So you’ve seen the vans parked up at the beach, or meandering carefree towards small continental towns in the summer, and you’ve decided – that’s the life for me!
But with so many commercial vans on the market it can be a minefield choosing the best van for camper conversion. Here we take a look at what’s out there.
Almost all commercial vans can be converted into medium sized camper vans, but for us the leaders in the field of best vans to convert are the VW Transporter, Ford Transit Custom, Vauxhall Vivaro, Renault Trafic and Mercedes Vito.
All of these vans have their good and bad points. The Ford Transit has long been popular in the British market, with its history as a strong workhorse. Its modern styling and internal width make it a strong contender.
The Renault Trafic (and Vauxhall Vivaro) is a brilliant blank canvas with a huge square interior, making it easy to fit cabinets and appliances.
The Mercedes Vito is attractive for its classy badge and luxury status.
When considering any of these vans, it’s also important to remember that the cost of a camper conversion doesn’t end when the van is finished. The maintenance and running costs of the campervan should also be taken into account.
When you add it all up, the favourite by far with us, and with most converters, is the Transporter.
I expect many converters would say it’s the history. With 75 years of heritage from the first splits to the latest T6, the Transporter is the longest running production van in history with an enormous following as a result. And for the trade, the T6 is seen as a van apart from other vans, one that adds value to a business and says ‘We’re here to stay!’
But while the heritage is part of the story, it is not the main reason we think the T5 and T6 Transporter is the best van for camper conversions.
It’s simple, the VW Transporter is the most popular mid-sized van to have a fully galvanised bodyshell, meaning that the body will last well beyond its peers, and maintain your investment well into the future.
We regularly come across older T5s from as early as 2003 with no signs of corrosion. The same can’t be said for most of the Transits, Vivaros and Trafics we see, and any number of other medium sized vans, because most commercial vans won’t be expected to last any longer than ten years.
As the Transporter was also designed to be used as a car, in the form of the Caravelle, Volkswagen wanted it to have the same build quality, warranty and life expectancy as the rest of their models.
History does play another big part in the success of the T5 and T6 as a campervan for conversion. Since the introduction of the first Westfalia split screens, an ever increasing number of companies and boffins in sheds have been coming up with accessories and modifications for the humble Transporter, to turn it in to any number of functional and luxurious campervans.
This means that as a camper converter, we have a vast array of parts to choose from when converting, with volume and competition keeping the cost of these parts down when compared to similar parts for other vans. For instance, a SCA elevating roof for a T6 costs the trade around £3600, the equivalent for a Ford Transit is £4600. So, although a Ford or Vauxhall may cost less as a base for your camper, the additional cost of parts can count significantly against the full conversion budget.
You may also like to think about resale value as it could be a factor in your decision making. VW campers typically have much better resale values especially when the conversion is 10 or more years old.
If you’re thinking of a day van or simple camper, then the other less expensive vans can be good value. But with a typical 4 berth full conversion, the VW still ends up being the best van for a camper conversion. Ultimately your final decision will be based on your budget and what you plan to do in your camper.
It’s simple, it’s going to last as long as our interior and hopefully become a classic of the future. And when it does begin to show its age, we like to think a Cambee will be restored like the old Westies and converted to electric or hydrogen or whatever miracle fuel will be used fifty years from now!
Compare the pros and cons of the VW Transporter T5 & T6, short and long wheel base, tailgate or barn doors, Startline or Highline van.
From known faults to low or high mileage, get the lowdown on sourcing a good camper base vehicle