Camper Van Conversion Journal : Part 1

Camper Van Conversion Journal Header Image

Part 1: This is taking longer than I thought.

Spit Shine
Rusty Bits
Big Light
Thermal Underwear


So I finally did it. After many years of talking about it, I finally quit my job and bought a van.

I moved back home to clear my debts and stack a few cheddars, before slapping my resignation on my bosses desk and never looking back.

Moving back home gave me a lot more time to work on my illustrations and set up my online shop. But not having to pay rent also allowed me to save up and I had one target. My van.

I have wanted to do a camper van conversion for a while now, seeing #vanlife culture growing and the emergence of digital nomads. The idea that I could work from anywhere, not chained into rent or a mortgage or a 9-5 commute. Or just having the ability to travel and explore the world. It sounded like paradise.

So I got a van, and she’s a beut. A 2013 MK7 Ford Transit with just over 80k on the clock. A perfect base for a camper van conversion.

Armed with mainly youtube knowledge, a reasonably basic set of tools and a plucky attitude, I began my camper van conversion.

Illustration of man sweeping by Matt Leigh

Spit Shine

Not gonna lie, the back of the van smelt funky. I put this down to the diesel soaked ply wood on the floor and the years of soil/dirt that had built up underneath.

First job was to remove all the existing ply wood linings. I kept all the panels as I wanted to use the side ones again and kept the floor ones to use as templates for the new floor. Also managed to sell the bulk head on eBay for a whopping £11.50.

Under the floor was grim. Lots of loose dirt and soil which I brushed out, before going at it with the vacuum.

Scrubbin time. With a bucket and sponge I then cleaned out the entire back of the van. I’m making this sound easy, but in reality this first cleaning stage took much longer than anticipated.

First piece of advice for your camper van conversion…

Do not underestimate any task. Respect the process and don’t rush. Coffee breaks and tea. Stay calm.

Rusty Bits

I knew there were areas that could do with a respray, but after cleaning and removing the linings it became apparent that there were more areas which could do with some TLC. I’m sure this will vary from van to van, depending on age and what it was used for etc.

Targeting the problem areas I sanded until I could see bare metal, before giving them a wipe down to create a clean surface to spray on to. Unfortunately I spotted a rather bad rust scrape on the roof, where the previous owner had perhaps misjudged a max height barrier.

Better to spot things like this early, no point starting with a rusty shell as it will only get worse.

Illustration of man cleaning floor on knees by Matt Leigh

Masking off any areas I didn’t want to spray I was now ready to apply the primer.

The key to spray painting was smooth steady strokes, back and forth until you get a nice even finish. Don’t put too much down in one go.

With the second coat of primer applied I repeated the process with another 2 coats of gloss white.

The blank canvas was complete.

Big Light

Before moving on to insulation I decided to get some lights fitted to the roof and run the cables down to roughly where the battery will go.

Worth thinking about the order of tasks as some things will be harder to go back and do.

I removed the crappy existing lights from the back of van and disconnected the wires before fitting these LED Lights which will eventually run to my 12v battery.

Illustration of man doing insulation on camper van conversion by Matt Leigh

Thermal Underwear

Not for me. For the van.

Insulation is a key step in any camper van conversion and there are plenty of ways to go about it. For me it was a balance between cost and ensuring there is a decent vapour barrier between the metal bodywork and the inside of the van, as this will help to prevent rot and rust.

I went for a bit of a mix – insulation wrap x4 (Aldis Finest £8 a roll), aluminium foil tape, polystyrene offcuts and polyester wadding (the polystyrene and polyester wadding cost me nothing as we had a stock pile saved up from various packages).

The roof is purely insulation wrap which is stuck to the metal with spray adhesive and joined up using the foil tape to ensure there are no gaps to the bare metal

On the sides I tried to create a wall cavity as the van has spaces in the sides which could be filled with polystyrene blocks and wadding. Then covered with the insulation wrap which is taped shut to create the wall cavity.

The floor will also use the bubble wrap insulation stuff, but I have left this for now so that I can still walk around in the van without popping the bubbles in the insulation wrap.

To be continued illustration by MattLeigh

This brings us to the end of my camper van conversion journal, part 1 (I need a catchier title) and the progress so far. I will be cracking on with carpeting the roof, doing the floor, and electronics in the next stages so stay tuned to keep up to date with my progress.

Oh and I just wanted to give a shout out to a few youtubers who have been incredibly valuable resources of information while doing this process, if you haven’t already check out these guys –

The Restoration Couple
Gadget John

Posted in Design, General, Graphic Design, Hand Drawn, Illustration, Portfolio, Van Conversion Journal