Jump to content
House Price Crash Forum

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

Turned Out Nice Again

My Stealth Camper Van Project

Recommended Posts

Lining up projects for my impending New Single Life,

While intending to buy or rent some kind of bricks and mortar property, I'm returning to a dream I've harboured for years of my own off-grid dwelling-space on wheels for independence, adventure and as a fallback should SHTF.

This isn't exactly outsider territory anymore and there are tons of options documented online from people simply sleeping in their cars, through DIY panel van conversions to full-on Winnebago-style mobile mansions. I'm seeking a compromise solution offering the following:

- Not being exactly in the first flush of youth, decent all-season warmth and sleeping comfort so good insulation + a heating solution.
- STEALTH! It mustn't look like a motor-home so I can potentially park it anywhere residential without drawing attention. That means no side windows but most likely a skylight.
- It must also serve as my everyday wheels, so not too long/ high/ wide for car parking places, car-like driveability and LEZ-exempt. Must fit on a typical house drive.
- Electrics, connectivity etc. to support remote-working and internet browsing. Leisure batteries charging from the engine + maybe a solar charger on roof. Maybe 240v hook-up. Maybe a small genny.
- Enough storage for clothes etc. and a strong-box for valuables and maybe a Brompton bike.
- Shower/ WC and kitchen probably not required beyond a water-dispenser, kettle, m/w oven and small fridge ... and maybe a porta-potty for emergencies.
- It needs to look tidy inside, not like a builder's Transit - carpeted/ panelled walls etc + good quality fittings.
- Galvanised chassis that won't rust out in a few years.

Do i convert a van myself? Or buy something pre-built? I'm looking at a budget in the £10-15K range.
I know somebody else posted about wanting similar, Economic Exile? Can't find that post now.
Anyone tried this?
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Awesome - can't wait to see how this turns out. I

Since it's a bit of a 'niche' interest - the best value for money/time is probably to set up an email alert nationwide on Gumtree to notify you when someone's selling one. I've definitely seen them for sale before on gumtree.

The stealth idea is a good one, I'd never thought of that. I bet there's a great 'natural light' solution - maybe natural light on top and one way glass in the van itself.

I think the 'ideal' mobile home would be one that was van-sized so you could drive/park it plenty of places, but which 'expanded' to say twice it's width when you had the space to do so.

Rv_classa.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Headroom, 

It will likely need a pop up roof to enable occupier to stand up inside otherwise it will drive the occupier mental, not to metion lower back pain from constant stooped movement. Fine if it is just a weekend dayvan where you can get out and doss / stretch in the awning, but if it is a covert residential sleeper then the occupier wont be getting in and out much or leaving doors open, that also brings the question: can you have a pop up roof up in a residential area and not get sussed it is being lived in?

I wouldn't underestimate the need to be able to stand inside.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember seeing an 'expanding' camper van like the one above; a big bigger actually - in the carpark of SeaWorld in San Diego last year - looked amazing and I could have happily lived in it full time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, workingpoor said:

Headroom, 

It will likely need a pop up roof to enable occupier to stand up inside otherwise it will drive the occupier mental, not to metion lower back pain from constant stooped movement. Fine if it is just a weekend dayvan where you can get out and doss / stretch in the awning, but if it is a covert residential sleeper then the occupier wont be getting in and out much or leaving doors open, that also brings the question: can you have a pop up roof up in a residential area and not get sussed it is being lived in?

I wouldn't underestimate the need to be able to stand inside.

Fantastic point and one I hadn't thought of in my romantic notion of a conversion project.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
45 minutes ago, Turned Out Nice Again said:

Lining up projects for my impending New Single Life,

While intending to buy or rent some kind of bricks and mortar property, I'm returning to a dream I've harboured for years of my own off-grid dwelling-space on wheels for independence, adventure and as a fallback should SHTF.

Do i convert a van myself? Or buy something pre-built? I'm looking at a budget in the £10-15K range.
I know somebody else posted about wanting similar, Economic Exile? Can't find that post now.
Anyone tried this?
 

Been on, am on the same mission. I've considered pretty much everything from a converted Unimog to a panel van. I think it depends very much what will be your primary purpose for its use. I want to travel first and live in it second. I was really drawn to the appeal of sliding back the side door and having a window on the world, by parking the van appropriately the wind and rain would not matter. I spoke to every camper drive I met. As a result I discounted having a shower or a toilet fitted as most seasoned travellers said both were just wasted space as you could always find a public convenience or bush and a river or the sea. (If I had a toilet it would have been a Nature's Head.). Almost everyone recommended a Fiat Ducato as the base vehicle and a Hi Top for standing room.

I really wanted a Panel Van, but in the end I got something else, and it's not a Unimog either.. i would have paid for a professional conversion, however, but not glammed up like a tarts boudoir

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you want to go stealth it brings a whole new set of complications into the mix, unlikely you'll be looking at anything off the shelf and buying a second hand stealth may set yourself up for another DIY'ers screw ups - at least if they are your screw-ups then you know what they are and where they are. Also in combination with the size restrictions you probably want to have it pretty much custom for your own requirements.

I bought a pod (£500 second hand, unused with brand new sink/gas cooker, you can get them with integrated fridges too, quick and easy to get in van) and a cheap rock and roll bed (without M1 crash test cert) for under £300 second hand - ideal if you are never going to be carrying passengers in the back. I would be tempted to insulate and ply line / carpet the van to a good finish and then make the electrics accessible / reconfigurable - so split chart controller under front seat and big connector to hook up to batteries in the rear somewhere together with the flexibility of pod / ability to change rock and roll to maybe fixed at alter stage - try it out as you may find you don't get on with the configuration. You could do this initially very cheaply - van cost plus £2/3K and try it out. 

Seen propex propane heating (bit like kitchen kick board style fan heating) with tank slung underneath chassis and there is eberspacher diesel burners - but can be a bit noisy if truly want to go urban under cover. Electric hookup - no reason not to, rather than large 240V flapped connector hide one under bonnet or wheel arch / rear area somewhere. VW's are overpriced but hold their price and endless supply of second hand refit material comes up on ebay as owners splash out on new stuff and different configurations. Seat swivel - one or two a must, increases the spaciousness inside and means you don't have to exit the van to get in the back (impossible with bench seat version  and I should imagine not a particularly great convenience in twin single seat variant).

Festival season coming up, go to a few volkswagen meets - tons of vans on show and you will get huge amounts of feedback on what works / what doesn't and how many ways you can reconfigure the internals. 

Edit - for a bloke, a comfort bottle, saves the space in a small van) ;-)

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm working on mine at the moment, though it's going slowly. Based on a Renault Espace Grand (long wheelbase)

What the OP describes is more a mobile home than a camper van. My stealth camper project is intended as a discreet weekend getaway, for urban camping, and occasional use if I am way from home on contract for up to a week, maybe two.

I've built in a second electrical systeem on a 'jump', i.e a removable structure that fits in the boot 110VA leisure battery, charger, small battery charger, 20A  wiring, fusebox and panel of car-type 12 sockets, DMM to monitor the battery, and a couple of USB chargers. No connection to the main car electrics, technically not a car modification as it is not fixed in the car but removable. I may add an inverter and a link to vehicle earth but intend to use only 12v equipment.

I've made lightproof some foam leatherette-faced blanking panels for the rear windows, which are easy to fit, and a fan unit that wedges into the offside rear side window frame if I am parked and need ventilation. No idea if it will be effective.

That still leaves room in the boot for a large toolbox, 4-man tent, folding 26" mountain bike (Montague X50) and plenty of other odds and sods, car consumables, collapsible water containers, towropes, etc. The toolbox is very well stocked for roadside repairs, but not routine maintenance, which I will do at home. Stuff like antifreeze, oil and washer fluid are in small, concentrated amounts.

I don't intent to cook in there (too much mess, smell, power consumption and fire risk) so I will carry a camping gas cooker for use outside, and also use takeaways and cold food.

The Espace is a 7-seater, i've removed the middle row of 3 seats.

One of the back seats will effectively be boxed in by my combined bed/storage unit, but be there if I need a 4th seat in a hurry. Again, I am trying not to actually fix the bed/storage to the vehicle, so it won't count as a modification. However, It will be a very tight fit in the seat rails so it won't move around in transit. That's the idea anyway.

Entertainment will be my laptop. I may get a TV dongle if I am desparate.

I will add a lockable box somewhere as a sort of safe. Better than a glovebox anyway.

I've given long thought to what I will carry in terms of loose items, and collected lots of plastic containers so that when I come to store stuff I will have somethings the optimum sizes.

Also carrying a rucksack that meets aircraft carry-on hand luggage rules with most of the necessities I might need for a week or so abroad, so I can fly away at short notice without having to faff around packing. Consumables in it can also be used day-to-day.

I'll carry water for basic ablutions and use facilities like public swimming pools for my daily shower. Or just smell.

Which just leaves a WC. I've got a folding crap-in-a-bag type camping loo which I hope never to use. I don't expect ever to be far from a loo, or if I am remote enough, to just go outdoors.

In theory I could convert it back to an unmodified vehicle in about 5 minutes

I'll post some photos if anyone is interested.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
51 minutes ago, workingpoor said:

Headroom, 

It will likely need a pop up roof to enable occupier to stand up inside otherwise it will drive the occupier mental, not to metion lower back pain from constant stooped movement. Fine if it is just a weekend dayvan where you can get out and doss / stretch in the awning, but if it is a covert residential sleeper then the occupier wont be getting in and out much or leaving doors open, that also brings the question: can you have a pop up roof up in a residential area and not get sussed it is being lived in?

I wouldn't underestimate the need to be able to stand inside.

Thanks - noted. I've read on some of the forums that this is more of an issue if you have to stand to cook but I can see how stooping would get old pretty soon in any event.

A high roof also provides more storage options. I'll have to see how much it excludes parking options in car parks etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a Toyota Hiace supercustom 1998 similar to this one :-

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Toyota-HiAce-Super-Custom-Camper-Van-/222373900727?hash=item33c68471b7:g:PRUAAOSw-0xYdTVq

Ive had it for 3 years and really like it. Mainly explored my own region and plan to go on a grand tour of the Scottish coast and islands if I can. Also like having it in case TSHTF. Still have a son at home and a daughter finishing uni this year so still have obligations but often tempted to sell up by a one bed place and just go!

My van is very basic but suits me. It could do with electrics, battery etc being upgraded but no cash so I just make do. The van drives great and I have had no problems with it. Could do with a little more headroom as I can just stand up in it with no leeway. 

Hiace Hobo has a blog and Facebook page. He's been living in a similar van to mine since about 2012. He goes abroad every winter.

Good luck with your project I look forward to reading about your progress. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I had a low roof camper van, the biggest PIA was trying to put your trousers on.

OK for a weekend, but it quickly becomes annoying.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Reck B said:

You have to paint it yellow.

ba08b9cd-0909-443c-9a69-8a9f73b10911-102

I watched that film recently. Lady in the Van.

My favourite line was when she said "I got the last laugh......parked on your drive for a few days and ended up being there 15 years!" ?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't be too put off about the difficulties of using a larger van as daily driver - they're not that bad and generally better value for money than the medium sized. I would be looking at ex utilities crew vans or ex police vans http://www.forcevans.co.uk/used-vans  Personally, I would avoid building loads of fitted gubbins to maintain maximum flexibility and work out what you really need as you go. Mate of mine has lived in a van for years and sleeps well on an army surplus folding bed. Although he doesn't have any heating at all these days, he said the eiberspacher was very good. Sort a good heater and electric supply, then start using it to get an understanding of the ins and outs of mobile living.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
57 minutes ago, Turned Out Nice Again said:

Well I should have guessed that others here would be on this track!

 

Everyone on HPC has a stealth camper.

In fact, we are all surrounded by millions of stealth campers. We just can't see them. That's stealth, that is.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Buy a decent base vehicle if you're going to invest time and energy in kitting out the back. Most MWB 3.5t vans and you should be able to take them almost anywhere you can take a car once you get used to it. Eberspacher or Webasto I would have thought is the way to go for heating. You can get silencers for the exhausts to stay stealth. When you insulate do it properly to avoid trapping condensation behind material. Don't go to town on drilling and screwing, riveting etc. It's seen as the 'proper' way to do it by a lot of people and it does allow alteration but gluing everything with a good PU sealant like Tiger Seal will mean a lot less noise and give the joints flexibility as the vehicle flexes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lots of myths around stealth camping, often based on US experience of trying to live in a car/van/truck in urban areas.

If you’re hoping to regularly park up in urban/residential areas you’ll probably be OK for a single night in any type of vehicle. More than that and local residents or shopkeepers will soon know you are there, no matter how “stealthy” the vehicle is. Some will not be bothered, most will kick up a fuss if you’re taking up “their” parking space or regularly occupying a car park slot.

Same goes for NO OVERNIGHT PARKING car-parks in beauty spots/seaside areas. Unless you have no fridge exhaust, water inlet, mains hook-up point, windows, open roof ventilator etc. then it’s glaringly obvious and even so, the Police, NT wardens and Park Rangers can spot a stealth camper a mile away and will happily wake you up at all hours.

If you fancy the idea of converting a van then good advice in this thread and from lots of websites and blogs. The “pods” already mentioned are a way of getting lots of well-designed kit into a small space but if you’re travelling on your own I’d strongly recommend a fixed bed, even if it’s set up high and feels a little like being in the top bunk in a low-ceilinged room.

Not having to dig out sleeping bag or duvet and pillows from limited storage space, rearrange cushions or move other kit to make a bed is a great benefit and if you set a fixed bed at the rear of a panel van then the underbed area can be accessed from the rear doors and provide storage for bike, tools, hook-up leads, gas, water etc.

All that said……why not take a look at something similar to the Hiace camper in Economic Exile’s link? Definitely not stealthy but easy to drive, economical, cheap for a camper and easily adapted to suit one person, even with a fixed bed! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
40 minutes ago, Boomer Baby said:

 

Lots of myths around stealth camping, often based on US experience of trying to live in a car/van/truck in urban areas.

 

Yes, as second most densely populated country in EU not many places where you will go unnoticed.

Pub car parks are one more recent trend in addition to formal campsites.

http://wildcamping.moonfruit.com/pub-stopovers/4563550207

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, winkie said:

Pictures please.:)

 

As you can see work in progress, too cold and wet to get much done, seat covers on, swivel installed on double passenger seat, pod (with sink and hob, good space for water and cutlery etc), can get same/similar with fridge though that adds £500 to the new cost as good ones not cheap. Some of the lining needs to be removed and redone as well as bonded windows put in, but they are only a £100/£150 plus fitting, fixed on sliding door, sliding on driver's side. Ignore the tools and crap!

 

20170206_160307.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Put a matrass in the back of an old RangeRover and park up outside a residential special-needs school. Some people get away with it for years.

Alternatively, I'd buy a boat (30' would do) with a bilge keel and put it on a mooring somewhere nice. Move when you get bored or fancy a change. You could do that today!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, whitevanman said:

Alternatively, I'd buy a boat (30' would do) with a bilge keel and put it on a mooring somewhere nice. Move when you get bored or fancy a change. You could do that today!

That had occurred to me, but not sure I'm the nautical type.

Wouldn't mind a bit of Lauren Bacall though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • The Prime Minister stated that there were three Brexit options available to the UK:   34 members have voted

    1. 1. Which of the Prime Minister's options would you choose?


      • Leave with the negotiated deal
      • Remain
      • Leave with no deal

    Please sign in or register to vote in this poll. View topic


×

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.