Have you ever wanted to go on an American road-trip? Maybe a tour around Europe? Or maybe just a weekend in Devon. Whatever your automobile ambitions are, I’m sure many of you have considered the ultimate form of transportation that retains the feeling of comfort and warmth; the campervan.
While most then do a quick Google search for the pricing of a rental, or to even buy one outright, you want to make yours special: customised, ergonomic, and suited to your tastes. So you decide to take on a little bit of DIY. But where do you start? Well you start with the van itself.
I’ll take you through four vans best suited for transformation into a marvellous mobile home, before selecting my personal favourite/recommendation as to the best vehicle to convert into a campervan.
The Mercedes Sprinter:
Starting off, we have the largest van on this list. The Sprinter is by far the best van in terms of how much space you have to work with. The Sprinter is what’s known as a long wheelbase van, meaning it has a lot of distance between the front and back wheels. This is extremely handy, especially when it comes to fitting in beds, tables, kitchens, etc. The Sprinter has various options for wheelbase length, ranging from 3250mm to 4325mm long on the exterior, with corresponding interior space ranging 2600mm to 4700mm. This means you can have an area of up to 8.4m² to work with, if you go with the largest options. Although pricing does go up drastically when increasing the wheelbase length of the van (~£35,000 brand new for the larger vans), what you get out of that extra space outweighs the extra money spent. The roof also sits reasonably high, stretching up to 2260mm, meaning even the giants among you would be able to comfortably stand in the van with almost a foot of space above your head. Depending on personal preference, the more recent model Sprinters also come with a four-wheel-drive option, but I’d recommend skipping out on it if you were tight on cash and preferred the extra room instead; the Sprinter is well-known for being a very reliable car, so not having four-wheel drive shouldn’t be an issue, even when traversing more rough terrain.
The second option on the list is one of the most recognisable vans to the average person; the Ford Transit. Despite also being the bulkiest of the three vans listed, you shouldn’t judge it based on its elongated appearance. Much like the Sprinter, the Transit comes with three roof heights, three body lengths, two wheelbases, and three engine types. The wheelbase lengths are 3300mm and 3750mm, and the interior height of the varies between 1445mm, 1829mm, and 2070mm. The whole interior floorspace is a comfortable measurement of 7.8m², if you go with the largest options once again. Many get drawn to the Transit due to the much more affordable price tag, starting from around £25,000 (as opposed to the £35,000 for the Sprinter). Another benefit to the Transit, although this only applies to the newest models, is the all-wheel-drive system. This is incredibly useful if your journey takes you off the beaten track a bit more than usual. It offers a lot more traction of large expanses of snow, mud, or ice; great for a trip to colder climates such as the countryside of Norway or the mountains of Switzerland. However, despite all of this, many complain about the difficulty when trying to reconfigure the front cabin to fit in with the rest of the interior of the van; along with its very basic design interfering with the aesthetic of the rest of the van. Newer models also are fitted with rubber flooring, making insulation slightly harder to install, especially if you want to get rid of this flooring altogether. Many recommend stripping the rubber away, as it is also much harder to clean, despite having a matte covering, and not nearly as durable as a wooden floor would be. It’s also much easier to install cupboards and sofas with a wooden floor compared to a rubber floor, as the rubber’s “non-slip” design requires a lot more effort when positioning furniture.
The second-to-last van on the list is strikingly similar to the Ford Transit when it comes to the appearance of its exterior, but the NV’s interior is quite different to the other two vans on this list. The front cabin of the van is much larger than both the Sprinter and the Transit, with the NV’s being both wider and taller. Some might see this a huge benefit, although having the bigger cabin upfront does decrease the amount of space that you have in the back of the van, as well as increasing the overall bulkiness of the van. Unlike the other vans on the list, the NV doesn’t come with many customisable elements; the only adjustable part of the van is the roof height, which like I’ve just mentioned, isn’t very popular due to it limiting space in the rest of the van. The wheelbase length is 2725mm, the interior length is 2040mm, and the interior height is 1358mm with the smallest option, and 1829mm with the largest option. The overall floor space is 3.1m², which is considerably smaller than the other vans on this list. However, the NV is cheaper than the previous vans on the list, starting at only £23,000. Another slight complaint about the NV is that the fuel economy isn’t amazing, meaning that it’s probably not the best van for long journeys, as you’ll find yourself having to pull over every hour just to fill it up. Brand new models have around 4.0 gals/100 miles. Despite all these problems, many still see the NV as a good option for DIY van conversions.
The final van on the list is one with a history dating back 70+ years. The Transporter is widely recognised as one of the most reliable vans of all time. Its design is very similar to the previous vans on the list but has many unique; the newest model, the Transporter 6.1, has arguably the most impressive tech on the list. With four-wheel-drive, new “Crosswind Assist” technology that allows for easier control in harsh weather, intelligent driver assistance, and cruise control. The Transporter, of course, comes with many customisable elements. With two wheelbase options, 2572mm or 2975mm, heights up to 1940mm, and a width of 1473mm. This gives the van a total area of 4.4m², plenty of space to work with. Another benefit to the newest model, is the redesign of the majority of the interior of the van; mostly in the front cabin, which is now much larger than before. It allows for much more customisation than previous models and some of the other vans on the list, particularly, the NV. One of the more interesting specifications of the Transporter, are the multiple rear door solutions. The Transporter has the option of either a large tailgate or versatile rear wing doors, both available in glazed or solid metal. The glazed rear doors could be an amazing addition to your campervan, as they can always be refitted and repurposed into an additional window to allow more natural light into your van. Although the Transporter has many benefits and no glaring problems or disadvantages, it doesn’t stand out as much as the other vans on the list. But overall, the Transporter is another solid addition to the line-up.
Now we have come to the big decision on which van to choose…
My personal recommendation for the best van to convert is…
The Ford Transit! The Transit has a perfectly balanced blend of customisable measurements, affordable pricing, and design features that are splendid for your own DIY campervan. Although the flooring may be an issue, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed for your personal taste.
Now it’s over to you…
Well there you have it; I’ve ran you through some of the best options before narrowing it down to the penultimate van to transform into the mobile home you’ve been hoping for. Now it’s time for you to travel down to your local dealership and purchase that fine automobile, before cracking out your dusty toolkit from the cupboard and getting to work on your van. The van is your canvas. Fit it out however you like. That’s the beauty of it. Of course, you could always install a pre-made conversion kit, but where’s the fun in that!?
Thank you for reading.