Converting Steve

Now proud owners of Steve the 2005 Sprinter, it was time for some van conversion work. The awesome guys at La Chimba hostel had said we could use the parking round the back for the build and even use any tools they had in their bodega. This made the whole build possible, thanks guys!

I had spent some of the time whilst we were van searching researching where to get the necessary supplies (wood, water pumps, leisure battery and charging relays etc.). It turns out Santiago is pretty awesome for getting everything you need for a camper conversion if you know where to look. Although the internet is not used that much by a lot of businesses so some leg work is required. Most shops are very helpful, if they do not have something they often tell you somewhere that does.

The van basic design had been rolling around my head for a while and would provide seating, a kitchen unit with sink and stove, a double bed, lots of storage and a wood burning stove to keep us warm on cold winter nights! The van would also need a healthy amount of insulation to help keep it warm too, and I guess cool on hot days.

The design was sketched out and we went purchasing the necessary supplies. Some of the shops were quite fun, especially the solar shop run by geeky guys who ferreted around their warehouse to find the various components on my list.

Before we got into the build proper we decided to go for a little trip in the van to Cajon Del Maipo where there is some good climbing. We found that the ripio (gravel) roads can be pretty rough, which helped me decide how to construct the cabinets, they would be framed in sturdy 2″ x 2″ rather than just fitting up ply together with brackets.I also set about starting to strip the van out prior to the build during the trip. This was finished off and the inside cleaned out on our return to Santiago.

Steve stripped out and clean ready for the build.
Steve stripped out and clean ready for the build.

The insulation was two layers of insulation wool for the voids between the structural members of the van and inside the members where we could.  This was then overlaid with aluminised foam and sealed with aluminium tape to help prevent moisture getting to the metalwork behind. Whilst we aren’t keeping the van for long we thought we should do a proper job so he would last and provide a home and transport for many more adventures once we sell him in September .

Insulation wool complete
Insulation wool complete.

The van was starting to look pretty space age by the time the aluminium foam was nearly done and some people thought we may indeed be building a time machine!

Steve insulation complete and hole for the roof vent cut.
Steve insulation complete and hole for the roof vent cut.

All the insulation and first fix wiring was now done and the time machine was ready from ply lining. I had kept the lining that had been removed and took the dimensions from these to a wood store that I had found stocked 3mm ply. Two of the guys there were from Venezuela and really cool, Johnny and Francisco, they were both learning English and Francisco’s was pretty good.


Tommy, Johnny and Franky
Tommy, Johnny and Franky

We got the wood required for the lining and left, only to return the next day cos I’d forgotten the sides of the original lining didn’t quite meet the roof! Still the old lining was really useful for templating round the curvy bits i.e. wheel arches etc.

Foil insulation appied and roof vent fitted.
Foil insulation applied and Barbara repairing some taped seams torn when fitting ply lining.
The ply lining and lights were finished late one night!
The ply lining and lights were finished late one night!

With the lining complete the van was looking pretty good now.

Time had come for the framing for the units. However the frustrations started here as the 2x2s were all warped and vans are not square as such with plenty of curves to deal with. In addition the tenon saw I had bought, complete with mitre box, didn’t want to cut square, the corner brackets I got to join it all together were not that square and the screw holes were asymmetrical. This was an engineers nightmare! However this was what we had to work with and the results were not too bad – just don’t get a set square out! Hopefully some of the non squareness could be hidden with the ply facing material, either that or it would really look terrible. To my surprise the ply went on really well with a bit of fettling although it was also all warped and warping more by the second! It could be held flat on the timber frames but the doors, well not so much, but hopefully it would all settle down…

Wardrobe and kitchen units   taking shape.
Wardrobe and kitchen units taking shape.

During the build Barbara was serving her apprenticeship as a junior camper van builder and going off to the Ferreteria (hardware store) to get long weights, sky hooks etc. and holding various pieces of wood in place while they were fixed. Barbara’s skills developed pretty well and it was time for the apprentice’s project, the wine rack! There was space in the kitchen cupboard unit allocated so Barbara set to work designing, sawing, gluing and screwing, there was some design development as we went along and the wine bottles were used to ensure a proper fit for 2 x 75cl and 1 x 1.5l bottles.

Wine Rack, every good campervan should  have one!
Wine Rack, every good campervan should have one!

The end result was looking pretty good, Barbara was justifiably looking very pleased. Time to call it a day and have a nice glass of wine and some dinner. Selecting the nice big 1.5l bottle of wine, we found out it didn’t want to come out of the rack – Barbara had managed to actually build it in to the rack and no amount of frantic pulling would get it out.  Time to deploy the hacksaw!

Tom Releases the bottle!
Tom Releases the bottle!

Having mostly completed the units and installed the bed slats, we decided to go for a trip to Cajon del Maipo where we had been a week earlier for a mountain film festival. This time I planned on burning all the scrap wood I had generated from the build in a very big fire to mark the end of the main construction work, just the gas, water and wood burner to be fitted.

Two and a half weeks and a fair bit of fustration time for a fire!
Two and a half weeks and a fair bit of fustration time for a fire!

A further weeks work saw the sink, woodburner and cooker fitted, and the delivery of the cushions for the benches which also make up the bed. These were finally picked up after a Chilean week…. read 2 weeks! We were anxious to see what they had turned out like as the measurements were taken before the units were finished and Barbara had had to convey the design of the cushions with pretty limited Spanish. Actually they turned out exactly as per design and they fitted perfectly! Amazing! Time for another trip to the mountains to test things out and do some climbing, this time heading out to Farrellones, one of the winter ski resorts.

Van looking nice and cosy with wine and dinner on the go!
Van looking nice and cosy with wine and dinner on the go!

Steve was looking pretty sweet now and was really cosy and comfortable to live in. I just had the water and some electrics to sort, but these could be don whilst on the road.

2 thoughts on “Converting Steve”

  1. Olá Tom e Barbara, como esta a viagem de vocês?
    Quem vos escreve, é Ricardo do Brasil e nos conhecemos no hostel em Santiago.
    Grande abraço,

    1. Hola Ricardo, Espero que estés bien. Nos Viaje es muy Bueno, Gracias!Fuimos a Bolivia y Peru, pero no escribamos nada!! Nos escribemos mas pronto.

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