Starting the Snapwagon

In 2011 I bit the bullet, sold my car and bought a van to convert into a camper so trips to take landscape pictures in Britain can be done in more comfort than camping provides. I have never been an ardent camper; when I was young it was tolerable but now I find the warmest months only are acceptable for camping and that is the least suitable time to find the best light and mood in the countryside.

I neither need nor want a Winnebago, nor anything like it. A small van, cheap and easy to run and convert but on relatively modern underpinnings is ideal for me. I know many people rely on a proper camper van but for £10 to £15k or thereabouts you can choose between a range of 10 to 30 year old campers and small motor-homes. Either way you get an old chassis and suspension, wheezy, often underpowered engines and a potential nightmare from the work of the tinworm. Not for me.

My preferred route is a three year old Mercedes Vito van, converted to my own specification to exactly fit what I want from it. Bought and converted for a total spend around the bottom end of the figures quoted above it is a thoroughly modern vehicle which drives like a car, is reasonably economical and nippy.

Here it is on a quick trial run to South Wales


The interior space isn’t huge but that will help to make it more cosy when it’s cold. How much space does one person need for sleeping anyway?

The electrics are now in the van. This is not a job I would tackle myself and I had the work done by a qualified auto-electrician I have known for many years. He sourced a good capacity battery that was not too tall so it would fit under the passenger seat; this was the ideal solution because it meant there was no loss of floor space in the Vito.


I only needed the most basic set-up, this comprises a backup battery to run lights in the back and provide sockets, which you can see in the above picture, to charge my camera batteries and mobile phone. This will ensure that the main battery keeps a good charge overnight to start the van in the morning.

I did not want a fridge, it would take up a lot of space and provide no real benefit. I can happily drink tea and coffee black and usually do. I don’t plan to take much food apart from tinned when I go and if a local town has a decent deli I will get some quality fresh food daily while I am on location.

The second picture shows the connector blocks for the lights, these are above the side loading doors just behind the seats. The insulation and roof panels have to go in before the lights can be fixed so that’s the next project.



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