It was quite clear that I would not be able to completely build out my van in 21 days. BUT the question was: how far would we get within that time frame while having work projects to take care of? It was time for an experiment. The places where you can build out larger objects like vehicles are rather limited in Vienna. There are some super cool ‘Co-Making Spaces’ but they are rather far out of the city center. To get things really going I needed a different solution. So I took “Winnie” on a trip to visit my parents. It was a bit complicated crossing the border to Germany in the last couple of months (during Covid) and therefore I had seen my parents only once last year. So this visit was more than overdue. That meant – going through the whole process: registration, testing and quarantine. But hey, it worked and I was able to start the basic setup (or ‘Vanbuild Light’ project) with my dad.
GERMAN version of this blog post: https://surfingtrails.at/van-ausbau-in-21-tagen/
The Prep and Search
I had collected a lot of info over the last two years and kind of knew already what I liked and what would definitely not work for me. I was looking for a van that was high enough to stand. Not an easy task as the classic L2H2 (medium length, medium hight) versions had become pretty popular. So over the last months (and years sporadically searching) I hadn’t found a vehicle that checked all the boxes. So six months ago, I decided to take this search more serious and speed things up. I signed up for different used car platforms (8!) and added search profiles and notifications for our ‘must haves’. I also spoke with friends, signed up in forums and fb groups to see what was on the market and to get a feeling for the whole topic. This was more than necessary since the market was quite competitive and those vans were often already gone within hours of appearing online. So I had to come up with a strategy while further developing the plans for the layout and materials.
- Renault Master or Opel Movano (identically contructed)
- not older than 10 years (2010)
- not more than 150.000km
- price not higher than 13.000 EUR (which had to be slightly adjusted to a higher amount in the end)
- not less than 100 PS
- good overall condition
Nice to haves:
- not to many dents / scratches
- floor and side panels intact
- windows in the back and partition wall
- park distance control system
- two keys
- maybe even: Bluetooth, USB port, multi-function steering wheel, hitch, cruise control
Both – the Master and the Movano – were our favorite choice since they are known to be reliable, having solid standard features, promising stats and recommendations from automobile clubs. On top, we had already gone on a camping trip with a Movano Rental.
In the end we found an almost perfect match – a Opel Movano (2016 / L2H2) with 105 000km, Eco Mode, AC, cruise control and PDC but without window (spoiler alert: we added some).
So the plan for March – getting Winnie ready for the following season and adding some basics. Which ones? Well, keep on reading…
We picked up the van one day before I was supposed to cross the border. I already knew that the car would need a thorough cleaning as it was used by a stonemason for the last five years. So the first step in prepping my van for the following build was more than obvious. After the clean up we wanted to add some undersealing & rust proofing to protect it from decay. We knew that we would need a proper sound and low-temperature insulation to avoid freezing at night and boiling temperatures inside the van throughout the day during the summer months. Then enough space for the bikes and the equipment – and a bed of course. So the rough layout looked like this…
All parts and equipment were ordered early in advance and scheduled to arrive on time so the work was planned in the following order…
Visual inspection and disassembly
It was a bit tempting to jump into the building part right away but we had to inspect all parts of the van beforehand to check if we oversaw any issues during our last check. We wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any covered rust or defects. So we disassembled all panels, the floor and all other parts that had to be renewed or refurbished. We wanted to keep as much of the already existing material and use it for the build.
The thorough cleaning was also a good starting point to get to know all the areas of the van and come up with ideas or reevaluate plans in case something wasn’t practical. The bare framework of the van was simple and straightforward. Some areas were difficult to reach but we had seen worse in other van build videos. It took some time but in the end everything was clean and looked pretty good.
Step 2 of the Van Build in summary:
- cleaning (dusting, hoovering, sweeping)
- degreasing flat surfaces (with Armaflex cleaner) to prep them for the insulation
- removing dirt and recess of promotional stickers on the outside of the van
Rust protection, proofing and undersealing
We were not sure, what will appear under the flooring. So the anxiety level was high the night before the removal. We had seen so many vans with quite some rust and issues under the wooden panels. But in the end, we were very lucky. Under the flooring we only found a lot of dust and dirt, but nothing serious. There were just a few places with minimal rust that needed a bit of rust converter and anticorrosion paint (e.g. around the lashing points). So we had a pretty good base for our van build.
We also added another layer of protection by applying rust proofing and undersealing to the beams and pillars.
Sound and thermal insulation (with Armaflex and Alubutyl)
We wanted to reduce the rattling sounds while driving. So we applied a layer of Alubutyl on 40% of the plain surfaces that are prone to vibration. We also added a layer of insulation with self-adhesive Armaflex AF (19mm, 6mm, 3mm) on all flat surfaces, beams and pillars. This will help to regulate the temperature and prevent excessive condensation inside the van.
Links in pdf (mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org)
After cleaning and prepping the floor with rust proofing, we laid out the wooden floor laths which we later used for the installation of our mountain bike sliders (heavy-duty racks), added the insulation in between and sealed everything with Armaflex tape.
We used the following materials:
- cleaner: Armaflex Cleaner
- glue: Sikaflex 221
- wooden laths (3m x 24mm x 44mm)
- insulation: Armaflex AF self-adhesive in 19mm and 6mm, Armaflex Tape in 3mm to combine and seal
Bike garage with heavy-duty racks
As it can be a bit of a hassle to quickly store bikes and equipment inside a vehicle, we decided to go for heavy duty racks with bike mounts.
We used the following materials:
- two heavy duty slides with lock-in/out – 1x 813mm (32″) und 1x 1270 mm (50″)
- wooden planks (160cm x 65cm and 110cm x 43cm)
- 9mm plywood for the edges
- PVC flooring
Links im pdf (mailto: email@example.com)
Auszüge 813 | 1270 | Montagewinkel 305 | 711
Originally, we had hoped to find a van that already had windows in the back. But in the end, the rest of the features were more important than that. This way, I was also able to add windows that can be opened from the inside, which makes a huge difference for ventilation and light management.
Cutting holes into the van was as exciting as it sounds. It felt a bit weird at the beginning but not bad at all. I already enjoyed working with those tools but hadn’t used them on metal so far. A new experience and pretty cool to complete another big step on the list. Getting the dimensions right was harder than expected, as none of the margins were perpendicular or symmetrical and all the round edges of the rear doors were also not helpful. But after some trial and errors and a test drilling, we got it right. After cutting the holes, the temperatures dropped abruptly. This was a bit of an issue since the sealant does not go well with the cold (below zero celsius). So we had to wait multiple days to insert the windows frames.
Installing the windows
- cut out the holes to fit the windows (don’t forget to apply masking tape beforehand to avoid scratches)
- build wooden frame for the windows
- glue frame to aperture (Sikaflex 221)
- mount and seal windows (Sika Lastomer 710)
Links im pdf (mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Upcycling the wood and side panels
When I bought the van it had side panels to protect the vehicle from damage through tools and materials that were transported in it. We decided to keep the panels, upcycle them and use them in areas that would need to be protected. They were made out of hard wood fiber (Funder Max Hartfaser migra) and just needed some sanding, fillings (for scratches & little holes) and new paint.
Building the bed frame
We constructed a bed out of 19mm spruce wood that would fit into the back of the van. We used two shelves on the side (with room for storage) and combined everything with a steel and two wooden bars.
As the bed is quite high, it is possible to store some of our bikes without removing the tires (e.g. road and gravel bikes).
Van Build part 2: storage and seating area
Of course the van build was not completely finished after 21 days, but we are very satisfied with the progress. I will summarize some of our work in separate posts and will document further developments.
The next steps will include a layer of felt for the exposed walls, pillars and beams as well as adding a protective glazing to the wood and creating a sharper look. We will also add some kind of seating area that will function as an additional storage for our very basic kitchen stuff. Water will come out of a canister, electricity from a power station and mobile solar panel and we will build a toilet that will function like a cat litter box. Interested in more info on that? Stay tuned…
A big thank you goes out to my dad, who has helped me A LOT, allowed me to pick his brain and use his experience for the tasks at hand; my mom for her emotional and culinary support and our friend Wolfi who (as a former carpenter) gave us tips on working with the different kinds of wood and helped to build the bed frame. I am also very grateful for our friends, neighbours and relatives that had lent us their tools and supplied us with some materials that were hard to get during lockdown.