Fitting a swivel seat base to a vw t4

One of the first jobs on the list when we bought Hercules was a swivel base for the passenger seat. T4 vans come with either a double passenger seat, so you can fit three people up front (would be handy actually, as we only have four seat-belted seats), or a single passenger captain seat. Hercules came with the latter.

There are two main different types of seat swivel – a swivel plate, which fits between the seat and the standard seat base, and a swivel base, which replaces the standard seat base. After a bit of research I chose the latter, on the basis that this would leave the seat at the same height as it would be on the standard base, whereas a plate will usually raise it slightly. I actually used a swivel plate on Rocky, our last T25 camper.

I ordered one from SVB Accessories , on the basis that it was crash-tested and a good price. They also do a version with a built-in safe which I was tempted by, but i’m kind of reluctant to put a (visible) safe in the van, as to me it kind of advertises to a potential thief where you keep your valuables. Or maybe you could double-bluff and have a visible safe as a distraction, but keep your valuables somewhere else!

Having had much older vehicles, I wasn’t sure how long this job would take, but luckily it went entirely to plan. Firstly, I slid the seat all the way back, and undid the allen bolts which hold the seat rails to the base.

Then I slid the seat all the way forwards and undid the allen bolts at the rear of the rails.

Then you can remove the seat, with rails still attached.

Using a socket wrench, you then undo the four nuts on the bolts which attach the seat base to the cab floor.

Then you bolt the swivel seat base in, and attach the rails to it. The base came provided with bolts, but I used the original allen bolts (as they sit flush inside the rails) with the nuts from the provided bolts.

All in all probably 25 minutes, which is a miracle for me, as I have been known to make a 25 minute job last all weekend!

Introducing Freerange Freelance!

Those of you who have followed a link to campervanthings.com might be confused to see a different domain name and site title “Freerange Freelance”. Let me explain!

The first version of this blog was called “Rick on the Road”, which started as a travel blog years ago, when my wife and I started looking at the idea of spending the summer touring france, with our (then) young son while I carried on working as a freelance web developer, attempting to keep an old plastic macbook with a two-hour max battery life charged from an inadequate portable solar panel, and attempting to keep in touch with clients and upload code over sketchy campsite wifi.

After that trip, the blog lost momentum until we bought a camper van and I enthusiastically relaunched it as “camper van things”, and wrote almost exclusively about camper van things.

It then lost momentum again, particularly after we sold the camper. This year having bought another van I thought I would give it a refresh and start writing again, and in doing so, I decided that the name of the blog didn’t really reflect what this blog is about.

So what is this blog about then?

I’ve worked (mostly) as a freelance web developer for over ten years now and the goal has always been flexible working. I’m lucky enough to have built a career that revolves around the internet and remote-working tools, and so most of the time I only need a charged laptop and a decent internet connection (wifi or 3G/4G)  to do my job. Moreover, I prefer flexible work hours, and not having to commute to an office “day job”. All of those aspirations can be difficult to achieve sometimes, which I will talk about on this blog.

But you’re still going on about camper vans?

Yep! As far as i’m concerned, a camper van makes the perfect mobile office, and is the best way to combine travel, adventure and freelance work. Plus I just love camper vans, so they will still feature prominently, particularly the one we own.

Freerange Freelance

Naming a blog is almost as difficult as naming a band. My wife is also freelance (TV/Video production/Copywriting) and we threw around a few ideas before coming up with this, then impulsively reserving the domain name and instagram handle. Twitter username character limit wasn’t long enough, so I left that one as @campervanthings for now. I think Freerange Freelance better covers the scope of this blog and any associated social media accounts.

Web development stuff

I’ll refrain from talking too much about web development on this blog, as I have another blog for that – if you’re interested in code, take a look at rickhurst.co.uk.

Using a cheap Quechua tarp fresh as a campervan awning

Using Quechua Tarp Fresh as campervan awning

We are using a Quechua tarp fresh as an awning/canopy. We already had the tarp, which we used for tent camping to provide some outdoor rain cover or shade. We bought a couple of spare poles to give us more height and options to set it up as standalone canopy.

Our T4 had an awning “C” rail fitted in the roof gutter, and a quick bit of research showed that you can attach a “kador” strip to these. I ordered a length of kador strip off ebay and wondered if I should sew it to the tarp, but in the end I decided to put some brass eyelets in the strip then attach to the awning using toggles and some elastic shock cord.

C channel in the roof gutter of a VW t4, fitted with kador strip

The advantage of this over sewing is that if we need to move the van, the toggles can be removed and the kador strip pulled out, without needing to unpeg the awning. Plus I can’t sew!

Awning attached to kador strip using toggles and eyelets

Our T4 is the short wheelbase version – the awning is slightly wider than the rail so I tie either end down across the windscreen and tailgate.

Awning attached to kador strip using toggles and eyelets

We have a van again!

New (To Us) VW T4 campervan

Far longer in the planning than i’d like, but we now have a campervan again! This one is a 2001 VW T4 2.5 tdi short wheelbase which is mostly converted to a camper already – rock n roll bed, side windows, sink with running tap, leisure battery, insulation etc.

We were considering getting a bare van and doing the conversion ourselves, but with the summer getting closer by the minute I thought i’d see what was around already ready to camp in and this one had just been advertised – we all decided it would be perfect.

So far we’ve added a cooker and table, the cooker is a Vango Combi IR Grill Cooker, which is now screwed to the worktop.

Vango combi IR Grill cooker in campervan

Vango combi IR Grill cooker in campervan

The table is DIY, and attaches to the side unit using a Reimo sliding table rail.

Making the table

Table attached via Reimo sliding table rail

Reimo sliding table rail

Future ambitions include a pop-top, swivel passenger seat (or both seats, but leisure battery would need to be moved), and to create, or buy, a full length side unit for extra storage.

The van came with a cab bunk, but our son is too tall for that now, so during an experimental overnight camping trip we worked out that he could actually sleep on a self-inflating mattress on the floor, mostly under the bed but with head and shoulders in the space at the foot of the bed. Not ideal, and he’ll more likely be in his own tent until we get the pop top, but it’s good to know we can all sleep in the van as it is if we need to e.g. at an Aire du camping or other stopover where a tent can’t be pitched.

Sleeping three people in a two berth campervan

Minimal campervan conversion – what actually constitutes a campervan?

Minimal campervan

A year on from saying goodbye to our last campervan, we are really missing vanlife, so making plans for the next one. Our last van came to us fully converted as a 4-berth camper with pop-top roof, cooker, fridge, rock and roll bed, table wardrobe, cupboards etc., but this time we are planning a full DIY conversion ourselves, on a more modern van.

Being the master of unfinished projects, I don’t want to spend months and months converting it before we get to use it, so the idea is a phased approach, starting from the bare minimum, then adding to it over time.

So what actually constitutes a campervan? It will be a van, a short wheelbase panel van of some kind – we need to be able to park it on our crowded streets and drive it as a family car. Obviously, we want to be able to camp in it – sleep, cook and have somewhere to sit comfortably inside.

In theory, all you need then is to use it like a “tin tent” – chuck some camping gear and airbeds in the back and you have a campervan, but the basic DVLA criteria to be able to officially reclassify a panel van as a motorhome in the UK include:-

  • A fixed bed
  • Cooker
  • Side Window
  • Fixed table
  • Sink and tap

My first campervan didn’t meet these criteria, it was a very minimal conversion – a fold-down single bed made from an ikea futon frame, a freestanding gas cooker from a caravan bungeed to the rear of the passenger seat, and some rugs and stuff. At a push you could sleep 3 people – one on the bed, one on the floor and one across the engine bay diagonally, but only one of these options was remotely comfortable. That van was more of a hippy ex-student road-trip bus, not a family campervan.

I’ve also read that some campsites and festivals won’t accept a van unless it appears to be a camper van – nominally for safety regulations, but probably also to stop people just turning up in hired vans or builder’s vans with an airbed in the back and binbags taped over the windows.

So there’s some “official” criteria we need to meet eventually, if we want to reclassify it as a motorhome but there are also some minumum requirements of our own, to enjoy it as a family campervan. We want to be able to sleep three people comfortably – two adults and a taller-by-the-day teenager. This will be the biggest challenge until such a time we fit a pop-top to gain an extra double bed. I have some ideas, which may or may-not work, but there’s always awnings/ pop-up tents if we can’t all sleep comfortably inside straight away.

We need to cook, so I plan to build a unit to house our existing camping gas cooker, to keep it secure and to be able to store the gas bottle securely underneath. We can survive without a sink initally – even with the sink and tap in our last camper, we tended to wash up on a table using a washing up bowl.

We also need to be able to sit comfortably inside – many of our UK trips have been rainy and cold, so whatever bed arrangement I build needs to be able to be reconfigured during the day to allow us to sit around in a mobile living-room.

I’ll certainly want a leisure battery to keep interior lights, music and phones/ laptops running away from electric hook-up for a weekend. I have a plan for that, which i’ll cover in another blog post.

How to live in a van and travel – new book from Vandogtraveller

How to live in a van and travel book

I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of Mike Hudson’s (AKA Vandogtraveller) new book How to live in a van and travel”. I’ve been a fan of the vandogtraveller blog since the early days, and bought a copy of his previous book “from van to home”.

Though I have no current plans to live in van (or indeed, currently, a van to live in), i’m very interested in ideas for nomadic/remote working – the original subject for this blog. I did actually live and travel in a van for six months in my early 20’s, with a vague plan to “travel europe” and, like Mike, started off with a few grand in savings, and no fixed timescale. Aside from busking, I had no other income stream – this was in the mid-nineties when the internet was in it’s early days, and the term “digital nomad” was (probably) yet to be invented, so I needed to live as cheaply as possible to make the savings last.

So, like many people I suspect, I initially skipped straight to the “Making money on the road” chapter to see if I could pick up any tips. I then went back and read through from the start. He covers pretty much everything, other then details on conversion (covered in “From van to home”).

Thoroughly recommended, and inspiring – Mike tells me that a hard copy version will be available after the ebook, which I will happily buy to add to my coffee table/ toilet reading library!

Taking a break

Camper Van Things is taking a break for a while. It’s been fun, but Rocky has moved onto new adventures with a new owner, and therefore our current camper van adventure has come to an end. I’m not sure whether the content from this blog will be rolled back into my personal blog, or whether it will continue down the line if/when we get another van. So long for now!

Where is Rocky?

From reading this neglected blog you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rocky has been abandoned for the last couple of years in a warehouse, but happily this isn’t the case.

While stashed away a couple of winters ago, he got a bit of TLC, including a fresh coat of paint using the roller method. This worked out really well – highly recommended if you want to spruce up an old vehicle on a budget.

VW T25 rustoleum roller paintjob

VW T25 rustoleum roller paintjob -front

Rocky hasn’t been abroad for a couple of summers but has been on numerous festival and camping adventures in the UK, and has proved to be a great mountain bike hauler over the last couple of years – there’s nothing like a mobile changing room, fridge and coffee/cooking facilities after a day mountain biking!

VW T25 at lakefest

VW T25 mtb hauler

Mechanically he is going well, since tracking down a boost leak he has been taking advantage of the legendary TDI torque. He’s been through two MOT’s – some welding and an overhaul of the front end including new spring and bushings.

VW T25 TDI vag-com

The interior got some love as well, the locker door under the rear seat had virtually disintegrated, so I made a new one from a pine shelf using the original fittings.

VW T25 devon locker door

But there’s a new kid on the block – a 2006 VW Touran. Having had Rocky as our only vehicle for over a year, we needed something a bit more modern for a runaround/ long motorway trips, and while it’s not exactly a campervan, it’s big enough to be used as a microcamper/ weekender. It’s also a great T25 parts hauler!

VW Touran parts hauler

We don’t want to be running two vehicles, especially with the very limited parking availability where we live, so a painful decision had to be made, and reluctantly Rocky will soon be up for sale. I’m sure there will be another campervan (or other portable home on wheels) in our lives, so hopefully it’s not the end of this blog – watch this space…

VW Touran parts hauler

You can take a man out of a camper van but…

Rocky T25/T3/Vanagon

It’s sad I know, but while visiting the warehouse where Rocky is laid up for a while, I got nostalgic for my second home, and spent a while sat inside, working on my laptop, listening to some music, and had some lunch!

I also removed the bike rack, bumpers, grilles etc. ready to attack the bodywork with an angle grinder (flap disc only – nothing too drastic!)

Microcampers, teardrop trailers and compact caravans.

2cv towing teardrop

Our VW camper is already pretty small, but will sleep four adults, and will fit in a regular parking space, but it is (for us) a second vehicle, and being a vintage vehicle, currently off the road again for some body work tidying and preventative maintenance. It therefore can be an expensive hobby, and we often discuss how we might be better off with something that could be used as a reliable family car and run-around as well as a campervan, or towed behind a small family car.

I recently went on a surf/skate trip down in Cornwall, and with Rocky off the road, found myself back in a tent. I think once you’ve experienced the relative comfort of living and sleeping in a campervan, a tent feels quite a step down! It didn’t help that I was in a tiny pop up tent, on a deflating airbed, trying to cook on a tiny picnic stove, which I struggled to keep upright.

Teardrop trailers and compact caravans such as the Eriba puck or slightly larger Pan Familia would be one solution – small and light enough to tow behind a small family car. The advantage of a caravan is that once pitched up, you can leave everything set-up and still have use of the tow car. Unfortunately, we live in a city, and have no off-street parking, so unless we paid for somewhere to store it, a trailer or caravan wouldn’t be ideal for us.

An estate car or small van is easily converted to a micro-camper with the addition of a mattress of some sort and window coverings for privacy, but a small car takes a bit more ingenuity.

After doing some research, I was amazed to see how common car-campers seem to be. Basically as long as at least one bed can be squeezed in some how, a can be used as a microcamper. If you google for “microcamper” or “car camper” on image search, you’d be surprised at the lengths people, worldwide, are going to to make their cars into DIY mini-campers.

Popular base vehicles for microcampers seem to be the Renault Kangoo and Citroen Berlingo – small, economical family cars, with an “estate” car rear end, making them like a small cargo van with the seats folded down. All manner of gadgets and conversions seem to be available, to cram in a double bed. Cooking activities usually take place to the rear of the vehicle, rather than inside – probably a sensible idea! These vehicles, or at least the van versions are the modern-day equivalent of the 2cv/ Dyane based vans – I actually wrote about an Acadiane microcamper (van version of the Citroen Dyane), a while back.

It’s not just DIY eccentrics building microcampers either – established motorhome converters are offering one and two-berth campers based on the Kangoo and Berlingo (at fairly hefty prices!). Even luxury brands such as BMW’s mini are getting in on the action, advertising the mini as a camper, using different set-ups such as a roof tent, a teardrop trailer and a single bed crammed into the interior of the clubman model.

We have a 1998 Vw “new” beetle, which we’ve done plenty of tent camping in, before we got our current camper. I started working out if there was any possible way of sleeping comfortably inside, without having to modify or remove the seating. Just for a single person, obviously – a surf-trip overnighter rather then a serious live-in vehcle. With the rear seats folded down, there isn’t enough room to stretch out, so I’ve set myself the challenge of coming up with a solution.

Anyone who has owned a new beetle will be aware how deep the dash is – space that can be taken advantage of, and also, despite being a small vehicle there is a surprising amount of headroom in the centre of the vehicle, due to the curved profile of the roof.

I recently spotted a “tent cot” on a campsite, and was also looking at a tiny hiking tent, both offering minimal headroom, just the basics in shelter from the elements – so I started studying the roof void of the beetle, and realised there could be a way to fit a full length bed in after all.

Watch this space!