From Rusty Cargo Van To Mobile Studio

Looking for a more unique living experience, [Zach Both] converted a 2003 Chevy Express Van he picked up from Craigslist into a gorgeous mobile home.

The van had 200,000 miles when he bought it. The body and frame were a bit rusty, but he saw the potential. First step was gutting the entire van, and getting rid of any surface rust with an angle grinder. It was a long and tedious process, but once it was done he had a blank slate to work with.

After painting the interior, [Zach] proceeded to insulate using a combination of Reflectix insulation for the main window panels, spray foam for any drafty gaps, and some regular fiberglass insulation for the walls. Then he went all out with the wood paneling — thankfully not in classic shag wagon form. The wood even camouflages the minimalist style kitchen station, complete with spice rack and gas burner for cooking.

Mobile kitchen

The attention to detail [Zach] put into this build is absolutely amazing. One of our favorite features are the chalkboard windows for jotting down ideas. Did we mention he also has a full solar energy system installed on the roof? All he’s missing is a mobile workshop.

For more info about this awesome project, you can check out the manual he wrote on it called The complete guide to complete freedom.

He’s been living comfortably in it for the past year — and the best part? It only cost him $12,000 to make.

[Via r/DIY]

30 thoughts on “From Rusty Cargo Van To Mobile Studio

  1. I will be VERY HAPPY when that annoying “where are the flying cars” gif falls off the bottom of the “Our Columns” section.

    Does anyone else find that distracting and pointless while trying to read the articles?

    1. Yes. I find .gifs that crawl around exceedingly annoying. I block most of them with an ad blocker and nuke the rest with one of the “remove this element” extensions. On HAD I’ve disabled the ad blocker, but might have to reconsider if they start letting advertisers regularly display crawly .gifs.

    2. Off topic:

      I was looking at your spinthariscope note on your ‘io’ page, and was wondering if you got it working. If not, would phosphor(s) from a CRT work?

      1. In theory they would.

        I found a YouTube video where someone scraped the back off of a busted CRT and pressed scotch tape into the powder, then laid it over an Alpha emitter. He didn’t have a video of the results, but he said it worked. Also, Jeri Ellsworth has a YouTube video where she makes one from glow powder:

        I purchased a Zinc Sulphide disk from eBay (link below), which is used specifically for making alphas visible, but so far I haven’t been able to get that to work either.

        Scraping the phosphor from a CRT is on my list of things to try, I just haven’t had the combination of time and access at the hackerspace. The team is putting together a strong entry for the next interim contest, so we’ve been a little distracted.

        (And I’m apparently unlucky with purchased phosphor items :-<)

        1. Very very cool. I have a CRT from an old camcorder. extremely thin glass and very small. So try a broken camcorder! :D
          I don’t think I’ll try this for awhile but I hope you get it working.
          Nice projects you have, optics are way over my head.

    3. I seem to be one of the few who it doesn’t distract. I’m a big fan of the animated gifs. The cars one is unneeded but gifs are perfect for showing quick relevant videos. Such as the action of a machine.

      1. For some mobile devices it slows down the page, that’s the biggest reason that some are upset.
        But I would rather gifs than the cat videos I used to link on here, lol.
        Seriously, I was quite the noob.


  2. I can see this as a low cost starting point, and you have done a good job, however, I would be concerned with brake line corrosion and frame and body corrosion.
    What part of the country do you live in?

    A cold winter and the salt on road areas might make this worse?

    1. ‘Big Sur, CA’
      I read that it is ‘misty’, you have a very good point there. I’m in New England area and the road salt kills trucks fast. But if the van isn’t moving much or stays parked there should be little worry, I think.

      The chalkboard is really great looking! Nice. :)

      1. I’m terrible at documentation. But I should. Probably the most “hacker-ish” thing in it will be the plug in recharge I want to do. (12vdc /120acv outlets) High output alternator and dual batteries. I’ve already got a side step for the side doors that swings out, but it’s busted and is mechanically actuated. Thinking about putting in an electrical linear actuator for that.
        It’s not going to be a stealth camper by any means though. Which as the guy mentions on his website can make things tougher if you’re planning to live out of it, but I’ve got places to park where they don’t (shouldn’t anyway) mind.

  3. I’ve had visions of a conversion can turned into a mobile hacking lab since I first figured out that ATX power supplies spend most of their power regulating to 12V: same as a car battery, I thought. Figuring out the wattage killed the idea for a long time. But now, with cheaper battery storage, 64-bit ARM CPUs with lower power draw, even X86 laptop/tablets under 60watts, and especially esp WiFi chips and sdr, the idea is suddenly appealing again.

  4. Nice project and write up with some good ideas to try on the next mobile project. This ProMaster conversion is done by an engineer who runs a great site dedicated to efficiency and renewable energy. Lots of numbers, and the reasons behind the calculations are explained simply. Donate to this guy if you can, I doubt the site has ever been cash positive and the costs come out of his pocket. Time Suck Warning: This site is a worthwhile time suck.

  5. nice camper!

    There’s a whole subculture of street performers (and some punks) in europe who live in vans that look like a goods delivery vehicle on the outside but have a fully kitted out camper (RV for yanks) on the inside.
    it’s born for necessity because its hard as hell to park a camper near the tourist seaside towns when the best places to perform are.

    most people have solar systems running with an inverter for laptops and charging the batteries for the portable sound systems everybody uses for their shows. showers, grey water, toilets, etc are normal. most of them cost way less than 12000$usd, i’m thinking of doing it myself, i recon it’s doable for about 5000€ that’s 3000€ for the van and 2000€ for a nice conversion.

    i know a load of people who live in vans like this, France, Italy, Spain. you need a mild winter, in the UK it kind of died out in the 90s when they basically made it illegal with the criminal justice act. but back then people were living out of buses and converted ambulances. since you need much more space when the British winter kicks in.

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