Building a Conversion Camper Van for Cheap
Before I purchased my Airstream I had owned several different vans... none of them were true camper vans, but they were pretty close. The hardest and most expensive thing to add to a conversion van that is going to be made into a camper van is a complete running water system with grey and black water tanks.
My first experience creating a camper van was with a 1987 1 ton Chevy Van that had been used by a local school. I thought I had found a great deal until I ripped up the carpeting and realized the van had been used to transport long distances back and forth between the school and a ski resort! Yikes! There was very little rust on the outside of the van but once I pulled up the carpet the entire floor boards were rusted. The ski boots and all the melt water had soaked through the carpeting destroying the floor. Lesson learned... if you can find out what a van was used for before you make a commitment to buy it may help you make a better decision.
So I sand blasted the floor, painted it, threw in some new carpet and put it back up for sale.
My next attempt at creating a Conversion Camper Van was much more successful and I'd suggest if you are building your own "Weekender" Van that you follow this simple advice. Buy a recent model with a raised roof and captains chairs and all the amenities... you are going to tear some of it out, but it's much easier to remove than to add. Plus it's so much cheaper.
So I purchased and upscale conversion van with windows and carpeting and 2 stereos... just about everything. And the crazy thing is it cost me less than $5,000! The van market has just collapsed so you can find some really good deals if you shop around. Be sure to check for rust.
Now the conversion from a luxury custom van to one suitable for camping is quite easy. Remove the extra captains chairs. Go to an RV or Trailer Supply company and purchase a ready build sink/stove unit. You can use the existing seat holes to mount your sink/stove combination down one site of the van. Depending on your preference for sleeping (lengthwise or across) you'll need to decide which side to mount it on.
Next thing I did was go to the local Bed Bath store and purchased a couple of expanding shower rods. These are lightweight and can be stretched across any width. I then purchased cafe curtains. This is a very simple way to add privacy to your rig. Simply expand the curtains across the sides of the van just behind or in front of the drivers and passenger seats. When you drive you take them down when you park you put them up. Quick, cheap and easy privacy.
I chose not to put full time grey or black water tanks in my van, because I did not plan on spending more than weekends in it. I can't advise you on the best way to do that as it will require welding and additional planning. But for cheap you can get a portapotty at the Trailer supply place and build a very simple divider wall or again take advantage of how easy it is to move the curtains front to back. When someone needs to use the facilities the other people simply exit the van. If you buy an existing conversion van you'll save a ton because window treatments and curtains that are custom made for vans are expensive, you want to get these with your rig.
To summarize my Conversion Camper Van Project:
- Buy an existing Conversion Van
- Remove what you don't want
- Add back a sink/stove unit self contained
- Purchase Curtain Rods and Curtains
- Make sure to get a raised roof
- Plan your layout for Cross or Lengthwise sleeping.
I actually built a lengthwise twin bed into my van, that was high enough so one person could sleep on top and the other on the floor and still have room to move around the sink. You don't have to spend a ton of money to make a nice rig. I did my entire rig for about $7,000 complete. And it's great. Compare that to a RoadTrek or a Pleasure Way and you may not have every cool little feature, but you'll still be camping in style! And with the money saved you can get a hotel room over and over, for those longer trips when you want a little more room and need a shower. I still have and use my weekender... but I also kept my eyes open and picked up a sweet Airstream Class B for the longer trips. Something about having a shower and a refrigerator on long trips really appealed to me.