VW campers, third times a charm
Embarking on the adventure of owning a VW T6 camper van is an exciting endeavour. With the help of expert conversion companies like 8 Ball Camper Conversions, you can transform your van into a personalised home on wheels. But before diving into the conversion process, it’s crucial to carefully consider the layout that best suits your lifestyle and needs. Over the past 15 years we have converted a few vans for our photographer Leo Francis. We asked him to write down a few things he considers when deciding on what he wants from a van conversion.
Over the past 15 years I’ve had 3 transporters and 3 conversions by 8ball so I’m quite versed in the conversion process. Each conversion has been very different from the last. I’ve learnt what I like in a van and what I don’t. But the main thing I’ve learnt is what you think you need along with your life will change.
Each time I’ve planned a conversion with 8ball it’s been a different time of my life and what I want from a van has been different each time. When you plan a conversion you need to think what do I need and what can I compromise on. You need to take the time to really think about what you want in your van, then consider if you will actually use it. If you’re new to van conversions renting a van is a great idea to see what works for you and what you may need from a van on the kind of trips you’d go on. Also just ask people with vans if you can have a look inside, they are usually happy to show them off and tell you all about it.
My first van I loved, a T5, I had it converted with 8 Ball. I had a sink, cooker and fixed bed shelf across the back, with cupboard storage underneath. It had a bench seat in the front, so 3 of us could go away in it. At that time of my life I had no kids and surfed and wakeboarded a lot so I wanted an area I could easily take my boards in and out of, enough driving capacity to take myself and 2 mates for a quick surf trip, and a comfy bed so me and my girlfriend could go on a week away.
The bed shelf across the back was perfect as I could put my surfboard or wakeboard underneath my bed knowing it was safe know matter where I was sleeping. I never really cook meals in my van, usually BBQ but having a gas hob was great for early morning coffee or a post surf cup of team to warm up.
It was a great van, a well built basic conversion that took a lot of hammer and kept looking good.
I sold that van when I had my first child, it was an amazing well made van I’d travelled round Europe in it and all over the UK. For an active couple it was a dream van.
My next van I got when I had 2 young boys, and I’d become self employed, working remotely and traveling a lot in the UK. I wanted something mid way between a people carrier and a camper. I was doing a lot of miles so didn’t want to be taking a whole load of camp stuff everywhere, but I did want to sleep in my van.
I bought a VW T6 Highline panel van and had 8 ball add side windows, back seats so they were super safe for the kids, they added a table so I could work, it got a pop top to sleep in, (this was my first Austops deluxe pop top, and that was a game changer, super comfy, you can sleep on it for a week and get a great nights sleep every night), they also added an inverter and leisure battery so I could charge my gear and work on my laptop.
I also had a bed shelf and a few cupboards put in this van, it helped to store my photography kit and also gave a space for the kids to stay if we were away for a weekend. It was definitely an in-between kind of set up, but worked brilliantly for what I needed. I didn’t want loads of cupboards and a cooker and a sink. I knew I’d be traveling a lot in this van for work and didn’t want to be carrying all that around with me all the time. If I was on my own in the van staying over night for a work trip I just needed a place to work and a place to sleep. I didn’t have windows in the tailgate or back side panels so it was more secure for my photography kit.
During the 5 years I had that van my life changed again, the kids had grown up so I can take them away for longer adventures, my work has changed and I go away on longer photography assignments in remote places so I want more from a van, being able to work comfortably and live in it for weeks at a time.
I now have another T6 Highline and over summer 8ball carried out another conversion for me. I now have a rib seat/bed and a pop top, so the van can sleep 2 adults and 2 bigger kids easily. We have a sink and cooker, to be honest I still really only use this for making a coffee and brushing my teeth. With the kids we generally stay in campsites and just use the washing up facilities there, and BBQ but it’s nice to have these and good for resale of the van. I now have my first fridge, which I wish I’d put into every van. Being able to have a few days of food in there or some cold beers is brilliant. We have loads of cupboards for more storage.
The game changer for me was the sliding seat. This is awesome. It’s quick to move so if I need loads of space in the back for kit I can do that, if I’m away with the kids I can move the seat all the way back so we have loads of room for chilling and Uno.
Another thing I’m really pleased with on this van is I went for a solar panel so I never have to worry about power in my leisure battery. The fridge is constantly running and I have plenty of power to charge camera to batteries.
The only things I haven’t got which I’m going to add is a heater and a hot shower. I’m planning on doing a skiing van trip with the kids so a heater will be essential, I’d also like a portable shower I’m going to put in a cupboard at the back of the van so I can get an outdoor shower when the tailgate is open, or to wash down the muddy dog we inevitably get one.
I can’t advise you on what you need from a van, everyone uses their van in a unique way to them so my best advice is to really consider what you need and what will be useful to you now, there are so many options out there and what’s good for you might not be good for someone else, or be valued in the same way by someone else. Just try and create a van that is perfect as it can be for you now, and know at some point that will change and your van will change. What I would also say is talk to the guys at 8Ball, they’ve lived vans for over 15 years and have seen all sorts of conversions and variations and are really good at talking through what you actually need rather than just trying to sell you a generic van conversion.