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post #1 of 83 Old 09-04-2017, 09:05 PM Thread Starter
dttocs
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MVC - minimum viable camper

My wife and I have a 159“ high roof promaster 2500 on order, planning to convert into a camper for travel and boondocking. I’m calling it MVC the ”minimum viable camper" for now, because the goal is to get something usable as quickly as possible, then keep improving it over time. Ideally something we can take on a trip without much planning/forethought/reconstruction, but we’ll see.

I’ve been lurking/reading forums and blogs for a long time (probably too long) - first link I have saved is the Heat Loss Calculator from GaryBIS back in early 2015. I’ve got some experience with house building/renovation, plumbing and electrical, but the vehicle thing is all new. It’s also an excuse to try building some things using new tools (CNC, waterjet, milling machine, CNC, waterjet) that I now have access to. The trick will be to turn my dreams into plans and then into reality!

We currently camp/hike/bike out of a Honda Fit, and have successfully carried 2 bikes + camping gear for 2 weeks in it (without exterior racks!), but my wife is having more difficulty sleeping on the ground, and needs a CPAP at night, so we need something more than a tent. We want something that is reasonable to drive up fire roads in National Forest/BLM land, since we enjoy dispersed camping/boondocking.

We’ve rented a variety of options for upsizing, including:
  • a Sprinter-based class C RV with slider (palatial, but challenging for dispersed camping, terrible gas mileage, terrible construction quality)
  • a T1N Sprinter-based Roadtrek (nice, easy to drive, rotating front seats are great, too much space used for wet bath, third seat, mediocre construction quality for the price)
  • a Grand Caravan outfitted for camping with a bed and small kitchen in the back (too much setup/teardown, not usable in inclement weather)

Our end goal is something usable as a biking/hiking base camp, viable for use in inclement weather for two. This includes interior space for:
  • comfortable bed
  • cooking and eating space
  • toilet
    comfortable space for computer work x2 (photo processing, occasional remote work)

Now, our definition of “minimum viable” is certainly different from others, but we’ll be starting from an empty shell, and want at least the floor in fairly quickly. The bed will be a pretty close second, followed by ventilation.

We are living in Northern California at the moment, so weather when we’re camping is usually pretty moderate, but we miss cross-country skiing, and will likely move back to Canada at some point. That means for today planning for moderate-high temperatures, but being able to use the van (and stay in it) below 0C / 32F is a goal.

After driving the three main options (Sprinter, Transit, Promaster), we decided on a Promaster and placed a factory order. Key deciding factors:
  • ease of driving (my wife was OK with the Sprinter but didn’t like how the 148" Transit drove)
  • front wheel drive means lower cargo area, lower roof for equivalent internal height
  • talking to people using the Promaster in winter, the front wheel drive is reasonable in snow
  • availability of service (compared to Sprinter)
  • cost (compared to Sprinter)
  • I like the idea of improved fuel economy with diesel, but increased fuel costs, complex emission control and lack of availability when we ordered led to a gas engine. We decided to factory order primarily to get the swivel seats, upfitter switches and heavy duty alternator. A wife requirement was also not-white color, making a factory order pretty much mandatory.

Van should be delivered to the dealer in mid-September, so if all goes well we’ll start the build from there.

Last edited by dttocs; 09-04-2017 at 09:06 PM. Reason: formatting
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post #2 of 83 Old 09-05-2017, 07:41 AM
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Welcome. In a 159 you can have a full time bed 54” wide and storage under. See ProEddie’s for ideas, or KeepInVaning’s if bunks are a better option, or Steve’s Backroader.

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post #3 of 83 Old 09-05-2017, 08:18 AM
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That's keeponvaning RD !

You must be getting camping fever !

2014, High Top/159 WB, 2500 gas Promaster camping conversion. https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=43121
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post #4 of 83 Old 09-05-2017, 08:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dttocs View Post
...planning to convert into a camper for travel and boondocking. I’m calling it MVC the ”minimum viable camper" for now, because the goal is to get something usable as quickly as possible, then keep improving it over time...
Greetings and welcome... and best wishes on the new arrival and build.

On "improving over time"... my wife and i started out with a bare cargo van with our Van V1.0 (chevy awd conversion). We built up a couple of versions of the interior with simple wood framing and tweaked the interior build over about two years. During this time it was all very usable (and enjoyable). Once we had things dialed in to our liking we drove to Van Specialties in Portland Oregon (~2hrs from us on the Oregon Coast) and they worked their magic taking ques from our wood mock up.

Funny thing was upon arriving at VS they showed us several other "mock ups" from other van's they'd worked on. Some peeps were actually driving around with 2" x 6" lumber for framing! I didn't feel so bad with my 1" x 4"

Thom

Greetings from the WET! Coast of Oregon, USA
>=====> Our ProMaster: 2017 2500 159wb HR 3.6L
Purchased 9/1/2017 Custom camper conversion completed 1/9/2018.
> Build thread link at the forum <
> Interior Image link <

Last edited by accrete; 09-05-2017 at 08:33 PM.
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post #5 of 83 Old 09-07-2017, 10:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RDinNHandAZ View Post
Welcome. In a 159 you can have a full time bed 54” wide and storage under. See ProEddie’s for ideas, or KeepInVaning’s if bunks are a better option, or Steve’s Backroader.
**** fly’n fingers. My small rural high school gave me a choice of Physics OR Personal Typing. I took Physics. Who new that firty years latter we would still need to tipe? Thanks goodness Newton’s Laws still work!

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Campervan build see:https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=37177
You can browse my build pictures at http://tinypic.com/RDsPictures
Conversion Costs see: https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=85761
$500 solar and $700 complete Electrical: https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=71562
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post #6 of 83 Old 09-17-2017, 12:12 AM Thread Starter
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Van has arrived!

After 14 weeks of waiting, our van finally arrived at the dealer. Longer than we had hoped, but it's here, and in one piece. 31 miles on the odometer is pretty new. We took it for a test drive and got mildly spooked by the acrid burning smell coming from the engine compartment. Fortunately it turned out to be some underbody overspray on the exhaust that was burning off. All of our long list of options were installed, although we couldn't find the engine block heater cord. The service department at the dealer couldn't help much - in central California nobody orders a block heater!

Now that we have our van, the process of conversion seems pretty overwhelming. It feels like a huge cavern, filled with options and possibilities. I've been reading and researching for a couple of years now, so now everything gets real.

Before starting on actual conversion work, I want to ensure I'm starting from a good place. Going through my stash of saved posts, there are a number of things to check on. It's good to know about them in advance.
  1. Clogged Drainage hole by driver side wiper - indeed, it was clogged. The passenger side was fine, but looks like these will require regular clean-out.
  2. Water infiltration at front clearance lights - I pulled the clips holding the headliner in place, got my wife to bend it down and look, and I sprayed the clearance lights with a hose. Most were OK, but one had a bit of water coming in. Just a few drips, but enough that I'm planning to add some silicone to the gasket and screw holes. Whatever the fix was in 2015, it's still happening on new builds.

There are others, but I'll tackle them as I go.

I also started looking at the interior, and found a few things I wasn't expecting.

It took quite a while, and careful reading of the manual, to figure out how to swivel the factory swivels. The "lever" is basically a square pad which makes up the entire lower corner of the seat. I do like the factory swivels and lower seat bases - comfortable and seem to work well. The seat belt integrated into the seat is easier to deal with than other swivels we've used too. One downside is there is basically no space under the seat. The jack and tools were zip-tied to the back of the driver's seat, and I'll need to find another home for them as our build progresses.




There were quite a few metal shavings on the floor of the van, and I was wondering where they came from. When I started removing the upper wall panelling, I discovered a couple of holes on the C pillar had been either added or enlarged. Not sure what else I'll find when I remove the rest of the panels to insulate.

Even with the side wall panels in place, there were a few places to try out my new Astro 1442 nut setting tool and AliExpress M8 Rivnuts as recommended by KilWerBzz. I'm not convinced on the Astro 1442 - it's hard to compress the rivnuts, or perhaps I just need to improve my upper body strength.



The side walls panels are black and cover most of the walls. I picked upper and lower panels since they were the same price as lowers, knowing that we would remove most or all of the uppers when adding windows. The noise level in the van wasn't as bad as I feared, so I think the panels may be helping a bit with noise abatement. Noise abatement is still my first priority, or perhaps second after adding a floor.

Attached Images
File Type: jpg 2017-09-16-factory-swivel-base.jpg (62.7 KB, 1002 views)
File Type: jpg 2017-09-16-rivnut-install.jpg (47.1 KB, 1002 views)
File Type: jpg 2017-09-16-side-wall-panel-driver.jpg (61.8 KB, 993 views)
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post #7 of 83 Old 09-17-2017, 06:48 AM
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The filings you found are in fact from enlarged holes used to attach the upper panels. I found a few of the same color on my 2015 136. I’d suggest Dicor Lap Seal instead of silicone. You will probably need some someday. Amazon or a camper dealer and get the non leveling type for that light.
I think the panels are great and removed mine to insulate, cut windows through them, and replaced them for interior finish. This saves a ton of work and keeps your campervan looking like a van not like the inside of a sauna or cabin with wood everywhere or like a plastic toy gone large with white FRP panels. Peep at my thread about page 7 (https://www.promasterforum.com/forum/...9&postcount=66) to see pics of them with the modular pieces in place and the overhead cabinets and ceiling. I wish they had been tan!

2015 136" HT Diesel 1500 Sandstone Pearl Metallic
Campervan build see:https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=37177
You can browse my build pictures at http://tinypic.com/RDsPictures
Conversion Costs see: https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=85761
$500 solar and $700 complete Electrical: https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=71562
If you must make a mistake, make a new one each time.
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post #8 of 83 Old 09-18-2017, 02:15 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks RD,

I had read your thread, but forgot that you had kept the upper panels as well. I may paint them though - JohnnyBeSurfing did and they look quite good.

Good point on using something other than silicone - the nice thing with silicone is it is available in clear, where most of the automotive/RV caulks don't have something likely to match a Sand van. Maybe the Dicor will be OK in Tan - I'll give that a try.
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post #9 of 83 Old 12-10-2017, 04:34 PM Thread Starter
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For the water infiltration into the marker lamps, I decided to use the non-levelling Dicor Lap Sealant, which worked well. From the factory the only thing keeping water out is a thin gasket, and the marker lights will wobble when moved, so I'm not surprised there's leaks. I took them off, added a thin bead of sealant and re-seated them. No leaks so far.



It will mean replacing bulbs needs to be done from inside, but I'm thinking I may do a one-time replacement with LEDs. I recall someone doing this using LEDs that fit in the stock sockets, but can't find it. (Not what KilWerBzz did - someone else)

See this thread for more details.
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post #10 of 83 Old 12-11-2017, 09:23 AM
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Congrats on your new van. Just curious, when did you order? I'm on week 16 and no end in sight. On a side note, I also got the upper and lower paneling. Decided I liked RD's thinking on that subject. Also ordered factory swivels. If only I could get my hands on the van so I can start the process...

2018 Promaster 136" HT gasser w/ factory driver and passenger swivels, factory rear and side windows 220amp alternator, factory upper and lower interior panels, rear 12v outlet, cruise control.

Build Pics:
https://photos.app.goo.gl/nxT7UZvyRZHK9oXs8
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