Friday 8 November 2013

Converting Sea Breeze

It all started on father's day 2009 when, as I was opening the door of my church, I saw across the street my neighbour having his head under the bonnet of his Ford Transit.

"What's the matter?" I asked, "Problem with the engine?"
"No" Chris said, and then in the course of our discussion I found that Chris was buying another van for his work and was going to get rid of this one.
"Are you selling it?" I asked?
"No, who's gonna buy this? I'm giving it to be scrapped"

"Don't do that" I said, "Give it to me"
"No, you don't want this van. It's an old van and it had its day" Chris said.
After no small effort I managed to persuade him to give me the van instead of scrapping it. Chris agreed to let me have the van for free, only I had to take it for an MOT first so that he can have the peace of mind that it's still a safe van to drive.
Done! And here it is!!!

--- Home-conversions of Vans are allowed in the U.K. but please before you begin do check if this is the case in your own country. ---

I showed the van to a man who worked across the street from my home. I said to him: "I am getting this van and I am going to convert it".

"Why, man" he said, "This is a wreck"

I told the story to my son, Francis, who said: "It won't be a wreck when you're done with it, dad"

Some would call this "natural wear and tear"...

Does the radio work?

This is what it looked like inside in the rear.

A worn-out double passenger seat.

Let's see if this van can be converted from an old and tired work-horse to a....   Sea Breeze.

 OFF WE GO....

No this van is not going to be removed and destroyed.
It's going to be RESTORED and CONVERTED.

I cannot emphasise enough that before you begin, you must dream the dream.  Spend time to design on paper what you want.  This is now my second conversion and I designed the space having in mind just my wife and myself.  The first conversion I made was a VW LT35 and that was a very different story. I had to make sleeping space for my wife, myself and our six children.

Here are a couple of pictures of the old van
and the family back in those days, long, long ago..

Camping in Devon (above)
and Wales (left)

So begin by dreaming and planning. I don't think that you could over-plan... Try to think about where everything would go...

 Back to our conversion.....

First some elbow grease to clean the old horse...
Some Jiff came in handy scrubbing the dashboard and other plastic surfaces such as the insides of doors. Once they were cleaned, rubbing some vaseline made them look as good as new.

Lifting the old carpet gave me a chance to clean and also take care of any rusty spots. All I had to do with those, since they were not bad at all, was to sand them down and then paint over with some hammerite paint.

It might not be a bad idea to take a few photos of the empty shell and measure where exactly the steel beams are which would be used to fix things on, i.e. the wood panels.


I ripped off the old plywood from the floor as it was worn out, and cleaned underneath

Some good sweeping and mopping made the floor look just fine

Anna gives a hand to clean the floor.

Then off to buy things from the scrap yards. First I visited a chap who broke down Ford Transits. I bought things from him like:

A front bumper, lights, steering wheel, a wheel cap, a single passenger seat, a driver seat etc.

Then off to a Caravan scrap yard to buy things like windows from old caravans, a leg for the table (more of this later), rubbers for windows, hinges for overhead lockers etc.

I bought a fridge as well but then I took it back because I just couldn't find the space for it.
I figured out that in our case it was more necessary to have a proper heater than a fridge.

Here Anna makes the caravan windows look new.

Ok let's take out the old double passenger seat and let's replace it with the one we bought from the scrapyard.  We cleaned it and made it look great.
For some jobs just one pair of hands in not enough. So here comes my son Petros to give me a hand and bold the new seat in place.

I think we only needed to make just one hole on the floor as all the rest fit in place.

Then we went on to cut the holes for the windows.
Using an electric jigsaw is simple enough as the steel panels aren't all that thick.

I had to cut off the metal panel that was on top of the driver seat because I wanted to bring it lower and create a bed / storage space there. A small window was also placed at the front.

When you think of cutting the panels for the windows I would advice that you don't cut any of the thick beams that give strength to the body of the van.
Just measure the length and hight of the panels and buy windows that would fit there.
In total I bought 5 windows. One on top at the front as we saw before. One on the side behind the driver seat (seen here above), one for the sliding door and one for near the back where to toilet was going to be (see here on the right).

Then off to the building merchants to buy some plywood.
I wanted to buy marine ply but because it's quite expensive, I bought WBP plywood.
WBP stands for Weather and Boil proof and it's pretty good stuff.
I wanted something that was weather proof so just in case I had a water leak it was not going to be the end of the world.

Before I got into placing the panels I had to do the electrics.

It's very important to think well about your electrical needs and do your electrical installation first.

Once the electric were in then the insulation could go in and the panels on top.

I used fibreglass for insulation the stuff people put on lofts.

You've got to have at least one more pair of hands to be placing the insulation  and screw the panels in place.

This is true especially for the ceiling.

The panels are screwed on the steel beams that run down from top to bottom.

After that I decided to cover the panels with wall paper.
You may decide to paint instead.
I am not all that good with wall-paper but I thought that the anaglypha paper was going to be good in my case.

Anna is much better with detail so she gave me a hand with the wall-papering.

I put fibreglass insulation underneath the floor panels as well.
Then on top of the panels an off-cut of carpet that I found for free, gave it that touch of class. Plus, of course, it adds to the insulation.

Cutting the carpet is pretty straight-forward and once cut I used contact adhesive (what my American friends call rubber cement, I think) to keep it in place.
I carpeted the entire floor (almost), at the front too as you can see in this photo. I took off the front seats to lay the carpet and then bolted them in place.

I don't like carpet in my kitchen or toilet and I figured that this should be the case for my campervan as well.
Again another free off-cut of lino was the perfect solution.

Here it is taking shape now...

I must admit that when I get into a project like this I work from the very early hours of the morning till very late at night. Especially because I only worked on my days off.

Some times I do have to be reminded to eat. Thank God for Anna who made sure that I was fed and watered during the whole project.

I bought some new electric lights (both 12V and 220V).
I didn't like anything out of the old scrapyard and I figured that it was worth spending about £50 for some lights that added to the overall look and feel of the van.

Now that all the ceiling, the walls and floor is ready, it's time to start working on the furnishings.

In most caravans the seats also serve as storage space and as the base of the bed for the night.

So all you need is to make a couple of boxes with a panel for the back.

 I should mention that the DVLA (the UK vehicle licensing authority) would not accept that a van has been converted to a camper unless there is a bed (or something that could be made into a bed) and it is fixed to the floor.

Once the two boxes were made it was much easier to varnish them before they were taken in the van and fixed to the floor.

Notice that the boxes don't need a floor. The carpeted floor of the van, in my case, is good enough.

After I screwed the boxes in place, I went on to work on some cosmetic work around the windows as Anna began to make the cushions for the seats / bed.

We went to a market where they sell cheap material. This is not necessarily inferior quality but it is normally the end of the roll.
In our case we only spent £35 for this heavy beautifully rich orange and red upholstery material.

The foam was from a shop where they cut foam to measure.
It was one of the expensive bits but I didn't want any 20 year old foam that came out of an old caravan or something of the sort.

I spent £165 on foam.

I don't think that I could sew to save my life, but isn't it great that Anna can? 

 Watch this blog to find out how to make covers for cushions. Anna will tell you how.

 It all begins to take shape now!

You will notice the leg of the table that I said I bought from the scrap yard. This folds up and then comes down to keep the table standing.
The other side of the table slots on a fixing on the wall. I bought that simple fixing from the scrapyard.

So the seats and their cushions are in place. The table folds and rests in between the two seats to make a bed.

Chris, the previous owner of the van, comes back from holiday and says,
"What have you done to my van?"

This time I wanted a blue van.
Having it sprayed was going to cost the earth so with just a few litres of "hammered blue" Hammerite paint and a roller I began to transform the looks on the outside.

The hammered line of metal paints by Hammerite are ideal for this purpose because you can't see the brush strokes.

Chris watches in despair

Notice the outdoor light on the side of the van. That was bought new.

A helping hand by Anna.
As I said, she's much better with detail.

After the painting it was time to continue again on the inside.

It was now time to fix in place the sink / stove.  I like these old style sing+stove in one piece.

It's only a simple two burner stove but that's all I wanted. I am not into grills and ovens in camper-vans, I think they are superfluous. Cooking in a pot and frying on a pan can be more than adequate and then when in need of a change there's nothing like a BBQ out in the woods. (Watch for the risk of fires, of course)
My friend Polis came for a visit and offered to give me a hand.

He helped me to fix the 70 litre water tank that I bought from ebay. Again another thing that I bought new.
From a piece of an old panel I made this base on which the tank rested and then fixed underneath the van.
Later on I changed that though, to something more simple and straight-forward.

With the sink / stove in place on the left hand side of the rear of the van I began to create the space on the right for the toilet.

A cupboard door from the bargain corner of IKEA purchased at £2 was a great solution for a toilet door

A simple drawer for cutlery under the stove and a cupboard underneath that. This cupboard was later replaced by the heater
as seen on the photo below.

A small cupboard right on top of the wheel arch on the left in front of the sink,

and the toilet door varnished and in place.

 An overhead locker on top of the sink / stove for things like plates cups etc.

Underneath the locker is a 12V and a 220V light.

At that time we bid on Ebay for a Singer sewing machine from the 40s-50s. It became ours for the great sum of £5.50. I've spent much more on sand paper and varnish to bring it up to the great standard that you observe on the left here.

What you see Anna holding here are the straps she made for the curtains

The curtain  in our kitchen space

And the one in our living space...
The windows have both net curtains and the blue curtains you see here.

 Do notice the matching table cloth Anna made. Material purchased for £1 was sufficient to make a couple of table cloths.

Both curtains hung on net wire (or stretch rod) the stuff pictured here:

Going the extra mile in cosmetics.
Anna made covers for the front seats with the same material as the cushions on the rear seating area.

The one cover includes two pockets for maps.

Curtain for the sky light as well. The net curtain is good at keeping out flies and mosquitoes and the like.
The wheel arch on the left hand side behind the sliding door had to be covered and that gave us space for a small little cupboard for food stuff on the right hand side and space for our prayer plant.

Notice the speaker on the toilet wall (the black round thing) I bought 5 speakers out of a scrap yard and placed three at the back and two at the front.
(This had to be thought of before hand so that the wires were put in place under the boards)

A picture frame on the top of the sliding door with our Arc, our little sailing dinghy.

On the right of Anna you can see the blue panel that encloses the storage space on top of the driver seat. That is where we keep our bed covers etc.
That flap can open down in order to provide a bed there.

It's not a nameless work-horse anymore.
Let's give it a name...


Time to try it out.

A trip to the south coast to visit Beaulieu

Doesn't she look great!

First night's sleep.

The verdict:

Notice the Car-stereo / TV / DVD player / Media player (through SD card or USB) / rear camera view (when reversing) / also connecting to your phone via blue-tooth for hands-free communication.

All these for just £92 bought from Hong Kong via ebay, and....
I bought it on Saturday afternoon and was delivered on Monday morning!!! How good is that?

A nice cup of coffee freshly brewed within our Sea Breeze.

And Irini can dish out the food.

We have now travelled as far north as Santa Claus' village in Finland's Arctic circle.

And as far south as Cape Tenaron.

Cape Tenaron is the most southern point of continental Europe.
It is in Mani in Peloponnese.

Here parked at Vinci (Italy) Leonardo's birth place.
You can see now on the back the bicycle rack I bought second-hand on ebay

This is us setting off for a 6 month sabbatical in Greece, pulling an overloaded trailer with things like beds, tables and other such furniture.
 Here on the left is the total cost of our conversion:

On the ferry from Italy to Greece we parked on the open-deck (a deck on which people can stay and sleep in their campers or caravans).
Right in front of us was a Belgian with a Ford Transit professionally converted.  The cost of that? Just 60,000 euros.

Well, as a Salvation Army officer I could never afford that, yet I have my own camper van built by me and my wife, made the way we like it and all for just over £1,500.
                                                   And they lived happily ever after!

The End!


  1. Very inspirational! And a very enjoyable read!

  2. Absolutely fantastic Haris! You can give me a hand with mine anytime, but I'm going to keep my Silver Snail, silver. I don't think I'll have it Hammerite blue, thanks! God bless all who travel in her.

  3. Best Conversion/family story I have ever seen.. You have a family, a calling and a dream. Thanks from the other dads out here.. Peace and blessings.. travel safe

  4. (Sorry about the post which I deleted above - typo).

    Lets try again...

    Salivating at the thought of Greece especially now with all this rain and the constant storms down here in west Cornwall this winter. I love what you did to the van and for the money, you got yourself a little beauty Haris.

    Another van dweller here. Mines an LDV LWB Hightop Convoy. Albeit she just failed on the MOT so rather than faffing about, I just bought another one, a minibus this time - 12 months MOT, taxed until the end of August, only 74,000 miles (P-reg - 1997) and runs like a dream.

    Now having to come up with new rustic conversion ideas, hence how I found your blog here.

    So are you in south Devon? Hey! Perhaps we could meet up sometime perhaps, only I'm not too far from you, down in that beautiful country we call Cornwall. Not that I've anything against the bloomin' English on the other side of the Tamar lol.

    Anyway, here is wishing you both happy travels.

    Kindest regards,

    Mark -

  5. Great story. Nice build. You did a nice job
    Lots of great ideas

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