Self-built projects tend to generate satisfaction and heartache in equal measures, but not Mike Colwill’s stunning, home-built T5 Campervan. He loved every minute of its creation

I love Grand Designs, the minute the famous theme tune fires up and Kevin McCloud steps into shot, you know you’re in for a rollercoaster ride of mayhem.  Amazing vision and dedication is generally countered by a stupendous lack of experience and skills, not to mention common and financial sense, yet somehow, the end result is always a beautiful and innovative building.

” Mike set-up a workbench in his front garden and bought
himself a router “

The same concept can be applied to building a cool Camper, and Mike Colvill’s LWB T5 Campervan certainly ticks half of these boxes – the ones about the amazing vision and superb result.  But it also managed to avoid the usual pitfalls Mr. McCloud has to deal with, even though Mike tackled the conversion himself.  Far from lucking into a great result though, he achieved it through patience, skill, vision and a little bit of experience, too.  You see, Mike has owned a few T4s and a T5 before this latest creation, so had a definite idea of what he was going to do with it, but in true Grand Designs style, things evolved throughout the process.

Tech info:
2006 LWB VW T5 Campevan

Standard 1900cc turbo diesel
20-inch Kahn RSc wheels, 35-profile tyres
Vmax coilover conversion, set to lowest ride height (-100mm)
Pop-top installed, Audi R8 headlights, Caravelle front bumper, Sportline lower splitter, tailgate conversion, Sportline tailgate spoiler, repainted in Pure Grey with fluorescent green highlights
Home-built interior, with double Smev gas burner, separate gas locker, two-way (12V and gas) fridge, floor-to-ceiling cupboard, Cannon’s Forge ¾-width  rock ’n’ roll bed, LED lighting

To begin with, Mike sourced a plain LWB Panel Van as his base, which had been well and truly white van man’d.  That is to say it was fairly battered and, when Mike removed the roof rack, it became clear that the previous owner had been happily wandering around up top, treading between the slats of the rack.  Once he discovered this, Mike realised straight away he would need to fit a pop-top, a job he hadn’t anticipated at the outset.

He and his mate, Steve, set about cutting the roof to fit the pop-top and, while they were at it, also cut the side panels to install windows in the middle and rear sections, although the rear driver’s side is a dummy as there is furniture situated behind it.

With the roof and windows fitted, ‘Portuguese’ Chris set about tidying up the bodywork, before the Pure Grey paint was added.  Apparently, the inspiration for the colour scheme came from a sideboard Mike’s in-laws had, which was in dark grey with fluorescent green shelving.  He saw it and thought it would look good on a Van.  On paper, it sounds hideous, but you can’t deny it works perfectly on this T5.

He also junked the Commercial front end and fitted a Caravelle front bumper with a Sportline lower splitter, a pair of Audi R8 headlights and modified the bonnet to add the headlight frown, as well as de-badging the grille.  At the rear, he removed the barn doors and fitted a tailgate, using an off-the-shelf conversion kit.  That was all pretty straightforward, unlike the wiring…

Mike knew from the outset that he wanted his T5 to ride on a set of 20-inch Kahn RSc alloys, wrapped in 35-profile tyres and tucked up into the wheelarches perfectly, thanks to a Vmax coilover suspension conversion, set as low as it would go.  Even with the big diameter rims, Mike reckons the Van now sits around 100mm lower than standard.

With the bodywork sorted, Mike added a few dayglo accents to highlight certain areas of the exterior, including parts of the front end, wheel centre caps and brake calipers.

But the inside is Mike’s tour de force.  In true Grand Designs style, he decided to build the entire interior himself, despite no specialist skills or experience, and no workshop either.  To do the work, Mike set up a workbench in his front garden, bought himself a router and a couple of sheets of trimmed plywood and got busy.

His exceptional workmanship is based in a proprietary design, tailored to suit his needs. A full set of units run from the driver’s seat to the rear on the offside, beginning with a double Smev burner atop a two-way fridge immediately behind the front seat.  Behind this is a large locker, housing the gas bottle and drop vents to ensure any gas leaks are vented to the outside world and to comply with Gas Safe regulations.

” He decided to build the interior himself, despite no specialist skills or experience “

A smaller locker sits behind, while at the very back there is a floor-to-ceiling unit, accessed from both the interior and the rear of the Van. The ¾-width Cannon’s Forge rock ’n’ roll bed sits between the tall locker and the nearside and provides seating for two, with integral seat belts, as well as a perch seat in the rear when the tailgate is open. Further to this, there is under-seat storage, accessed from the rear, while the front is panelled and houses a pair of 6 x 9-inch speakers.

There’s also a leisure battery and all the associated wiring and fuse board sitting in the large cupboard, driving the fridge and the LED lighting set into the roof and in the plinth under the units for some cool, low-level lighting.

The cab retains the factory double passenger seat, while Mike re-trimmed the whole area, with light grey for the headlining and darker grey on the b pillars.  He then fitted a Pioneer head unit, driving replacement speakers in the factory locations, as well as those 6 x 9s.

Overall, the result is something I think Kevin would be proud of.  Mike has used initiative and vision, as well as developed skills and knowledge, to ensure his project succeeded with the minimum of experience that makes your average home-build TV spectacular essential watching.  No sleepless nights, no credit cards maxed-out to buy a £12,000 kitchen tap, and definitely no need for the three- day production team dressing the end result to look good for telly.  Proper grand.


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