It is actually quite funny to think that I ended up with an army van although I never had anything to do with the military. In fact, back in the day when the drafts happened for compulsory army service, I even opted for a longer duration of civil services instead. But nowadays, after a long time of trying to find a decent old van for a reasonable price, the thought of buying a decommissioned government vehicle lead to the search for ambulances, fire department vans and finally army transporters.
As these vehicles were periodically auctioned off, it seemed an interesting option to try getting one and so I finally ended up with a 20-year-old radio operator van from the military police. The fact that this Volkswagen T4 was designed and equipped for its specific military use and that it needed to be seriously adjusted in order to turn it into a Homemade Camervan seemed a welcome challenge. This challenge was especially interesting, because the army van also came with a lot of other advantages, some expected and actually some really surprising ones.
The different Advantages of an Army Van
01 – Obviously a military vehicle is good at doing what it is designed to do, blending in with nature. This turned out to be a great advantage when trying to have a quiet picnic or a good night of sleep without notifying everyone of your presence.
02 – The ability to hide could not only be considered a matter of convenience, but also one of safety. This was especially true because people would rather think twice before approaching a military vehicle.
03 – The fact that our self-made camper didn’t look like an actual campervan with a pop-up roof was perfect, because we could enter all the free public parking lots with the 2 meter and even 1.9 meter tall entrance gates in France and Italy.
04 – For a 20-year-old vehicle the army van was in incredibly great shape. Of course there were a few dents here and there, but overall it was in really good condition and without any trace of rust.
05 – The great shape of the van luckily applied to the interior and the motor as well, and all scheduled maintenances were not only done before they were even due, but they were also perfectly documented by the military.
06 – In line with the great condition, the army van had only been used for a distance of 90,000 kilometers (55,000 miles) during its 20 years of service, meaning 4,500 km (2,750 miles) per year.
07 – Since the army van had been used as a radio operator van, it not only came with a lot of built-in equipment, but also solid flooring instead of just corrugated metal. This flooring was the perfect base for all the future campervan installations.
08 – While the installed flooring with its trims was a great blessing alone, the aluminum rails with matching hardware, used to physically attach the equipment to the van, were also perfect to hold the camper installations in place.
09 – For its use throughout the year, the military had the van equipped with an auxiliary heater, powered by regular diesel. For obvious reasons this was perfect for the camping use as well.
10 – The van also came with a pre-installed separation between the passenger cabin and the trunk. This physical separation was needed to qualify the van as a truck. For me, this meant instant savings as the tax rate for trucks is much lower than for passenger cars.
11 – As part of the challenge of turning the army van into a camper, some parts of the installed equipment actually came in quite handy. The metal sub structure attached to the separation from the photo above, made the perfect table support after flipping it around.
12 – Between the installed aluminum equipment rails and the sub-structure to support the removable table, a secure attachment method for the cool box could also found.
13 – In order to power some of the previously installed radio equipment of the decommissioned military van, a second battery with a splitter had been installed. This second battery was perfect for running the fridge or lighting without draining the main car battery.
14 – The original working station of the radio operators came with two army lamps plus blackout shades. One of them turned out to be the perfect addition for the campervan, powered by the second battery and lighting up the removable table, even secretly when applying the shades.
15 – Besides the installed equipment, the army van also came with some great accessories, such as an army tool kit, metal snow chains and an olive-green storage box for spare light bulbs.
16 – Having a flag holder attached to the campervan didn’t seem to be a great advantage at first, but after Germany won the entire world cup in 2014, it really came in surprisingly handy.
17 – Driving in a German military van through France sounded almost wrong, but luckily it was no problem. In fact, it was actually quite an unexpected advantage as the integrated machine gun holders turned out to be perfect for carrying the freshly baked baguette.
18 – Finding empty bullet shells while working on the homemade campervan conversion, not only made for an interesting working day, but also for quite a unique lucky charm for the car. I mean truck
19 – Having a unique homemade campervan certainly helped to meet other campers with interesting conversions, as seen here with a beautiful 1965 Mercedes fire engine in Croatia.
20 – While some camping spots offered other interesting campervans as seen above, on regular campervan parking lots, having an army van easily qualified us as the “cool kids” or “outsiders”. This meant lots of extra space and privacy for us.
21 – While the olive-green color of the army van with its matte finish turned out to be perfect in that sense that the camper never looked dirty, even when driving off-road, it also did something else. It provided a whole theme for the trip. The floor tarp for picnics had to be olive-green, the plates for eating were olive-green and so was the cutlery. Even the tea mugs we bought were camouflage colored, helping to tie the former use into the present, and ensuring that the army van made a perfectly disguised campervan and really fun truck to drive around with.
Have you ever considered using an army van as a camper?
Find more Campervan Information here: