Delica Dreaming Part Two
In part two, we want share the story of how we built a removable camping unit for our van. Not because we think it’s a work of genius, or a thing of beauty, but because we think something like this is (relatively) easily achievable for those of us who don’t have the ability, tools, time or funds to fully convert a van into a camper. Our design could be easily adapted and modified to fit into the boot of many vehicles, turning an ordinary wagon into a part time adventure rig. Read on to find out about our ideas, inspirations, frustrations and successes…
With the Delica (relatively) mechanically sound, we started to use the van on local excursions; it began to seem like the trouble thus far had almost been worth it. Knowing we had our own portable, cozy space in which to drink coffee, have lunch or shelter from bad weather after hikes and surfs was a nice feeling. We had removed the back seats, and would often lay down a blanket, eat picnics and read stories to our 1 year old son, Benji in the back of the van. Although this was nice, and an improvement on sitting in the boot of our car, we had no separate storage space for our gear, nowhere to cook hot food and sleeping on the folded down seats wasn’t quite as comfortable as we wanted it to be; it began to feel like a camper conversion of some sort was inevitable.
We started sketching out ideas, making crude measurements, and of course scouring Pinterest and elsewhere for inspiration. We needed the van, and conversion, to be many things, to honour the truly multi-functional capabilities of the base vehicle. We needed to keep at least one seat in the back (for Benji), we needed somewhere to sleep, somewhere to cook, somewhere to store equipment, we also wanted whatever we made to be removable so we could use the van to transport logs, tools and all the paraphernalia required for teaching workshops in the woods. We also needed it to be cheap. A rear conversion seemed like the best idea. Something simple that filled the boot area, we would cook outside under the tailgate, and we would build a folding platform to sleep on. Our final requirement was that it needed to be finished by October, ready for us travel 351 miles north to Keswick where we would be teaching a weekend long workshop with our friends, Millican.
It’s kind of hard to run through all the possible scenarios in your head that might occur when van camping, but we did our best to envisage all the things we might want to use our camper for, and the things we would want to transport and began to design a removable camping pod based around our pretty specific requirements. I think this is an important step, but as we would later learn, you will certainly not think of everything. The Delica is a small van, and being more of a MPV than a panel van we had to work around the existing contours of the interior, both of which were important factors that went into our final design decisions. We also had a certain aesthetic in mind; we coined it “luxury utilitarian”. Clean lines, nice details, everything hand made by us if possible, and rugged materials that reflected our outdoor lifestyle. Two large sheets of 12mm birch ply from our local timber merchant would suffice if we were careful. On a hot and sunny August day we bought the timber and a budget circular saw and started work.
Construction itself was fairly simple, although there were design changes aplenty as we worked. It took a surprisingly long time considering it was basically just a box, and come late September were 95% finished. The main box comprises a large drawer for cooking equipment, food and small essentials, above this is a sliding platform for our gas stove (all the runners, stops and stays were made by us from wood), to the right of this is a drop down door that functions as a food preparation surface. Inside the door are two large storage compartments, one of which houses our water and the other clothing, books and maps. We also built two bolt on side compartments that sit behind the wheel arches, these contain our inflatable roll mats, a first aid kit and all manner of other trinkets. On top of the wheel arches, we secured wooden seats onto steel frames that Andrew’s Dad welded up for us. On the back of the main box is a little folding table; designed specifically to support two beers and one bowl of chips/crisps. On top, there is a hinged panel that folds out to make a sleeping platform, utilising the existing middle row of folding seats for support and extra leg room. We used two sheets of 4x8ft birch ply, a lot of screws, wood glue, a piano hinge, varnish, several butt hinges, legs from an old Ikea table and two sliding barrel latches. All of which came to around £200. We were pretty chuffed with our efforts; it looked smart, and we had significantly added to the functionality of our little van, plus we'd finished just in time for our planned northern trip. What better opportunity to put our camper to the test?
The very day before we drove to the Lake District, we were still making last minute additions to the unit: adding loops and straps to stop things rolling about as we drove, repairing the factory fitted curtains and figuring our where the hell we were going to put all our camping gear plus all the stuff we needed for a workshop; a whole birch tree’s worth of green logs, 15 axes, knives and saws, a chainsaw and all the associated garb, kettles, cups and everything else. As we packed, in the back of our minds I think we were also both wondering if the van would even get us all the way to Keswick...