Dylan Hoen's Homepage
Electrical Engineer and Computer Programmer for hire in Victoria, BC, Canada
Main Page
Click Here
Things I Have Built
About Dylan

Things I Have Built
Title Page Camping Hot Tub Tall Bed With Storage Room Underneath
Portable Stareo Storage Bed / Media Couch Camperized Chevy Astro Van
LED Flashlight AUV Sonar Board BedWoofer
Computer Water-Cooling System Potato Cannon

Camperized Chevy Astro Van

Built: 2007/04/29
Added to Webpage: 2010/08/06

I had wanted to buy a minivan and camperize it since highschool, but someone else picked out my first car for me, which wasn't a minivan. Seven years later, when that car was no longer worth the repair costs (and I finally had an income after being a poor student for years), I decided to finally buy a minivan and camperize it. After comparing a lot of minivans, I thought that the Volkswagen Wesvalia with the backwards-facing middle seats and pop up table was the best one. Unfortunately I couldn't find any used ones for less than $25,000 Canadian, and my target budget was less than $5,000 Canadian. I finally decided on a Chevy Astro Van. It was a bit bigger than most minivans and I wanted the extra room. It was built on a truck chassis, which was higher off of the ground and a bit more ruggedized for driving on gravel roads. There were a lot of them around, so it was easy to find parts for repair. Someone had told me that they have seen them survive up to 400,000 kilometers. I found a used 1996 Chevy Astro Van with a 4.3 liter engine, real wheel drive, and only 133,333 kilometers on it for $6,495. It was a bit out of my budget, but after a few days, I talked the sales man down to $5,400 and bought it.

I had taken measurements of the van and drawn up plans for the bed before I had decided whether or not to buy the van. On the first weekend after buying the van, I went out and bought some 2X4s and a couple sheets of 1" thick plywood and started building the bed. I used 1" thick plywood because it could span the 4'7" width without needing any support beams, and I wanted the bed to be as thin as possible to maximize usable space both above and below it. The 1" plywood cost around $50 per sheet. The cost of the 2X4s was insignificant by comparison.

Below is a picture of the van with the middle and rear seats removed so that I could bring home the plywood. Unfortunately, the space between the back door and the back of the front seats was just a couple inches too short to hold an 8' sheet of plywood with the doors closed, so I got the sheets cut at the store before loading them into the van. There was an extended length version of the van that could fit the plywood, but the van’s current size was already about as big as I could handle for navigating in parking lots, so I didn’t want to get a bigger one.

Below is a picture of the mostly complete camperized van from the Sunday of the first weekend. I was busy getting most of the construction done and I forgot to take any pictures of the partial construction. I got rid of the back seat, but kept the middle seat because I wanted to be able to carry 5 people when the need arose.

The back seat folds down.

Then the bed folds on top of it. The length of the bed was chosen so that with the middle seats in the furthest back position and the front seats in the furthest back position, the bed could be as long as possible without affecting the furthest angle that the front seats could tilt back (about 6'5" long for the plywood, with the foam extending an extra inch past the end of the plywood to avoid uncomfortable sharp edges.). (I have long legs and like to have my seats in the furthest back position.)

The height of the bed was chosen so that it could rest flat on the folded seat, be tall enough to fit my large camping cooler, and that the top of the bed be continuous with the plastic armrest/storage bin/cup holders in the back.

I wanted the bed to be as thin as possible, while still being comfortable. I tested out various foams at the foam shop, and I finally decided on 1" of medium hardness foam on top of 1" of hard foam. I think the foam sheets cost $100 per inch of thickness. The shape of the interior of the van was rounded in many dimensions, so I cut the plywood to this rounded shape with a jig saw. I screwed the 2X4s into the van first, and then inserted the sheets of plywood through the side door and on top of the 2X4s. I screwed the back piece of plywood to the 2X4s, and then screwed the hinges in connecting the 4 pieces of plywood together. Then I used a spray on glue to glue the foam to the plywood.

The final dimensions of the bed were: 5’7 1/2" wide by 6’6" long. It was 5’8" wide from window to window, which gives a bit more useable area on top of the bed than the dimensions of the plywood its self. There was a 4’1 1/2" gap between the 2X4 legs that held up the plywood, so, in theory, a 4’ X 8’ sheet of plywood could still be transported on the floor of the van if the middle seat was removed and the plywood stuck out the open rear door a few inches. A sheet of plywood could alternatively be transported on top of the bed. I have transported 8’ 2X4s on top of the bed with the rear door closed. They extend between the front seats. The distance between the back door and the back of the subwoofer box under the bed (shown later) was 3’10". The middle of the roof was 4’0" above the floor. The bottom of the bed was 19 3/8" above the floor. The middle of the roof was 2’2" above the top of the foam on the bed.

The folded chair slopes down in the forward direction, so I added another piece of wood to make sure that the head end of the bed sloped slightly up for comfortability in sleeping. I also added a bed sheet on top of the foam because the foam had a sticky kind of friction that made it difficult to crawl around on.

The bed used several hinged segments of plywood to fold it up because a single folding sheet would have hit the roof when folded.
It also had a couple small pieces of wood under the hinges to support the hinge when resting on the seat and to keep the bed flat.

One of the segments was there to accommodate the foam's thickness when the bed was folded up.

I bought 2 large, 5 pound, -10 degree Celsius, rectangular Broadstone sleeping bags from Canadian Tire for $50 each, and zipped them together to form one extra large sleeping bag. The added insulation underneath helped with staying warm in the winter, and it was also a soft surface to lie on. I also bought some pillows to be permanently stored in the van along with the sleeping bag.

Unfortunately, the segment that accommodated the thickness of the folded foam wasn't quite long enough to accommodate a folded sleeping bag, but it was good enough for me not to bother replacing it.

Later on, I used the waste plywood to build a subwoofer box for the 15" subwoofer that I salvaged from my old car, and installed it into the van.

I also swapped over my deep cycle car battery, 1000 watt inverter, and subwoofer amplifier. In the image below, from the bottom to the top: Deep cycle car battery, fuse box, wiring harness, inverter remote on circuit, and the inverter disappearing into the darkness off to the left.

A view from under the bed, showing the subwoofer box in the middle, with the deep cycle car battery to its left. My cooler drain had come open one day and leaked water into the back of the van and my axe had left rust stains on the carpet. I’d say that its better to have your stuff well used and dirty than never actually using it.

A closeup of the deep cycle car battery and the inverter.

A shot of the empty space under the bed and all of the stuff I fit back there.

All of the stuff packed into the back of the van.

Camping in Port RAINfrew.

Living room attached to bedroom.

I now have that wooden tarp frame reinforced, and permanently strapped to the roof of my van.

And often carry a canoe strapped to the top of it.