The Self-made Camping Bulli Idea
This had always been a dream for me. Actually ever since receiving my driver’s license the idea had existed of simply buying an old Volkswagen van, called Bulli in German, converting it into a camper and exploring Europe independently. But as often the case with dreams, they sometimes don’t quite materialize. In this case, after delaying the execution of the camper conversion from one year to the next, it was finally shelved altogether when I left for New York City, on what should have been a one year exchange program.
Ten years later and finally arriving back in Europe, the old Bulli dream surfaced again. Luckily this time the camper conversion seemed more possible than ever. Only buying a desired VW T3 van that was on the one hand reasonably priced and on the other in good enough condition to be fix it up, appeared completely impossible. So unfortunately the younger and technologically advanced T4 model became the logical choice, even if it didn’t offer quite the same nostalgic flair. What it did offer in turn was at least some personality as the best Volkswagen Transporter I could find was an old radio van from the military police…
The Original Volkswagen Army Van
The 20-year-old, decommissioned radio operator van really came with a bunch of character. While the army took down the two long antennas from the roof and cleared out some equipment, the van still came with a complete working table plus lights, a radio operator seat, a wild-looking switch panel and a lot of cabling. Turning this specifically for radio use enabled T4 army van into a functioning VW camper seemed quite a stretch in the beginning, but an interesting challenge at the same time…
Preparations for the Campervan Conversion
Before any thought could even be directed towards a possible camper fit-out, the original army van had to be cleared out and prepared. At first the radio operator workstation had to be dissembled and then all other appliances had to be removed, until nothing but the bare metal bones of the Volkswagen Bulli were left in place. In order to do the camper preparations properly, all hollow and void spaces had to be sprayed with a special silicone sealer, then loosely stuffed with batt insulation and finally sealed with a plastic vapor barrier. The walls and ceiling were then closed off and finished with a cozy layer of grey carpet…
Layout and Mock-up of the Basic Camper
Putting down cardboard boxes and taping out dimensions really became the make it or break it reality check of the whole entire camper idea. Yes, there are campervans out there with complete kitchens and even bathrooms, but with very limited space, time and money, it became clear that we were only going for a very basic camper conversion. We reckoned that all we really needed was a bed for two, a bench with a table and some storage space. Eventually a solution was found and the real work could begin…
Interior Camper Van Fit-out and Furniture
This was the fun part. Designing the furniture and finding solutions for the very limited space inside the van really was the most interesting part of the whole campervan conversion. Of course everything took a lot longer than expected and of course not all ideas worked out the way they should have, but seeing things like the bench slowly grow, or testing different means of attachment for a removable table, really were the challenges that made this such a fun project.
Once the open cabinets were installed, the floor was carpeted and the cool box fully functional, it was not only possible to see how the finished product would probably look like, but we could also start using the campervan for little test drives. Organizing the back storage and installing the bed platform were then the easy parts and even the removable table could be finished off and painted as the final act.
The finished Homemade Campervan
It was almost hard to believe, but after all the time we invested and after all the challenges we needed to overcome, we actually managed to convert this highly technical military radio van into a really cozy camping home. And best of all, we were not only able to meet our goal of building a bed, a bench with table and some storage, but we also managed to integrate a shoe shelf and some open cabinets. The fact that we could re-use some of the original appliances and install the salvaged army lamp for our dining table, simply added to the character and helped to make this quite a unique and yet unusual camping Bulli…
The Camping Bulli Ready to hit the Road
After two months of intense work, the campervan was finally ready to hit the road. How well our homemade conversion would work in actual use was left to see, but coming to terms with an old dream and the prospect of being able to explore Europe independently, already made all the efforts seem worthwhile. Plus every time we opened the sliding door, we were surprised ourselves how much work we got done between the original army van and the finished cozy camper…
Have you ever used a campervan? Have you ever attempted to build your own camper?
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