Here is the story of our triathlon campervan – Victor the Vauxhall Vivaro!
When Rich and I moved back from Singapore, neither of us had needed a car for three years (Singapore is very small country where everyone gets taxis or the MRT/bus). We knew that we needed a vehicle now that we had landed back in the UK but we didn’t want just any old wheels. We decided we wanted a vehicle that could take us on adventures. We wanted to be able to throw in our bikes, head wherever we wanted, and maybe even sleep in the back. However, we also needed a day to day vehicle too. We decided to convert a van for our triathlon and travelling needs. However, we would need to compromise in order to have a van we could use to bop about in too (in all honesty, mostly to the gym/pool and supermarket). We set out with very little idea of what van to get or even how to begin converting one.
We looked around online and went to a couple of local garages and sat in lots of different vans but nothing felt right. There was always something – whether the price, mileage, size, height or the lack of air conditioning in the cabin. We had been hopeful we would be driving around Europe in the summer and Rich decided he wanted to keep cool (so air con was a must). Browsing was very helpful as it gave us a good idea of a fair price for certain types of vans with different mileages.
It didn’t take long before we found the one. It was a tiny place we found on the internet that had only 3 vans available. No, No…YES! Rich and I took the medium wheel based H1L2 white Vauxhall Vivaro out for a test drive and fell in love immediately. The cabin was super comfy, air conditioning, built in Sat Nav, cruise control and low mileage. It was less than 2m tall and just over 5 metres long so small enough to fit in an ordinary car park and underneath height barriers but big enough to convert into a bedroom and bike storage. We even managed to convince our van salesman to install a skylight for us before we collected the van.
We put down a deposit and collected our van the next week. Meanwhile, we started to draw up designs for our triathlon van and that began with a bike drawer. We wanted a pull out drawer to store the bikes that would keep them safe and enable us to get them in and out quickly. We worked out the measurements that would also enable us to also have enough space for a king size bed. We had seen other campervan conversions with the bed going sideways but comfort was our priority. If we were going to sleep in the van before an important race, we wanted to make sure we had a good night sleep. Sleeping sideways for me was a big NO. I wanted space to stretch out.
The first step was to rip out the poorly done cladding that was currently in the back, insulate the floor and add (better) cladding followed by floor insulation. There were lots of trips to hardware stores I had never stepped foot in until the van conversion. We were lucky we had the help of Rich’s dad (and later my dad) who are both joiners. We couldn’t have done it without their skills and time. We love you dads!!!
The bike drawer was built first and the main frame for the bedroom. We immediately tested it out and took the van to the West Coast and cycled the first section of Coast to Coast with some friends. It passed the test! Now we needed a bed for stopovers and some electricity.
Rich was amazing at getting the electrics set up. Neither of us had a clue but he spent HOURS researching and learnt everything he needed online. We bought all the kit, including a solar panel for the roof, and he began to install it all bit by bit. We now had power! We made sure we had USB ports on both sides of the bed so we could both charge phones overnight. Every little detail was thought of. The joy of converting your own camper is you choose exactly what is right for you.
With the help of my dad we came up with an idea for the bed that would allow us a seating area for the daytime (including storage underneath). We designed a set of slide across slats that would convert the seats into our bed in one quick motion. Apologies to the neighbours because there was a good amount of sawing and drilling going on during this portion of the project. We loved the bike drawer so much, we decided we would build a kitchen drawer that would pull out the back of the van from underneath the seating. Now we had space for our bikes, a bed AND for cooking.
Next job was the roof, some painting, insulating the van and adding a few extra spots in the walls for storage (storage is EVERYTHING in a small van). We started to add carpet in all the storage areas. Then it was time to start adding wall panelling. The walls went up and were painted. We decided on white for the walls with a natural wood roof. However the first varnish we bought looked disgusting once it had dried. It was a gross yellow colour. This was probably our only major mistake along the way. We ended up having to go out and buy more panels and choose a darker varnish as I didn’t want to be staring up at a yellow roof!
Once the roof was up, there was just lots of painting to do! Rich is a bit of a perfectionist so everything was done by the book. We used primer, let it dry, then 2 layers of colour with drying in between. I got sacked twice for not painting precisely enough so mostly brought out tea and biscuits to the men and took photos. However, I was rehired as there was just so much painting to do. I think I did a good job but precision is not my forte! We painted every little section-even parts that would be covered by cushions.
Meanwhile, we chose a colour scheme and bought fabrics for the seat/bed cushions that matched the turquiosey colour we had chosen for the kitchen. We had to buy a foam mattress and flooring too. Everything was finally coming together. Rich’s mum is amazing with a sewing machine so she massively helped us with the cushions. All four of us spent a couple of days, drawing, measuring, cutting, pinning, sewing. It was quite a big job but worth it in the end because the cushions fit perfectly into the van (we measured well!). The foam mattress we bought on ebay is brilliant and the comfiest night sleep you could ask for. It’s genuinely comfier than most beds I have ever slept on.
Finally it was just finishing touches. We added turquoise slats onto the back doors, a pull out shelf to store our laptops/watch laptop TV, the flooring and lots of little touch up paint jobs. Rich added some hooks to store our wheels in the bike drawer. I made some wall pockets to store our phones at night. We were over the moon with the final result.
So far we have taken Victor on two successful training adventures. First we drove to a small campsite in Southport for an Olympic Distance triathlon. Then to a fancy camp and caravan site in the Cotswolds for a week’s training holiday and the Cotswold Classic Middle Distance Triathlon. Stay tuned for more European adventures, including a long ferry, Bilbao, Barcelona and a couple of months in Mallorca!