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Lockdown Camper Van Build - not even slightly LR, but potentially useful bits!


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As some of you know, I now work in Movie Special Effects which involved very long hours, a long way from home.  On my first film, I got to a point where I was just too tired to drive home and after a few 'near death experiences' decided I needed a solution!  Initially I just stayed in a Hotel - but at best part of £100 per night, it soon adds up.  At the end of the film, I built my first Camper Van.

It was based on a Vauxhall Movano MWB - and it was great!  Over the next few years, I slept in it over 1000 Nights!  It's main 'trick' (almost Special Effect) feature was the bed.  It was winched up to ceiling height during the day which gave me a good amount of space to live in - and a full size, comfortable, double bed at night.IMG_20160727_224922.thumb.jpg.33bc105a4655979ab9ead19d366a6169.jpg

 

During the Lockdown (first one), the Film Industry shut down - so I had several months un-planned holiday and decided I needed a project!  I didn't really intend to build another van - but somehow, the idea gathered momentum until I found myself actually building it.

It started with a load of CAD drawing and after a couple of weeks, it started looking quite good!
This is my final draft before I bought a van.
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I went into a lot of detail!  The little black & white circle is the centre of mass.  The materials and weights of all the bits was as accurate as I could be.  I wanted the van to behave on the road - and be within the weight limit - so this seemed the best approach.

As you might be able to see - this has water, underfloor heating (no more cold toes!) powered by a modified Webasto ThermoTop C (which was a project in itself).  Like before, the bed is designed to rise up into the ceiling.  However, this time, instead of using a single winch, I've used 4 long lead screws & 4 motors.  Why you ask?  It's so I can make the bed self-level!

Self levelling suspension is so last week - I'd never heard of a self levelling bed though!  It adds a whole new meaning to a 'Rock 'n roll bed'!

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Here's actually one of the Land Rover bits!  The bed sits on Disco 3 anti roll bar bushes.  These give enough flexibility that they take up the length difference when the bed pitches or rolls.  They were just the right size to fit around the lead-screw Ball-Nut.

All the metalwork was cut on my CNC Plasma table - and there's a surprising amount of 3D Printed bits - mostly brackets.

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Because of the lockdown, it was difficult to go & look at vans to buy.  I decided to look at brand new vans instead - figuring I'd get closer to what I wanted (a Renault Master Low Loader).  It turned out that Renault had a load of these as part of a cancelled order - and were very keen to do a deal.  It ended up costing me about £10k less than list - and they delivered it.

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This is the day it arrived, sitting in my front garden.

Renault even supplied me a 3D Cad model of the interior - which allowed me to start building before it actually arrived (first Error!).

Being a regular box, the insulation was easier.  I just used foam board insulation.  There's 90mm thick on the walls, 80mm on the ceiling & 60mm on the floor, including the underfloor heating panels.  I wish I could have put thicker insulation on the floor & ceiling but unfortunately the model was wrong.  There was 100mm less ceiling height than I was expecting and the back was 50mm shorter - but 80mm wider.

I had designed all the furniture and had it all CNC Routed to be a perfect fit!  After I'd measured the van, sworn a bit, I had to trim everything to fit.  Next time - I'll wait until I actually have the van!image.png.438ebfca7a255af768d986390931fd7b.png

This was Day 2 - laying the floor & putting in the underfloor heating pipework.  It was pretty easy once I'd got the hang of it!

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I love Solidworks!
 

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By week 2, I'd insulated and lined the whole thing with Ply.  The walls have 4mm thick while the bulkhead is 12mm - just to provide a bit of extra protection from stuff coming to visit me in the cab, unexpectedly!

I bought 'Habitation Doors' from https://www.vehiclewindows.co.uk/  They were a bit slow to deliver - but the quality is very good and they made them to size.
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The doors are air-tight which helps keep it warm - though there's plenty of ventilation when I need.  I fitted a Maxx Fan in the roof for ventilation.  I had to persuade (hammer) the door into the hole I cut.  When I switched the fan on, full blast, it sucked the door out of the frame!  At least I know everything is well sealed!

I did consider fitting air conditioning - but thought I'd try another 'bright idea' instead!  My old van used to get uncomfortably hot on summer days.  I noticed however that the air at road level was 10C cooler than at head height (under the van, where the sun wasn't heating it up).  I decided to put in tubes that extend down to 10cm off the road for ventilation.  The two flexible tubes you can see in the picture above are such - and there are two 6" vent pipes at the back.  The cooler air is ducted to ceiling height.  I played about with the vent sizes & positions in Solidworks, using the flow analysis to achieve the maximum cooling effect.  The weather has been cold since I finished it - so I don't know how well it's worked yet.  Just in case, I put in the wiring for air conditioning just in case!

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That self levelling bed is inspired and an engineering masterpiece Si , as expected with your experience and background . 

I'm jumping forward a fair bit , but what was involved in getting it registered as a camper on the V5C ?

cheers

Steve b

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Oh.......
Love this one !
What type of Renault is that please ?
I am seriously considering building a moving office - and that bed is what I had in mind using cables - but the self leveling is a very , very clever idea !!!!!

Please keep this coming

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I watched a few videos on line about carpet lining - and it looked really easy!  However, when I tried it, it was a nightmare!  I decided to sub this out to a local company.  They did an OK job, but some of the finishing left a bit to be desired.  I think it was harder than they expected.
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You can see on the left, the start of my electrical panel.

In my old van, originally I had a 250Ah Lead Acid Battery.  One would think that would be plenty - and it was initially.  The problem is Lead Acid like being fully charged - but living away with only the solar and engine to charge it, it rarely got close to 100%.  I found that the battery was pretty much toast after 6 months.  Replaced it with a 'better' one - and that too only lasted 6 months.

I then replaced it with a 100Ah LiFePO4 battery - and it lasted ever since!  At least until I sold it.  Even though I had less capacity, after a few months it had more capacity than a Lead Acid.

For the next van, I decided LiFePO4 was the way to go.  I considered Electric Vehicle Batteries and had several saved searches on eBay.  Eventually something good (OTT) turned up.  A Guy was selling new 'Winston' LiFePO4 Cells - intended for EV's.  I enquired about a sensibly sized 300Ah pack - and he asked if I'd be interested in 780Ah worth of used cells, showing 98% Capacity for the same price.  Seemed a good bet to me - and he delivered them personally the next day.

The problem with such a large pack is the size / capacity of everything else has to increase with it - to give it a chance of being fully charged.  I bought 3 x 425W solar Panels from Bimble Solar (very good supplier by the way) and a chunky MPPT Solar Charger.  I looked at mains chargers, but they seemed incredibly expensive for what they were.  Instead I bought a 15V, 90A power supply from Farnell and turned down the voltage to 14.6 (the Max for the cells).  It was about £80 delivered.  I also bought a used Sterling 90A Battery-toBattery charger on eBay.  I needed one of these because the vehicle is Euro 6 and uses the Alternator for some energy recovery - so the battery voltage is rather too variable for a simple split charge.

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Who says I over-complicate things!

The three Solid State Relays are part of my battery protection scheme.  If the LiFePO4 gets too low (or too cold) some of the systems (one light and the heating) switch over to the main vehicle battery.  If it drops too low, everything switches off.  The little board with 4 blue relays is connected to the LiFePO4 battery management to enable / disable the various chargers / loads.

The Honkin' big battery also means I can run a Microwave, Coffee Machine - even a hair drier (if I had any hair) and the battery barely notices.

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25 minutes ago, steve b said:

That self levelling bed is inspired and an engineering masterpiece Si , as expected with your experience and background . 

I'm jumping forward a fair bit , but what was involved in getting it registered as a camper on the V5C ?

cheers

Steve b

I've kept it registered as a Commercial.  I need to be able to use it as a commercial at times.  While I'm away, I just park up by the side of the road.  On the outside, it's just a plain commercial white van with almost nothing to indicate it's a camper.  It draws no more attention than any other white van.
I deliberately didn't put windows in (though I've left spaces if it's next owner wants to) - figuring that, at night, there's not much to look at and they just pour heat out of the interior.

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31 minutes ago, Arjan said:

Oh.......
Love this one !
What type of Renault is that please ?
I am seriously considering building a moving office - and that bed is what I had in mind using cables - but the self leveling is a very , very clever idea !!!!!

Please keep this coming

It's a Renault Master Low Loader.  They are listed on Renault's web site - but they are generally built to order.  They are kind of like a LR Special Vehicles where they take a truck off the production line then send it to 'Truck Craft' who build the box back.  It's sold and warrantied by Renault and is IVA'd (sorry, not meant to mention IVA here!) by Renault.

Part of my requirement is to use it as a mobile office too - you'll have to wait for a later installment for that!

Si

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This is great Si! I really like the leveling bed idea vs having to level the vehicle each time when its a quick stop. Have you got any interior doors planned? Quick stops and not leveled properly in the caravan are OK, but he doors swinging by themselves gets annoying after a few hours.

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In the pictures above, you can see I've fitted a shower / bog.  The lining of that in plastic wall covering was the hardest bit of the job - and I'm not delighted with the fit & finish of it, though I did my best.  It is waterproof though.

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I struggled to find a decent thermostatic mixer tap for the Shower.  The ones made for Campers are made form the most horrible, cheap plastic and priced like they're made of Gold!  I ended up with a mixer tap for a Bidet!  It turned out the port size (hence the flow) is the same as most domestic taps - but the housing is tiny by comparison to Bath Mixers.

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That brings me neatly on to the heating & water system.  Again, it looks over-complicated, but I couldn't think of a simpler way of doing it!
The big blue thing is a 'Calorifier' - essentially a hot water cylinder.  It has two coils going through it.  One is heated directly by the Webasto which you can see burried top-left and the other takes hot water and circulates it through the underfloor heating.  The header tank & (blue) pump are for the heating.  The Black thing bottom left is the accumulator for the Hot Water and the Red thing is the accumulator for cold water.  I had originally intended that red & blue would signify hot & less hot - but it all got a bit muddled!

The water in the Calorifier heats to about 80C and has a thermostatic mixer which dilutes this with cold water - giving a temperature at the tap of about 40C.  It holds 25l of hot water - giving you about 40l at the tap (shower) without the Webasto.

In it's more finished guise, all this is boxed in and looks tidy!  It's all in the cupboard under the kitchen sink and the cupboard gets warm enough to act as an airing / drying cupboard.

On the last film, I spent a week on set, outdoors in heaving rain (miserable but fun).  Having the cupboard to dry clothes and in particular my boots over night was a godsend!  Warm Towels are nice too!  I'm going soft aren't I!

 

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8 minutes ago, landroversforever said:

This is great Si! I really like the leveling bed idea vs having to level the vehicle each time when its a quick stop. Have you got any interior doors planned? Quick stops and not leveled properly in the caravan are OK, but he doors swinging by themselves gets annoying after a few hours.

I only have a door to the cab and a shower / bog door - and they latch closed (both being gas tight).  A gas-tight bog door is a plus - keeping unfortunate smells inside!

The bed is controlled by an Arduino with an IMU to detect level.  It drives 2 x 2 Channel RoboClaw motor controllers.  It just has 4 buttons to control it - Up, Down, Level and E-Stop (just in case!)

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Simon, thanks for the write up, very interesting.

Must be a big advantage of it being disguised as a white van to not being disturbed by keepers of the law, or indeed by those who don't keep to the law.

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