From van to campervan

I am the owner of a van, not just any van but a ’89 VW. Pretty cool (if I say so myself) and although the bodywork and the engine looked solid the interior needed a whole lot of work. There was not a lot in the van that was as it should be in order to be a campervan. The cabin was separated from the back, in the front only 1 worn out driver seat that was put there just to be able to drive it home. In the back there was nothing but a collection of parts, which I was told was a complete Westfalia interior. Also included with the van was a poptop, a conversion for the roof to create a “bedroom” on top of the van, the penthouse as I like to call it.

Here in Holland the rules on campervans are pretty strict because of the tax advantage. To give you an idea, now I pay 40,- a month but if it was not a campervan it would cost me 160,-

Just so you know, during the progress of building the van I started to refer to the Volkswagen as “the van”. I always have been a bit annoyed by people naming their possessions with cute little names, almost like a pet. Noticing I was kinda doing the same, I somehow convinced myself that “the van” was nothing like that at all and was just convenient. In the end I needed to stop myself from putting a sticker on the back saying THE VAN.

Now I got that out of the way lets start from the beginning.

To get the van approved as a campervan the things I needed to do were:

All of these should have been enough to satisfy what I think my needs are, but nope there is way more.

Space of 1×1 meter where the height can be extended to at least 1,70 meters

After searching on forums and other websites I struck luck and found a guy renting out his template to copy all the holes and cutout. All I had to do was get the van to his place and transfer all the info from the template onto the roof of the van.

Measuring it up 5 times and breaking my head over it 5 times more, it was still hard to just drill and cut in the bodywork. Somehow cutting into perfectly fine bodywork hurts a bit, but hey I wanted a campervan so I got the cutting going.


To strengthen the cutout I made a frame that fit around cutout. For the sides I used 2x2cm aluminium frame, the front and back needed to have the curve of the roof so I used some wood to create the same curve. I bolted all this to the edge of  the cutout. Further down the construction process, this frame was the base to staple the ceiling and the finishing strips too. Having reinforced the cutout I thought I was ready to finish off the cutout. But I realized I forgot a major part of the construction. When the poptop is opened the full weight of the poptop rests on 2 legs standing on the roof of the van. Because of the weight of the poptop the roof started bending down. After taking over the angle of the roof I made a technical drawing and asked some professionals to advise me on how to create a support beam. I asked the guys from Gebr. Nijssen make me 2 support beams, and also some missing parts for the poptop. After installing the custom made parts I was finally ready to finish the cutout (YEY! this was a big deal for me).

With the inside of the poptop looking crappy I thought high pressure cleaning would clean it up, but there was no way just water would do the job. Not knowing how else to clean it up I took a shot at reupholstering it myself. There was a whole lot of leftover fabric, at the company I work for, that I could use for the roof and also for all the inside panels. After spraying both surfaces with contact glue, it took me a lot of sweat to cover the roof with this huge piece of fabric. The result was a smooth brand new looking ceiling for the penthouse of the van.


The holes to fit the poptop were spot on, installing it properly was not easy for somebody with no experience in this field at all! With some extra hands here and there we managed to get it properly installed.

Being happy the poptop was properly installed I had to face the biggest hurdle, sewing the tent, which seemed almost impossible. The driving force behind sewing my own tent was that a new one would costs me around 400,-. Getting myself some tent fabric only cost me 30,- so even if I messed up a couple times I would still be cheaper. So after taking measurements I pinned down the fabric in a way I am sure is not professional at all. I started sewing and it worked out almost okay. Needing to take out the stitching a couple of times and sewing it again, the whole thing took me about 1,5 hours. I amazed myself when I stapled the fabric into the poptop, the tent fitted almost without a crease. Fumbling it in on the inside it pretty much looked like it should.


With the tent fixed properly under the poptop, now it needed to be fixed to the bodywork of the van. Without owning all the right parts to fix the tent to the bodywork I needed to improvise a bit. To create a water tight seal with the roof of the van I got myself a 2x30mm rubber strip. When I figured out exactly where to put it, I indicated it with some masking tape all around the van. Following that tape around with some double sided tape the rubber was glued in place. To clamp down the tent onto the rubber I needed a metal profile, but after spending hours online trying to find it I desperately started looking through hundreds of profiles cramped together in our storage. There I found aluminium finish strips for wooden floors. After some time spent bending the strips to fit the contours it worked out pretty well. So the finished tent is clamped down on my van with floor strips… well whatever works!


Kitchen with a fixed sink and stove

A campervan is not a campervan without a kitchen, says the taxman. But I would not want to travel without the comfort of some running water and a place to make my coffee straight out of my bed. Although the van came with a Westfalia kitchen, it took a whole lot of energy to get it fitted and working. Installing the storage space made it possible to fit in the water and gas tanks to finally get the kitchen working.


Running water and a place to cook! what else could I want?

Storage space

A campervan will never have enough storage space. I am sure Westfalia put a lot of thought in their design back in the 80’s and they did a real  good job on most of the interior. Loads of little compartments to get to in multiple ways, but the biggest storage is underneath the bed / couch and either laying or sitting on in makes it impossible to get in there, so I cut up the base of the couch to fit in some drawers. In the back, next to the bed is the biggest storage which holds the gas tank.


Bed table & seating

The couch and table that came with the van, also original Westfalia are the best! Turns out that the couch with a rounded off corner is a rare option, and it grew to be my favorite place in the van, especially to read. When folded out the couch turns into a bed, not the biggest bed ever but more than enough for 2 people.
The bed that folds out in the poptop is bigger and pretty comfortable, but somehow using the fold out bed is easier.


During installation of the couch my brother came by, just in time for taking some pictures.

Isolation and panels to finish the walls

As I said when I bought the van nothing was installed and there were no interior panels. Because of that you could see straight to the bodywork of the van. Original panels are hard to come by, and cost way too much money. One of the first jobs that had to be done was isolating the walls and finishing them off with panels, I started measuring and cutting the panels. After fitting and cutting the panels over a dozen times they finally fit.

The whole upholstering is a bit girly so I took my girlfriend along to help me give the panels the same look as the poptop ceiling. She did a really good job! thank you!

All done with the panels, the isolation needed to go in. Not something I looked forward to since it is itchy and  annoying stuff, but I had been told I would hugely regret it if I would not isolate at this point of the process.
The isolation material was looking so nice I was a bit sad to put the panels in, but in the end it is all as it should be.


Second battery to run whatever i think needs power

To keep the lights on at night, the water running  and all the other fancy electrical things, I was in need of a second battery. Having read loads of horrifying stories online about burned down campervans or not having power to start up the van, the battery turned out to be a serious job. Turns out there is a smart switch that makes sure you can not take any power out of the engine battery, so no worries about push starting the car. A simple fuse box makes sure no shortage will burn down the van, so I am all safe! And as you can see, it works… never done this before so I am pretty proud.



Fridge, running on power and and propane

When I connected the fridge to the freshly installed battery it almost started working properly. Trying to work out how to make it work better I got to know that these old fridges work the least crappy on gas. Still a bit afraid of burning down the van with a gas powered fridge I was somewhat reluctant. Installing a chimney and cleaning out all the parts of the fridge I could see how it all worked and this gave me a bit more trust in the fridge. Since I already had a propane bottle for the stove, connecting the gas was not that big a deal. Even though I am still not sure how a flame cools my beers down, I am really happy it does!



Build in clean water tank

To make sure I can bring enough water I installed a huge watertank. I was lucky to find an original Westfalia water tank, and although it was too big to fit in the space where it belonged I made it fit. Not wanting to cut a hole in the side of the van to fill the tank, the hose was extended all the way to the back closet.This did not work out as well as I thought it would, I inserted another hose to fill up the tank, this hose has a connection so I can extend it to a watertap.



Drawer underneath the bed

Because of being too happy with a water tank that did not really fit, I was forced to lift half the interior with 10cm. It was a bit of work, but it gave me some space underneath the back side of the bed. This is a good thing because it allowed me to install a proper bed frame for some ventilation, and some storage. In this storage underneath the bed frame I installed a big drawer to store sheets and clothes.



Ridiculous expensive but comfy seats

The van came only with a driver seat. After i bought the van the idea was to fit a couch next to the driver seat. Sitting with 3 people in the front of the van seemed like the best way to travel. In the progress of converting the van to a campervan the mounts of the couch had to be removed. The couch and the whole idea of 3 people in the front was out the window. Not being able to spent too much on new seats I got myself a passenger seat with the same brown fake leather as the driver seat. This worked out perfect, but over time the idea of more comfortable seats was growing on me so I started looking for new , more comfortable seats. Buying and installing the “new” seats let me know what I was missing all along. Adjustable arm rests, head rests and fluffy upholstering, I never wanted to leave the seats after installing them and driving them home. (in the pictures left the seats as advertised, right the original seat).


Things to do

Of course there are a lot of things still to do. Who knows if I will ever get around to do all the improvements I want to do. Here is a list of things still to do, if you have tips or ways to help me out you are more than welcome to contact me.

  • Sliding windows, for some more ventilation.
  • Turning platform for the passenger seat, this way the living space can hold 1 more person. The more people can stay in the van the better all the trips will be.
  • Dirty water tank underneath the van, it currently takes up precious storage space.
  • Propane tank underneath the van, as you might guess this also takes up too much space.
  • Better battery, now I have a normal car battery installed witch is drained way too fast.
  • Solar panels, to be able to stay in one place longer without needing to drive to charge the battery.
  • Roofrack, in this way there is way more storage for long trips. This takes some alterations to the poptop and the structure of the van.

Everything done to the van I do in the best way I am able.
In no way I claim to be a expert but I learn along the way.
If  you would do things different from me, please do not judge me but teach me.
For any information tips questions or comments please contact me or comment below.