Category Archives: Vanagon Stuff 2006-7

Turning a 1985 VW Vanagon GL 7-passenger van into a custom camper

Saris Bones bike rack front-mounted on a Vanagon

saris bones bike rack on vanagonWith the cargo area, engine, and thule gear pod all on the back of my Vanagon, I wanted to shift some of the weight forward, so I’ve installed a Saris Bones bicycle rack in a way that the manufacturer never intended.

I drove around bumpy Brooklyn streets all day with a bike on there, plus a bit of highway driving, and everything still seems as tight as it was before. My only concern is that the top straps might slide down, so I’m toying with the idea of putting a big-ass pop rivet through them, but I hate making holes in the van.

It did require two bungee cords to keep the front wheel from swinging around and generally damp out lateral movement, but this is not the rack’s fault; I have a full-suspension bike and had to move the hanger arms pretty close together to get it on there. They sell a thing that goes from seat tube to stem for hanging girls’ bikes and full suspensions, but I’m going to try a giant turnbuckle before springing $25 for each of those.

There’s a cable lock looped through the tow loop and through the aluminum tube that forms the center of the rack. When I’ve got bikes on there, it’s threaded through the frames too.

Holes in the roof! Adjustable solar panel mounts

Finally mounted the solar panels to the roof!

I built a frame with aluminum tubing and mounted it with a hinge toward the front (hence the holes – small, well-siliconed rivet holes) and the back secured on an extra Thule bar I had lying around. The Thule end can be disconnected to raise the panels up to whatever angle gets the best light, and there’s a removable, clear plexiglass shield over the whole thing for hail, road debris, etc.

Also installed some coathooks and invented hardware to mount one of the removable cabinet lids as a dining/work table, but no pix yet as it’s not quite done.

Puttputt instead of ROARR PUTT PUTT RRRRRR – Vanagon muffler bracket

New muffler today, only had to split one nut with a chisel. My neighbors will be grateful

Fortunately, I had checked my muffler strap beforehand and ordered a replacement. Below right you see what the stock VW one looks like after a few years and on the left, one of Terry Kay’s fantastic hand-made stainless steel straps. Not only better, but actually much cheaper than the VW part.

Also replaced the broken spare tire lock with a new one and picked up aluminum stock to make a tiltable frame for the solar panels. Tune in tomorrow…

Itchin' to get goin'

Sitting here in my office at work, where I’ve built a little fort of UPS boxes to keep pesky producers away :-p

A new muffler + installation hardware, a big fresh water tank to go under the sink, a powered roof vent, and another solar panel will all be taking a cab ride home with me today. Gonna be some major updates to this site on Sunday!

The Plan:
This weekend, I’ll replace the rotten old muffler and nonexistant tailpipe, find plumbing fittings to route the sink drain around the new 16 gallon freshwater tank that comes within 3″ of the drainhole, evaluate the wisdom of installing a 14″ powered air vent above the stove area and maybe cut a 14″ hole in my roof and install it, make a cover for the propane tank storage area that can double as a nightstand, give said propane tank area a vent to the outside (beneath tank, propane being heavier than air), hardwire my voltage inverter…

Z-bed configuration

Someone on asked about how zbeds fold out, and it was easier to make a diagram than answer in text, so I thought I’d add it on here.

(engine pictured is the 1.9…if you have the 2.1, imagine a slightly larger hamster)

Here it is in seat configuration:

…and here it is folded out to a bed:

Light at the end of the tunnel…

I decided to make the rear-most cabinet slatted rather than solid, partially for anything that might need a little air such as damp sleeping bags, but mostly just to do something different. Every bit of cabinetwork I’ve done here is pretty much a first time for me, so all the parts have their quirks where I learned how not to do things. (Hint: the tiny head of a finishing nail is far less distracting than Plastic Wood that isn’t perfectly matched to the real wood around it)

With this complete and a secure anchor point for the bulk propane tank, it’s really starting to come together – which is good, as we’ve got an extended road trip planned in about 6 weeks!

Quite a change from this:

Storage and more storage

Craigslist score! Big ol’ Thule roof pod. Strap is there while I wait for a new lock cylinder to arrive, but still a great deal. It’s mounted so far back because the solar panels will have to fit in front of it. Gotta love Craigslist – also got a “Bones” bike rack off there last week. Combined cost of the rack and cargo pod? A two-digit number =)

Final coat of polyurethane is drying on the seat-side cabinet:

Cabinets coming together

There are no 90 degree angles in this vehicle; I’ve resorted to cutting everything a little oversize and belt-sanding it to a flush fit after or during assembly. Still, I’m happy with how the rear cabinets are coming so far…this one’ll have two doors on the front, and the top lifts off as you can sortof see in the blurry photo.

Busy and productive weekend

With more serious road trips in mind, I decided to move the bed over to one side and have nice wide cabinets, rather than skinny ones to either side:

As you can see, there’s now plenty of room for a milk crate, but I’ll be building cabinets all the way to the back door on that side now. Only up to window level, though – I don’t want to make a blind spot.

That done, I rescreened the window – had pulled it too tight last time and it didn’t fill the frame – and did some more “make it livable” work; added a paper towel holder, put a railing on top of the chest of drawers so things don’t slide off onto the dog’s head, and created a prop on the side of the sink cabinet so its door can be removed and used as a table:

The table will be nice for food prep and the like, and there’s just exactly enough room beneath it to open the lid on the refrig. Still need to figure out dining tables usable from the seatbed.

The blue “kerosene” tank is actually fresh water for the sink. Right now, the water just drains out the bottom of the van – must find a gray water tank to fit the odd space between frame rails – and it does so WAY too fast…the pump I got was intended for a bigger system, I guess, and drains the 5 gallon tank in seconds. Have to put some kind of potentiometer on there to slow it down.

Ahh, camping

This weekend we went to Rip Van Winkle campground outside Saugerties, NY. It’s a nice place, though the “privacy” mentioned in their website is nowhere to be found – there is very little vegetation between campsites. Fortunately the people to one side of us were friendly Deadheads with whom we spent pleasant hours chatting and sharing food and drink. The ones on the other side…well, they were pretty much what one goes camping to get away from, but it didn’t get us down.

Only problem with the trip was that we had very little time and didn’t get to visit friends in the area as we usually do, but we’ll be rectifying that situation soon.

Here’s the view at 7:15am on Sunday: