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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
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.
 

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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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That's keeponvaning RD ;) !

You must be getting camping fever !
 

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...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
 

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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.
**** 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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Discussion Starter #6
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.

 

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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 (http://www.promasterforum.com/forum/showpost.php?p=249529&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!
 

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Discussion Starter #8
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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Discussion Starter #9
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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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...
 

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Discussion Starter #11
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...
  • Apr 28 - order placed
  • May 12 - VIN assigned
  • Jun 5 - Confirmed build date
  • Jun 30 - build complete - sent to body vendor
  • Aug 1 - at rail yard - ETA 9-11 to 9-17
  • Sep 13 - pickup at dealer

I found the status code and process description at ramforumz helpful, and checked in with both FCA online chat and my dealer. Sometimes the dealer had more information than FCA online could provide - I don't think online chat ever gave me a build date.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Yeah, mine spent about a month waiting for a train too. Aug 1-early September. I didn't get an eta until late August if i recall correctly. I just kept bugging my dealer for an ETA every week. Didn't change the timeline, but made me feel better :)
 

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Been following your progress since my wife and I had a similar list of things we were looking for. Ended up just buying a pre-built camper (Carado Axion) and I plan to make several modifications from this base camper. We are coming from a 'well loved' 2002 VW Eurovan Camper and the most wanted improvements are; 1. Indoor toilet and shower. 2. Winter camping capability - like really cold back country Canadian ski camping.

I have my work cut out for me.. Just got back from the maiden voyage; Oregon to Moab to South Padre Island, TX and back again via Phoenix. Overall, I'm happy with the new rig but am still getting used to everything. Insulation is a priority now since the fresh water plumbing system freezes up when it's about 20 degrees F outside.

I am really impressed with the Alde heater (hydronic - does cabin heat and water heating) and think there are some really interesting possibilities with running the heated glycol mix next to my plumbing lines. I also want to explore running a line through the holding tank to keep it from freezing. I think this was implemented on the new Winnebego Revel, which is the first I've heard of this idea.

Good luck on your build and keep us posted..
 

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For a start, I'd suggest keep it simple.

Make a bed platform with mattress, quilt, etc for sleep system.
Use a "camp stove" for cook (and morning heat).
Get a porta-potty for toilet.
Portable table(s) (for the swivel seats) as seating for dining/work surface (either one or perhaps 2 TV trays).
Use Rubbermaid tubs for storage (stack and secure with straps during travel).
Use "coolers" for refridgeration (perhaps one with ice another 12v powered).
Insulate/vapor barrier (if you also panel the roof at this point, allow for removal).

Now .... use it! It may only take a few trips to decide what you really want and where.

Make notes on each trip considering things like:
Was the bed platform too high or too low?
Use tape to mark where a light would be helpful (e.g. use tape marked with "spot", "fill", "dimmer", "night", etc)
Where would be best for the roof fan (front, rear, both)?
Is temporary interior dining/work surface sufficient or a built in solution needed?
What storage is required "inside" versus storage from the rear doors (segregate tubs)?
Where would you like a window or two?
How many burners on the stove were necessary?
Did you miss having an oven or microwave?
Is the porta-potty sufficient for "emergency use" or is a builtin needed?
Is a sponge bath sufficient or is a shower needed?
Is thermostatic heat needed or is sporadic use acceptable?

As you built up your list of must haves and wants, recognise that some "systems" can be costly, complicated, and/or higher maintenance (e.g. hot water shower, plumbed fresh/waste water, central heat, etc).

Your layout, power requirements, etc become much more clear, and you don't "overbuild/overspend".

One last point, don't build for "resale". Any future buyer is most likely going to rip out your build, possibly to reuse, delete, or add to *your* "systems".
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
Getting caught up on my build thread... Insulation and Floor

After reading many forum posts on insulation, I've settled on a hybrid approach. I've got 50 ft of SM600L Thinsulate for the walls and ceiling, and am using polyiso for the floor. My goals are to get excellent acoustic insulation and good heat insulation for the van, without compromising roof height. I'm just over 6' tall, so have about 2" between the floor and roof ribs while wearing shoes. I want to be able to stand up straight, at least in bare feet. Since this is a first pass at the van layout, I don't want something too difficult to remove later, so gluing down anything isn't ideal. That's also the reason I decided against FatMat or other sound deadening - we'll see how Thinsulate does on its own.

My plan for the floor is to build something completely removable. Many people will glue down their floor to ensure it's secure, but I've decided to anchor the floor only at the 8 lashing points. Simple and easy to change out later if needed.

Various people have put a layer of foam (minicel, polyiso) between the floor corrugations, then another layer of foam on top, but I have access to a CNC machine, so decided to model the corrugations and carve a standard 1" sheet of polyiso to match them. It's an easy way to get back into CNC design, and might be useful for someone else. Foil-faced polyisocyanurate is inexpensive and easy to find at most lumberyards and home improvement stores, so I decided to start with that. Carving the polyiso is easy, and can be done at high speeds - I used 12000 RPM, 3 ips feed rate with a 1/2" end mill and that worked fine. Probably could go much faster if I needed to. Issues I discovered:

- with a standard upcut spiral endmill, it will tear the foil facing rather than cutting it. A downcut endmill works just fine
- I need to get better at measuring and modelling. I'm learning Fusion 360 in the process, and didn't double-check some of my measurments after trying rectangular patterns for the first time.

After much fiddling with Fusion 360 and the Shopbot Alpha over the past month, I got my designs and g-code working well enough to cut all the floor pieces. Fun, but a steep learning curve. I finally figured out that I could run the feed rate much higher than default, which improved throughput greatly. Some frustrations with Fusion 360 not doing what I'd expect, but mostly it has been really useful.

I discovered that the San Jose Techshop has a loading dock, which is useful for dropping off and picking things up in the van.

Overall, if I were to do it again, I'd just sacrifice the 3/8" and lay 1" polyiso directly on the corrugations. Had I gone that route, I would have had the polyiso installed 3 weeks earlier, and be moving on to the plywood.

 

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Discussion Starter #17
Floor and tools

Rather than deciding on a final floor for the van, I decided on some cheap 1/4" Maple plywood from Lowes and remaindered paint. That will let me build a template floor and test it out before deciding on a final floor. That was positive, but I also learned that TechShop closed its doors on Nov 15, and that means no more CNC access as well as no drill press, table saw, panel saw, table router, bandsaw, milling machine etc. This means I need to dramatically simplify our build, and reduce the tool requirements. I can get away without most of these, but based on previous experience, using a circular saw to rip exact and clean cuts in plywood is an exercise in frustration. I've ordered a Track Saw, and we'll see if that is sufficient for my needs. Based on other people's reports, a track saw and associated track definitely can give the precision I need. Based on several reviews I decided on the Makita 6000 - I couldn't justify the premium for the Festool, as nice as it looked.

... a few days later...

Between track saw and jigsaw, I've cut the 1/4" maple ply to fit, and test fit in the van. A good Thanksgiving project. I'm quite pleased with the tracksaw, although the Makita instructions are pretty brief and limited. I'm not convinced I'm getting the precision that it's capable of, but it's good enough for this project.



I did need to trim some of the polyiso to fit, so my measurements and CAD drawings aren't quite accurate. I guess that's no longer too relevant without access to a CNC machine to replicate them, and they were close enough that a bit of work with a knife convinced them to fit. The holes for the tie-down points are almost all in the right location, so now I need to purchase and cut the discs for the tie-down points.

I haven't talked about my plan for tie-down point reinforcement before. Since I'm attaching the floor only at the tie-down points, and the tie-down points also need to be solidly attached to the frame in order to be usable, I don't like the idea of just having a plywood and polyiso sandwich with the tie-down points bolted through it. Instead I've cut 2" diameter holes in the polyiso, and will put 2" diameter and 1" tall cylinders under the plywood at each tie-down point.

I got some 1" HDPE (cutting board material) from TAP plastics, and used it for both tie-down disks and edging at the doors. I also the 2" diameter disks from 1" HDPE using a hole saw and hand drill. Unfortunately, HDPE is very easy to melt, so for many of the disks, the process was very slow. Near the end, I discovered that cutting each disk slightly overlapping the previous one allowed the swarf from the cut to escape, which dramatically reduced the melting and binding. It would have been much more fun to cut these out on a CNC waterjet if I still had access.

 

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Discussion Starter #18
More floor

This is a temporary floor, so I'm using cheap 1/4" maple plywood, mainly to see how well it stands up. We decided to paint it with remaindered house paint, again since it's temporary. Eventually we'll put down a more robust floor, probably covered with sheet linoleum or vinyl, but this will do for now.



To locate the holes for the tie-down points in the plywood, I used a trick (borrowed from someone I'm sure) for marking the plywood. Basically, take an M8 1.5"/40mm bolt, drill a hole in the center of the head, insert a point (small wire, ball bearing, etc.) and set the bolt so it is slightly proud of the surface. Then place the plywood on top, and hammer down over each tie-down point. This marks the tie-down points on the plywood, and then I could drill appropriate (oversized) holes at the marked points. I didn't have any ball bearings, so used finishing nail tips, secured with epoxy. Not ideal, one of the points eventually fell out, but good enough for the 8 locations I needed.




With appropriate equipment and materials, it would be much more effective to take M8 rod, cut it to length and grind a point onto it. Lacking access to Tech Shop, I asked my father to mail me some M8 points, but only requested 1/2" length, not 1.5", so couldn't use them for this. They'll be helpful on the walls.

Since polyiso is fairly easy to compress or damage, I didn't want to have it right at the door entries. Instead I added a 1"x1" HDPE strip at each door.



This took more work than I expected, since the corrugations in the original floor of the van were within 1" of the edge of the plywood at the rear doors. I routed a 3/8" channel in the 1" HDPE and that worked well. I also covered the plywood with 3/4" x 1/16" aluminum angle, screwed to the plywood and HDPE. That works nicely, and gives a simple and fairly clean edge at each door sill.

 

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Good work - in the end, following the KISS principle always seems to be the best method out there.
 

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Gee three weeks to get a temporary floor down?
I guess I am glad I laid 1/2” polyiso on the ribs, scribed it to the edges and finalized the 1/2” hardwood plywood pattern in cardboard, painted it with deck paint, and installed it just after lunch the same day.
I’d still be building nearly three years later. That shop closing was the best thing that could have happened for you.
 
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