Whether it’s restoring a piece of junk to its former glory, bringing wild designs to life, or swapping in some insane power, we’re suckers for a creative build. And while custom hot rods and modified muscle cars will always rev our engines, lately we’ve been enamored with another segment: the conversion van. We know, we know. We’ve devoted some prime blog space real estate to these rigs already (which you can find here and here….and here.) But the fact remains that they’re capable, durable, and excellent blank canvases for the curious and creative automotive types. And for those looking to get off the grid? They provide comfort and utility often at a fraction of the cost of comparatively decked-out RVs and campers.
Don’t believe it? We roamed the interwebs and dug up some of the coolest camper van builds we could find. Read ‘em and weep. But we definitely want you to rate them in the comments section below!
The prom queen of camper van builds, the Mercedes Sprinter takes the crown among many vanlifers as the most adaptable to conversion efforts. This 1999 model began as a courier van, then a gardener’s work vehicle, until it was eventually picked up by quirky English campers David and Lindsay. Sporting a king size bed, cab bunk, and hanging crib, this 19ft diesel work van now serves as a family camper complete with rustic touches of hand-carved wood and hobbit-like styling.
The unit is also available for rent, fetching prices on a weekend anywhere from $300 – $500+, proving there’s some serious cash to be made in the segment. Check out their page to see other wacky conversions they offer for rent. If you find yourself across the pond, you’ll have one more option for (primitive, but expensive) accommodation.
In 2013, a young electronic-systems engineer named Mike Hudson decided to quit his job and buy a ten-year-old used LDV Convoy van. Roughly a year later, the rusty old hauler was transformed into a wood-paneled cabin on wheels.
It’s got all the basic comforts of home: a gas cooker and sink, on-board toilet and shower, ingenious Dometic Waeco fridge/freezer combo, hot water on demand, and a comfy bed. For a guy committed to traveling the world, what more do you need? Well, a sustainable rooftop solar charging system and a wacky sense of adventure. Check and check. Click here for info on Hudson’s book and updates on vanlife.
What happens when you mix equal parts creativity and a love for all things ‘70s? A 1995 Chevy G30 turned Boogie Van, that’s what. Meet “NirVANa,” a printing company’s work van that became a band’s instrument hauler and eventually a plucky couple’s camper and daily driver. (Try doing that with your RV.)
With a custom bed and storage bar built of reclaimed wood, walls covered in whitewashed fence posts, and a hidden portable toilet, this rig offers all the comforts of a home away from home. Click here for a break down of the process.
Accidentally in Love
When Colorado-based adventure photographer and filmmaker Thomas Woodson “accidentally” purchased a new 2015 RAM ProMaster, he gave himself only two months to transform the commercial van into a travel rig. Insulating and ventilating the van, adding a queen-sized bed, building a 300w solar-powered system, and adding homey touches, he now has a camper fitted for his adventure lifestyle.
Woodson and his girlfriend are avid sports-lovers as well. These types of camper van builds are popular among similar enthusiasts as they offer both storage for gear and shelter at unique sites. And what’s more, Woodson claims his hauler averages 20 mpg—a major selling point for those enticed with the possibility of starting the week with skiing in the mountains and ending it with a surf session at the beach.
Back to the queen of camper van builds, this 170” wheelbase Mercedes Sprinter model serves as the adventure rig for outdoor blogger, Kristen Bor. While many people choose to tackle van conversions on their own, Kristen opted to have the pros at Outside Van handle hers. With high-grade aftermarket materials like master-build cabinets with marine-grade plywood (they stand up better to rattling) and “soft wall” construction of ripstop nylon and closed cell foam (better insulation as well as light and sound proofing), it’s clear that these guys are experts at anticipating hiccups in van life.
And using professional outfitters didn’t mean Kristen had to compromise on customization. She chose the layout, color scheme, fabrics, decorative touches, and even helped design some of the bigger pieces—like the groovy map-covered work table. Check out her travel blog for more conversion details as well as excellent RV and camping product recommendations based on her experiences. The portable 2-burner Camp Chef Everest stove and Camco TastePURE Water Filter are definitely going on our Christmas list this year.
For those reading this thinking “I’m pretty sure I want to live in a van now,” check out filmmaker Zach Both’s unbelievably comprehensive “vanual” to see what you’re in for. Zach transformed a former electrician’s 2003 Chevy Express 3500 into a camper-extraordinaire in a little over a year for around $12,000. And that’s including the price of the van. Not too shabby, eh?
Considering it sports a sizeable futon/bed, kitchenette, work area, Boulder 90 Solar Panels, and a home theater system (Really, there’s a projector.), we’d say that’s a good deal. There’s no bathroom or shower on board, but hey, that’s what a gym membership is for, right?
These camper van builds prove that big dreams can come in small packages. Feeling inspired, yet?