Not only did Darren Gould know what he wanted, he knew exactly what to do with it when he found it

I once attended a management training course and the only thing I can remember about it, other than constant thigh stabbing with a fork to keep myself awake and endless rounds of bullshit bingo, was a single memorable quote: “Put God in the detail and see what happens.”

If ever there was a VW Camper that brings that concept to life, it is Darren Gould’s.  You see, he knew what he wanted and, even though it wasn’t available for sale right there and then, he waited patiently until his perfect ride came up for sale.  He then set about building the Camper you see here, using an amazing attention to detail that words and pictures alone can’t quite do justice to.

” He spent a lot of time on the internet researching different options and gaining inspiration “

Darren has been into VWs since the mid-2000s (he says it’s his brother-in-law’s fault, as he’s been involved for years) and his previous project was a T3 Westy Joker, but he yearned for something more modern.  He trawled the usual websites and forums but couldn’t find what he wanted.  He then visited Imperial Cars in Scunthorpe and, although they also didn’t have what he was after in stock, they agreed to source his perfect base vehicle for him.

Sure enough, six weeks later, they called, saying they’d found him a 2009 T5 TDi Transporter, one owner from new, 50,000 miles on the clock and full history.  The Van was arrow straight, colour coded and sporting a mean set of rims.  Instinctively, Darren knew it was the one for him.

Winter workers

With just the briefest moment of head scratching and muttering, Darren got stuck in to what would be his tour de force.  Now, it’s worth bearing in mind that this vehicle is all home built, with only the help of Darren’s wife, Louise, and his mate, Rob McKenzie.  Even more impressive is that it was all done on the drive, whatever the weather, and throughout the increasingly Scandinavian British winters.

Tech info:
2009 VW T5 Transporter

  • ENGINE:  1.9TDi, re-mapped to 114bhp
  • SUSPENSION: -55mm lowering springs, factory dampers, brake calipers painted red
  • WHEELS:  20-inch Range Rover rims, with 255/35 x 20 F-One tyres
  • BODY MODS: colour coded factory front and rear bumpers, Sportline rear spoiler, polished side bars, Austops elevating roof colour coded, limo tints
  • INTERIOR: Owner-designed and built curved plywood worktop and gloss black units; carpeted interior, ceiling and pop-top roof; remote dimmable LED lighting; leisure battery, ¾-width rock ’n’ roll bed trimmed in black leather with red cross-hatch stitching; leather-trimmed steering wheel; seats trimmed to match; swivelling passenger seat; JVC DAB double DIN stereo; reversing camera; carbon fibre dash kit

The first task was to solve the dilemma faced by many converters – how to avoid ‘tin-top stoop’ – particularly important for Darren at 6ft2 and Louse at 5ft11.  The solution, of course, was an elevating roof.  However, the couple also decided that as the Van only needed to accommodate the two of them (their 21-year old son now does his own thing), they didn’t need any beds in the roof.

As a result, Darren had Austops fit the roof, but leave out the bed frames, while Louise trimmed the inside of the roof panel in the same carpet she used for the rest of the interior, including inside the rear doors.  Darren also added a series of remote control LED downlights to brighten the interior, and to match the versions he added in the roof panels either side of the pop-top.

Next, Darren turned his attention to the interior.  An off-the-shelf, ¾-width rock ’n’ roll bed was fitted but, unusually for a T5 version, it doesn’t have the rear perch seat.  Instead, it has a very deep seat back, which gives great support for chilling out in the evenings and means the bed itself can be folded down quickly without having to remove head rests.

With the vinyl floor laid, Darren started to work out how he wanted the kitchen / storage unit to work.  He had three key requirements – no door handles, gloss black and a curving worktop.  He spent a lot of time on the internet researching options and gaining inspiration from various sources before coming up with the base design for the unit you see here.

Full-length nightmare

Running the full length of the Van, it features a flat worktop that curves up to form the front wall of the full-height unit at the rear.  Very trick and innovative but, according to Darren, a nightmare for him and Rob to actually create.  They initially tried soaking normal plywood in water to soften it enough to bend to the required curve, but it was having none of it.  Many would have given up at this point, but Darren did some further research and found a more flexible type of plywood to try.  This was still very tricky to shape, but eventually they made it work and the result is well worth the effort.  Darren estimates the pair have 250 hours in the unit alone, so that gives you an idea of the effort, commitment and attention to detail these guys work to.

With the overall form sorted, they added a tambour roller door in the rear to allow it to be opened with the seat up or down as the bed, as well as a SMEV double burner and a two-way fridge.  They finished the whole thing off in gloss black but, open the doors, and there’s more of the detail – they are all on concealed push-to-open magnetic catches and soft-close hinges.  And every shelf and door interior has been trimmed in the same carpet as the interior, as Darren and Louise hate crockery and cutlery clattering around while they’re driving.

Darren also tackled the electrics himself, adding a leisure battery and electric hook-up, as well as a bespoke control panel to manage it all automatically.  Unfortunately, the devil appeared to be working at the manufacturer’s that day, as the control panel had a mind of its own, constantly switching between the two, so Darren replaced it with a simple manual switch to keep it reliable.

” Move in closer, and the level of detail and innovation soon becomes apparent “

With the rock ’n’ roll bed up it looks good, but you don’t see the full effect of the superb trimming until it is down.  It was covered in black leather with red stitching to match the exterior paintwork, in full-blown Bentley style, by the Seat Surgeons (www.theseatsurgeons.com).  The same treatment was given to the original driver side captain’s seat and the single passenger, now on a swivelling base, which replaces the factory bench seat.

Up front, there’s more of the religious attention to detail, with the steering wheel trimmed in the same leather / stitching combo and a carbon fibre dash trim kit fitted.  There’s more carbon throughout the Van, with the mounting plate for the double-DIN JVC DAB stereo also in carbon, along with the trim at the front of the elevating roof, the outer edge of the roof cubby hole, the door pulls, dash trim and pretty much anything that would benefit from the distinctive weave.

Tornado hunter

Moving outside, the attention to detail continues, but it’s also very subtle – exactly what Darren was after.  The original Tornado Red paint on the body of the Van, and where Imperial Cars had added it to the front and rear bumpers and the tailgate spoiler, was in really good condition, so a good polish was all it needed before Darren added a set of side bars, along with LED running lights and an HID Xenon upgrade to the headlights.

He also gave the outside a fairly hefty whack with the detail stick.  Check out the VW badges, for example.  They’re now polished stainless steel with carbon fibre inlays, to bring them in line with the interior upgrades and wheels. Talking of which, the factory rims were naturally junked, in favour of a set of 20-inch diamond cut and detailed Range Rover items that Darren spec’d to Imperial.  These sit nicely in the arches, thanks to a restrained 55mm drop on springs he sourced from eBay, while a further dash of the Tornado Red on the brake calipers livens things up a little behind them.

Darren describes the look he was after as ‘stealth’, and we reckon he’s hit the nail on the head.  Okay, so you’re hardly going to miss this thing coming at you down the road, but from a distance, or to the untrained eye, it looks like it could be a factory conversion, which was exactly what Darren wanted.  Move in closer though, and the level of detail and innovation soon becomes apparent.  But that’s as far as most casual observers will ever get.  It’s not until you get inside the Van itself that you can appreciate just how much effort has gone in to its conversion.  We just feel privileged to have been granted access, and to be able to bring it to you here.  Enjoy, and be inspired.

Photos taken by: Steve Sharp

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