GCU Grey Area: Dayvan Build

Mad Ax

Active Member
Author's Note: I've been posting this on another (non-Elgrand, non-camper) forum over the past few months, but figure it makes sense to have it here as well for all you Elgrand owners considering a self-conversion, or are just curious as to what the E50 looks like under all the trim. It may take me some time to transfer all my posts from the other forum to here. I'll try to make all the posts relevant but I may accidentally leave in a few references to previous replies or forum in-jokes. Apologies if some bits make no sense.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the opening post of this conversion thread:

So here it is, after 20 months of procrastinating, time-wasting, changing my mind, waiting for payouts and generally not getting on with it, this is the build thread for my day van.

Warning: the first post is typical Mad Ax waffle, unnecessary backstory and unthought conjecture presented as fact. If you want the short version, scroll down to Short Version. Thanks

The story began about 2 years ago, when the wife and I went camping together and realised we actually enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would. The convenience and freedom of being able to jump in the Mondeo, dog and all, for a weekend away, more than made up for the lack of creature comforts. Besides, most campsites have got, at the very least, hot showers and proper toilets.

But a wet weekend in June 2014 presented us with a problem: when you've got a dog, you can only do outdoor stuff. When it's torrential, you can only sit in the tent. For hours and hours on end. When one of you is a writer and the other does crafty things, that's OK, except when both of you have back problems. Camping chairs are basically crap, camping tables never sit level no matter how you adjust them, and nobody seems to make a seat and a table that are on a compatible height with one another. I managed 10 minutes of writing on my laptop before my shoulders cried no more, and I went back to drinking cider and watching teenage girls running screaming to the toilet block when the need to empty their bladders exceeded their desire not to get their furry onesies wet.

Fun though this was, we decided that what we needed was a proper place to sit with a decent, solid table. So the look began for a van.

For the budget I had - bargain-basement at £2000 - there was nothing worth buying. Transits with interstellar mileage or Vitos with floors like colanders. Japanese grey import MPVs with scruffy 80s interiors and rotting arches. I considered a couple of American import vans advertised locally, but wrote them off as being too thirsty, too hard to get parts for and too likely to be hiding terminal tinworm.

Upping my budget to £4000 got me a selection of mid-90s Bongos with dodgy bench seats and pop-top roofs, half-converted T4s with rusty arches, Transits that seemed only the merest smidge better than the ones priced at 2K, or one of a huge selection of Nissan Elgrands at an import warehouse in Devon.

Short Version

So it was that, in August 2014, I became the proud owner of this:

It's a 2001 Elgrand Highway Star, a 3.5 litre gas-guzzling auto with a fat set of alloys and a HKS exhaust system. Very tidy inside and out, obviously been well looked after, spotless under the engine bay, engine and transmission oil as clean as new. And still on the shitty JDM tyres that it came over on the boat with.

A deal was done, all UK conversion and paperwork handled by the garage (including a set of UK-legal tyres) and two weeks later I was driving it home.

Initial plans were simply to fit a good sized table in the back, a fold-down table under the rear hatch, 240v power off a leisure battery, built-in charging station for my RC batteries, and maybe a pull-out kitchen out the back for cooking at the beach. However, a few trips away to motorsport venues or toy car meets highlighted some issues:

1) the bed option is seriously uncomfortable
2) with the rear seats down, the load area is massively compromised
3) with the rear seats up, the internal light and view is poor, making it a less friendly office space
4) with the rear seats up, space for a table is compromised

So we decided on a more serious conversion, complete with rock & roll bed, fridge and hob, but not using any of the out-of-the-box options for the Elgrand, since these don't work with my requirements for a big work table. We spent a lot longer procrastinating and deliberating on the exact layout of the conversion. I would probably have started work much earlier if I wasn't waiting for a work-related bonus which took an age to come through, but in August of last year I finally got what I was waiting for.

First thing to do was get rid of the rear seats. Here is the rear left, in the raised position. Ignore the bits of fibreboard - they were my makeshift window covers:

With plastic trim carefully removed, the mounting bolts for the rails are obvious:

Five minutes later and the seat was out:

But the seatbelt was still in place:

It was hele fiddle, but the seatbelt mounts could be removed without totally removing the interior trim. The trim panel is enormous and takes some removing.

Rear seat out, now loads more space and light in the back of the van.

Rinse and repeat for Side B, both rear seats out and stored in the garage. Next part of the build was to make the front seats swivel, and what a lot of fun that turned out to be!

Next post - more backstory! :D

Mad Ax

Active Member

Disclaimer: this story has naff all to do with day vans. If you aren't interested in back story, skip to the next post. It contains swivel seats.

My vehicles usually end up with some kind of name, although I don't go in for "Daisy" or "Olga" or "Petal" or any other stupid vehicle names. They are machines, not dogs. Ergo they need a proper name for a machine.

I decided to keep with my tradition of naming my vehicles after Iain M. Banks' Culture ships. So far I've had Torturer Class Rapid Offensive Unit Kiss My Gravitas - an FTO, GCU Fate Amenable to Change - an MX5, and GSV Sleeper Service - a Mondeo estate (a fitting name in many ways).

Sleeper Service may have been the perfect moniker for the Elgrand, but I'd already used it, so instead I went with GCU Grey Area. For those of you familiar with the Culture novels, this ship needs no introduction. For those who haven't read, go read.

The name fits because it's grey, because it's got attitude, and at some point it'll probably royally screw me over.
Or crash into the energy grid

It's also given the interior a theme. When I was looking at old yank vans, I saw some really fancy themed interiors. Unfortunately they usually came packaged inside rotting tin, hence why I passed them up. But there's something so much more appealing to me about a themed Street Van than the same old run-of-the-mill out-of-the-box slate grey cabinets and leatherette seats usually found in rich boys' VW T5s. Not even a tissue paper garland hanging from the rear view mirror can redeem a vehicle from this fate.

Don't expect hideous airbrushed murals of spaceships and starfields on the outside, a la Max Rockatansky's donk, but do expect something a little more space-aged on the inside.

Oh, and for the record, all the exterior chrome will be going. No self-respecting GCU has chrome on the outside.

Next post: swiveling seats.

Mad Ax

Active Member
Swiveling seats

So, to make the most out of the space in the back, and to get a sensible camper layout, it became necessary to make the front seats swivel and do away with the seats in the middle row. This posed a dilemma, since some Elgrands did (according to legend) come from the factory with swiveling front seats, but they're ridiculously hard to find. There are UK camper conversion specialists who buy in Elgrands from Japan and convert the seats to swivel, but those I contacted weren't prepared to work on a vehicle they hadn't imported or sold, weren't prepared to sell me the parts to do it and weren't prepared to share their method. All they would say is "it requires some custom welding."

Somebody among the Elgrand fraternity had a word with a conversion specialist who he had bought his van from (one of the ones who had turned me down) and managed to arrange something with them. Only problem was they were all the way up in Scotland. And, by then, I'd already started on this:

Front passenger seat removed, carpets folded back to reveal wobbly floorpan. Bosch battery used to hold back carpet temporarily. Not a permanent feature.

And here are the seat runners from the middle row seat. The runners were way too long. For reasons known not to me, Nissan decided that the middle seat runners would have a massive sliding range forward and back but only a small section in which the seat could actually be locked for travel. (I guess this is so the seat can be moved right forwards to allow rear seat passengers to embark, but to prevent middle seat passengers from travelling dangerously close to the front row seats). Whatever - the end of those runners have been lopped short here:

Seat base from swivel seat roughly plonked in place. You can just about see that the rear ends of the runners are mounted to the existing floor holes where the front end of the runners would have been, therefore utilising the existing reinforced section of floor and negating the need to drill new holes in fragile Japanese tin:

But how to mount the front? I've lopped off the front of the runners, so there's no stock mounting hole welded to them. The stock mounting holes in the floor are too wide. Also, the runners won't fit on the floor because the floor has various ridges - so they need to be raised.

Here's how:

Here you can (just about) see some fresh bolts holding my new mounting brackets onto the stock forward mounting points:

Some preliminary welding to hold the brackets in place - additional unrequired middle bracket was later removed and the welds beefed up:

Air conditioning trunking refitted - it needed some additional trimming:

Seat reattached. Armrests removed as they wouldn't clear the door pillars. I still haven't figured out a suitable way of covering the hole in the fabric, but I'll have a lot of spare seat material when I'm done.

Runners sit raised in the rear section - not ideal but there's no solution, especially as I need the seat to slide that far back to work with my proposed table solution. I may later form something to cover the runners to reduce likelihood of tripping over them.


Mad Ax

Active Member
Seat in reverse position:

With mats refitted, the raised runners up front aren't really noticeable (note: horrible fake wood on dash will be going later):

Final shot of one runner with the stock middle bracket removed (see heat mark on metal where it was previously welded), new brackets with beefier welds, all cleaned and re-oiled and ready for refitting.

It's been used in this configuration for a few months now and it works really well. I did cut the runners slightly too short, so if I get a bit heavy handed I can push the rollers right out of the runners and it's a fiddle to get them back in again. I have another set of runners from the other side, but I doubt I'll bother to put it right.

I had planned to do the driver's side, but I figured it wasn't worth the effort. When finished, there will be a cabinet and wide tabletop immediately behind the driver's seat, so it won't be a usable space. Plus the middle runners only don't have a lot of forward-back adjustability, and I didn't want to find I couldn't get a comfortable distance from the pedals.

And that's about all I have photos for right now - next rant is about the rock & roll bed palaver, but that will come after I've taken some more photos, perhaps at the weekend...

Mad Ax

Active Member
To rotate the seat I first have to move the seat back all the way forwards (the "rear passenger getting in" position), this also unlocks the seat from the runners so it slides freely. Then the seat can be rotated. It needs to slide a little to clear the B-pillar.

Clearance is / was always going to be an issue. The stock passenger seat could be bolted in the reverse position with no mods but converting to swivel was much more hassle, as it's far bigger than the middle row seat. I know other companies have done it by welding the turntable from the middle row seat between the seat cushion and the sliders of the front seat. Having seen photos, my solution is tidier, more compact and looks more "factory" than theirs - however I do end up with runner rails stretching into the camper area, mostly because I want to be able to slide all the way back to get my legs under my table :)

Here's a snap I got this AM of the seat, temporary table and laptop solution. I've been using it like this for a few months now to be sure this is the way I want to go before spending more time / money.

The seat is in the furthest "back" position (i.e. towards the rear of the van). The drivers seat is as far forward as it will go. The camping table is pressed up against the back of the drivers seat, with the leg against the base of the passenger swivel seat. Ideally the table should have just a little more overhang so I'm not stretching my arms so far.

Obviously this isn't a permanent solution - but you'll have to bear with me here:

One of the main advantages of the Elgrand over, say a Bongo, is that it's a column shift with the motor out front. So, I can get from the driver's seat into the camping area or into the rear-facing passenger seat without having to go outside. However, to do this, I have to move the driver's seat into its furthest back position (otherwise my feet get stuck on the centre console). In the photo, you can just about see a piece of masking tape which marks the furthest back position of the driver's seat. My worktop and table solution can come no further forward than this. Two problems here:

1) The front end of the table will be way too far back for my arms to reach the keyboard
2) Given the proposed height of the worktop, and the required size of the table, a fold-down table solution totally won't fit

So my proposed solution is to have the tabletop mounted on long drawer runners on top of the worktop, with a single sturdy wheeled rear leg (possibly even a wheeled front leg if there is space) - so the whole table will roll from one side to the other. A latch will lock it in place at either end. Then, a keyboard shelf will either pull out from underneath (if there is sufficient room beside the drawer runners) or fold down from on top. Pull-out is definitely the simpler solution and parts can be repurposed from a conventional salvaged computer desk but there may be clearance issues with the worktop / fridge height.

Because I'm building a custom cabinet, rather than modding something off the shelf, I have the freedom to make everything fit exactly how I want it.

The compromise is reduced worktop space, but I can extend my worktop rearwards since I don't plan on having a full-height wardrobe at the back like most conventional conversions - I want to keep a bright, airy feel inside for when I'm writing.

Mad Ax

Active Member
I considered a folding table solution - that would resolve the "table too big to fold down" issue. I see three problems there:

1) table may lose some of its rigidity when extended
2) when folded down, fridge (which will be under table) will be inaccessible
3) can't mount a slide-out keyboard drawer under a folding table

A leg in the middle sounds like a great solution, but it may interfere with the fridge door. I'll need to check that. Fridge is on order and should be with me this week so I can start measuring up and putting masking tape on the floor.

The table will be half the width of the load area and when "stowed" will sit over the worktop above the fridge (behind driver's seat, in line with that piece of masking tape on the trim). It takes up a lot more space than the conventional tongue-style tables that these size vans usually have, but it's what I need to make my mobile office work for me. I've tested with a mock-up and I can still get from front to rear, or swivel the passenger seat with it in the stowed position. I'll test again with masking tape markings once I've got the fridge location sorted.

To go to "work" position, the table just slides across from driver's side to passenger side. The table will be supported from underneath by extra-long drawer runners (I may have to get creative here) bolted into the worktop, and with that extra wheeled leg (or two). I'm hoping that if I use good quality ply it shouldn't wobble or sag too much where it isn't supported, but fitting a pull-out keyboard shelf is going to impact exactly where the runners will go.

The main idea here is that stowing the table is as simple as sliding it across, and I don't have to pack down any of my kit. Due to where the B-pillar is, it's not possible to get out of the van with the table in the work position - so being able to slide everything out of my way to get out will be much more convenient than all the wriggling I have to do with my temporary camping table :)

If anyone has any other genius / out-of-the-box ideas on how to get a good-sized table right where I need it, I am more than open to hearing them :thumbsup:

In the mean time, this is how the van looked on Saturday afternoon after I'd finished loading up for the Iconic RC meet in Nottingham:

And this is how it looked once I'd got there and unpacked:


Mad Ax

Active Member
The Great Rock & Roll Bed Fiasco

In this episode, I describe the R&R bed solution.

Long Version

Those who read the entire beginning post will remember that, initially, all I wanted was somewhere dry and comfortable to sit when I was away camping. This also had the added benefit of giving me somewhere dry and comfortable to sit on work lunchbreaks. Before long the wife had suggested I have the option to sleep in it for when I go away to RC events or to watch motorsport so I could save money on hotels.

Given that this sounded like blank exit passes were being written already, I keenly agreed to keep or make a bed option.

As I mentioned earlier, the standard seats were uncomfortable for anything but emergency kippage. We talked about side-mounted beds, we looked at wood-framed sofabeds, we came up with all sorts of crazy options, but in the end a forward-facing seat seemed best because it meant we could continue to safely and legally carry backseat passengers.

Seatbelt laws in vans from 2001 are a kind of grey area. The official documentation from the DVLA states that seatbelts must be fitted if passengers are travelling on the seats, but the seats themselves don't have to be of any particular design or certification. Only the MOT man must be satisfied that they are secure and fit for purpose.

Since lots of people are home-converting all sorts of vehicles, from ropey old T25s to nearly-new T5s, there's a massive range of ready-built R&R beds on ebay - from simple flimsy metal frames to full-on industrial-strength rigs that bolt directly into pre-fitted van tracking. And since we've got the whole family planning thing underway, the wife insisted that whatever we fit must be safe for strapping child seats onto and not liable to fold, collapse or come loose in a crash.

So the basic £300 fit-and-fly beds were out, as was anything I could cobble up out of wood. In the end we settled on a crash-tested certified bed from Scotland, for the bargain sum of £825. That's a lot of money for a hunk of iron with some covered foam on it, although it does have a rather ingenious seat base design that gives it the appearance of having headrests. (in retrospect, these have served only to take some light out of the interior, as they poke up over the windows.) All seats are made to order, so a non-refundable deposit is paid on order and the balance paid before delivery.

Several weeks later and the balance was paid in full; then the beast arrived. I pulled a WFH option so I could be in when it turned up. The lorry was too big to reverse up the private access lane, where we could have unloaded straight into the garage, so I drove the van around to the front of the house so we could hoist the palette directly from the back of the lorry and into the van. Except it wouldn't fit. The palette added enough height that it wouldn't go in through the tailgate.

I told the lorry driver I'd grab my tools so we could unbolt it from the palette and try again, but he said he didn't want to wait - so he abandoned it on the pavement in the pouring rain and scarpered.

It only took about 5 minutes to unbolt the seat from the palette, but there was no way in hell that I was lifting it up on my own. Fortunately my elderly neighbour arrived just as I was getting ready to lift, and together we managed to get it in with only minimal damage to the rear bumper.

Excited beyond belief, I parked the van up by the garage, ripped off the protective packing, and plonked myself into the seat. And wedged my head against the ceiling.

Bollocks. That'll be almost a grand's worth of non-refundable junk in the back of my van, then.

The seat legs were about 4 inches too long. Obviously designed for use in T5s, which have lower floors, it was never going to be suitable for a normal-sized adult to travel in comfort - I couldn't sit in it, and I'm hobbit-sized.

The sensible solution would be to cut the legs down, except a) they're hulking great reinforced cross-braced things, and 2) the crash test certificate clearly states that the seat (including its legs) must not be modified in any way and that the dimensions, written on the certificate, must remain the same.

First port of call was the insurance company. If they were happy to insure me to carry passengers with a sturdy but non-approved seat, I was happy to forget I had the certificate. Adrian Flux didn't care - as long as the seat was fit for purpose, it didn't have to have any certification at all. Second requirement was to find a good welder who I really trusted.

My neighbour came up trumps with a number for a local guy. A quick call, and he was happy to take on the job. Result.

Brucie Bonus - the seat legs aren't welded to the frame, they're bolted. Legs off, delivered to the welder, four weeks later a modified set came back, still with all the cross-bracing, but this time, significantly shorter. Fitted and tested, I can now sit in the back. Plus the seat doesn't completely cover the rear window any more.

Short Version

This is my rock and roll bed in all its glory - currently just resting on the floor, pending proper drilling, reinforcing and bolting soon:

Note leisure battery currently sitting under the seat (split charging system not yet wired in). The final version will be secured here, with 12V power and RC charging station on the rear of the seat. Charge level indicator and distribution board will be under the front of the seat, along with a set of bass speakers - currently there are no speakers in the back (the factory ones gave up after 2 months of use).

Seat position is not 100% yet either - if it moved forwards a few inches, I could fit an additional seat base on the back so I can reverse up to the trackside and have a nice raised seating position to watch motor racing. Alternatively I might be able to fabricate a dickey seat that hangs over the rear. We'll see - it seems a shame to sacrifice internal living space for the sake of a rear-facing seat option.

That's it for now - not much else has been done and I don't know what I'll have time for in the immediate future, but I'd like to have the plywood floor fitted and secured before my big cabinet-building week at the end of May :)

Mad Ax

Active Member
Split Charge System - Intro

My plans to run the laptop for extended periods, or charge lots of high-output RC batteries, are likely to have a high impact on the starter battery. Now, in fairness, I have run the laptop (plus interior lights) for several hours on the go, and I've been to RC events and charged my packs all day long, and still had plenty of juice to start the motor, but it's not a perfect situation and sooner or later it'll all go wrong.

Plus I've bought a fridge. (Only just, as it happens. I thought I'd bought a fridge over a week ago, but it turns out my card had been stopped and the order wasn't processed. So I might get my fridge towards the end of this week. Even if I won't be ready to fit it for a good few weeks). And although modern compressor fridges are very efficient (some people say 3 days off a regular leisure battery), I don't think I'll want to leave it parked up with a fridge draining the starter battery.

So, a 110AH battery was ordered from a battery supplier and a split charge wiring kit from a split charge wiring supplier. And both duly sat lying around in everyone's way for a few months before I had time to look at them.

One of the things I hate most about working on modern vehicles is getting cables and wires from the engine bay to the cabin. This job started as anticipated, with me ripping out half the dashboard to find the other side of an unused rubber grommet on the bulkhead, only to find that it's totally blocked off and inaccessible behind all the aircon gubbins. But then I scrabbled around underneath for twenty minutes (whilst tightening up the drive belts again) and found this:

A little difficult to make out from my stupid photo, but this is beneath the driver's seat. A loom already comes in here from the gearbox, but the little bare circle you see is an unused rubber grommet leading to the outside world.

Getting the wire there wasn't easy, as the only clear route from the engine bay goes right past the downpipe and cat. However the brake lines use the route, and are neatly and safely shielded behind a heat shield. Thirty minutes with some sockets and the heatshields were out, so the new 16mm charging wire could be zip-tied onto the brake lines. I didn't get any photos of this since it's pretty cramped under there.

With the cable routed securely under the car, I made up the ends and mounted the supplied fuse holder next to the battery. No fuse is currently fitted as the cable doesn't go anywhere:

Ax's Top Safety Tip: Always disconnect the battery negative lead before arsing about with the positive terminal. Otherwise, if your spanner touches any metal part of the car, you'll get a whack-off great big spark and possibly damage your battery.*

The light here is fairly poor, but the cable has been pulled up through the existing hole in the floor.

Excess protective trunking cut back, existing grommet cut and fed over wire end:

And an existing swoopy cable conduit utilised to take the cable under the floor to the van sides.

I may have to remove this conduit completely when the new floor goes down, but for now it will keep everything safe. I don't think there'll be an issue running power cable next to "signal" cable, as the car is pre-CANBUS and it's only operating some lights, one speaker and a couple of 12V sockets that won't be present on the finished project anyway. Currently the rear speakers are unplugged, after I played some Prodigy through them, which they didn't like much.

That's as far as I can go until the battery is properly mounted and I have a proper box for the split charging relay and fuse to go in. I guess I also need to decide if I'm going to go with simple (cheap) 12V switches and fusebox or if I should splash out on a proper fused distribution board with a battery level indicator on it.

*Ax's Anectode: I was on a client site while a lorry mechanic was working under a tipper bed. He had crawled in right under the bed and was arsing about with the battery positive terminal. His spanner became jammed and shorted the battery against the chassis. He couldn't get the spanner free, and being wedged well in between the frame rails and the tipper bed, he couldn't get himself out quickly either.

The boom echoed across the yard as the battery exploded. The mechanic, with his head right next to it as it went, suffered mild concussion. Fortunately it exploded on the external end, blowing battery acid out and away from the mechanic. If it had blown at the other end, it would have covered his face.

Mad Ax

Active Member
Preparing the floor - part 1

The Elgrand comes with a large, flat floor, making it ideal for this sort of conversion. In standard trim it's filled with almost an inch of insulation covered with a plush carpet. I removed my carpet some time ago to get the seats out and never bothered to put it back in - the channels left by the missing seat runners mean the stock carpet and insulation won't be any good for the finished product, and the cabinets really want to sit on a secure, level surface, not a deep, soft fabric.

This is how the floor looked when I opened the door yesterday lunchtime. Ignore that white plastic thing, that's a replacement curtain rail for my studio that I keep forgetting to remove:

I marked a line with masking tape and my good mate Stanley Knife cut along it for me. This will be the forwardest end of the ply floor. I've got enough original carpet remnants to make a covering patch over the exposed white insulation when I'm done. Some of the insulation didn't come up well, it's stuck down in places with a really gooey glue and will need scraping off with something. There is also some thin, heavy black insulation stuck down in places - that can probably stay and I'll fill in and around it with my new insulation kit.

Everything came out real easy at the back

Now I can see why my new seat isn't level. It's resting on the floor ridges. Fortunately, the seat legs are mounted in lateral tracks, so they can be unbolted and moved. The stock seat rail mounting holes are in the perfect position for the rearmost legs, which is fortunate as there's a box section running under that area.

Unfortunately, the next set of legs sit conveniently close to some stock seat rail mounting holes, but not quite close enough to use - and that too is (naturally) right over a box section. I'll either have to modify the legs so they can fit the holes, or drill new holes right through the box section and out the other side so I can use the supplied spreader plates. I'm not sure if the spreaders might crush the box section.

I didn't have my toolkit yesterday so I couldn't move the seat legs into the right place. I'll do that today.

In the meantime, here's some pics of how the van usually gets used. The weather in these photos was fecking glorious when I set out and had clouded over by the time I'd got to my destination:


Mad Ax

Active Member
Insulating the Walls

The van is already fairly quiet and doesn't seem to suffer badly from excess heat in the summer, but it can get icy cold in winter and takes a while to get the heat in. A camper conversion shop sold me a "medium van conversion kit" which is basically two big rolls of foam for soundproofing, two big rolls of reflective bubbles for heat insulation, and three tins of spray adhesive to stick it all together. Foam on the floor, foam and bubbles on the walls, bubbles on the ceiling.

I wasn't sure what the Elgrand had in the way of stock insulation on the walls, despite having had the trim off before to take the rear seatbelts out. So I unbolted the trim to take a look.

In short - there's not much there. A few anti-vibration patches stuck in a few places and some fluff on the back of the trim panel, but otherwise, nothing. There is lots of air conditioning pipework and lots of miscellaneous electrical gubbins bolted in the dead space, though. Stock rear speaker is completely mullered.

Ugly dangling wire is for the foglight, fitted by the import shop. They probably didn't bother to remove the trim panel, they just pulled it away as best they could to tuck in the wire - hence why it isn't secured anywhere and is free to rub against all sorts of metal edges.

Here's my foam floor roll. This was sold as pukka genuine van floor insulation. Doesn't look much different to generic foam available anywhere else for not much cash. In fact it looks just like the "don't put that under your floor, it'll squeak" foam that people put under their floors and then regret because it squeaks. Hey-ho.

Floor panel removed, aircon gubbins is in the way.

Aircon gubbins removed. Everything comes apart pretty easy, mostly using bolts, although some of the trim is secured with those annoying plastic clips that always break.

One panel covered - foam then bubbles.

And another. Aircon pipes partly reassembled

All back in one piece and foglamp wire secured with tape


Mad Ax

Active Member
Rear quarter stripped and partly insulated

At this point I was really losing the light, so I decided to part-reassemble that area and call it a night. Speaker not refitted as I'll be extending the wires down under the R&R bed to fit some 6x9s there.

So the van is temporarily disabled, on the basis that the back is still full of junk. I'm hoping for a quick 30-minute blast during lunch to get the final quarter section done. Then I need to decide what to do with the wall trim panel. Realistically there are 3 choices:

1) Junk the stock trim panel. Build the worktop above the level of the pillar panels to hide the metalwork.
2) Cut a big section out of the trim panel where the worktop will go
3) Leave the stock panel as-is and build the worktop around it

I already think I'll abandon option 1, because the total worktop height will be incompatible with where I want my table. Even if I do a split-height worktop (i.e. lower above the fridge, where the table will be) I will still have an ugly gap to fill somehow.

If I cut a section out of the trim panel then I get myself much, much more space behind the worktop - so I can have deeper cupboards. Space is likely to be at a premium so this gives me maximum cupboard depth. However, I will have to find some other way of closing off behind the cupboards or risk losing things down the back, and some of the electrical nick-nackery will need relocating (mostly just unbolting brackets and reattaching them so they won't interfere with the closing panel).

The downside is that the trim will no longer be bolted in place, so it will need the worktop fitted properly in order to keep it where it needs to be. There's the risk that I'll cock something up and end up with a ruined trim panel that never fits properly again and rattles over every bump.

So I think my next job after finishing the rear quarter is to relocate the electricals and find a closing panel - a sheet of fibreboard will probably be fine here - then take the jigsaw to the trim panel.

I still need to get a bit more crap up off the floor so I can fit the floor insulation, and obviously do the passenger side insulation. With two weekends left before the Big Van Conversion Week starting on the 21st, and a whole garden full of junk and rubble and stuff, it's looking like it will be really, really tight to get the wooden floor in before the week starts...

I also need to decide - before I start ordering wood - if I'm going to go with laminated ply (which seems to be favourite), or plain ply which I laminate later. I'm tempted to go with laminated ply, since it's what the rest of the world does; the wife tells me it'll chip and splinter when I cut it and be a waste of money and I should laminate it myself once the fitting is done.

I have a terrible fear the laminate will never fit properly, will come unglued after three camping trips and will look shit within a year.

Plus I still haven't finished my wiring diagram.

Mad Ax

Active Member
Not really a lot to add from today's update. I lacked the proper support of a healthy assistant to help me remove my R&R bed, so I managed to drag it forward.

Passenger side rear quarter:

Not much in the way of stock insulation:

Foamie stuff and reflective bubbles added:

Speaker wire added, rubber grommet from my box thereof fitted neatly in a pre-existing hole:

And a feed wire added for what will be the bedside lamp

Used a stock earth point for the lamp earth


Mad Ax

Active Member
And then on to the bed feet mounting. Pilot holes drilled through the rear forward legs - where the front set of legs go there are chassis boxes, so will be really difficult to mount properly. All I can really do there is go right thru the box to the underneath. May check with local MOT man.

Full holes drilled

Plenty underseal added (above and below)

And finally, starting on the floor insulation

That's as far as I got before chores stopped play. I probably should have made more time in the evening to get more done while it was still warm and dry, but I was feeling lazy. That's two lazy weekends one atop the other, and officially only one weekend left before the big conversion week begins.

I'll get as much of the insulation fitted in the floor as I can this week - I've got 4x30minute lunchbreaks between now and the weekend, plus (hopefully) a whole evening on Weds. It'll be slow boring work, but it needs to be done. I'll also have to double-check my measurements and get the wood ordered for the floor. Plus I realised last night that I'll need the vinyl for the floor too, as that should go down before the cabinets, and it'll be easier to cut if I cut it to the floor shape before the floor gets fitted.

The wife is away next Saturday, so provided I can barter some assistance with the bed, next weekend I will:

Get the bed out and into the garage. This may (read: will) involve putting the Mini outside.

Finish off any floor insulation that I haven't finished yet

Get down to TP to pick up my wood

Get the stock carpet down from the mezzanine and use it as a template to cut the floor

Cut the floor

Cut some batten and plane it down to the right size to act as joining pieces and supports where necessary (the floor will be in two pieces)

Test-fit the floor

Mark the holes where the seat legs will go

Remove the floor and cut the seat leg holes

Cut the vinyl to match the floor

Re-fit the floor and screw it down good and proper

Fit the seat and bolt it down once and for all

Stand back with a pint and admire my handiwork, investigate all the little bits I didn't think of and wonder how the hell I'm going to get around whatever problems I come up with, and work out how I'm going to get the Mini back in the workshop now that it's still got the R&R bed, the wall trim panels, half a floor, a roll of vinyl and a neighbour with a broken back.

Mad Ax

Active Member
Wow! What a weekend!

Started at 9:30am Sat when I cleared the workshop and driveway ready to start work. Thankfully a) the weather was good and 2) the Mini was driveable so I could get it out of the way. Rain or a broken Mini would have made this whole job real difficult. I grabbed the tatty old carpets down from the mezz. (they were immaculate when I got the Elgrand, but as soon as I had it the wife was like "Oh, you've got a van, you can go pick up X oily greasy filthy thing for me").

Excuse the mess behind the carpets - the wife is currently making a 1:10 scale tree castle and has created the world's first fairy engineering spoil heap.

A mate arrived at 10:30 and we hoisted the R&R bed out, then nipped down TP to get two big sheets of marine ply. (One big and one small would have sufficed, but they don't do small ones). £75 lighter in pocket and with a nick taken out of the rear rubber surround where we'd loaded the ply, I was back home and my mate was gone.

In case you don't know what plywood looks like, here is a picture:

Stock carpet carefully lined up to mark the arch cutout. Note that I'm not going for full-width floor because it doesn't seem necessary, most of the dead space will be underneath my units/fridge. I can fill in the blanks later.

Choppy choppy avec jigsaw

A whole weekend of pissing about with powertools and what do I do? Stick a bloody screwdriver under my cuticle.

Floor fitted. Note trimmy trimmy on the right to clear the aircon gubbins hatch. I'll need to fit a false floor over that to mount the fridge on. (Note also that I didn't get here in one pass - there was about 90 minutes worth of trial-fitting and trimming to get it to lay flat).

So the next thing to do was pull out the floor all on my lonesome, then finish the laborious job of cutting up foam for the insulation layer.

Mad Ax

Active Member

First layer of foam all down at last. Note some small offcuts of ply glued in various places where the floor will a) experience load and 2) is not supported by metal ridges:

Second layer of foam covering everything but the highest ridges:

Test-fit of step insert to prove the floor height is spot on:

Next task was to mark the floor holes for the seat. I drilled up from underneath through the seat mounting holes, removed the floor yet again, dragged the seat onto the wood, lined up the holes and drew around them with a marker pen. With some trepidation, I set to cutting out the holes.

Returned to the van, my lovely floor was now covered with marks from the seat legs:

However, the good news is that everything seemed to fit properly. With the help of my wife and her fragile back, we hoisted the seat back in and tested it. Perfick. At this point I realised I'd made a huge error and wasn't able to refit the passenger side panel with the seat in situ, so we lifted the seat out of its locating holes and slid it sideways. I then realised I'd made another mistake, and I could't fit the side panels until I'd fitted the PVC floor, which was in the office in Westbury. So off I toddled to pick up the carpet, and back home again to start trimming.

My original plan was actually to cut the entire floor from one sheet then slide the seat over the top, but looking at the mess we made of the ply getting the seat into the van, there was no way on Earth it was going to go in without ripping the PVC to shreds. So it was better to drop the seat in place and cut around it. I'll never see the space under the seat, or to either side, once it's all finished and paneled in.

I also cut a little closing piece of ply to cover the little bit in the corner. I'm hoping my leisure battery will live here, but clearance between battery posts and seat base is really tight so it might have to go on the other side, taking up valuable unit space.

Trim refitted - everything fits up real neat.

And my PVC carpet looks neat, and fits in with the "space" theme. This is just generic Altro flooring that everybody uses.

Finishing up at around 6pm Sunday, it was a crazy flat-out weekend. Some things I could have done quicker, if I'd spent less time procrastinating and more time doing. Some things might have been done better (or at least a lot easier) with a couple of good strong backs to help out. I had hoped to be further a long - I wanted the false floor over the aircon system to be done by now - but all in all, I really can't complain so far. The floor actually fits really well, feels really sturdy and doesn't shift at all, and all the stock trim is bolting nicely in place without any issues.

I'm now another £350 lighter, having ordered two sheets of lightweight laminated furniture ply and edging trim ready for starting work on the units next week. I'll also need to get a decent router, and learn how to use it, in time to start making cuts into the ply......

Watch this space!

Mad Ax

Active Member

So last week was the Epic Big Camper Blowout Week. Except it was actually made up of:
Sat: family events / errands
Sun: camper
Mon: motorcycle training course
Tue: motorcycle training course
Wed: camper
Thu: camper
Fri: day off for back recovery
Sat: mate's birthday at a festival
Sun: another day off for back recovery after bouncing like loon at festival
Mon: slow camper day with very sore back

So all-in, I didn't get quite the time I'd anticipated, and blow me if things didn't go a lot slower than planned. Sunday began with me finishing off the rubber flooring, and I'd anticipated I might have mounted the fridge and be ready to cut the cupboard front panel by the end of the day, if things went really smoothly. As it stands, I still haven't cut the cupboard front closing panel...

I began by clearing a space in the garage (quite easy since 2 days before this was taken it was occupied by Mini, which is now sold). Some spare floor timbers were used to suspend the 8x4 ply sheets so I can cut them with jigsaw or router.

A brief test-fit of the fridge in what should be its final position:

Rubber flooring fitted:

And a plywood fitting plate for the fridge added. This sits over the annoying aircon gubbins cover. This really was a bastard, I wished afterwards that I'd taken the cover off and built a flat-topped cover from ply before I'd trimmed the floor.

This, believe it or not, is all I achieved in pretty much a whole Sunday... Most of the time was spent trying not to procrastinate, yet still getting stuck braining out exactly how I was going to fit various things...

Mad Ax

Active Member
So I was up in the workshop early on Weds to get started. Actually that's not true, I was terrified that this would be the first day using my new router on some expensive wood, and there'd be a catastrophic cock-up somewhere down the line, so I stayed in the studio for ages watching porn until I eventually managed to drag myself away.

Scary bit - rare and expensive trim panel attacked with jigsaw :eek:

And fitted. Note remote compressor for fridge. This will eventually be hidden under a small vented box. I did test-run it (took a while as I couldn't get a good connection on the leisure battery) and it's pretty quiet.

Also added some lovely pink wires for the spotlights that I'll be fitting later.

Floor wasn't trimmed quite right here so took a while to get the back end of the trim in place

And so on to using the router! Scary scary scary...

First thing was to cut a closing panel to go on the end of the fridge. Note that the fridge is supplied without and frame or fittings, wtf, I wish I'd gone for the Waeco that comes with an option for a flush-mount fitting frame... You can guarantee, if there are two products for the same price, I'll buy the shit one. Anyhoo... The router wasn't a shit purchase, although took a bit of practice. I marked out for a square edge and set to cutting with the router, using a straight piece of wood clamped in place. My clamps weren't on tight enough and it slipped - fortunately away from the workpiece and not into it! Lesson learned - the router will torque-steer to the left, and clamps need to be bloody tight. I learned quickly to use the Bosch jigsaw bits to cut the rough shape, then use the router to make it perfectly flat.

A 3mm slot cutter was used to put the slot into the wood for the finishing trim. Panel carefully measured to ensure fridge door will open ;)

A taller piece cut for the other side - this will make sense later. Note the mistake - I measured the depth at the bottom, not the top, so have a goofy gap at the top of the trim panel. I ended up using this piece to make the top cover for the fridge (since the depth was perfect) and cut another piece for this upright.

Here's the tricky bit - cutting around the trim panel. We'll worry about that tomorrow.

Top piece cut. I put a small radius into the corner with a jigsaw and it came out perfect after a little bit of sanding.

And that's Wednesday done. Amazing how long it takes to cut a handful of pieces of wood. But, after cutting off one part of the 8x4 sheet, every subsequent piece has just one straight edge - so after cutting a rough piece, I have to find my right-angle, trim it with the jigsaw then clamp it to route a perfect edge. Only then can I mark out the other two cuts, trim them, clamp them and route them. Then for most pieces I have to route in a slot. Lots of fiddly work on heavy, delicate pieces of wood! Time for a beer, back to this on Thursday...

Mad Ax

Active Member

Marking up to cut around the trim panel. This was tricky since much of it was done by eye, as I couldn't rely on anything being exactly right-angle to anything else, hence had nothing to measure against.

New floor plate cut so I can start fixing bits in place. Eventually I'll probably cover these with leftover carpet.

Fridge fitting - bits of cardboard placed under the top to hold the fridge in place

And another cupboard divider / bulkhead cut and fitted

That's Thursday done - off for another beer!

Mad Ax

Active Member
Monday - slow day with a sore back, but got a little more done. Focussed on tidying up some wiring first, then added a bracket to tie my upright to, as well as something to strap my gas bottle to

Another upright cut and fitted

How it all lines up. Floor is not perfectly solid at the rear - the weight of the worktop should square it off.

At this point it was nearly 3pm and I wanted to come inside do work on some RC stuff (big event in a few weeks), but I figured I had an offcut left that was just perfect for the worktop, so I got the right-angles measured and trimmed and the slots cut. The rear of the worktop will have to be jigsawed to fit against the wall, as it's an uneven shape, and that will be a complex time-consuming job with high potential to fuck up a large piece of wood, but I'll worry about it later. Worst-case scenario, I can use any wood I muller to make the closing panels / drawer front for under the seat

And that's all, folks! Lots more to do, hopefully will get a good crack at it on Saturday and get the front panel cut (should be reasonably easy as I have a good right-angle on my fresh piece of wood and it's all straight edges after that). Marking and cutting the holes for the cupboard doors may be interesting.

Stay tuned!

Mad Ax

Active Member
I've probably made more progress today than in all of last week...

I decided first to trim up the worktop, since I'd already cut it and it was only going to get in the way. Here it is after an hour of careful trimming with a jigsaw:

It doesn't look entirely level but is in fact 100% level to the plywood floor and to the concrete outside, it seems that the windows are canted slightly forwards for that aggressive street-style look ;)

Next was the fairly simple job of cutting out a front panel. I had a nice clean new sheet for this so was able to utilise one good right angle and two clean-cut sides. In this photo it needs a bit of trimming but this is pretty much how the finished article will look.

Then to cut out the recess for the job/sink unit. Momentary panic that it was too big averted by dint of it not being too big. I don't understand why they can't just roll up a paper template mind, it took ages to draw this using the schematics in the back of the handbook.

choppy choppy

it fits!!

central bulkhead needed trimming too. (after test-fitting I notice it needs trimming some more, it doesn't clear the sink like I thought it would).

and finally... not bolted in to place yet, I was going to stay out for another hour to get it bolted down but realised I need to make more accurate measurements of my cupboard openings before I make it impossible to get inside, plus I need to trim that bulkhead a little more. But finally it's starting to look like a pukka camper!!

Sadly a curious incident of a disappearing wife has called me in from any more work today but I'd love to get those cupboard apertures cut tomorrow so I can get the worktop and hob/sink unit properly screwed into place (and out of harms way!) I'm probably going to order some ready-made cupboard doors from somewhere as I want a funky colour and it's not worth spending another oner on another sheet of furniture ply...