms of ease of running the cable through an already kitted campervan and convenience of placing a heater.

After a journey to Spain we realised the fridge needed some assistance, the original ventilation holes were too small so we increased the sizes and manufactured a guide to help the airflow between the walls of the van. We installed a ‘Convoy’ 12V thermostatically controlled cooling fan kit which increases airflow if the temperature behind the fridge is too warm. The wiring needed to be routed after furniture had been fitted. We were able to route this through all of the kitchen unit and in front of the bathroom door by use of some edging strip where it entered the wardrobe and the wiring for the water heater control panel.

When installing the overhead cupboards we took the opportunity to hide some more wiring for additional lights; an LED strip light in the galley area and three smaller LED lights in the dinette area. The galley light took a feed from the bathroom light wiring and the dinette was a fresh feed from the ZIG. At this point we installed a fused distribution panel to take the two 10A feeds from the ZIG and distribute them to the variety of different appliances we now had. There was a space beneath the ZIG unit which we used as a shelf for the satellite receiver and a 12V socket for both. We also installed an exterior satellite socket routing it through the facia being installed as part of the overhead cupbaords.

After a leisure battery replacement and starting to use a Shurflo pump, we decided to retire the ZIG unit and replace it with an AGU 2 way fused distribution box to feed both inputs to a blade fuse panel. We hadn’t used the electric charger in some time and combined with the solar panel the need was less. The fridge mains feed was rerouted directly from the 240V consumer unit (so we can power the fridge from 240V before setting off). We then replaced the 12v leisure battery feed with significantly larger 4 guage cable, I left one of the old 35A feed cables to be used for the Fridge to reduce voltage drop and removed the van battery feed. The new 4 gauge cable (for car audio) was routed from the leisure battery to a 2 way distribution box containing a 30A fuse in each side and a new earth bolt connecting the chassis directly to the blade fuse distribution box using 4 gauge cable. This also required upgrading fuses in the engine compartment which were helpfully included in the audio kit I bought.

The van battery was connected to the leisure battery via a 100A relay with a 100A blade fuse on either side. We installed a TEC3M controller connected to the van battery which detects when the van battery is being charged. When it is, certain pins become live, we use these to trigger the 100A relay to bridge the van and leisure battery, switch off the solar panel and provide power to the fridge. This means the leisure battery will recieve a charge from the solar panel when stationary during the day and from the alternator when moving, but never at the same time.

Turns out whilst travelling in the back, a 12v socket is incredibly useful in the dinette area. We installed a temporary extension to see how much it would be used and we found we were using it at night to charge phones. So we installed a more permanent socket in the wallboard.

The TV has since been replaced with a larger one.

Solar Power

Since we wanted everything to run using 12v in the back, we felt we could use a Solar panel which could allow us to wildcamp or stay without electric hookup at campsites for longer. We purchased a 60W monocrystlline panel and fitted it to the roof. We purchased aluminium brackets to fit it flush with a gap between the panel and the roof. I drilled a hole in the roof and sikaflexed the cable using a grommit. The panel came with a cheap solar regulator to charge a leisure battery which we shall be replacing shortly with an MPPT version (probably a Tracer MPPT regulator).

The negative of the panel is hooked directly into the regulator and the positive is routed through a relay. This relay switches off the solar panel if the split relay circuit is active.

The regulator is then connected directly to the battery via a 7.5A fuse.

The solar regulator manual specifically stated we shouldn’t use it when another charger was running which is why a relay is in use to deactivate the panel when our TEC3M detects the van battery is being charged.

Water

We wanted a hot water supply as well as cold, so took advantage of the carver heater extracted from the caravan. We used the 3D Max plans to decide the best size and position for the fresh and waste water tanks (to be ordered from C.A.K. tanks) and the route and length of water pipes. C.A.K. were very helpful as they added necessary outlets to the tanks for us and included all the necesary water pipe fittings and pipes in the order. The water tank was fitted with an attachment so it could be used with a submersible pump.

We originally wanted to use the supplementary side hatch on the van to access the water tank so it could be filled from outside. But this never happened, there was not enough access through the narrow opening between the floor and top of the seat to make it worthwhile.

The waste water tank was installed under the chassis, whilst we’d purchased a kit to do this and measured the tank to fit within chassis bars, a bracket was required to be which Louise’s Dad manufactured for us.

The fresh water tank was positioned inplace next to the hatch, but when the seat was installed, we realised there was not enough available space between the top of the tank and seat to fill the tank from the outside. We modified the seat so it could be filled temporarily from the inside and an exterior filling option was added to the list of future tasks. The water pipes were routed as planned first into the water heater, then bathroom and filing kitchen sink. The bathroom required a few spurs for the sink taps and shower. The water pipes were routed under the van from the water heater to the bathroom as this was the easiest way around the gas box, all of these outdoor pipes were insulated using foam jackets where possible.

We installed another inlet to the water tank and an exterior filling cap, we drilled the outside of the van and fixed the filling cap, we didn’t want to fit the filler cap on the hatch door so decided to fit it further along, it needed to be low enough so the tubing on the inside could be boxed in, yet high enough to provide an effective flow to the tank. C.A.K. supplied the new tank inlet, tubing and filling cap. The inlet was straight forward to attach to the tank requiring a hole to be drilled and screwed into place, having the tank contain an access hatch was imperative to screwing the inlet into position as it required internal access… The air vent on the tank was attached to the filler cap to provide a water tight seal in the event of over filling.

After a few years when we replaced the bathroom, the tap unit that came with the sink we purchased was not microswitched meaning we couldn’t use it with the submersible pump. We purchased a replacement tap which unfortunately conflicted with the top of the raised sink, we then decided to refit the old tap and upgrade the water supply to a pressurised system using a Shurflo Trailking pump. The newly purchased tap was used to replace the old Avondale tap in the kitchen. This meant I could strip out a lot of redundant microswitch wiring too! Because the sink was being moved the older water pipes were removed and replaced with a straight feed to the kitchen taps. The pipes under the van were then split and a cold and water spur routed through the old shower trap hole into the new sink cabinet. This pump has a sensor which detects if the pressure drops and starts up, this would happen if a tap is opened, but could also happen if a water pipe bursts or is loose. This would result in all our water being pumped into the van and potentially the motor running dry. We fitted an isolator switch to cut power to the pump when we’re not using it to avoid this.

A year later we then added a water gauge to the tank through the same hole the original sub pump was fitted, we measured the depth of the tank and cut the three metal sensor prongs to match 3/4 full, 1/2 full and 1/4 full screwed it into the widened hole and sikaflexed it in place. The indicator panel was fitted next to the pump isolator switch in the over cab cupboard.

Gas

We planned to use all the appliances recycled from the donor caravan we the exception of the heater and after deciding on the layout, the appliance positions were added to the 3D Max layout so the gas pipes could be routed and measured, and manifold positioned in optimal places.

The gas box was designed to hold two 15kg size Calor Butane gas bottles which are 580mm tall with a diameter of 318mm, this would allow us to accomodate two 15kg or two 7kg (495mm height, 256mm diameter) or one of each. We obtained some steel, checkerplate flooring, dropout vent covers and stickers to manufacture this box. We also found some braces removed from an old BT van on eBay which we purchased. There is a good post on the SBMCC (self build motorcaravan club) forums summarises the EN1949 standard which motorhome manufactures follow.

Summary of EN1949 on SBMCC forums

We ordered gas pipes from Oleary’s Motorhome which also advised on the necessary fittings and manifolds. We purchased a 3 way manifold for use in the kitchen unit (oven, hob and fridge) and an inline manifold for the heater unit. We deviated from the original plan which was to route the gas pipe under the floor from the heater to the kitchen unit, instead we opted to spur the gas pipe in the wardrobe and route it through the bathroom between the shower tray and the interior partition and into the kitchen unit so it can be accessed conveniently by a ground level hatch door.