A few weeks ago I decided to start my own little DIY project and bought a combi vehicle (Renault Kangoo), named it Big Berta and transformed it from a normal street car into a 5-minute set up ready to use for camping. Why I decided to buy a combi vehicle rather than an actual van you can read in my last entry. Since I bought the car I have gone for a ready conversion which means I didn’t actually remove much that was in the car already other than the plastic cover behind the foldable seats at the back. I managed this conversion in my parents garage with simple tools. All I used was a drilling machine, a jigsaw and circular saw, a machine screwdriver, a sanding machine and a sewing machine.
I am not an expert of any kind, just a simple woman who did this with probably not so good planning, not enough patience but a lot of will power, motivation and courage to try my own DIY- conversion…Of course, this wasn’t all my own doing, I had my little helpers aka my family.
To get rid of the fleece floor that was already in the car, I bought a cheap wax table cloth and taped it onto the floor and leveled it out to allow a smother and softer floor which will be easier to keep clean from dirt, sand and others. I added a small velcro clip to get easier access to my replacement tire which is accessible through the back bottom of the boot. Initially I had already taken out the car trim at the back side right and left because I thought I would use what’s behind them for more space but soon realized it would be way to much work and probably way above my skill level to build something there, so I put the trim back in and decided to leave it in for my conversion. This then meant I had a total width of 1,15m in the back of the car to use for my storage boxes/bed set up.
Boxes and bed frame
At first I started by building the extendable bed frame for the boot; as Berta is a newer model combi of the ones I had initially searched inspiration for, the back seats fold flat – meaning it was necessary to build something that would level and carry the weight of the built that will be used to sleep on. I therefor decided that I would be building two storage boxes which can be screwed on the metal in the car for stronger support. One box is going to be a heavy duty pull out for the cooking gear and one a simple storage box. While I kind of just went a long with my ideas as I started and didn’t quite have an actual plan, the only thing I knew was that I wanted and needed a smart, practical, easy to set up construction. That’s when I decided to cut the boxes perfectly fitting into the boot to allow the back seat row to be up and used as normal when needed. I chose to build an extendable slatted frame so that the back of it can be used standing up for seating. In normal day use the whole set up can be stored somewhere or left in the back of the car with the seat row fully in use. For camping usage, I can fold down the seating row and pull the slat frame towards the front of the car. It will click in at the end of the storage boxes and a frame will fold down in the middle of the slat for mid size support. At the end of the frame I added two wooden sticks to be places behind the driver and passenger seat where the frame with get another touch point for support when lying on top.
Kitchen/ Camping Box
For the boxes I bought spruce wood at our local Sonderpreis Baumarkt and not a traditional hardware store like Obi or Toom because it was cheaper and already comes in extremely useful width sizes for my set up. Now my boxes are 70cm long on the top at 80 on the bottom. For the pullout drawer I bought heavy duty trays so that I can easily put my 20L water canisters etc. on them. I also added a little inside compartment for practical storage and easy use of gas cooking system. During this built I was especially proud because i managed to build the inner set up in the perfect size so that I can pull the box easily. Little did I forget to calculate that a person sitting on top of the box would change the dynamic of the box. It affected it just as much that I wasn’t able to actually close the box properly when my friend did a test trial with me. But, that was nothing I couldn’t fix. I just used my best friend the sanding machine and spend a good hour to sand down some of the middle parting wood to make it work. Between my boxes I added another piece of wood to finish off the whole bed frame, however this piece of wood is an allrounder to be used for the inside table or a cutting board on top of the pullout box.
Curtains and mattress
Next was the extremely challenging set up of curtains. For my curtains I wanted a strong, easy to be opened and closed curtain system that I can leave in the car even if I am using it as a normal car. To me the only option for this was to build a string system that would allow enough tension between the curtain railings so that they wouldn’t hang down or slip off. I bought 7m of steel rope without any clue how I would span it nor how to create the tension I wanted without having to drill wholes in my car. I took off some parts of the side trims to discover that there were whole I might as well use. Finally my Dad came up with the brilliant idea to use electrical connection clamps for fixation and with combined work force we were able to span the steel. I bought blackout fabric and, luckily, I have a twin who knows how to properly use a sewing machine. She showed me a few tips and tricks with sewing the curtains.
Finding the right foam for the mattress, was another difficult task. I thought I wanted not more than 5 or 7cm height because it seems extremely high when folded and I hadn’t actually seen many people using this thick foam. But because I find shopping online so frustrating and I have no clue about foam or mattresses, I ended up googling foam sellers in my suburbs and visited one who was just doing foam cuttings for another clients campervan and he sold me on 10cm high foam. It was ready for pick up exactly how I needed it the same day. The total length of my bed can be 2,10m pulled out however I decided to only get the foam for a length of 1,90m. Since I only had the foam and no covers whatsoever and my research online had shown me that buying foam with covers was extremely expensive, I decided I will give the sewing machine another chance. To keep costs within budget and to recycle more, I raided my Mum’s stuff and managed to scavenge the remains of old duvet covers which I sewed into covers for my foam mattress pieces.
The finished product
The finishing touches were simply finishing off the wood with an oil based care product and hauling the whole set up into the car, adding my camping gear, a few pillows and stringing up some fairy lights to create a cozy ambience. I so far have slept one night in it and was surprised by the spaciousness and coziness. It will take some time to get used to the hard foam mattress but other than that I am extremely happy with my set up. I have storage between my main boxes for a small suitcase and other travel bags which can be stored below the slatted frame when using the bed function. In terms of budget I was way below what I thought I would be spending. Including all screws, wood material, foam, the curtain material, the heavy duty drawer pullout and even the water canisters etc. I spent 266,74 €. However I also recycled some pieces of wood my Dad had lying around and my Mum’s bed covers. This could have been done even cheaper if I hadn’t insisted in buying the slats for the slat frame rather than getting some old palettes which would have meant a lot more work restoring the old wood. I had worked on this DIY project for about 6 weeks on and off and can’t wait to take Big Berta on the road for the first proper camping trip!