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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Easy Solar Panel Set-Up for your Van, Truck or Homestead for Less than 400 Dollars!

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So, you’re looking to go energy independent. You want to power that Macbook and recharge your headlights so you can blog and explore the night. It’s not as hard as you think. Let me say that again, it’s as hard as you think. There is plenty of sun power to charge all your devices. Powering your vitamix and microwave at the same time may not work but for most of your basic needs, setting up one solar panel and deep cycle battery will be enough to run lights and charge cell phones. Disclaimer: I’m not a professional electrician. This how-to is more of a story of how I’ve set up my basic solar panel installs. You do not need to follow my steps 1 by 1 and I suggest maybe you don’t. I want to give you an idea on how easy it is to get running off solar energy. I can’t perform the complex mathematic calculations, all I tried to do was get enough power to charge most of my devices and power my lights. I can tell you right now that I never ran out of power in California but I was always mineful to not leave the big screen tv on all night. 😉

The three things you will need.

  1. Solar Panel
  2. Solar Charger Controller
  3. Deep Cycle Battery

Optional : Extension cables for your solar panel.

Ohhh ahhh! Those solar panels are shiny. They’re getting more efficient each year. You’ll need to determine what size you’ll need.

100 watt solar panels are cheap, you can get them with a controller and extension cables for less than 200 dollars. Here is one on Amazon for sale.
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What does the charge controller do? It limits the rate at which electic current is added to or drawn from electric batteries. It prevents overcharging and may protect against overvoltage. Some people will add a fuse box for an extra level of protection but I was fine without a fuse box.

For the deep cycle battery: Get as many amp hours as you can get for the price. You want a deep cycle battery, not a standard car battery. Deep cycle batteries are built to withstand the constant drain and fill associated with a solar panel system. There are plenty of 12v deep cycle batteries on ebay and amazon for a cheap price.

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Here is one with 100Ah for 159.99 and free shipping. I have used this brand of battery and have had success.

What to think about when installing?
Don’t put it in a place that will be shaded. Try not to have surfboards covering any part of the solar panel. You don’t have to mount it, you can store it inside and bring it out during the day, just make sure you have long enough cables from the controller to the solar panel. If installing on a van, cabover, or RV, make sure to be careful about having a water tight seal. RV putty will help with that. I’ve installed solar panels on a cabover camper as well as a regular camper shell.
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That’s the basics, each install will be a little different. Please leave any questions or comments below and I will attempt to answer them. Thanks for reading!

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Here are some panels I installed on my roof rack of my van. I ran the wires down the rain gutter through the back door.

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