We loved our old VW camper but the darn thing kept breaking down. Last month we replaced it with a Toyota Sienna van. At first it looked like the dozens you see on the road. Then, we tossed the back seats and replaced them with a simple bed frame.
Next, I covered the frame with plywood on hinges. Each end lifts up to give access to the storage areas below. On the port side I built shelves and a cooking area.
At his point a small brown dog discovered our mini-camper and took up residence.
Francesca made curtains and our friend, Gina, helped us with cushions that allow us, to have either a back seat or a bed.
A table pops up for fine dining and the blue box to the right keeps the wine chilled.
We did this for $200. A California company (www.gtrv.com) can to the same thing [including a pop-top] for $20,000. There's another website (http://www.myminicamper.com/) than offers instructions on how to do cheap minivan conversions.
ONE FINAL TOUCH
A little tarp and two bamboo sticks gave us a front porch.
Today's the Big Day. Francesca, Pi, and I are going to jump in our rolling home and head for Chicago. After that we'll go west on the Oregon Trail.
We'll probably stop at every place that allows dogs.
Stay tuned for details.
Postscript, December, 2011
Our Big Trip: 49 days, 29 camping nights (we stayed with friends a lot) , and 14,000 miles in the last six months, we have no regrets.
We drove almost 11,000 miles around the U.S. last summer with no significant problems.
Our design works well and seems just right for us. If you have a question write to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to help you out.
VAN CONVERSION II , August, 2012
It's been a little over a year since we did our conversion. A number of you have written to ask for more information and photographs. Someone suggested that I write detailed plans and I suppose I might someday.
For now I'll show you a little more about the seat that converts into a bed. It is made of a 4x8 sheet of 3/8" plywood. There are enough supports beneath it to keep it from bending too much. It is cut into four parts (with a little left over).
The front two pieces form the back and bottom of the seat. They are hinged to each other but not to anything else. The supportive bottom struts hold them in place (in their two positions).When you lift the seat ups you notice the support that keeps it from sliding forward and the folding leg that holds up the starboard side of the front of the bed. A simple cabinet catch keeps it folded away:
Here's how it looks folded down:
The back of the seat is held up by two pieces of hardwood (about 2x3/16x16") . I have had trouble with them splitting under stress and I may replace them with steel supports. They are pinned on each side with a 1/4" bolt tied to a piece of thin bungee cord (a rubber band would probably work as well). The cord loops around a screw head under slight tension to keep the seat back and the supportive strut pinned together.
Removing them for the bed conversion is a breeze. When not in use we keep them in the beverage holder a few inches away.
The bottom of the seat struts are hinged to a thin piece of 3/8 plywood that is attached to the side of the bed frame. They fold out of the way when it is time to go into bedroom mode.
The third piece of the bed is permanent, 6" wide 3/8" plywood strip and it helps hold the bed frame together. Hinged to it is the last piece which we call "the basement door". Lift it up to reveal the "basement", our large storage area in the back.
The removed upper seat belt holes make a fine place for a supportive bolt. A string loops on the "door" (each side)and hold it open when you want access to the back.
The basement revealed:
I hope this helps. I'll write more later...
Update-April 17, 2013
Our van's been chillin' for the last year, just occasion trips around the Sunshine State. In June we'll take it on another big adventure, north to Canada. We see no need to change anything.
What we created 22 months ago still works fine.
Update, August 22, 2013
We're back from our 7000 mile trip to Canada. It was great (and well-covered in this blog).
We still can't think of anything significant we'd change in our van.
I may build another one just for fun (and sell the '04 that we now have).
I am being encouraged to write some sort of van conversion book.
I may do that when things slow down.
Update, Nov. 19, 2013
Brian wrote asking "with mini-vans having uneven floors, how do you figure out how long each bed leg should be to have a level bed surface?" I replied,
Actually, all of the mini-vans' floors are uneven. What you do is to park you van in a level place. Then, you decide where you want your bed to be (like, 1 foot above the floor). Here are two methods to figure out how long the bed legs should be.
A) Get a level and mark the inside wall making a level line with pieces of tape. This is where you'd want your bed to "touch" the inside wall. Then you measure how long the legs have to be to reach the floor.
B) Another way is to build a simple frame for your bed, say, 6' x 4' with four cross pieces (I used 2x2 pine). Place this inside your van where you want your bed to be, on top of boxes or milk crates. Get it level using shims or whatever. Now you can actually measure how long each leg needs to be in the place that it will touch the floor.