Van Conversion: Weeks 6, 7, and 8

I was beginning to lose track of time on this project. The setting off date was being pushed back later and later, everyday was basically the same consisting of wake up, convert van, spend a lot of money, go to bed worrying, along with a piling up of unfinished jobs and people constantly asking when it was going to be finished. But I can now report with a warm fuzzy feeling of glee that we have a self converted motor home! Tina is almost good to go.

So the end of Week 6, the week of Harry and Megan’s glorious wedding, was our projected completion and set off date and boy were we optimistic. By May the 20th we had a half clad van, a vinyl floor, and a drivers cab bulkhead with a big hole in it. So we sat back, toasted to the new happy couple, and braced ourselves for a few more weeks. New set off date now projected at some time in June. Watch this space…

The vinyl flooring was a particular leap towards Tina being more home then van. Because our budget is not as grand as a lot of other conversions we are aware our materials will be a bit hodge podge but we have tried to stick to a theme of wood in lighter shades, what a spectrum! So we chose ‘Cottage Oak’ to sweep the floor of the van and recruited a vinyl flooring fitter to cut and fit it for us. After the fiasco of the window we didn’t want to take any more chances with our good yet somewhat clueless non-professional expertise so Mikey the local flooring man got the job.

With more help from Roger to clad the walls and ceiling we began to think about how the kitchen and seating area was going to work. The divide between the driver’s cab and the kitchen was going to have to be fairly strong, fire retardant to an extent and perhaps have a feature so you could close the cab off from the rest of the van for safety. One of my uncles, who has converted and lived in a van, gave very sound advice in that you must be able to access the cab from the living area without having to go outside and around the van incase of bandits should you need a speedy get away as he put it. Likewise, being able to close the cab off from the living area to shut the bandits out too. All eyes now turned on the hideous, bulging bulkhead the van came with as it began to tick various boxes we required for this task.

Practicality overruled looks in this situation so my dad helped to cut a big hole in the bulkhead that we can clamber through to get away from bandits once it is fixed back on, and the cut out part can then be fixed back on when we want to hide from the bandits. He also helped cut another hole in the van for our gas inlet. We have an LPG refillable bottle and not the normal exchangeable Calor gas bottle, just to make life harder, so there is a pipe connecting the gas bottle in the kitchen and the refill inlet is by the driver door. Said pipe was a challenge because we were sent the wrong size and then spent two weeks sourcing a longer one. We finally have one but because we don’t have insurance to drive the van we cant fill the bottle up and you now understand why this is taking us so long to get driving. Nothing is ever simple with Tina.

Week 7 commenced with a stressful Monday morning in London getting our Russian visas. I had prepared all the forms (with not much help from ‘The Visa Machine’, a fairly useless company that supposedly do all the work for you and help you out to get visas), all the bank details, all the photos, all the bookings, all the vague route plans and border crossings, everything. Yet Sunday night I read in the very small print, Vasilli and Victor from The Visa Machine had failed to notify me of this, that our bank statements had to be certified and stamped copies, not PDF print offs of which we had. Vasili and Victor knew my life story by this point due to daily calls I gave them to get their ass in gear and I was coming to the end of my tether.

On top of this, that Sunday there had been press that Roman Abramovich had been denied a UK visa. Also with the lack of Russian diplomats due to the Salisbury poisoning, meaning our visas could take up to a month to process, we were going to the visa application centre feeling fairly dubious. This hiccup with the bank statements only worried us more. The application centre opens at 8:30 am and with the Football World Cup coming up Vasilli and Victor had told us to be prompt and expect to wait, the second snippet of incorrect advice from them. So all before 8:30 am we were trying to get these statements. I tracked down our respective local bank’s branches who were more than helpful in giving us certified and stamped documents. Yet we both have offshore seafarer’s accounts for working on superyachts and our bank is in the Isle of Man. They have offices here but after a quick chat with the sprightliest of concierges I have had the pleasure to meet, he has also had troubles getting his family visas to come and see him from India so was very understanding and informative at 7am on a Monday morning, it turns out they only do corporate and investment banking. The Isle of Man branch also takes three days to process a certified and stamped bank statement. So stuffing that for a lark we hedged our bets and went to the application centre.

Much to our disappointment there were no Russians in big furry hats, no suspicious shady goings on and no vodka. But we walked out of there with our fingerprints scanned and with two expensive express visas in process, no qualms about offshore bank statements. Five days later they arrived so ta very much Russia. This set us up for a successful week and Roger came again to help finish the cladding. Tina is wonky. She has no consistent straight lines and consistent curves, so the corners of the ceiling we have boxed out instead of cladding them as a curve around the bodywork. Before these and the ceiling could go up permanently we had to make some cupboards above the drivers cab and upholster the ceiling.

When in Sardinia at the end of the summer season, we had a few days off from work so Harry and I went exploring. Destination: Alghero. A small walled town in northern Sardinia where Catalan culture from past invasions and occupation is still very prominent. And here we found the rug. A beautiful rug, a third Italian, a third Spanish and a third North African, made by the local shepherds. It was bought in mind to be part of the van but we weren’t quite sure what part yet. Anyhow, we lugged it round the Med for a bit and finally got it home and now it resides upholstered on the ceiling. We ummed and ahhed for weeks about how best to do this because we had to cut holes in the rug for the six LED lights, we obviously did not want to ruin the rugs fibres and have the whole precious rug unravel.

Yet it was time and luckily we had Harry’s brother George and mother and father, Diana and John, to help lay the six by four foot rug down on the ceiling as we glued it and smoothed it out. We then surreptitiously cut holes around the lights and extractor fan and pinned and glued them down. And you know what, it don’t look half bad.

Cupboards made, cladding half waxed for protection, B&Q flat pack kitchen units assembled we hit week 8. With near motor home completion in sight we rung the DVLA to enquire how long it takes for your vehicle’s V5C to be amended, ours being from commercial van to converted motor home. This takes 2-4 weeks. Sigh as the thought of leaving early June was slipping away. We had a big kick up the bum and realised we had to really crack on and get all the DVLA motor home specifications done by Sunday for everything to be sent off on Monday. The to do list:

  1. Get the bed frame secured in permanently (currently used as the wood cutting bench outside the van)
  2. The kitchen in and secured (in parts and missing a counter top)
  3. Seating and table in and secured (both non existent)
  4. Water and gas containers in and secured (dependent on kitchen being in)

We had a day to ourselves beavering away finding a suitable kitchen counter. We ended up buying three for pennies as they were trying to get rid of stock Homebase had over ordered, solid oak effect acacia I will have you know. This was that super rainy week so we had a day hiding from it buying things from the various lists we have constructed. The usual Thursday spent with Roger who helped lead the bench/storage construction, and cut the hole for the gas rings and sink in the kitchen counter. Following that a day with my father doing the slide out table, gas and plumbing final assembly, and the start if some shelving made from the surplus kitchen counters.

And low and behold by Sunday lunch time the list was done! Tina was tarted up and made to look liveable to take a series of photos for the DVLA to get our amended V5C. With a sigh of relief, multiple high fives and dives onto the bed after assembling pots and pans in the kitchen cupboards (as if this day has come!!!!) we realised what an amazing van we had made.

You will have realised none of this could have been possible without help from mainly Roger and our fathers. The number of broken drill bits from all three of their electric drill kits has been lost, three we think still wedged in the van, goes to show their patience and dedication to our plans. Harry and I will be the first to admit we are complete rookies at this so having help from people who actually know what they are doing, firstly puts our parents at ease, but makes our dreams slightly more possible than a plan on paper. These past eight weeks have been full on. Constant grafting with innumerable hurdles and plan b’s has been tough on the old emotions for both of us. We have slept in the van four times now, and with only odd jobs and shelves to do, waiting for the DVLA, and last minute admin preparations, the long awaited start of trip is far more real than ever.

Before we had even left Eclipse in March, the yacht we both worked on, Harry showed me a YouTube video of a guy who converted a van in seventeen days. This will be easy I thought! Him and his time lapse videos and laid back approach. Pffft. Now the phrase my school tutors would murmur in exam period ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ echoes in my head. We most certainly have not failed but we most certainly did not prepare as much as we could have. If you want to join Harry and I in our daily dosage of van, DIY, and conversion preparation envy take a look at Instagram accounts such as @projectvanlife and @vanlifedistrict, some of the vans are unreal. What I keep reminding Harry and myself though when we get down after looking at some of the other conversions out there, we have to remember this is our first attempt and it won’t be perfect. However Tina the Ford Transit van is our van, she’s unique and no offence Nate Murphy of ‘How to convert a Van in to an Off-Grid Camper in 17 Days!’, it may have taken us sixty two days and counting but she is a damn site classier than your van.


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