From simple van to ‘swim van’

imageSo here I am with a Sienna CE 2002. I chose the reliability on top of everything and the camping comfort will never match those bigger campers no matter all the efforts I put in it. I’ve been dreaming for a long time about owning a camper van. The Volkswagen Westfalia (water cooled models up to 1991) was always on top of the list. However, looking at it with a more rational eye, I had to face the evidence. Owning such a vehicle can be an expensive experience. As low cost and reliability were on top of my priorities, I had to avoid the Westfalia dream… at least for now. But, for their size, I think these vans are hard to beat in terms of camping functionality. I also believe it’s the soul they carry that makes them so popular. One day, I’ll probably get a decent Westfalia.

Here the challenge is interesting. In French we say ‘Dans les petits pots, les meilleurs onguents’… ‘In the small pots, the best ointments’. I’m now facing this challenge. I already did the major part of the van renovation on the Sienna but I believe it can still be enhanced significantly. As I will use it, the next step will be to think about ideas on how to build more camping comfort. Of course, I will try to put a bit of soul around it and make it deserve the ‘swim van’ appellation.

But apart from carrying my swimming gear and bringing me to many swimming spots, there are at least two things that link ‘swim van’ to the swimming and open water world. The first and most simple one is the ‘hook’. Believe it or not, the van came with a factory goggles hook put over the right sliding door. I guess you could probably hook any other stuff there but to me it’s a goggles hook. I bet there is a full chapter about the goggles hook in the owner’s manual. Also, the van came in white with ‘blackish’ tinted windows. By adding just a few accessories like a black protection bra on the hood and a black cargo box on the roof you get the perfect killer whale on the road. I didn’t picture this one right away. It came on a funny way only about a month after I bought the van. One day, I’ll tell the story.

The first move I made was taking off the rear seats. It was then easier to plan and layout the space. Some simple but important details had to be thought ahead. The layout according to the spare wheel location is one of them.

Right at the back, there is a spot where bins can be stacked. From Monday to Friday, my carpentry tools will be set there. During the weekends, tools will be swapped with camping and swimming gear. Behind the driver’s seat, I made a cabinet where I hide my mountain bike. The space left is the living and sleeping area. At the back, there is a folding table where I can have a bite or where I can sit and plan my next trip. The camping chair I use can easily be dismantled and stored. Having a small fridge would be awesome and I will also look at a set up that could take place outside, behind the van, where I could cook. Once opened, the hatchback could provide a bit of protection against the rain or the sun while cooking. I will eventually have a roof rack where I can put one or two cargo box so the inside of the van stays clean and is not filled with all the gear. The van is easy to park and cheap on gas for a six cylinders. Et voilà! Let’s try to prove it soon… ‘Dans les petits pots, les meilleurs onguents’.

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