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80-20 frame setup


Key Information About Building a Stealth Transit Conversion

The first step in any conversion is to list what you want the conversion to do. How will you use it. Everyone has different needs so one design does not work for all. Consider number of people, weather conditions expected, dry camping or RV parks, cooking requirements, heating requirements, is shower required, conversion back to cargo van, haul bikes or motorcycles, cooking inside van, can tall person sleep across van, etc. Once you have the requirements listed then different layouts can be tested. Each will have positives and negatives. Suggest doing the layouts to scale. Easy to go to dealer with a tape measure to determine the space available in the different models. If you do not have or have not decided which model, check out the dimensions on your garage floor and build it with sticks and cardboard. I happen to know CAD from my business use so can do the layouts on the computer.

Once you have determined what you want conversion to do and have a floor plan in mind, only then can you purchase a vehicle. What you buy and what options are ordered depends on your layout and how you will use it. Since you will pay $40,000 plus for the van and likely keep it for a long time, I would order a van instead of buying one off a lot that does not have the options you want. The delay is worth it. Spend time reviewing every option to see how it fits with your intended use. The van length is an important decision. Short to use city parking easily or longer to give more interior space. A longer van may be a requirement if one of the users is tall enough that they can not sleep across van. I found in the Sprinter it was not comfortable to sleep diagonally across van. Transit will have a 74" bed length instead of the Sprinter's 70" length.

My Sprinter conversion cost appox. $20,000 for materials and took several years to construct. Do you have the time, a place, tools and skill set to built your own? If not then a used or new completed conversion may be a better choice. I did enjoy the building process and the learning of new skills. It is both easier and harder to do a second build. Easier because you have experience and can refine the build but much harder because you now know how much time it takes. Think 4 times the time you would suspect.

For us the object of our build was to construct a travel vehicle that is stealth and can be used to city camp. Wanted it to fit normal parking places. It needed to be self contained with utilities that do not require the use of RV park connections. Lots of thought went into what and how our needs would be met. We will not have exposure to extreme temperatures very often so did not design for that. Being stealth, that eliminated things like bicycles hanging off the back, an awning, obvious wndow coverings, visable utility connections etc. Van needed to look like a tradsman's van from the outside. We only needed accomodations for two people and could sleep across back of van if care was taken on the bed design. We did want to have a table where two people could eat. Counter space is a problem in a small conversion. Did not want a built in stove because we wanted flexability on cooking location and did not want to waste the counter space. Did find a way in Transit to add counter space by having a removable shelf in the shower at counter height.

Prefer simplicity over complex with regards to utilities. Shower water is heated in an open tank, sink water uses a quiet centrifugal pump, tank fresh water level visible with a clear hose feeding the sink faucet, bed platforms are easily stored vertically against van walls, only 3 switches: sink water, shower water and a switch for interior lights at slider entry. Other lights have switch as part of light fixture. No hot water to the sink. No generator or central heating. Transit engine is the generator and is run for heating van in morning.

The electrical is covered in the electrical section. It is different than a normal RV system. Works well for our use. One important aspect is the use of rubber covered "SO" cords for electrical distribution. Much easier that conduit with wires.

Our conversion is built using 80/20 aluminum extrusions for the cabinets. That fit my fabricating abilities. Not as cheap as some other alternates but it does reduce the time required. Very suitable material for one off conversions by semi-skilled builder. The first step is to build the floor because all the other structures bolt to the floor. By adding a 1 1/2" thick floor I could insulate the floor and make it possible to get electrical cords from one side of van to the other. Aluminum being an excellent heat conductor the structures need to be thermally isolated from the van steel body. After floor is complete then other structures can be fabricated and walls insulated and covered. Next the roof fan and solar can be installed. Once structures are partially built the tanks can be installed. I used a fabricator to make 14 ga. SS freshwater tank, grey water tank, shower pan, sink, shower water tank and the slider threshold. Then the electrical and plumbing can be completed. Last is the wood paneling, drawers and the bed platform.

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