For 10 years we have been infected by the camper virus. In 2011 we bought our first camper…a bordeaux-coloured VW T4 California. It turned out to be a bad buy as this car apparently had participated in a car accident with all the problems this entailed. We’d still achieved to have some fun times with this T4 and above all we knew for sure then that a camper van is THE way of transport and holidays for us.
We’ve saved money and invested in a newer and above all better VW…a blue T5 California. This van took us all across Europe from Norway to Spain in the last seven years.
As we started making plans of driving the PanAmericana, it was clear that we won’t do that with the T5. Although we had never complained about the living space, in our eyes it would be just too small to live in it for 540 days. Three weeks of holidays is just not the same.
A new camper had to be bought and like the VW T5, we asked our friend and mechanic David in Dresden/Germany to take care of this. A Mercedes Sprinter would do the trick we believed. A bit longer and a bit higher than a VW California…
In August 2019 we were enjoying our holidays in Ireland when David contacted us with the news that he actually had found an old ambulance, nicely converted to a camper van…eh yeah…right…let us drink a Guinness over it.
David sent us some photos and as he sounded very confident we decided to buy. The floor plan was not exactly what we had in mind in the first place but the way the sturdy ambulance interior was used we could see the potential.
It was then a couple of weeks later that we actually got to see the van ‘in person’. The van which had served as transporting vehicle for hospitals had suffered quite a bit from the outside so it wasn’t a so called ‘love at first sight’ car, but as we are heading for some unpaved kilometers on the Panamericana, the exterior is somehow less important.
As said before, we did see the potential of this van but it had some disadvantages as well and did not convince us a 100%. The two main problems in our opinion was that Eddy wouldn’t be able to completely stand up freely without bumping his head. Secondly this van was equipped with windows all around and as we prefer our privacy we like it with just a bit less options to get a glimpse inside. What put us in doubt as well was the fact that glass windows are harder to isolate. We considered another option.
Some time passed. We looked around on the internet and kept searching for the right van for us. We knew that the perfect van doesn’t exist unless you build it yourself. We wanted to get as close to that as possible.
Eventually a new advertisement was published online. This van actually looked pretty fine to us and after a short consultation with David we picked up this van near Darmstadt.
As said earlier the perfect van does not exist unless you build it yourself. With great help of some family and friends we tried to get the van which will do the trick for us!
This van already had two little windows build in on the left hand side of the car and a small skylight on the roof for seeing the stars at night, but before Peter and Frank rolled up their sleeves to install two solar panels on the roof, the old furniture was removed inside the car to make work easier.
After Peter and Frank gave green light, the van went to David for a further overhaul of the car.
Most of the work David has been done, is not really visible for us car amateurs. It is like bringing your car into a garage for a yearly check-up. When you pick it up again you receive an invoice but the car looks exactly the same as before. After he changed the original tires for the Falken Wildpeak All Terrain instead…we finally could see David was actually doing something 😉 No seriously, thanks to David we do not have to worry about the condition of our car!
You can find his garage here!
See for the difference of tires for yourself below:
Last but not least the car went on a short journey from Dresden to Bautzen. David told us about his nephew who used to be an experienced carpenter working on luxury yachts. We met soon after. We could not find a better person to help us out building our new interior and in just about two weeks he realized a complete new design. A kitchen, a master bedroom, fridge, lockers and new storage above the drivers seat…everything there! We were so happy!
In April 2020 we actually had planned a test drive holiday through Poland and Czech Republic, but of course due to the corona crisis all of this was not taken place, or at least not the way we wanted to see it.
On Saturday 4th of April we left Amsterdam anyway and with empty motorways we covered the 800km to Dresden in no time. As we met at Davids DRive werkstatt on Monday it immediately became clear to us that even when the borders had been open it maybe was not a very good idea to drive around as there was still a lot of work to do. A bit naive from us but now we basically had a week to do our job. Painting, electrics and papering where just 3 of many things which were still open on the ‘to do’ list.
Really really happy we were with the work done by Franz. It was his job to build the entire interior. Kitchen, table, chair, closet, bed. Everything was in there professionally and solidly build. What a job he did!
The rest of the week the weather was just perfect and together with Frank’s personal construction market at Nikols home in Dresden Dölzschen we found the best place to work on the van.
A short timelapse video of our work can be found on our Youtube channel.
The last part of our job basically was to put some carpet on the walls. ‘Floor’ covering which we already bought in the Netherlands. Carpeting the walls is not the most fun work to do, but also that has to be done.
Measuring and cutting for ages just to find out that you did it wrong in the end. Good thing about carpeting is that it really gives the van another look eventually, when it all sticks on the wall.
We could not finish the whole van unfortunately, as we ran out of carpet, we could only do the shelf and sleeping area in the back. What remains for the next time is everything in the front.
We were also able to install lighting in the back and on the shelf. Lamps Peter immediately connected to the battery, so we could immediately test them with the additional remote control.
We turned off the lights for now and with a lot of confidence in what we had accomplished this week, we closed the door and drove back to Amsterdam on a fairly empty highway.
The last two years we had plenty of opportunities to test our van. On our trips to Italy, Poland and Spain we enjoyed all the good things and discovered a few less good ones, and we decided to make some small changes before leaving for Canada.
After initially deciding against one 2 years ago, we changed our minds and treated ourselves to a brandnew Diesel air heater. After some researching on the internet we went for the Russian Autoterm Air 2D. On the Internet we found the company Truckland in Amsterdam West and we’ve made an appointment for mid-February for the installation of the heater. On a few camping weekends, we were then able to test the heater right away and were satisfied with the result.
We bought a new roof window because the previous one started leaking and also gave us more and more trouble closing it. After we had removed the old window, we cleaned the roof thoroughly and with the help of Dekaseal and a hot air blower we made the new window fit into the roof.
Also we decided to build a composting toilet into the van. Instead of using a chemical toilet, which requires a lot of chemicals that are not good for the environment and that you can only get rid off with a lot of effort on a trip where you can not rely on the same camping infrastructure that we are used to in Europe.
The new composting toilet separates the urine and faeces into two different containers. That allows us to empty them easily and also keeps the whole stuff from smelling.
Apart from these three major adjustments we also did some small improvements on the cupboards and in the storage spaces. A bigger water tank was installed and the gas bottle cabinet was sealed again.
Now we believe that the van is ready to go on the big trip!