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Choosing the specification

For this I have unashamedly used John Speed's book Travel Vans as my guide. This book looks at all aspects of converting a van for long distance travel. He appears to have built it on a money no object basis so compromises may well be needed.

General layout
Before reading JS's book we had already decided that we wanted a permanent double bed - there is nothing worse than assembling a bed and making it up after a late night and then reversing the process every morning. We looked at drop down beds which can be kept made up even when stored. However they need at least 2.1 metres (6' 10") headroom. Our van would need a new higher roof so the bed would cost about 2000! Our solution is to put the bed across the back of the van at about 1m above the floor. This gives a huge storage area under the bed accessible from the rear doors.

We did consider incorporating rotating cab seats (captain's seats) as part of the lounge/dinette area to provide more effective length to the living area. However cost and other design considerations excluded this idea.

A shower and toilet cubicle, wardrobe, kitchen area, fridge and seating will be arranged to fit the remainder with drawers and overhead storage cupboards to suit.

Power sources
The major sources of energy used in the normal motor caravan are gas (LPG) and electricity. The availability of gas on our journey is not known. Even if available it may mean buying new bottles and regulators from time to time. Gas tanks may equally be difficult to refill in the wilds of Mongolia etc. In any event the sad story of the couple of Members of the Club who died in South America when their tank exploded due to over filling is a warning to us all. Tanks should never be filled beyond 80% of capacity. My view is that a large gas tank should provide enough gas for the whole trip for cooking only and without the risk of refilling. (Eating out is great if you can find somewhere and you accept the hygiene risks)

Electricity is fine when you have a mains hook up but again on our journey these will be few and far between once outside Europe.

This means that heating and hot water need to be provided from other sources. The most readily available source is the vehicle's diesel fuel which is available world wide. There are several companies which make suitable equipment- Eberspacher, Webasto and Mikumi for example. The system is very economical on fuel. With a calorifier (a hot water storage tank also heated from the engine cooling system and an immersion heater) hot water is always available.

Our van has a 24v electrical system. One suggestion is to install an additional alternator to charge the battery for the 12v habitation system so keeping the habitation and the vehicle electrical systems completely separate. This is possible on the Mercedes. One type of battery which cxould be used is the Elecsol carbon fibre battery (which can stand being completely discharged for long periods without damage) with a capacity of at least 300 amp hours. This system will power lighting, water pumps, heating and hot water system, a compressor fridge and other items. It will also provide power for a 1.5kw invertor to supply 230v for a microwave, electric kettle, hair dryer etc.

Batteries will also be charged from a mains step battery charger with temperature compensation.

The 24v and 12v systems will be interlinked to allow 24v charging from the 12v system. The system will also be charged by solar panels on the roof with possibly 200w output.

Having researched the electrical systems further we are installing an Antares system. Antares are a British company who specialise is auxiliary vehicle systems. Their equipment is supplied to the armed forces, the emergency services, Rail Track, Formula 1 racing teams, etc. It is very robust both physically and electrically and is intended to be a fit and forget system. Each system is individually engineered to suit each application. The cost is about 30% more than leisure equipment.

To cope with the long distances to be travelled we shall have large capacity tanks. The water tank will be 400 litres and the fuel tank 300 litres, the waste tank will be fairly standard at around 70-80 litres. The calorifier will be around 25 litres (enough for 2 showers). All we have to do is find space for all these tanks. The fuel system will have an extra sedimenter to remove any possibility of muck and water getting to the engine.

A water filter system is an essential item. This will provide a reliable source of drinking water. Les Brook has researched this area and produced a comparison of his realties - well worth reading.

Windows will be double glazed - possibly Seitz windows with built in blinds and flyscreens. The roof hatches will be marine quality, Canpa or similar. These are very tough and can be fully opened 180/ to give access to the roof so that an outside fixed ladder is not needed.

The rest of the spec is a matter of personal taste for furnishings etc. John Speed's book gives a very thorough analysis of these and many other matters, however our current thinking is given in the specification in the appendix.


Written by Clive Barker in preparation for UK to China and back.


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