upgrades to the toyota camper van conversion (vol. 1)

1985 Toyota Camper Vanwagon
Off Highway 89 somewhere.

If you’re doing a van conversion or some kind of camper conversion, I recommend creating a very basic set up to start with not a lot of screws or time spent doing it. This is what I’ve learned through various builds. You don’t know exactly what you want until you go camping, you spend time in it and become aware of your own needs. It’s hard to understand our needs in life and that’s the same for building out a van.

I realized I haven’t shared any updates on the my 1985 Toyota Vanwagon Mashin’ Machine. The van has undergone some changes since the original build. I’ve been lucky to take her on a quite a few trips this year and after each trip, I came back with a list of changes or supplies that needed to be added. This is another tip I recommend, when going on weekend trips, create a running list of what’s not comfortable, what would be nice to have, what you don’t need and so forth. You’d think you’d remember everything but after a few years of partying too hard, it’s best written on paper so I can revist when I’m back in a place I can make modifications.

I was able to keep most of the design from before (the folding bench seat and frame). I made a decision to keep the bench seat in bed formation all the time. This saved the hassle of not having to unfold or fold the bed every morning and night. I also gained a ton of storage room below. I made the drawer out of plywood and 2x2s then drilled a couple holes to put some rope through for a handle.

Bed Toyota Vanwagon 1985
This bed doesn’t interfere with accessing the engine compartment.

In the back of the van, I created a divider wall. This was now going to be the area for the electronics, fridge, stove, water, and other various supplies.

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Here is the back of the van, “the kitchen” with the divider wall.

Added 12v fairy lights, you can buy these anywhere from Amazon to eBay for 5 bucks or less. I really like them and I hope to put them on a dimmer switch. They are bright enough to read under, it also helps to run two strands across the van where you’ll want extra light. I did that in the back where the kitchen is and by the seats in the front where our heads rest and we can read.

Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights
Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights

58183079700__30657fda-ca19-4506-b305-392a7ca1a122Upgraded the stove from a Coleman two burner to a cast iron Camp Chef Ranger II Blind Stove. Stays in its place well, has a really night flame, and has a flexible hose for the propane instead of the rigid Coleman attachment.

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A mistake I often make is that before I participate in something, I get all excited about it and I start to research what I think is the best things to buy are and I start trying to figure out everything before actually partaking in that activity. For example, if you take up running, you may not want to research best running shoes, best water bottle, best visor (is that a thing?). Only after running will you realize what you truly need; shoes with more padding, a water bottle with a strap so it’s easy to hold onto, a visor instead of a hat because a hat makes you sweat too much. This relates to building out a van.

I have built out a truck camper shell (see other posts) and a cabover but each vehicle is different. Until I took enough trips in the van, I wouldn’t know what exactly I would need. Taking it slow and easy is the best approach, it’s about the process and not trying to get everything done immediately.

Complete list of revisions so far:

  1. Added a second solar shower (scored one for cheap on Craiglist). Also, it helps to have back up water as well as water to rinse dishes when dry camping.
  2. Added a shower nozzle to one of solar showers. (post coming)
  3. Created a divide for the kitchen and bed.
  4. Inserted plywood sheet to extend bed to the back of the seats.
  5. Made two large pull out drawers, one pulls out from the side and one from the back.
  6. Added a fuse panel. (post coming)
  7. Mounted the inverter.
  8. Added a storage shelf.
  9. Mounted an ARB awning. (post coming)
1985 Toyota Van Forest Road
Down some forest road.

foldout bench seat that transforms into a bed

When designing this van I wanted to the ability to have a bench seat (i.e. couch) and not have the bed take up the whole van like so many designs. Although, it would require work to fold up and down, I like the ability to clear the space and sit up right. I thought this was necessary to work while on the road.

My brother found a design that didn’t involve any sliding or folding out legs. The only thing necessary was to flip what you’re sitting on. Once folded out, it provides a large enough space to sleep two.

Flaws of this design included:
1. The back rest can only be a certain height or else it will clip the ceiling.
2. The bench width needs to be under a certain length so it avoids clipping the sides of the van because the van is curved.
3. It makes storage a little harder to access.

The benefits:
1. Simple!

We built a frame around the wheel well and the back of the van.

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The frame around the wheel well.

We added a sheet of plywood to the top as one piece.

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Buster enjoying a place to sit.

Then it was time to attach the folding section. Note, there are spaces for storage in the back and the front of the design. You can see a cut out in the back where we installed a lid to access gear.

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Here’s a shot from the back. You can see that the side facing out the back can be folded up and turned into a table. This is nice because it has protection from rain with the back hatch.

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Fold out table in the back of the van.

Here’s the bed folded out.

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The bed folded out. 

In the picture below you can see how the back rest was framed. 3×2″s were used to support the back. img_1873

Below is flip out storage underneath the legs but it also doubles as a coffee table. 56211149368__d47e37b8-e687-41cd-bc33-72d160622064

Next step is to make cushions for the seats out foam and fabric I have bought. The cushions should not cost more than 100 total to make. Although, it will take some time to stitch them together. I will post progress as I follow through with making the cushions.

converting my truck into the ultimate camper (cont.)

This post is a continuation of converting my truck into the ultimate camper.

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To not adjust your original plan when building a camper or in life is foolish. Life takes unexpected turns for better or for worse. The only constant is change and if you’re not adjusting, well, you may be falling behind or not living to your full potential. The same can be said when building a liveaboard space. It takes fine-tuning to make the most efficient camper for your lifestyle. It’s not just a one time build, it requires modifications to best suit your current needs. Over the past two months since the start of converting the back of my truck into the ultimate camper, I’ve added and made modifications to the original design.  I will go over what modifications I have done to the original design, give you reasons as to why I made those decisions and explain some of the trouble shooting I went through for each step.

 

Additions and modifications to the original design:

  • Solar panel
  • Deep cycle battery storage
  • 300W Inverter
  • 12v Led light
  • Rubber maid containers for under the lower section
  • Three tiered container on the side of the bed
  • Made the bed wider
  • Cut the bottom rail off from the lower section (as shown in picture below)

 

Solar Panel

  • Take pressure off the car battery.
  • Use less gas to run the engine while charging items.
  • Power when there is no access to electricity.
  • Being off the grid is bad ass.

I attached this by drilling into the aluminum frame and using u-bolts that directly attached to the roof rack.  It’s pretty secure and I used rubber washers to allow for some flex. I drilled holes directly into the cab just big enough to allow the wires to slide through. I plan to silicone the holes but it’s dry season here and I see no immediate need.

Deep cycle battery storage (100AH)

  • To store the electricity from the solar panel for later use.

In between the solar panel and the battery is a charge controller that makes sure the battery is not overcharge. The battery is positioned near the front of the bed. My reasoning being that I didn’t need constant access and anything that heavy, I try to position towards the front for better driving control.

300W Inverter

  • To run AC items that isn’t on DC current.
  • This inverter is enough to power small appliances like laptop, camera, cell phone charger and juicer.

The 300w inverter I wired directly to the battery.

 

12v Led light

  • Uses very little electricity. It’s installed at the end of the bed to light up the tailgate for cooking duties and other miscellaneous activities.

This was installed using 12g size wire directly to the battery. It’s positioned towards the back. It’s 12v so it can be directly wired to the battery.

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Rubber maid containers for under the lower section

  •  Mainly for food storage (nuts, dried fruit, coffee)

Food is going to be difficult, it gets hot in the back so having it in a place that stays cool is key.

Three tiered container on the side of the bed

  • Items that I use frequently (Some clothes, bathroom stuff, some electronics)

This is great because it allows me easy access to clothes I use frequently and it also doubles as a nightstand.

 

Made the bed wider

  • Now can sleep two.

I added an extension to the original bed that can be taken out with two screws.

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Cut the bottom rail off from the lower section

  • Didn’t sacrifice structure and allowed for bigger containers and items to slide in.

converting my truck into the ultimate camper

Behind my macbook, late at nights, I’ve viewed countless photos of cars, trucks, and vans converted into homes on wheels. I may be abnormal but I think in everyone of us, there is an urge to be free and have the ability to travel. I enjoy being a homebody with the rest of them but I’ve been wanting to travel more. I never had that year of backpacking in Europe after college or high school. I’m at a time in my life where I’m looking for inspiration on the road. Places and experiences to write about and tell my grandkids someday. So, what’s the best of both worlds? A traveling home!

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Some campers are just weekend homes while others live full-time in their traveling abodes.  I’ve made efforts in the past couple years to reduce possessions and be less tied down to my belongings.  There is something special about being able to get up and travel whenever you feel the urge. Historically, most humans were hunter and gatherers, they had to relocate to where the food was. Now, food has come to us but that urge to travel has not subsided in me. My brother and I are taking steps to convert my truck into the ultimate camper. We’ve both researched different blueprints and styles with functionality and weight in mind. Here are a few pictures from day one. Please comment or ask me any questions about the process.

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Materials: (I will be updating this section soon with specifics)

  • 2X3 (~10)
  • 2×2 (4)
  • four hinges
  • 3″ screws (2lb)
  • 1 7/8″ screws (1lb)
  • 1/2″ plywood (two sheets)

Cost: ~$135 Thoughts on materials:

  • we were debating on 3/4 inch but with extensive framing,we found the 1/2 had no bend and was substantially lighter.

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Converting my truck in the ultimate camper (cont.)

I spent this morning carpeting the camper. It didn’t take very long. I used some carpet I had from a previous room so the cost was nothing. I’m thinking in the future I will want to install marine or outdoor carpet because it is mold and mildew resistant and can be washed out. The regular carpet is way more comfy than the marine style but sleeping pads or egg crate foam will be used no matter what. Tip: When cutting carpet, I’ve found that wood glue will hold the stitching together and fray less.

Next up is solar panel installation, mini desk and back rest… stay tuned…