updates on the 1985 toyota van camper conversion

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.
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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.

Why I chose a Toyota Van for my Camper Van

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Toyota Van Wagon Camper Conversion Part 1

Since the last time I posted, I bought a van. A 1985 Toyota Van, yes, that’s the model name, Van. Oh, the simpler times. The purpose of this van is a camper, a weekend getaway machine. Will I live in it? Probably not long term, maybe short term but this is more of a weekend machine. Sorry #vanlife Nazis, if this isn’t hardcore enough, move on.

Vehicle: 1985 Toyota Van 2WD
Odometer Reading: 195,xxx

This post will be broken into three sections.

  1. Why I chose an 80’s Toyota Van.
  2. What mechanical work I’ve done on it.
  3. An update on where the conversion is at the moment.

Why the heck did I choose a 1985 Toyota Van? 
1. Looks like a spaceship, number one reason, yup.
2. Toyota’s are known to be reliable. You see many Toyota’s with 200-300k miles.
3. Widely available in stick, the only way to go in my opinion on these older cars with 4 cylinder engines.
4. Good space inside the van.
5. Pretty cheap to buy, got mine for 1500. Beats blowing  a ton of cash on a sprinter.
6. Parts are widely available, great when hopefully traveling to Baja!
7. Pretty good clearance for 2WD, I can give it an oil change without putting it on a jack stand.
8. Rain gutters for easy rack installation.

Some of the cons I’ve noticed.
1. To access the engine, you have to lift the drivers seat up and access in general to certain parts is restricted. It limits what you can do behind the seat and the seats can’t be made to swivel towards the back.
2. Depending on the previous owner, you may need to replace some parts initially.
3. Stock temp gauge can be inaccurate.
4. Obviously not as much headspace or space in general as a Sprinter or pop top.

What mechanical work have I got done on the van since purchasing it?
1. Clutch was toast, if the person won’t let you test drive it, there may very well be a reason. Replaced the clutch, always go OEM with these Toyota Vans. This was done by a mechanic in a shop.
2. I thought the van was running hot and I didn’t know if the fan clutch and water pump were fully functioning (turns out they were fine, the temp gauge wasn’t reading accurately). So, I replaced the water pump and fan clutch, got that out of the way and at least I know that’s new. Thought about doing this myself but just had a mechanic install the parts for me.
3. New aftermarket digital temp gauge that told me my van was running at a perfectly normal temperature. I installed this myself.
4. Replaced the spark plugs with iridium plugs.
5. Gave it an oil change right away, full synthetic.
6. Coming soon – Needs a new brake master cylinder, just need to pull the plug on this one before I do any extended driving.

Next post will be about the flooring…