Graham Dean took the concept of a conventional Camper interior and spun it through 90 degrees, with fantastic results

Pop your head into any of the awesome Vans you’ll find at the season’s VW shows and we guarantee that, while you’ll see some exceptional examples of work and innovation, the chances are you won’t find anything quite like Graham Dean’s ‘spin’ on the modern Camper thing.  Not only has he turned a traditional camping interior through 90 degrees, he’s made what can only be described as a superb job of it.

” I wanted something where I could kick back, stretch out
and relax, so I wanted to
face across the Van “

It all began a couple of years ago. Graham, who already has a fleet of older VWs in his possession, wanted something a tad more modern for him and his wife, Ann, to go camping in. His checklist was pretty comprehensive: long wheelbase T5, tailgate, 130bhp engine, air conditioning and electric windows.  Unsurprisingly, it took a while to find the right Van.

However, he did eventually find what he was looking for, and one with excellent pedigree to boot.  His new white Van had been a demonstrator for Eberspächer heaters and had been lightly modified with colour-coded bodywork, chrome side bars and 20-inch rims by the dealer from whom Graham bought it.

Go pro

With his name added to the log book, Graham sent his new toy off to GT Campers in Batley to have the Reimo elevating roof and windows fitted, as well as the carpet lining.  Now, Graham is an automotive trimmer himself, so you might think it would put a bit of pressure on someone else trimming a vehicle owned by a man used to revitalising the interiors of Ferraris but, according to Graham, they did a fantastic job.  They fitted the lining and tucked it under the seals for the windows, for example, making a seamless interior with no joints.

Tech info:
2007 T5 T30 TDi

  • ENGINE:   2.5-litre turbo diesel, re-mapped to 160bhp
  • WHEELS: 20-inch Range Rover rims, 275 / 35 x 20 tyres
  • SUSPENSION:  Coilover kit, lowered -60mm
  • BODY MODS: Standard T30 bodywork, colour-coded mirrors and bumpers in Arctic White, Reimo elevating roof in white, chrome side bars, windows installed
  • INTERIOR: Custom-built interior with opposing full-height cabinets, fridge, worktop, cooker, sink, oven; cabinets fabricated in matt grey lightweight ply; sides panelled in carpet; side-facing sofa bed; toilet compartment between cabinets; electric hook-up and leisure battery; LED strip lights and spotlights; island table; swivelling passenger seat; all trim in Rolls Royce St. James red leather

GT also ran various elements of cabling behind the trim panels, as specified by Graham, and left the tails hanging out of one rear corner for him to connect up at a later date.

The roof now houses a double bed and still provides enough headroom for Graham to stand upright from half-way down the side door. However, as it is only himself and Ann who sleep in the Van, and they use the double bed in the base, he reckons he will probably remove the bed altogether so that he can stand up throughout the interior.

Once the roof, windows and lining were in, he sat on the project for around 18 months, while he figured out how he wanted the interior.

During this time, he attended to some of the mechanical aspects of the Van, including having the engine re-mapped, which brought the power up from 130bhp to 160bhp.  He also lowered the chassis with a proprietary coilover suspension kit, but is about to change it since the springs appear to be losing tension and, despite winding the spring platforms as high as they will go, the rear is still getting lower.

Outside the box

While this was all happening, Graham was doing quite a lot of research on the interior.  He knew he wanted something different, as he explained: “All the interiors I looked at used seats facing forward, so it felt like you were just sitting in a vehicle. I wanted something where I could kick back, stretch out and relax, so I wanted to face across the Van, not towards the front.”

The majority of Camper specialists use the forward-facing design, and while he found one or two who produced side-facing interiors, the layout never quite matched what he wanted. So he set about designing his own.

He knew he wanted lots of storage, equipment fitted at useable height instead of on the floor and room to house a toilet that could be removed to give the Van additional load-carrying capability.  So he sat down and sketched it all out, then built a mock-up of the whole thing in stiff cardboard to make sure it fitted and worked as he wanted it to.

Once he was happy with the general layout, he called Morland (www.morland-uk.com / tel. 01938 551980) and ordered some of the company’s lightweight furniture plywood to start building the cupboards.  He had used another type of lightweight ply in the past, when he built the interior for his son’s Early Bay Window, but found that as the material was only three or four plies thick when he screwed into an edge it split.  The Morland product uses more, thinner plies, so can be screwed into without any problems.

The design features a wide, full-height unit on the driver’s side, from the rear of the bench seat / bed to the rear of the Van.  This provides a huge amount of storage, as well as the three-way fridge, mounted high enough to mean Graham doesn’t have to perform an elaborate gymnastics manoeuvre to access it.

Across the aisle is another, narrower, full-height unit with a worktop unit, slightly higher than the bottom window line, housing the Smev double burner and matching sink, both with smoked glass covers. The water container is housed underneath, while gas bottles reside in a locker.

Feeling flush

The height of the worktop was chosen not only to be the right height for cooking, but also to allow room for the Smev oven / grille underneath, making this a genuine home-from-home.  Graham chose the matt pale grey finish with a light fleck, as he wanted the whole thing to have a crisp, clean, home kitchen feel to it with full-front, flush-fitting doors.

” attention to detail and skill,
and an industrial-sized
portion of innovation “

The side-facing seat base folds out and over, from comfy sofa capable of seating three comfortably, or four at a push, to a six-foot long double bed, filling the space between the side and the kitchen unit perfectly.  However, Graham is clearly a forward thinker, as the sofa bed is split into two sections and the front section can be removed and replaced with a pair of traditional forward-facing seats, with integral seat belts.

The final part of the interior is what many would love to be able to house in their Van – a chemical toilet.  It’s one of those additions that, until you have one, you don’t know how you ever managed without.  The toilet itself is easily removeable, as is the cabinet surrounding it, so Graham can carry a couple of bikes or several sheets of 8 x 4ft ply as necessary.

There’s an island table that sits forward, between the sofa bed and the swivelling passenger seat, while there are three LED strip lights in the rear, two in the roof and a pair of LED spotlights in the cab area, all running off the 12-volt leisure battery.  This is kept topped up on site by the 240V hook-up, which can also power accessories as required.

High Roller

The upholstery is, not surprisingly, absolutely first class, as you’d expect for a man whose profession is exactly that.  The material is Rolls Royce St. James red leather, exceptional quality and in a colour that Graham says he loves: “That was the easy bit.  It’s a proper red – not too orangey or garish.  I love the colour and have wanted to use it in a vehicle for a long time, but this was the first chance I’ve had.” The rear seat cushions, as well as the front seats, were all trimmed in the same red leather and he also has a couple of spare panels ready for the forward-facing seats when he gets round to covering those.

Graham also chose to include the logo from the 60 Years of the Transporter event in Hanover in 2007, as he’s never liked embroidered VW logos – he thinks they always look wrong.

The result is quite astounding.  From the outside, it’s simply a very nice looking LWB T5.  Open the sliding door, though, and it’s clear that it has been built with exceptional attention to detail and skill, and an industrial-sized portion of innovation.

We first learned of this Van through Morland, who ran a competition for Campers converted using their ply materials, and Editor, James, chose Graham’s as the winner, for exactly these qualities. And rightly so – it’s a winner all round.

 

Photos taken by: Michael Whitestone

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