Computer-aided design is commonplace these days, but how many DIY Camper conversions make use of it?

When the time has come to build your own Camper, there are countless reasons why you’d call on the services of professionals, the most obvious one being that pretty important word itself – professionals.  Most of us probably think we’re a bit handy and are capable of knocking up a storage unit, or chopping into a piece of 4 x 2.  We might even go as far as wiring in a stereo but, as the majority of us discover, we simply run out of talent somewhere along the line.  Or, more importantly, we lack the skills that only come with experience.

John Summers, owner of this SWB T28 says this very magazine inspired him to build his dream ride, in the hope that one day it might be good enough to be featured. That’s all well and good, and both John and the VWt team can now smile on a job well done.

” This very magazine inspired him to build his dream ride “

However, this publication is simply the conduit, and we can only feature what you guys in the real world produce.  John was not simply inspired by VWt, but the content of VWt, and now the inspired has become the inspirer, as not only has he had his Bus featured, he has designed and built his very own camping interior in the process.

But how did a 45-year old ex-biker, married to a long-suffering wife, Tracey, with two Staffies and a French Bulldog who has never been into Volkswagens end up splashing out on a 104bhp TDi T5?  “It’s simple,” says John. “By desperately trying to stay young and cool by having a Camper that looks mean, but has all the moden comforts an old man could want!”  But what is age except a number anyway?  John continues: “I started saving for an MV Agusta F3 ORO motorbike.” He then encourages me to ‘look it up’. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?  But they’re too expensive, so I got into VWs instead.”  The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed the not-so-subtle nod to John’s previous plans in the form of his private registration.  Hey, it was cheaper than the ’bike!


Tech info:
2005 T28 VW T5

  • ENGINE:  104bhp TDi
  • WHEELS: 20-inch Diamond SG12 alloys with 255/35 tyres
  • BODY MODS: Caravelle bumpers; Sportline chin spoiler (meshed); modified Seat Leon Cupra splitter; front fogs; clear side indicators; headlight eyebrows; LED R8-style front lights; colour-coded handles and mirrors; genuine chrome side rails; Sportline rear spoiler; cut out and bonded mid-privacy windows; false bonded rear and tailgate windows; bespoke base trim decals; roof rails; modified and concealed awning rail; Caravelle rear lights
  • INTERIOR: Lined, insulated, carpeted with machined flush Kombi seat brackets; blue leather and black Alcantara captain’s seats on swivel plates; NWCC rear seat / bed; home made Vohringer and Morland furniture (white, walnut and Puntinella)

Technical head

With a job title of Technical Sales Manager, it’s clear John has a particular type of mind – a technical one – which is a prerequisite when tackling a project like this, a project that came to John via the well-trodden path of eBay.  After getting pipped to the post on a number of T5 auctions, and suffering the indignation of driving over 100 miles to buy one, only to arrive just as somebody else was handing over a wad of cash, John’s numbers eventually came up.  First registered in 2005 as a delivery van for Middlesex Motorhomes, this T5 had certainly served its time and, as such, has since received a replacement lower mileage engine.  It then landed in the hands of a DJ from Burnham-On-Sea prior to John’s name adorning the logbook. So, up until now, its purpose in life was more carrier than Camper, although the sliding door had a window installed, along with one on the opposite side, so it had started along the conversion path.

Fortunately for John and, more importantly for the modifications he had planned, Tracey is the manager of the Cheltenham branch of Nationwide Repairs.  When it came to painting things such as the Caravelle front bumper, the Sportline chin spoiler and the rear bumper with reversing sensors drilled and fitted by a more-than-nervous owner, there was only one winner.

The modified Leon Supra splitter fitted to the spoiler, however, is a different story.  Having read in a magazine (he can’t remember which one, but it definitely wasn’t VWt this time) that the Supra splitter was a ‘straight fit,’ he went online and ordered one.  John’s language gets a bit fruity at this stage but, suffice to say, a ‘straight fit’ it most certainly was not.  He never gave up though, and more than one or two cuts later what is left of the VAG part now makes for a mean addition to the front end.

The wheels and tyres come in the form of 20-inch Diamond SG12s wrapped in 255/35 rubber. The suspension, for now, is stock.

Before John shipped the Van up to New Wave Custom Conversions to have the blue leather and black Alcantara-trimmed, RIB-approved rock ’n’ roll bed installed, he completed a trick that even Dynamo the magician would be proud of.  Come closer, and let’s keep this one between us.  Those rear side panel windows? Fake.  Both sides.  They’re actually original VW glass bonded onto the panels that were treated to some black paint beforehand.  The same treatment was also given to the tailgate.  It may not let any more light in, but it gets the look without compromising privacy.  Neat, huh?

With the RIB bed expertly installed, John set about the pièce de résistance, the interior.  With inspiration coming from many different avenues, John, along with mate Mark Dickerson, have taken the best of everything, thrown it into the mixer with a couple of pints of the good stuff (God bless alcohol) and created the perfect interior for John, Tracey and their three dogs.

First, John began by mocking up a layout in AutoCAD.  Yeah sure, it’s not a product most of us minions will be familiar with but, thanks to his line of work, it’s just another tool in John’s arsenal, and he’d be mad not to use it.  Next, he created templates for every panel out of MDF, making adjustments as he went along, before building the final article from much more expensive Vohringer material.

” This has all been created in John’s garage at home with just a couple of Black & Decker Workmates, a jigsaw and a router “

Thanks to that meticulous planning, the attention to detail is second to none.  For example, notice how the swivel table top curves around the passenger door for tight storage, the template for which having been taken from the kitchen sink cover in John’s home.  The rear base cupboard contains one of two on-board leisure batteries, as well as two 23-litre water containers (one fresh, one waste) that can be re-filled and emptied without having to put the bed away or disturb anyone laying in it.

That’s entertainment

Then there’s the sound system and lighting.  As a sound engineer in his spare time for a local rock band, John clearly knows his stuff when it comes to the beats.  A Kenwood head unit supplies six Vibe speakers situated around the interior, plus a Vibe slimline 300w active sub and amp.  John reckons he wouldn’t last 10 minutes on a campsite before being chucked off if he cranked this lot up to 11, and with that in mind, the rear speakers have been wired so they can be isolated when the dogs are being transported.  Colour-changing LEDs and downlights complete the night club ambience.

To give you a measure of just what can be achieved, all of this has been created in John’s garage at home with just a couple of Black & Decker Workmates, a jigsaw and a router with two different bits (flush and slot).  The majority of the components you see, including the wood and the trim sections, have been sourced from companies such as Grass Roots Leisure and Rainbow Conversions. Okay, so it took almost two years of planning and executing, but when the results are as satisfying as this, that sort of dedication has to be worth it, just to be able to say, “I did that.”


Photos taken by: Michael Whitestone

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