Most motorhomes on the market have small entrance doors, and even in some panel-van motorhomes the door opening is reduced by cupboards. I find that this creates a claustrophobic atmosphere inside.
To me, the attraction of the panel van is the wide door; so, when sitting inside, I am in full contact with the surrounding nature. That’s why I wanted to modify my motorhome myself. I chose the Nissan NV350 Wide.
As there is not enough width for an island bed, I planned for two lengthwise beds in the back with thick 150mm mattresses. The beds had to be permanent, and there had to be space to sit at a table inside. I was prepared to compromise about cooking inside, except for making tea or coffee and having a microwave oven.
There also had to be maximum accessibility from the outside, especially for things needed along the road such as the fridge, glasses and cutlery. I also wanted a thoroughfare to and from the driver’s seat to the back.
I used mainly 38x38mm batten wood and hardboard throughout the conversion. These are cheap and easy to work with. I then finished off with a carpet covering. The floor was first covered with underfelt carpet, then hardboard and carpet tiles. This has given us excellent insulation and noise damping.
The drawers’ front panel and the shelving frontal edges were made of 6mm varnished pine plywood. The table tops were made using 20mm varnished-pine shelving planks.
For the windows, I used 3mm polycarbonate and a special polyurethane adhesive, as almost nothing sticks to polycarbonate. I could not use glass as the surface is slightly curved. For the opening windows, I used Dometic shutters, each with two loose frames on the inside. One frame was fitted with polycarbonate for when we were driving, and the other with fly screen, fitted in camp.
Nissan NV350 Wide Motorhome Conversion Images
The battens are glued to the body work with polyurethane. The battens were all slightly warped, so coach screws were needed to keep them aligned and fixed whilst the polyurethane set. Hardboard was screwed in, and – only where structural strength was needed – also glued.
The roof of the van has a reinforced channel with threaded holes (probably for a roof-rack mounting) that came in handy for anchoring the top shelf and for the awning.
Everything is 220V, even the fridge. One 220V circuit supplies the power items such as the microwave, kettle, etc; and the other a plug mounted next to a plug from the inverter. The rest of the 220V is now fed from either plug outlet, or from the inverter plug outlet.
For the awning, I used an 80mm plastic pipe cut in half lengthwise, and suitably reinforced at the hinges with a steel pipe, also cut in half, mounted inside the plastic pipe. All steel has been galvanised. I was forced to put aluminium angle over the opening to conceal the crinkle-cut line. It is a manual roll up/down awning held out with two poles at each end forming a triangle. This does away with the need for legs to the ground, while still offering wind resistance.
The kitchen sink consists of two plastic basins that fit into each other. The fixed one has a drain, while the loose one is normally used to do the dishes outside or at the camping scullery. When running water is required inside, a 10L jerry can with a tap rests on the ledge above the sink.
I spent all my free time for 3 months on this project before the motorhome was useable, and we made our first trip. In June 2015, I bought my 2014 panel van with 60 000km on the clock, for R250 000. I spent another R50 000 on materials, making a total of R300 000.
I love my custom-made camper. I would not want to swap with fellow campers in their motor homes. In my camper, I can easily drive narrow streets, park in a normal bay, handle traffic, etc.
And when we are camping, and extreme and weather conditions chase us inside, we find that it is not claustrophobic in spite of its small dimensions!