Woohoo! I bought a van!
I’ve always loved the idea of van life. My first experience of it when I travelled New Zealand for two months a few years ago made me dream of owning a van or even living in one full time.
Fast forward to 2020 and I had no idea that I’d actually purchase one. But yeah, I don’t think anyone really anticipated what 2020 had in store!
Being in Australia, and more precisely in the strictest state during COVID-19, Victoria, I know there won’t be any international travel for a while. So it’s time to explore this country via road trips!
The purchase of this particular van, a 2004 Ford Econovan (otherwise known as a Mazda Bongo HAHA or a Mazda E2200), was not really the original plan. I had my eyes on a much larger and boxier Ford Sprinter or Transit which are the ones you usually see decked out like a full tiny house on Instagram. However the limitation of a 5km radius lockdown in Melbourne (and other factors) ultimately came in to play, so I decided to purchase something much smaller for my first ever camper van conversion.
Anyway, I thought I’d share a little on the backstory of the van and my Ford Econovan conversion future plans.
*** She’s finished! Check out this tour of my Ford Econovan camper van and how we built it! ***
Why This Ford Econovan?
I had been looking for a van to buy for about 2-3 months whilst in the midst of the Melbourne lockdown 2.0. Turns out so was the rest of Melbourne and in fact, Australia.
With no international travel on the radar for a while, everyone has been rushing out to buy vans and campers in order to some interstate travel. Especially as summer is approaching and it’s starting to warm up. Despite being a member of tonnes of van and car sale groups, watching Marketplace, Gumtree and car sale websites like a hawk, they were snapped in days.
Then this Ford Econovan/Mazda E2200 appeared on a group and it was nearby in Melbourne, so I could actually view it. I rushed to see it the evening I enquired and put a $500AUD deposit down then and there. I then gave the seller the remainder, $8,000AUD in cash when I picked it up.
Having been previously owned by a pub who only used it for a run around for their kegs, the milage is crazy low for the age of the vehicle (under 60,000km). They then sold it to one of the young lads who worked there. He only owned it for 4 months and was selling it to get a 4×4, like all his mates.
The low milage, pristine condition and the fact it was mechanically sound sold me. There was no point spending the same (or less) on a massive van with hundreds of thousands of km’s on the clock only for it to be an expensive pain in the ass with problem after problem.
So although it’s way tighter than I planned (and a bit more expensive), I have loads of ideas how to maximise the space and I’m going to make being small part of its charm!
- Super low milage – less than 60,000 kms
- Mechanically sound – it had two roadworthy inspections in July 2020 and again in October 2020 with zero mechanical issues.
- Condition – the van has been well looked after by the previous owner. The interior has been repainted, tires are new and the condition of the furnishings are incredible for its age.
- Number of previous owners – as I mentioned previously the main owner was a pub. The young staff member who owned it after them didn’t use it for any trips before he sold it due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was just sat in his garage. So it basically had one previous owner which is nearly unheard of for a vehicle of this age.
- Discrete – if I need to do an emergency sneaky city sleep or run into the city for an errand, I don’t have to worry about parking or driving around in a huge vehicle.
- Parking – fits perfectly into one of the small vertical parks on my road. Which considering free and permit parking here is so limited, is amazing.
- Quick to fit out – hopefully with a vehicle this size it will be a lot quicker to do up and consequently get out on the road!
- Drives well – tight turning circle, drives like a dream whilst being very fuel efficient.
I have a more recent post about the final van build here, but here were my initial ideas for layout and design!
For sleeping, I am going for a pop-up tent mounted to the top on a roof rack. My partner found this awesome Kings Kwiky Hard Shell Rooftop tent and by some weird fluke, found a guy on Facebook marketplace selling one he’d used once for $900AUD (instead of the RRP at $1,400AUD). My partner also kindly purchased the roof rack to mount it for me, at a cost of $300AUD.
Sleeping up top will save heaps of space inside so that it can be fully utilised for living and dining.
The hard shell rooftop tent just unclips either side. You push one side up and the gas strut lifts it up followed by the other side and voila – a tent on the roof with next to no set up! A fold out ladder attaches to the vehicle and you can climb up in a few steps.
The beauty with this that you can keep your bedding in it too. So when you want to go, you can literally squash it down and pull the straps on the hard case, so it folds up in seconds! It will be ideal for a couple as sleeping two people in this Ford Econovan, along with storage and living would otherwise be a little tight.
That being said, when it is just me, I will sleep inside. The plan is to have a seating bench which will also slide out some width to make a single bed. Storage underneath nearest the drivers seats will be stow the bedding.
Kitchen & cooking
Underneath the rest of the seat-come-bed at the back, we will fit various cooking benches and kitchen essentials like a gas stove, which you slide outside like a big draw. When you’re done, you just slide it back into the seating bench and it is completely out of sight.
To the rear, there will be more kitchen space such as a small fridge and a fold out table.
As the van has a backdoor that lifts up as opposed to barn doors, this will provide a useful bit of cover for cooking.
Living & dining
Back inside there will be a small table folding in/out from the wall so I can work from my laptop or watch something at night. Overhead storage will be at the opposite side of the seating-bench/single bed/hidden slide out kitchen.
To maximise outdoor space I’m planning on having awning attached from the roof rack to pull out over the sliding side door. This will be ideal for chilling to eat dinner or hanging out during the day when you don’t want to be sat in the van. I already have camping chairs, rugs and a table, so they will be perfect to set up under it.
As I said, this plan will likely change with budget, material availability and if any new ideas crop up. But that’s what’s on the cards right now!
What part of the van fit out is first?
- As the hard shell rooftop tent, roof rack and awning has already been purchased, we’ll install those to the outside of the vehicle first.
- Inside, the focus will be on insulating (against temperature and acoustics). This is super important to not only protect us inside from the extreme temperate fluctuations in Australia (from snow to mid 40 degrees!) but also to stop condensation which could lead to rust. Insulation should make it sound proof both when driving and parked up at a camp site. I’ve bought 10sq/m of 10mm thick van insulation that sticks on, and some silver tape for the joins, at a cost of $257AUD from Car Builders.
- After this, I’m planning on solar panels to power the fridge and charge my electrical items like my phone, laptop and camera. Once totally wired inside and the panel set up on top of the tent box, we’ll tackle fitting the ceiling.
- The interior will be done last. I want to spend a bit more time working it out and get a better feel for the space when doing the ceiling and walls.
All I know at this stage is that I am going for a wooden ceiling and floor, white walls and hints of turquoise furnishings.
Yeww – now for the fun bit!
The immediate plan is to be a weekend warrior for a while, taking trips around Victoria such as to Lakes Entrance, Gippsland, Bendigo and more! There is still so much of this lush green state I have not yet visited.
Once interstate travel is allowed by the Victorian government, I plan to head further afield taking road trips to Uluru and Adelaide! I have not yet visited the outback so that is definitely on the cards!
I also desperately want to go back to Tasmania and spend a couple of weeks getting to know it from a totally different perspective.
As I work remotely right now, the dream would be to live in this van a little more permanently and travel for long periods of time doing my 9-5. I’ll see how I go but it is definitely an ultimate goal!
So, that’s the van! I hope I haven’t bored you to death about my Ford Econovan conversion project and my future travel plans!
If you would like to ask any questions, please feel free and I would be happy to help!
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