Citreon Relay Campervan Conversion – Vehicle Arrival
Since I started Dave Newell Leisure Vehicle Services (LVS) I have avoided taking on conversions of vans into campers on numerous occasions, simply because with only myself on the ground and my wife Jackie in the office and with conversions involving such a massive amount of work I always felt it was not viable.
This has all changed recently though, for a few years I have been thinking an extra man on the ground would be helpful but was always held back from advertising a position by not being sure I could bring in enough work to keep two of us busy full time.
So what changed you might ask?
A couple of good friends and customers opted to downsize to a panel van conversion (PVC) and were having one converted to their specification, sadly the company doing the work went into liquidation part way through. Our friends asked if we could store their van short term while they found another company to complete the conversion, we agreed. At about this time we let it be known through some of our local business contacts that we wanted a mechanic to join us and in less than 24 hours one walked in the door, long story short we took him on. Extra staff on the ground frees me up from the day to day stuff so we offered to complete the camper conversion for our friends. The final piece of the jigsaw clicked into place when the neighbouring workshop (Unit R, where I started the business 9 years ago) became available so we grabbed it to use for the conversion work.
The van in question is a 2011 Citroen Relay long wheel base in silver. The previous converter had done a fair bit of work to it including a new plywood floor, rear storage area accessed from the rear doors and incorporating a wardrobe in the centre interior face. Two inward facing seats form the living area at the rear, with Truma Ultrastore water heater under the nearside and Truma E2400 blown air heater under the offside. Nearside has the kitchen unit immediately in front and partially overlapping the sliding side door with fridge opposite. Immediately forward of the fridge on the offside is the wash-room. A Sargent EC460 provides the 12 volt and 230 volt fusing/circuit breakers and distribution.
Incredibly when the van was delivered to us it had no door mirrors, no cab seats, no cab seat bases, a totally dead engine battery (0.8 volts) and numerous dents and paint scrapes along with a split in the nearside rear door skin and a large crack in the windscreen. Even more amazing was the delivery method: the van was delivered on a recovery A frame and towed behind a BMW X5, as the recovery frame doesn’t provide brake function on the towed vehicle the delivery driver had a “mate” sitting on a wooden stool in the van, they didn’t even fit a towing board at the rear!
So we took stock for a day or two to establish (A)what we had to work with and (B)what exactly needed doing, the answers were (A) not a lot and (B) an awful lot! As the original converter (lets call him Billy (as in Billy the Kid, a proper cowboy) hadn’t cut any window apertures that was obviously pretty high on the list of jobs, while the wash-room was in place there was nothing inside it, no loo, no shower, not even a roof-light. The rear seating area was built on a raised floor section to put the top of the backrest cushions in line with the bottom of the windows. But he put the raised floor across the whole rear section instead of just the centre section between the seats, this wastes an awful lot of space as well as adding a lot of weight, especially when you use decking timber for support!
The owner organised some new cab seats complete with swivel mounts and bases but they came without seat belt receptacles so these had to be sourced seperately, at least we could fit the driver’s seat and move the vehicle about, door mirrors also had to be sourced and fitted. Billy was supposed to have fitted a bulk underfloor gas tank, an electric step and solar panel but seemed to have side stepped those three items so another couple of jobs got added to our list.
Our first major task was to cut all apertures in the bodywork, these included windows in the side loading door and one each side in the rear seating area, a rooflight for the washroom to add natural light and ventilation and the toilet cassette access door. After that we moved it to a local bodyshop (Court Autos, Tweedale North, Telford 01952 581189) to have all the body damage sorted out, this included respraying the front grille surround, several body panels as well as removing several dents and weld repairs to the rear doors and respraying both. As expected Dave and his team did a first class job, we also got them to paint the hookup inlet cover, toilet cassette door frame and awning to match the rest of the van.
Two weeks later we had the van back and could start on the conversion proper….well so we thought. I noticed that the plywood floor had a spongy section near where the fridge would live so decided to lift the plywood and inspect. Turns out Billy didn’t bother removing the original plywood floor from when it was a delivery van and some sections were rotten, probably due to pressure washing. On lifting the original plywood floor we were gobsmacked to find a badly dented steel floor with broken spot welds in places but the worst was the ½ inch layer of what appeared to be congealed animal fat.
Two full days later we had it cleaned and degreased, repaired/straightened, primed, painted and a coat of stonechip to give some protection. On top of this we laid insulation, then battens then more insulation topped off with the plywood floor. The cab roof lining was filthy so we removed it for deep cleaning, this gave good access to the overcab area for insulation.
Electrics came next as they need to be installed before the insulation and furniture. Billy had a Sargent distribution unit from a caravan and its respective wiring looms so a couple of days went into sorting out the wiring and routing it in trunking and conduits to the relative positions. The mains wiring includes dedicated circuits for the separate water and space heaters, as the space heater doesn’t have an electric option we will wire that to a standard socket for a stand-alone heater.
For insulating the main body we opted for spray polyurethane foam. This is a two part liquid chemical product that comes in two steel cylinders. Hoses connect the cylinders to a gun with a clever mixing nozzle from where it sprays out as an off white sticky goo which adheres to almost anything and sets in 30 seconds to form a waterproof layer with a high thermal insulation rating, it also damps noise quite well so we expect this to be a really quiet van on the road. Spray foam is a very messy product to install but well worth the cost and effort, just make sure to protect anything you don’t want it to get on. Once fully cured any excess material can be simply cut away with a sharp blade, a flexible kitchen knife with a 12 inch blade works brilliantly. The cab roof lining could now be refitted along with a built in shelf for table storage, the edge of this area is padded with poly foam tube to protect heads from damage when moving into the cab. The overcab area is boarded out and carpet lined for a nice warm finish.
So with the wiring in, bodywork sorted, body insulated we decided to finish the cab with the final installation of the seats, bases, swivels and seat belt receptacles (this would then enable us to extinguish the airbag warning light on the dash as no seat belt receivers meant no pre-tensioners connected to the wiring). This was where we discovered the next batch of problems. The seat belt receivers were fine but had arrived minus their wiring harnesses, no problem the supplier sent them as a separate package. Problem was the passenger seat harness was wrong. We also discovered during deep cleaning of the cab that the fuel tank unit wasn’t secured in the tank but it wasn’t connected electrically either (could be why the fuel gauge is stuck on empty thinks I) so we plugged it in only to find the fuel pump sounded like it was gargling gravel! One new tank unit later along with a new passenger seatbelt wiring harness and all is now well in the world….well until the next issue pops up.
To complete tidying up of the silly little jobs that could so easily come back to haunt us if left we turned our attention to the rear end. The rear doors only give access to the rear storage area which Billy had made a passable job of so we left it be, well except for the carpet covering the lower sill. He’d glued it down over the sill and under the rear plastic bumper cover, just perfect to wick water up into the storage area, he’d also removed the lower rear door latch plate. We cut away the carpet lining from the sill, repainted it and clad the top surface with UPVC cladding sealed with a nice bead of Sikaflex. The rear doors are insulated with the same spray foam and finished off with the original lower door cards on the bottom half and varnished hardboard on the upper parts.
We plan to keep the citreon relay campervan conversion blog up to date with the progress we make. Check back regularly or follow us on facebook for updates. Dave Newell LVS Facebook Page