This home made Chevy van camper caught my eye in Arcata, CA on a recent trip down the coast. It’s big and long, and surprisingly well-built for a home brew job. As the next picture shows, the builder actually changed the angle of the front doors so they would close flush with the widened body.
This shows it quite clearly: the doors flare out to meet the wider main body. I’ve never seen this done, even on commercial van conversions. Invariably there’s a bump out behind the cab where it meets a widened body.
The rest of it is pretty sophisticated too. Somebody put some serious thought and effort into it, The current owner told me that the builder was an engineer. That’s hardly surprising.
Just building that side door to match the contours of the body alone is a considerable challenge.
Should have made the side door, a slider.
I’m picturing the guy setting up a wind tunnel involving a tarp and a fan, in his driveway.
Obviously had a lot of time on his hands.
Is this a home-built motorhome, designed and built by an engineer, who was also a skilled bodyman, or was this a one-off prototype built by a RV manufacturer?
The primary reason why none of the mainline conversion companies attempt to modify the cabs on motorhomes, is the high labor costs involved. In using the door area to eliminate the side body bump, it’s more than simply moving the door post outward. Take for example, the slanted window frame. The upper windshield frame side posts on this van had to be widened like a slim slice of pie so the upper end was around 1.5 inches wider.
The wheel arch area also had to be modified to match the door’s new closing points, so the door gasket would seal. But this designer went further than just adjusting that lower door gap around the wheel arch beginning at a point directly below the hinge pivot arc. It appears they cut and extended the entire wheel arch lip so it would be a gentle arc from a point in front of the wheel opening. The door post with the latch also had to be rotated on a vertical axis, to match the door’s new location. I suspect they cut the entire door opening area and rotated it outwardly, pivoting on the hinges [no pun intended]. They then filled in the gaps on the windshield posts and floor areas.
Paul doesn’t mention if the main body panels are steel or fiberglass [or a combination thereof], but due to the original Chevy horizontal body lines being used, I’m going to speculate that the main body panels are fiberglass. This of course suggests the possibility of this vehicle being a prototype for a production run of similar motorhomes. It also suggests the creation of this vehicle was done not in a 2-car garage where the designer lived, but in a large commercial space. Just creating, using, and storing of the molds for these big body panels, supports the idea it was created with the intent to make more than one example.
If on the other hand this vehicle is all steel, this represents an incredible amount of hand fabrication, metal forming, and mig welding. Metal shaping equipment to create panels with this level of fit means the builder had access to a large metal shaping facility, or the work may have been done “south of the border”.
It’s my opinion this was created not by a single engineer/fabricator, but was a prototype for a line of van-based motorhomes that didn’t look like a big box sitting on a van cab/chassis. I’m just guessing, but I suspect it never reached production due to the high labor costs to modify the cab.
Either way, it took a clever person or group, to take the idea from paper, to a complete running example.
All I know is what the current owner told me, that it was built by an “engineer”.
I agree that this would have been a massive undertaking for a true home-built project. But then I’ve seen certain people get carried away with fulfilling a vision. But this is out of the ordinary.
Seeing it close-up made it look a bit less slick than it does in the pictures.
»peers at sky«
Huh…looks like it might rain.
»shuffles from foot to foot«
I was just about to call you out on that line but I see you have already called yourself out! Now if you will excuse me, I need to go source some NOS Norwegian style dash light bulbs for my 1991 Buick LeSaber. I hear they are better than the US spec ones. 😉
Surely an RV manufacturer would nix this idea at the outset due to projected labour costs? There is so little benefit in trying to eliminate a couple of right angles when the base vehicle is so boxy anyway.
We don’t know what exactly the engineer did for a living. My great aunt’s Imp Californian had badly rusted out floors and my engineer great uncle took it to the steel plant where he worked and fabricated and fitted all new metal. He and his friend also bored out the engine in his Vauxhall Victor at work. Those are clearly tiny projects in comparison, but my point is that this engineer may have had free or cheap access to some impressive equipment and expertise for all we know.
I’m wondering if the side body panels started out as the original side panels from the van – or more likely sourced from more than one donor van, which then had an extension grafted to the top to make them taller and then were capped with a new roof. The windows would be straddling the original panels and the extension. I can almost see a bit of kink in the rear where the original roof would have been in the rear three-quarters picture.
Blue bowties on the grille and all the remaining hubcaps point to this being one of the earliest of this style of GM van, dating from the very beginning of the Class C motorhome as we know it today. For the first couple years there was apparently no factory cutaway chassis, RV shops had to cut up a cargo van themselves.
I can see this concept being approved for a full-scale prototype by a shop that didn’t have the level of communication between accounting and design/engineering they should’ve and as the labor hours added up opting to see the prototype to saleable completion rather than having a pile of scrap metal that had been a new van a week or so before.
Very interesting! I wonder if the build was done recently or long ago. The Chevy cab is from the 70’s. If it was done recently, why not use something newer? It seems a shame to have all that slick body work done and not have a proper paint job. It would look pretty sleek and professional with that.
@Jon, Yup, spraying a Happy Face, and Peace Sign on the top front looks very shabby, but to each his own!
If there was ever a vehicle that represents Arcata. The steel gray matches the gloomy weather, but I agree with Jon that it would look nice with a groovy paint job.
Nicely done van. I like the big windows. That’s a hell of a rear overhang though! Is that typical for these types of conversions?
@Corey, if you want to experience GLOOMY, live in Vancouver for awhile! I was there 30ish years and morphed some WEBBED FEET! I moved away to the Sunny Okanagan Valley in 1993! They shoot a lot of movies/TV in “Hollywood North”, and one Producer publicly complained about the weather. The locals (IDIOTS) were up in arms about that! If you ever visit, go in SUMMER, and get OUT by October! L0L
Oh, sorry; I’m very much in favour of people moving away from where they don’t like living; everyone’s happier that way.
Not that long ago I saw a GM van from this generation with a similar door treatment. It was in a quick passing but it looked like it was done in a professional manner. It wore white paint with patina that would be consistent with it having been done when new. The big difference was that it was done with a DRW cutaway chassis.
Primer hides a lot of fabrication in sheet metal, shadow coat is even better but this one is quite well done and it would be easier in sheet metal than fibreglass for the main body the doors could be fibreglass ambulances were done in that mirroring the donor pickup body contours but they were just dropped on the chassis behind the cab they didnt bother altering the door openings
I am guessing this is the work of some individual rather than an actual van co. or RV company. The length and imagined weight seems to be excessive for it not to have a rear axle that is either tandem or at the very least a single dually GM truck set up. It all still obviously needs a good bit of work done, it would be nice to know if the owner considers it a finished project at this point. An A+ for imagination, and work ethic. So Paul, can you get more info on this? Or more photos? Thanks again for a good read.
No, I didn’t. I just saw it parked on the square there and hopped out for a couple of quick shots. The owner was sitting in it and that’s all I got.
I do have a thing for home built RVs, and I’ve shot and posted quite a few here over the years. Here’s just one:
In the last two pictures if you zoom in you can see that it is a dually rear axle, look at the extreme offset of the wheel and the hub and lug count. In the one I can’t tell if it is just a shadow or not but, I seem to see the faint outline of second tire