Van conversion. From scratch to home on wheels. A Camper Van "How can I make one of those?"

Professionally built or converted Camper Vans can cost a small fortune.
A handmade option is a long process but very rewarding and one of the only ways to actually put value into a vehicle.

This was the third camper conversion project that I have undertaken.
Each time they have been bigger and better!
The van I chose was a Luton style box van. I felt that this size and shape would give me the most space for a 3.5ton van which is the maximum limit for a lot of standard drivers licenses. Choosing the base vehicle was obviously a vital part becasue I predicted that a large amount of my time would be invested into the project.
It's an LDV Luton box van with a Ford Transit 2.4 turbo Diesel engine and 5 speed Gear Box.
It's a great engine that has a cam chain, not a belt, which means it doesn't need replacing.
Being a Ford engine parts are cheap and readily available. 
I would advise to start with the best vehicle you can get within your budget, you're going to be in it for the long haul.

When I first picked up my van it had a rental company logo printed on the side. This was easily removed with a hot air dryer to warm the glue and a lot of patience. It read "practical" and I couldn't resist leaving a few choice letters until last. It's a Low mileage 2004 LDV with a Ford Transit 2.4tdi engine. It's a great engine in a well priced van.

All the fittings and appliances that are required for a full conversion can add up to be very expensive. For this reason I bought an old caravan. They are often advertised but I just asked around. It had a gas/ electric fridge, an oven, hob and grill unit, a sink and water system, a gas heater with external vent, not to mention the countless fixtures, fittings, materials and cables that could be salvaged. The door and windows had good seals, 
 with curtains to match. It was the perfect donor.

Below is a picture showing the fitting of the door. 
It was scary to cut the first hole into my wall! 
Have faith!

Once all the doors and windows were installed the whole van was insulated with polystyrene sheets, this was effective, cheap and readily available. The important areas like the roof, and the raised double bed were further insulated with a silver foil bubble type sheeting. The Insulation was then sealed in with light weight pine cladding. 
This was a substantial chunk of the budget but it is essential to create a warm and condensation free space.

The mess below shows the building stage, almost all parts and materials used were either salvaged from the donor caravan or were recycled. Fitting the cupboards and appliances is by far the longest part of the project. I fitted a leisure battery system to give me power that was isolated from the vehicle system, this runs anything from lighting, water pumps, music, phones or laptops. I plumbed in a gas system to supply the cooker, the fridge, the heater and the hot water boiler. The system operates from two externally stored gas bottles that can be swapped over and replaced.

I made a permanent bed double in the front next to a shower cubicle and a 
large couch that becomes a singe bed.

After all the structures were trimmed, appliances tweaked and cushion covers stitched the final touches and decorations were done. This was by far the most exciting stage.

At the back of the Luton box was a sliding shutter door that opens right up. I built a fake wall just behind the shutter. The idea being that whilst driving the shutter is pulled down and everything is secure and discrete but when the space is in use the shutter can be lifted to expose the door and window. 
This creates an outdoor storage area for boots, brooms and tools. I like to call this little space "the garage," it's where the gas bottles live. 

The van was envisioned as a full time live in vehicle.
Equipped with everything I could need, along with ample storage space.
  • Fixed full time Double Bed above the cab
  • "L" Shaped Seating Area to accommodate 3 to 4 people
  • Hot Shower Cubical
  • Vented Gas Central Heating
  • Three way Fridge Freezer (12volt/ 240volt/ Gas)
  • Large Sink with water foot pump (to allow water flow even with no power)
  • Gas Hobs, Gas Grill, Gas Oven
  • Recessed Spot "Warm White" LED low wattage lighting
  • 12volt 110amp Leisure battery with separate automatic charging circuit
  • Twin Water Tanks, one under sink drinking water tank and,
  • One Large Under Chassis Tank for the shower, with mains water float valve connection
  • Double Glazed opening windows all around
  • Sunroof skylight and roof top "Pop ventilation"
  • Rear and side Barn Doors
  • Fully Insulated with multiple layers in the roof and around the Double bed area
  • Hydraulic Tail Lift Verandah area
  • 5 Speed Gear Box allowing for nice motorway cruising and climbing of even the steepest hills
  • Twin wheels on the rear axle (6 wheels in total) meaning very slow wear on the tyres (they last twice as long)
  • There are as new tyres all round, including the spare
There are three seats up front in the cab, all with sea belts.
Above the fixed double bed is an opening sky light that allows you to watch the stars.
The "L" shaped seating area in the van functions as a large single bed.
There's also ample floor space for a fourth camp bed if required.

At the back of the Luton box there is a sliding shutter door that opens right up.
I decided to build an insulated wall just behind the shutter.
The idea being that whilst driving the shutter is pulled down and everything is secure and discrete but when the camper is in use the shutter can be lifted to expose the lockable door and window.

This set up created an outdoor storage area for boots, brooms or tools.
I like to call this little space "the garage," out here there's a little outdoor seat under the rear window, it's where the twin Calor gas bottles live.
Behind the rear shutter is where the 500kg Hydraulic Tail lift is, this creates a verandah porch like area (as seen in the pictures.)
The future vision for the tail lift is to convert it to also serve as motorbike rack to lift a bike onto the rear of the vehicle.

The pictures below shows the inside of the fake wall with the shutter, both up and down.

 It's possible to have an ever changing view!

A summary:
The end result is a three birth, "live in" vehicle with plenty of space that has fantastic facilities. It's a great runner with low mileage.

A similar age and specification fitted mobile home could cost anywhere between 
£20,000 and £30,000

I'll leave you with a picture of the van sneaking around in the mist!


  1. Greetings Handmade Matt, I love your site and all your cool stuff! I will actually use some of your tips and instructions on future projects of my own and continue to check back in case " I want to make one of those"!
    I also thought maybe I could link to your site from mine...
    Let me know if that's okay. Keep up all the good creative-ness!

  2. Sounds great Kitty! Link away.
    Stay in touch.

  3. I have seen your Blog... It’s too informative. There are many posts which are really too Good and very useful.
    Thanks a lot for great work.

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  4. Great fit out which has given me lots of ideas for my own fitout.Ive just spent 2 years living on a narrowboat and fitting it out but now fancy a change so its just been sold and cant wait to buy a luton, just got to decide on the vehicle/engine,have a look on youtube "narrowboatmike" will put the finished vid up shortley,thanks again for your inspiration,mick.

  5. This is amazing, easily one of the best conversions i've seen.
    I would love to do something like this, me and my girlfriend are planning on trying to create something similar and then go through Europe for a few months.
    Would it be possible to get an estimate of how much this conversion cost in total?
    Thanks alot.

  6. Matt! :)

    How much for you to make a custom one for somebody? As in what do you reckon the total cost would be if someone asked you to make the same van again? (thinking of it myself...)


  7. Hi Matt

    This looks brilliant, i am hoping to do the same so it's ready for next summer. Do you think i could make a 5 berth using a luton van? My plan is to have 2 of the beds above near the ceiling

  8. i'm at a lose end with my lgv luton 06 plate,its done 125,000 miles and just wondered if i did convert, would i get more money than just selling it as it is now a box van kind regards John fishwick

  9. Thanks for your helpful information. I have looked for special ideas to use space of camper van more efficiently.
    Stay in touch.

  10. What was your final cost of making this conversion?

  11. Why not just buy a used RV for about the same cost or less that is already equiped? Just saying! You also have to pay a lot higher insurance rates on vans than on RV's. I have been there and done that! RV insurance is cheep compared to a Van. Not all states will alow you to change the use of the vehicle. I have 2 RV's, both look great and run good. One cost 1,500 and the other 5000.

  12. I would tell anonymous this has wonderful character..Fab..
    Feels like home. My RV always feels like someplace I am traveling in and will go home..This is home..This is obviously not the United States..I don't know that the concerns A has apply everywhere..???

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  14. This is just so beautiful and calls to my inner gypsy ;) You know I am seriously considering giving up my cottage and doing this. I saw a lovely couple doing just that in a converted bus. Wonderful.

    Lets be honest, living like this is becoming a viable option when the cost of frugal living exceeds the wages one earns.

    Matt, I may soon have to go for this as being stamped on at every turn is nay fun ;)

    Bless you and your good lady, we need many more like you in this world.

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  23. This is a fantastic conversion! Well done.
    I converted a Ford Transit and there's nothing like doing your own!
    Happy camping

  24. Beauty conversion - I love it. Now you're making me regret the fact that a few days ago I bought an LDV LWB Hightop Minibus with the same engine as yours. My old LDV camper van (fully converted - I lived in it full time) just gave up the ghost on the MOT.

    So now I'm back to square one thinking up ideas for another rustic conversion job. Yours looks gorgeous. If you want to a swap lol, let me know.

    Hmmm I knew I should have bought a LDV luton van instead especially since I'm 6'6" tall and your extra headroom would be bloomin' lovely.

    Btw I take it you've got a little wood burner in there? Any recommendations for one which don't pour loads of wood smoke into the van (which mine does, I'm honking of woodsmoke all the time, not that i personally mind too much, it's just I don't want to kick the bucket just yet from carbon monoxide poisoning) the other thing being, something with a good all night burn rate (8 hours plus) since getting up in the night at this time of the year for a piddle, well not to be a wimp or anything but it's bloody freezing in here when the thing goes out (usually after about 2-3 hours being left unattended)..

    Any ideas for under £150 Matt?

    Smoking hot,

    Mark (west Cornwall)

    1. Probably a bit late but in my transit hi cube which has just died I have an extendable flue- the witches hat/ cowl keeps it in place in the flashing/ heat proof seal while moving but the meter of vitreous flue I use can be shoogled( technical term) up through the seal and attached to 1.5 m of flexible flue which then sits on the stove and draws really well. Co detector alarm in case, wish I had the answer to the slow burn tho!:)

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  27. What a great conversion... Any gypsy (like me) would be happy traveling in it. My conversion is a little smaller — it's a pretty well equipped Ford cargo van that doesn't really have room for a shower because of the stuff I've already got inside: a mountain bike, an inflatable kayak, a very comfortable chair and single bed, a camping stove and a toilet. So here's what I've found to be the simplest (and FASTEST) way of staying squeaky clean: Wash your body (just like your face) with a soapy microfiber cloth, using a solar shower hung up inside the van for wetting/rinsing the cloth over a plastic dishpan, plus gallon jugs refilled at a Glacier water machine. Works great. I can heat the water on my stove if I'm feeling ambitious, or just use cool water and pretend I'm Lewis and Clark (they didn't bring propane on their trip).

    I've been traveling the western states for a year, going for “maximum freedom and minimal possessions.” My goal was to keep costs down and make everything easy to get to. I wrote an ebook about putting a road trip van together:

    I'd be happy to send a no-strings-attached copy, Matt. Just let me know.
    Happy trails,

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