Week Thirteen

Its been one of those weeks when you know the end is in sight but it doesn’t get any closer.

Next week is 90 days since we got the van and the insurance company give you that long to get it converted and have the V5 changed which might be fine for a mini van but way too short for a bespoke high end conversion on a LWB big van. Never mind they have given us an extension and only charged us a few pounds for the extra 50% value with the tracker.

We started the week assembling the overhead lockers. The carcassing went together quite well considering I drew it without having the van and not really knowing all the levels. Of course there are a few things I would do differently if there was a next time – which there won’t be. I had to order new hinges, which arrived on Monday, as the originals had too much slop in them and I needed them to be precise and unsprung so had to buy Blum. It took me all day on Tuesday to get the doors hung with stays and catches. They all work fine and just need levelling – something which I suspect could be an ongoing battle as the van moves about.

At the same time I fitted the Loox downlights and those at low level. These all work on a 4 channel dimmer with remote controls.

I found that the Votronic display and App weren’t working correctly. It took me a couple of days to sort this and in the main it was down to my misunderstanding the instructions. Once corrected they all seem to function just fine.

Next came a tidy up around the seating area and fixing the plinth with its vent for the electronic equipment and the side panel for the seat with the low level lights. At the same time I fitted the door to the front of the seat base which gives a massive underseat storage space.

At the beginning of the week we so wanted to do headlining this this week but there were just so many jobs that needed doing first. We had to take out the partitions for the fridge and the toilet to trim them to allow the headlining to oversail but keep the shadow line and the LED strip lights. Whilst the partitions were down we added some pop out coat hooks in the living are and in the toilet for towels but also for wet coats. And with the partitions back in place the fridge was finally fixed in position. The space behind is for storing the tables and the fridge compressor is located in the garage to remove the noise from the living area.

Next we attacked the back wall of the toilet / bathroom and this was far from straightforward. We have a sink unit from a Swift motorhome that leaves a flat wall finish but needs a bespoke installation. All went well until we offered the partition wall up to discover what had not worked. So Sunday was spent reengineering this to find a good working solution which we have and once it is trimmed up no one will be any the wiser. Indeed the solution gives more space for the fridge compressor and allows us to retain full use of the door stay that we would otherwise have lost.

Security and Insurance

We decided to bite a very expensive bullet and go for key protection and a tracker. The insurance companies have a ceiling without a tracker that is £10-£15K below our actual van plus parts costs never mind the hundreds of hours we have invested in the van. Very “generously” they offer £30 discount if you fit a tracker but nothing for key protection.

Really our main concerns were someone breaking into the house and stealing the van keys or hijacking the remote signal or breaking into the van cloning the keys from the ODBC port. Either of which seem to be fairly common means of vehicle theft. So what we wanted was a means of disabling the van when we were away from it at home or the “French supermarket car park”.

Personally I am not a big fan of trackers, a bit of shutting the stable door too late. To me they are a means to getting the best insurance value. Key protection on the on the hand should go a long way to preventing theft in the first place. If after stealing or cloning the keys a thief can’t start the vehicle how long are they going to hang around? Granted if they come equipped with a low loader the tracker will pay for itself. And I know tracker works because I disconnected the battery to do some works shortly after having the tracker fitted and got a phone call within minutes.

My product research started with key protection where I narrowed it down to one obvious solution, Autowatch Ghost II. Unlike other systems that require you to have an ID tag Ghost has two recognition options, either you push a sequence of up to 20 dashboard / steering wheel buttons or, and here is the nice bit, you have a Bluetooth app running on your mobile phone. It is a tiny device that gets hidden on your vehicle’s network so when the vehicle won’t start how long would it take a thief to understand why it won’t start and then locate and uninstall the device

The ID tags are pretty pointless because either you have the added annoyance of remembering your tag when you pick up your keys or you keep the tag on your key ring. Keeping the tag on the key ring seems pointless to me, sure it does mean only your keys and not cloned keys can be used to start the van but if your keys are stolen the thief can start the van. Strangely this method is the only option that comes with insurance approved trackers.

There are several flavours of tracker. Cheaper units with a pay as you go sim allow you to self monitor but will not be accepted by an insurance company who will insist on an approved monitored system. So apart from the up front cost trackers have an ongoing subscription cost although you can pay a large up front one off which gives you lifetime (ownership of the vehicle and life of the tracker) coverage which actually makes sense. If we were going to have a tracker it needed to have monitored Europe tracking with alerts to my phone as well so we have opted for Smartrack Protector.

So all in all with lifetime monitoring the system has cost £1030, a lot of money but at say 1.5% of the value we think so. Not just for actual security but for peace of mind.

Week Twelve

It won’t be long before we are out there in our van so we are starting to plan trips starting with the West Country quite probably in May. Every week we get more and more excited about the progress we are making. This week space started to get a bit tighter making photography more difficult but I will try.

The van was booked in on Monday to have Ghost II and SmartTrack fitted. A big investment towards not losing the van and having it well covered for insurance. I’m not a big fan of trackers but the insurance companies like them and we need to get the insurance value up. Bit of a lump but we paid lifetime subs upfront which over 5+ years will be a much better deal. Ghost on the other hand is a better idea. It means the van will not start unless you know the secret or you have one or other of our mobiles and have got into them to turn the app on. Key theft won’t work nor will key cloning.

With the van back we set about finishing the partitions and making the rear wall, such a nightmare job with few straight lines or level surfaces to work with. It took us 2 days to make and trial fit all the blank panel to a reasonable degree of accuracy and scribed to the curved side walls.

At the joinery shop we cut and edged all the openings, cut the remaining grey panels and edged the and assembled the central service duct element of the overhead lockers.

Trever the chippy and I spend a lot of Friday trying to understand how to use the Hafele gas struts work automatically. The stays are supposed to be automatic opening when the catches are released but the instructions were rubbish and we could not make them work. Also the swing out hinges I had bought were no good as they flopped about too much under the force of the struts. Eventually on Friday evening it with a simple bit of CAD drawing I had it worked out and on Saturday morning hey presto the problem was solved.

Before we could install the service section I needed to finish the controls installations and prove the them and the electrics. That also meant completing the mains hook up. So with the panel in place all the terminals were made off and connected up and I decided that they also needed testing and commissioning before we go any further. And here it is – mission control all tested and up and working.

We can turn everything on and off, see the state of batteries, solar charge, water and waste tanks and in/out temperature. And I can get graphical stats about the batteries, solar charge and so on on app on my mobile phone.

Interestingly I had to disconnect the vehicle battery while I made all the final connections and within minutes I got a call from the tracking company to say they had seen the battery disconnect and was everything OK. So that works.

Week Eleven

We really got into the fitting out this week. I had a great time working with Trevor at Cut’n’Edge Joinery for 4 days. It is a pleasure working with decent equipment and someone who really knows his stuff.

My first job this week, while we waited for the edge tape to be delivered, was fitting the panel behind the batteries so that I could install the main isolator and 300A fuse from the leisure batteries. I had bought a cheap hydraulic crimp tool off eBay that has made crimping all the big cables relatively easy. Once the terminals have been crimped on I am finishing them with a bit of heat shrink to minimise the exposed bare terminals. At the same time I fitted a couple of pop out hooks into the panel.

Once the edge tape turned up it took less a day to cut and edge all of the laminate panels before we were ready to start assembling. The base unit for the kitchen was our first task that took us a couple of days and the end result is brilliant. They are made from pre finished light weight ply with the Altrofina Weave laminate on the face. It has a hessian like texture so it won’t show scratches and wear. We have used ordinary hardware with SouthCo push in/out handle/locks and have a neat Hafele full height pull out unit. The worktop is a textured 12mm solid grade laminate with a mottled copper coloured finish and is as hard as anything to cut. It is also quite heavy so it is simply held down with super dooper foam tape and adhesive.

Ready for next week we set out and cut the overhead locker panels. These are going to be complicated and I will come back to them later. The last thing we did was to lay up all of the partition panels using lightweight ply and the same vinyl covered decorative board that will be used on the van walls.

My first job at the weekend was to connect up the hob and fit the microwave. The microwave is a simple non electronic domestic item running off the inverter. Although it is a free standing unit we have build it in so have allowed plenty of ventilation, even cutting a side panel to correspond with louvers in the case. The cooking equipment is now ready to use.

The side of the seat bed and the raised floor now has trim panels with floor lights and ventilation Louvre for the under floor kit. They just need a bit of edging to finish them.

And today, Sunday, we have been cracking on with the wall panels. Taking it carefully to scribe them in. There is a lot of detail to get right in this area and a lot of working it out as we go along. It has been very productive we have solved a few problems that had been niggling – like how we are going to make the shower tray fit with the wheel arch.

As you can see it is a little on the compact side but honestly we don’t plan on spending a long time in there.

Week Ten

Where did week nine go I hear you ask. Well we had a week off in Scotland and a break from camper van building. Never mind, we are back now and straight back into it.

The last job 2 weeks ago was finishing the ply lining around the windows and that is all but done apart from a bit of finishing off to the window on the sliding door. So now we are ready for internal walls and furniture.

Before we went away we met with the guy who is going to upholster the seat bed. It is complicated by how the cushions meet or even clash when it is in the seat position. So it’s not going to be completely straight forward but I am sure he will do a good job of it.

I got the back panel for what we are calling the Headboard – this is a tall unit that forms a headboard for the bed but also provides a high work shelf for the kitchen. It also hides the batteries under the end of the bed and has the master switch and fuse screwed to it. So with this in place I was able to make off the last cables and fix the fuse and switch.

The panel also has a couple of recessed hooks and there will be several more around the van. We need to hang, coats, towels, bags and the like but in a confined space they always need to be moved to where they are not a nuisance.

Next week we are making the furniture, it’s going to be exciting.

Week Eight

It is starting to look much more like a campervan this week especially as we are now working on fitting out. The only problem is that the joinery shop boss has gone on holiday without briefing the guy who is going to do the work so that is all on hold for a few weeks because we too are having a week off.

So with the rear most ply lining complete it was time to sort out the electrical systems under the salon floor. Mainly from the Votronic manuals I had drawn a wiring diagram to follow but made a few changes as I went along, mainly just to suit the layout. Everything is well fused so should be quite safe although it looks like we will be carrying a lot of different spares just in case.

I did have to re-pull a few wires and I needed a few extra bits such as more big cable crimps. I had bought a cheap hydraulic crimp tool so I could make up my own big, 10, 15 & 40mm cables and it made the job a lot easier. Everything is now neatly laid out and just waiting for the master fuse and switch that are in turn waiting for a furniture panel to mount them on.

With the basic electrical in place I was able too finish the ply lining around the salon window so it is now neatly recessed into the wall. The bed panels have all been cut to size and shape so that they take account of the B pillar when pulled out and the back has been slightly curved to allow for the curved walls.

We have also spent some time this week on basic layout plans and I think we made a lot of headway with things that seem simple but aren’t like the sliding toiled door. However the most important thing is sitting in the middle of the van just crying out to be installed – our 150ltr Vitrifrigo fridge.

Week Seven

We had two targets this week, first fix electric and ply lining. We made good progress with both but didn’t quite get finished with either. Still there is always next week.

The first job was to finish the raised floor. The idea is that this makes the swivelled front seats on the same level as the seat bed. The space underneath the raised floor is ideal to house the electronics.

I had intended to hinge the floor panel. I used some 18mm “Buffalo Board” but it proved too heavy for the flap stay hinges so I abandoned that for a simple drop in panel.

I layed down and secured in place several flexible conduits and left draw wires in each because I knew I would forget something – and I did.

With the floor in place it was time to set about the ply lining. We are using 6mm poplar ply as a base for the decorative ply finishes. Poplar ply, aka lightweight ply, because it is supper light. Cut to shape it is adhered to the van frame with Stixall and Tech screws. When we offered it up we secured it with some plasterboard supports while the Stixall grabbed.

With the rear lining panels in place I set about the wiring only to realise those cables I had overlooked. I had the foresight to include several draw wires so they weren’t too much of a problem, just time consuming. It works out that we need a coupe more 6mm sheets of ply so that means a trip to SL Hardwoods in Croydon.

So on to next week and see if we get electrical and lining closer to a conclusion.