Van Conversion Diary

The van is functional

After 7 months of part-time building, the van is fully functional.We have already done 3 weekends of testing, including sleeping, hiking and working. We still need to figure out what to pack for longer trips and how to optimize storage space, but otherwise it's all working. Let me show you in this post the latest features which made all the difference. The two 100W solar panels are robustly attached and installed on the roof. We have mounted them close to the metal, so that they don't catch the...

Sun Apr 04 2021

Building the furniture

The van slowly starts to look like something else than a workshop on wheels as we are now building the furniture.It's a fun process, but getting things squared is quite complicated since the van itself isn't square and it's parked in an inclined driveway. Here again, this is all first-timers to us. The first piece we've built was the front upper cabinets. This one was particularly tricky because it does not rest on the floor. Therefore, it needs to be strongly attached to the wall and the ceili...

Mon Feb 15 2021

First night

For the first day of year 2021, we slept in the van for the first time.We have celebrated New Year's Eve at friends - Tiphaine and Alexandre. They live quite close to my mother's place where we currently live, but with the French curfew of 8pm, we couldn't just drive back after the party - we had to stay over! This was the call for a meaningful deadline: get the bed done before 2021. Actually we had built and a while ago, long before we even bought the van. What was left to do was to find a wa...

Thu Dec 31 2020

Insulating and cladding the doors

The van has two doors to access the future living area: a sliding door on the side, and a two half doors rotating on the back.We completed the insulation and cladding for the sliding door in mid-September, and the back doors in late November. In between I started tracking time - so I can state that for the back doors it took us 22 hours of work. For the doors, the insulation only consists of hemp. Protecting this insulation with the intello membrane was tricky around features like door handle...

Thu Nov 19 2020

Insulating the headliner

We've heard somewhere, that the front of the van can become a real oven in summer.So we decided to insulate the headliner - the space above driver and passenger seats. It took us about two days to take it off, insulate, seal with the vapour barrier membrane and put it back. We picked cork for the floor, we used hemp for the headliner. Cork works great for flat, thin surfaces - hemp works best for uneven space. For the walls we are using both in combination, a post will follow on this. We have...

Mon Nov 02 2020

Building the floor

Since we removed the previous industrial floor with a crowbar it was left to us to build one we like better.The build itself was actually only a matter of days, although the turn of events (our lack of experience) forced us to disassemble and resassemble it a few times until it was final. We started by cleaning the edges of the previous holes, applying anti-rust and sealing them with black sillicon. For the bigger holes, we got helped by Alexandre who closed them by riveting aluminium plates. ...

Fri Oct 23 2020

Installing the roof window

Our first serious build in the van: installing the roof window. We dreaded this step since it involved cutting in the van body. We picked the MPK vision vent M pro, because it has a certified passive air flow sufficient to homologate our van as a French camper. Like most roof window, we had to build a frame to accommodate it. However, unlike most roof window, there is no screw going through the car body to the frame. Instead, the frame is linked to the roof window with a few supplied plastic pie...

Fri Sep 11 2020

The van is registered

Finally, after over 30 days, the French administration has finished processing the paperwork and the van is now imported!This is great news, since we were somewhat stuck without this registration. ! On one side, since our exportation plate expired, we were not allowed to drive the van anymore (and it was not insured either, so it was parked in private space). This prevented us to bring the van to a garrage to fix the holes in the floor, so we could not build the insulation. On the other side, ...

Thu Sep 03 2020

Cleaning the electronics - II

After about a week (mainly waiting for tool delivery and gathering knowledge) we finished cleaning the electronics added by the previous owner.It was quite pleasurable to plug the battery back in and to check that the van still worked, including the rear camera which still turns on when driving backward. The rear camera is the only extra circuit that I kept under the driver seat, next to the original Mercedes wires. Basically, the **+** of the camera feeds into a relay, which is triggered by ...

Sun Aug 16 2020

Cleaning the electronics - I

We are still very much in the de-constructing phase.Back when we removed the shelf, we disconnected a lot of additional LEDs that the previous owner installed. That led to many useless cables that we had to track down and remove - the only extra piece of electronics we wanted to keep was the rear camera. All cables added by the previous owner lead to beneath the driver seat. Although functional, it was a real mess down there. ! This is not my field of expertise but it looks to me like the equ...

Tue Aug 11 2020

Removing the floor

The floor was glued directly on the carrosserie, so we had to force it out with a lever (pied de biche). Thanks to Jean-Marc for his help in this - initially we were not really confident that the car paint wouldn't follow, but it ended up fine. The sad news is that we found two new relatively large holes in the floor, with screws holding some seemingly useless pieces of wood above the tanks. Later, we removed the last glued pieces using a heat gun and a spatula. Finally, we removed a little rust...

Tue Aug 04 2020

Exporting the van

Since we will be leaving Germany, we will de-register the van from Germany and register it in France. It appeared to us that the easiest way to proceed was to get exportation plates (Zollkennzeichen) in Germany. To get those, we dropped the van at a registration service (Zulassungsdienst) in Karlsruhe, together with all the van papers and the keys - a little scary. We could have went ourselves to the official Zullasungstelle directly instead of using a middleman, but requesting an appointment ca...

Mon Jul 20 2020

Removing the shelf

The previous van owner was an electrician and built some kind of shelf that surely suited his needs but not ours, so we removed it. We also wanted to start from scratch. Thanks to Jakob for helping out in this.After removing the shelf we found out that the previous owner drilled a few screws through the floor of the van (on peut parler de "vis cachées"), and - more concerning - a large hole adjancent to a structural piece, previously holding a pipe. ! !

Sat Jul 18 2020

Bringing back the van

To bring the car back we drove it from Munich to Karlsruhe (around 300km), entirely on natural gas (we tanked somewhere in the middle). Tanking was straightforward and quick. Driving the van feels pretty good and the engine is quite powerful, allowing speeds above 110km/h.

Thu Jul 16 2020

Buying the van

We visited this Mercedes Sprinter 2011 NGT L2H2 in Munich and decided to buy it.NGT stands for Natural Gas Technology (Erdgas in German, GNC or GNV in French).It is not the same as LPG, which is liquid. It is also pretty safe. Actually the van has two tanks - one for natural gas and one for benzine, the engine can switch carburation smoothly. When the tanks are full it can drive around 260km on natural gas and 1100km on benzine. Natural gas has a few advantages: it's cheap (around 1€ for 10km),...

Mon Jul 13 2020

Oiling the bed

We have built this bed structure with our friend Yannick a while ago, before the lockdown. Actually that was one of our first exposure to woodworking. The design is inspired by the one in . Today we oiled it.

Sat Jul 04 2020