Preparing the “Freedom Machine”

Start with a 2011 T5 Volkswagen Transporter van. Shiny white with 78,000 km on the clock and an ugly, heavy cargo barrier behind the driver’s seat.

Start by getting rid of the cargo barrier. It’s very heavy and just gets in the way.

Next, smooth out the floor and make it pretty. Here, I have laid out some MDF sheeting to cover all the bumps and grinds in the floor.

MDF flooring for van
Smoother than the original

Well, that’s nicer than the ridges the van came with, but adding carpet would be even nicer. This is what it looked like just before being glued in place.

Carpet before gluing
Yes, that’s better!

Next comes the hard part: knowing what to add to the van to make it useful for long trips. My first thought was almost pure “Camper Van” – – – folding bed, LPG stove, hide-away cupboards, storage, slide-out desk, solar panels, battery backup, insulation, interior lighting wah-de-doo-dah!

I’m exhausted just thinking about it! So, let’s start with the basics – you’re going to  need a bed. Folding? Slide-out? Drop-down?

Let’s just build a plinth with a mattress on it. That works for starters and use the space beneath for storing long things . . .

Bed under construction
Long – – like, guitars, for example?
Bed under construction
Ready to add cupboard doors

And, the story gets a bit complicated from this point on because I still don’t have any idea what I want to include in the van. Let’s just cover up any available space, put shelves behind and a lid to cover all. We’ll figure it out on the road.

Van - Driver's Side
Van – Driver’s Side
Van - Kerb Side
Van – Kerb Side

The original VW jack and tyre change gear is ridiculously complex and, I think, untrusworthy.  I got rid of that junk and replaced it with a 4 tonne hydraulic bottle jack. The original jack handle was a sloppy 3-part affair that seemed ready to fail at any moment, so I replaced that with a bit of tube steel salvaged from an old dog bed. (It’s OK, the old dog has a new bed.) A bit of foam hot water lagging makes a soft grip. I feel much safer now.

bottle jack in position
I trust this jack far more than the original
Looking down the length of the van
Home, Home On The Road

We’re now ready to roll. There are tie-downs and straps on unoccupied surfaces, drawers, boxes and cupboards and all of them can be locked up and held steady. Rubber dampers have been inserted between all moving, opening and closing surfaces to minimise rattles and thin bungees are keeping the drawers closed. There is even a slick slide-out desk for . . . ? Well, I don’t know, but all the cool camper conversions have them, so I put one in, as well.

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