Building a Camper-Van.. Conventional or Euro Style?

Deciding what type of van to get.

My first Campervan. 2000 Dodge Conversion. 
This is more important than you think. This is the foundation of your mobile dwelling and you need to make sure it will work for what you plan to do.

Plenty of windows and seating made this van a better passenger
van than a campervan. 
My first camper van had an extended roof. At first I thought this was ideal because I could just about stand up. After owning the van a few years I started to resent the fiberglass top.

Disadvantages of a fiberglass topper. (for me)
  • Very Hot in the summer
  • Cannot easily mount a roof rack. Means need a trailer to haul kayak. 
  • Begins to crack after 10 years of hot sun.
  • Higher roof means limited accessibility - Car washes, drive thru, garages, and public parking have to be avoided.  

  • Extra storage often built in. 
  • Can almost stand and walk in it. ( I am 6 ft., roof was 5' 10'')
Funny enough I never walked around in my van.  Then I thought about it and I never really walk around my living room anyway.  If I want a walk I should get out of the van. The extra head room did not make a practical difference to me so the second van I was looking for would not have one. 

Since I was not a fan of conversion van tops I decided to look at these new European style vans. My first van was a Dodge and I love Dodge trucks but they did away with the conventional American design and started making Sprinters.

Mercedes Benz/Dodge Sprinter (US Spec) - New Y...
Mercedes Benz/Dodge Sprinter (US Spec) - New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I looked at and test drove some Sprinter Vans.  I liked the extra height in the back with a solid roof strong enough to hold a kayak. What I did not like was how under powered the engine felt. It got better gas mileage than a conventional, but suffered at performance and reliability. My research led me to the conclusion that they have not come to a good balance of power and cargo.  Perhaps in Europe where there is more urban driving this would be a perfect vehicle.  I spend much of my time driving in the Sierra Nevada mountains so I wanted more power. 

I settled on a Chevy cargo van. Conventional and classic. 
Perhaps the biggest reason I settled on a plain white Chevy cargo van was the conventional American classic van design.  My previous vehicle was a Jeep and I have a bit of nostalgia for older vehicle designs with history. The white color keeps the temperature of the van a good 20 degrees lower than my previous maroon colored van on the inside.

The plain white color also draws very little attention.  It looks like every plumber, moving, rental, and electrician van out there. In my Jeep everyone else who drives a Jeep Wrangler waves at you. It is a very public vehicle that does get a LOT of attention. I enjoy people not being very interested in my vehicle, especially in downtown parking lots. 

I also do not care for many windows on my van.  My first van was surrounded with windows. There
was dark tinting and blinds so people could hardly see in, but I could see everything in the world. If I was in a truck stop I was well aware of my surroundings and it was hard to feel safe and detach
Empty canvas.  
myself to get rest.  Since I do not plan to live IN my van windows are not necessary and pose an extra security risk.  Others may see you occupying your vehicle, they may see your valuables, and they can easily break a window and you will have to drive around with a cardboard window until you can find some unique camper glass to replace that hard to find conversion van window. 

After much deliberation I decided in my younger age I would go with a conventional conversion.  If moving around on my knees gets painful as I get older I will upgrade, but that will be much later and perhaps Dodge will work all of the kinks out of the Sprinter by then. 

Until then I will be building my camper van on an American conventional van, a 2015 Chevy Express 2500. 

I have been using this van as a daily driver since August while I build it. So far I am pleased with the functionality of the van.  It gets a consistent 15.8 mpg in the mountains, while it falls short of the 22 mpg Sprinter vans brag about, it is still 6 mpg better than my 2000 Dodge Conversion Van. 

The 6 speed automatic transmission allows you to idle down the highway, at cruising speed I am usually about 1400 rpm which is several hundred rpms slower than my old 4 speed van.

I will post a follow up article of the build out soon.