The micro-van is basically a hatchback car with a long back end. The hatch usually opens right up from the car floor to above the roof, allowing all sorts of items to be carried easily—from washing machines to wardrobes.
These roomy little vehicles are easy to drive and park as they act like a car. However, they possess several features that make them ideal candidates for turning into mini-campers.
In the UK, several cars come under this category- the Bipper (Peugeot), the Kangoo (pictured- Renault) and the Berlingo (Citroen). These cars all share the same body shape which is akin to a Postman pat van from the side! The profile is narrow width and long body.
Surprisingly roomy inside and with great visibility due to the massive windows and high roof, these cars are economical and fun to drive.
There were a few rolled eyes when I got this vehicle and told people that I was about to convert it so that we could sleep in it comfortably. However, if you take a look at the photographs you will see that not only did we achieve our aim, there are many others who have done the same.
This is a pictorial "How to" and will work for any estate car, small van or micro-van like ours.
The Sliding Side Doors
To complete this project you will need:
- A decent drill (preferably cordless or a long extension lead)
- Rivets, nails and screw selection
- Strong low-profile (flat) hinges
- Good quality ply board
- Pine battoning and boards
- Electric screwdrivers, spirit level and hammer.
You will also need to work out a basic floor plan. Mine changed many times before I worked out the best layout for our needs.
Step One: Gut the Car!
You will need to remove the back seats. Our Kangoo only had one small seat and a wheelchair ramp which we removed. The seats in the Kangoo are easy to remove via a bolt system.
Once the back seats are removed you will need to take out any excess trim and the spare wheel. You will be left with a good sized floor with which to work.
Move the front seats as far forward as they will go so that you can measure and fit the fold-out bed.
The back chair in ours was recycled as a gaming chair but you could sell yours or make use of them in a shed or similar place; they are very comfy seats with good strong frames.
Building the Bed Frame and Back Box
We opted for a tri-fold out bed which had flat profile brass hinges. The ply that we chose had a nice grain to it and was a better grade than the lowest priced stuff. 2x4 pine was used for bed battons and this was measured carefully & laid out before bolting to the chassis floor.
To work out where to put the support battons we measured the length of the floor and split it into three. A piece of 2x4 pine was placed so that each section of ply would have support at each hinged join. With the basic frame in situ the back piece could be built. Again, the ply is sized in three equal parts; the measurements need to tally with the pine 2x4 supports.
Working backwards is easiest as you can lean on your work as you progress.
The back piece of ply serves as a cover for a storage area (spare wheel, camping stove, water bottles and screen blackouts all fit nicely in here). A piece of pine board was used as a support, fitted to reach the floor and section off the storage area.
The Back Box
Working Inwards Towards the Front Seats
As you can see, the ply storage box is a tidy fit and looks smart too. The hinges are brass and fitted with a chisel to be flush against the wood. On the other side of this section there is another piece of pine board (see next picture) to provide additional support to the bed frame.
This first piece of ply storage area forms the basis both for your bed and also a bench seat in the back when folded up.
Additional support was added in the form of a fold-out piece of pine board. This has the same flush brass hinges as the rest of the unit and folds away cleanly when the bed is packed away. The pine board forms a strong support for the middle section of the bed when folded out.
Building the Second Part of the Bed Base
The pine support must be thick enough to hold hinges for both parts of the bed base. We used 1" thick solid pine and this was strong enough to do the job well.
The three ply pieces that make up the bed are all of similar size making it much easier to fit and align the parts. It is now time to fit the second piece of plywood.
The picture above shows you how this second part should look. It looks too small to be a full size bed but magic happens when you get near the front seats!
The hinges again are flush fitted with chisel into the support pine board and plywood. Ensure that the bed base is well supported at crucial points and that it is level.
The Final Piece of the Bed
To finish the last part of the bed base, the middle section has the hinges fitted as before and then the last piece of 1" thick pine board is used to box off the end of the bed. This serves as a support and needs to be custom cut, so this part is a little trickier than previous pieces.
We used a rough-drawn template and a lot of trial and error to get the wood to sit snugly over the centre part of the plastic moulding.
The size of this board is not so wide that it gets in the way of moving the seats etc but if necessary it can be easily removed. The last piece of ply rests on this.
The Folded-Out Full-Size Bed
In the picture above you will see how the bed now looks when folded out fully.
The seats of the car have been moved forward and folded towards the dash, and the last piece of ply has been hinged in place. This bed measures nearly SIX feet in length and is more than wide enough for two people. The pine boards underneath give the structure stability and strength.
But what happens when you want to drive away in the morning? Well, this does, of course...
Folding the Bed Away
To fold the bed away you simply remove your mattress/futon base, and take the front seat end piece and fold it in on itself like a concertina. The same applies to the second section. The whole bed then rests tidily back on to the storage box area, providing a nifty and comfy bench seat.
This seat is a fantastic addition to the vehicle. Not only is it roomy and stores all manner of junk, the seat is great to sit on when looking out of the back. This is a high hatchback car so effectively the whole back end lifts up, giving you a full view of the beach, hills etc. The roof part of the hatchback gives protection from rain and wind too.
Mattress and Bedding
To make the bed really comfortable and portable, a futon mattress works well. This can be folded up when the bench seat is in place, or laid flat as a sleeping surface when the bed is out. You can cover it with a duvet cover or throw so that you are able to wash the bedding after your adventures.
As per the pic, we tend to leave one part of the ply board up to provide a back rest area. It is like having a little sofa in the back of your car. Doing this ensures that there is still a large area of floor space for storage, and as the back doors slide open, it is still very easy to access.
- Do not skimp on the hinges. The flat hinges are essential for both night-time comfort and the longevity of your futon mattress.
- Choose the best quality ply that you can afford. It will last longer and look nicer.
- With no seatbelts in the back, it would be illegal to use the back bench whilst driving. This makes your car effectively a two-seater.
- Check with your insurance company as to whether this will affect your premiums. It did not affect ours but it is worth asking.
- Custom-fitted blackout curtains are available, or you can use blackout film on the back windows. It is also possible to run curtain wire across the back windows.
- Remember to have a curtain of some description behind the front seats for privacy.
- The nifty body shell ledges can be used to fit fold-down side tables, to rest cups and plates on, etc., and the wheel arches also make a great space for mini-cupboards. Keep them narrow or you will lose bed width.
- You can insulate the floor with bubblewrap (if you want to do it on a budget) or with something like Kingspan insulation. This will reduce heat in summer and keep heat in in winter. The roof can also be done.
Enjoy your vehicle. You can now sleep comfortable at festivals, beaches, etc. Follow the links below to see some other micro-camper conversions.
Another Kangoo Camper
Some wonderful inspiration here!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.