I've wanted to make a car into a camper for several years and eventually I found the perfect vehicle for it, the humble Ford Festiva. Why choose such a small car? I believe that limitations breed creativity and I wanted high MPGs. This is not meant to be a step by step instructable but more of a guide on how to convert a beater car into a camper. This project was inspired in part by Modeo's "Roof Top Car Camper", I recommend you check it out here https://www.instructables.com/id/Roof-top-car-campe...
Total I have about a grand invested into this project including the car. Being a college kid I had to get creative to make this fit into my budget. Since a lot of parts are made from recycled materials I found throughout the build.
1. Coroplast: I bought 10 sheets for 110 dollars from a big box store. It only took about 5.5 sheets that were leftover from another project. Some of the coroplast is recycled from old promotional signs.
2. Super Glue: Bought 3 - 10 packs from a local hardware store for about 4 bucks a piece.
3. Grommets: I purchased 1000 3/8 grommets on the internet for 17.99. The punch kit was 7.49 from a big box store but you could most likely find one cheaper.
4. Velcro: 10 yards of velcro online cost around 12 bucks.
5. 1 full sheet of 1/2 plywood. I had various pieces in my barn so this was free, otherwise they cost around 20-40 bucks
6. 3 - 1''x4''x8' boards, approximately 4 bucks a piece. Always check to make sure your lumber is straight when purchasing, I like to line it up with the edges of the tiles in the floor.
7. A pair of continuous piano hinges, I salvaged mine from old storage unit.
8. A couple yards of bug mesh. I had one leftover from my boy scout cot but you can buy it by the yard at any fabric store for a few bucks.
9. Angle Iron, tubing, and pipe. I just found all my from random scrap metal. One trick is to pick over the pile if you drop something off at the scrap yard, throw anything good in your car and you can pay very little for nice stock.
10. Some wood screws that will get the job done, I had 1.75 inch screws laying around.
11. Metal wire hangars for window supports.
12. Some thin shrink wrap.
13. A few square inches of fabric scraps.14. UV Protective clear coat to prevent the coroplast from yellowing in the sunlight.
15. Cardboard and marker for modeling
16. Closed cell foam.
17. A lot of materials I may have missed, this is a very big build and requires a lot of resourcefulness to adapt to any vehicle. This is only one of the many ways to skin a cat.
1. Wooden spoon for creasing coroplast. I tried various screen rollers but this seemed to work the best.
2. Optional heat gun to ease in creasing of coroplast.
3. Corocutter or scissors and knife.
4. Drill with various bits.
5. Angle grinder.
6. Mig Welder, Stick/Arc will work but it much harder on the thin gauge metal. I had to do some with a stick welder and it was miserable.
7. Hammer for the grommets.
8. Jig saw.
9. Staple gun.
Step 1: Build the Folding Sleeping Cabin
Coroplast is better known as "that stuff campaign signs are made of" is a surprisingly strong and durable material. Not only is it easy to work with but the tools are cheap and available; scissors, a wooden cooking stick, and a hair dryer. Polypropylene is the plastic coroplast is made of, it has excellent heat and chemical resistance.
1. To begin with, make a mock up using paper. Shrink it down to a smaller proportion and play around with it until you have a design your'e satisfied with.
2. Once the mock up is complete, begin transferring the design to your coroplast using a marker and square. I used a drywall square since they are used on drywall sheets which are the same size as coroplast sheets (4ftx8ft).
3 Cut and crease the coropast according to your design. I use a wooden stirring stick to crease the coroplast where I want it to fold. If the crease goes parallel to the corrugations I tend to not use a heat gun, if they are at a angle or perpendicular I will lightly preheat it being careful not to melt the plastic.
4. If two pieces are going to be permanently connected I super glue them together. Be careful not to put too much super glue on as it won't dry proper, a little drop every 1/2 inch or so. Don't worry about it drying out super quick while you apply the glue in other areas, it needs another surface and a little pressure to dry instantly. Once the pieces are connected run and additional line of super glue along the whole seam. Cohesion and adhesion will draw the glue in for a full wet out, much like how a water will travel up a paper towel dipped in water.
5. For temporary connection I use a combination of velcro and grommets with a bolt/quick release win pin. There are six points where it can be bolted through the grommets, I usually only due to as it is strong enough. Between the grommets is a seam of velcro to keep it sealed. It's been through thunder storms and high wind with no problem.
Step 2: Building the Windows, Door, and Screen
Once you have the outer shell of the sleeping quarters done, adding doors and windows are easy to add.
1. Draw a guide for where to cut the openings and make clean straight cuts with a box cutter or razor blade. Cut three sides of any opening but leave the top edge intact. This will act as a hinge that is also water proof.
2. To water proof the other edges of the windows/door take a piece of plastic that is approximately as thick as card stock and cut it into 4'' wide strips. Then super glue the strips to the outer edges of the doors and windows. Be sure to leave an extra 2'' or more of the plastic over hanging the edges of the openings, this acts as a shingle and prevents rain from entering. See the 2nd and 3rd image to get an idea of what I'm talking about.
3. Next attach the side of the velcro that has little hooks to the inside of the openings. The hooks will feel rougher than the other side which is loops of fabric. The hooks will grab onto the bug mesh and the other side will not so it is important you get the right side.
4. Cut bug mesh to the fit slightly past the perimeter of the velcro. Then press the mesh over the velco hooks, this gives you a removable bug net that requires no sewing while being quicker and easier than a zipper.
Step 3: Struts for Windows
These window struts allow you to lock the windows at any angle. It is important that they didn't add any additional thickness to the structure as this would affect the folding. By using the corrugations as a storage space for them, I was able to create a low/no profile design.
1. Cut hanger into two pieces of desired length depending on the size of your windows.
2. Put a 1/2 kink one piece at 90 degrees.
3. Wrap fabric around two sections of hanger to make a flexible joint. Super glue the fabric in place.
4. Cover the fabric with an appropriate sized piece of shrink wrap and heat it up to seal it.
5. Smother a light oil around the joint and slide into the corrugations of the coroplast, I used some that came with an electric razor.
5. Insert the hanger into the window corrugations, the 90 degree kink will allow for the other end of the hangar to slip into the corrugations on the wall.
Step 4: Make Quick Release Pins (Optional)
The quick release pins are not necessary but make the set up process faster and you are less likely to lose a part as there is one piece not two. Bolts with wing nuts can be used if you have a hard time finding the parts needed for this.
1. First start off with the some back pack pin and rings, ditch the rings we won't be using them.
2. Take a hanger or stainless steel tig welding rod and cut a 3/4-1 inch long section off.
3. Take unscented dental floss and sew several knots around the end of the piece of metal you just broke off. Any small enough string will work but dental floss is common, don't use mint flavored as it could attract animals.
4. Tie a knot through the hole of the backpack pin.
5. Put a tiny drop of super glue over the knots to prevent slipping
Step 5: Supports for the Platform
In order to have the platform stay at a flat angle with the roof of the car a few supports need to be made.
1. Cut some angle iron pieces and welded them under the hood along the sides of the car. Then cut some grooves in them and drilled a hole which will hold the locking pin.
2. The two struts I made was recycled from some old black pipe. At the end that comes into contact with the recently welded pieces, I cut another groove and drilled a whole to line up with the existing ones. A pin or tent stake slots into the hole to lock the struts in place.
3. The crossbar connect the top of the two struts. A pin at either end of the crossbar slides into the open end of the pipe. Once connected, it is ready to support the weight of the platform and is held in with pressure.
4. Paint everything with Rustoleum to prevent rusting.
Step 6: Cut a Hole in the Roof
I cut a hole in the roof to allow for access to the first floor without getting out of the vehicle. Another option would be to not cut a whole in the roof and just attach the structure to the roof rack but that wouldn't be as fun. Since this is my daily driver I planned ahead and cut this when the weather report said we had a full week of sunshine. I've had sun roofs before but driving around with a hole like this for a few days was very fun and made me feel a little bit crazy.
1. Take out the vinyl on the inside of the roof of the car. Its much easier to figure out where to cut the hole when you can see where the cross bars already are.
2. Then mark out where you want the hole to be and weld a cage around it. This will help support the weight of the occupants.
3. Cut the hole out with an angle grinder and sand down the sharp metal edges.
4. Lay some plywood over the top and attach it by drilling through the roof with wood screws. Firmly hold a small section of 3/8 or 1/2 inch plywood under the screw on the inside of the car and continue turning the drill. The bottom piece of wood will be pulled up and hold the top piece firmly in place. This provides extra support for the sheet metal on roof.
5. Cut a hole in the wood, sand where necessary.
6. Seal the edges where the roof meets the wood. I used some siding silicone and don't have any leaks yet. Silicone may not be the best sealant since it can dry and crack later down the line, because of this I would use Butyl Rubber next time.
Step 7: The Hinge and Platform
One of the most crucial components is the double hinge. It needs to have two parallel axis that hinge to account for the height of the sleeping quarters when folded. I used a old continuous hinge I had from a disassembled storage unit.
1. Take the two hinges and cut them to the correct width. I measured the cabin to be 3.5 inches tall when folded so I spaced the two hinges appropriately and then welded them together. I suppose they could be attached with wood but this wouldn't be as reliable.
2. Build the platform the size of the camper when folded. I used 1/2 inch plywood and supported it with 1x4 pieces of lumber screwed and glued in place.
3. Treat the wood with some water proofing agent.
4. On the top side of the platform I added some foam and rubber to cover the hinge, that way the coroplast doesn't rub on it and wear out.
5. When the platform is folded in I cut a piece of coroplast to cover the wood, preventing it from getting wet when it rains. The I added some grommets and velcro to hold the whole unit in place when not in use.
Step 8: Attaching the Sleeping Cabin and Aerodynamic Modifications
Once the platform is completed and secure the cabin can be attached.
1. Lay the cabin across the top and take your time making sure it is square. I took about 5 mins checking it until I was confident it would be square enough to fold correctly.
2. Look at the hole that is cut in the roof and make a line halfway across it. Cut on the line to create two flaps.
3. Take the two flaps and screw them into the plywood support pieces in the interior of the car. Pull them in tight and crease where necessary.
4. Take a piece of 3/8'' plywood and cut it to be slightly larger than the hole. This will act as a door to the rest of the car.
5. Fasten the cabin from its interior at the corners with a few more screws.
6. Cut out a couple pieces of coroplast to cover the roof when it's folded down in the travel position. Where it is screwed down I used steel washers with a rubber base to distribute the stress that will be applied while preventing water in. The top was made out of a old drink sign that was just folded and cut in a few areas.
7. Hyper miler aerodynamic mods can be easily fashioned out of coroplast. Take a look at this instructable to see how to make cheap easy moon caps for your wheels. https://www.instructables.com/id/Hypermiler-Moon-Hu...
Step 9: Leveling the Inside and Interior Storage
The inside of the car I leveled out to make a couch and several storage places. A single twin air mattress fits nicely over the couch.
1. First I removed the rear seat and much of the plastics. The rear seat is still able to be used later but for now must be removed.
2. Cut 3/8 plywood to level out the back of the vehicle. Making a cardboard mockup of this helps to know the exact shape of the back and where to cut holes for the seat belts. I cut it in half length wise in order to get it in the car.
3. Sand and paint/seal with lacquer.
4. Make flip down supports on back of the front seats.
A. Cut an appropriate size piece of plywood. I used 1/2 inch and wouldn't suggest going thinner.
B. Staple loops of old seat belt or flat strap to the piece of wood.
C. Cut loops in the back of the seat that alternate with the loops on the wood
D. Thread a rod through all of the loops to create a hinge, I used a piece of a fiberglass tentpole I found.
E. Cover in foam and upholster. I used some foam from a old sleeping pad I found that someone discarded.
5. The Interior side storage is made from coroplast and simply zip tied in place. First I made a cardboard mock up before installing.
6. The over head storage is made from a couple of mesh laundry bags. The are stapled in and lock shut with velcro, they are based on the same principles as the bug netting from before.
Step 10: Interior LED Light Bar
In order to cut a hole in the roof the vinyl on the ceiling had to come off and with it the dome light thats attached to it. I wanted a better interior light so this was no problem, I installed a LED light bar. It's RGB which allows me to make the light more mellow for reading or blink all sorts of colors when I'm at an event, this is a huge upgrade instead of just a harsh white LED. It also came with a little remote which is fun.
1. I gathered some RGB light strip, a coroplast scrap, and a couple of clear organizers for a binder.
2. Cut the binder into strips about 1 inch wide. These will be used to diffuse the harshness of the LED light.
3. Install the light strip on to the middle of the coroplast, mine had a sticky back so this was easy.
4. Cut through one layer of the corrugations on both sides of the LEDs.
5. Install the diffusers by making an arc. Tension keeps it in place although I added a layer of glue to the the edges in certain spots for reinforcement.
6. To install it in the car I just connected the original hook ups for the dome light and used velcro to hold it in place. It runs on 12 volts then a micro controller splits that into 4 lines for the LED's.
7. The end of the light bar has a USB slot on it, this allows me to quickly attach other lights. I used a USB hookup here since the LEDs require 4 lines to run and that is the same amount of pins in a USB cord. Careful not to plug normal USB device into this as its wired for 12 volts instead of the regular 5 volts.
Step 11: Outside Canopy/Awning
In addition to having a first floor lounge and a top floor bunk I thought it would be nice to have a spare open air area. This allows the vehicle to entertain 3-5 people outside the car while protecting them from the sun and rain.
1. Make your own tent or find one. I got very lucky and collected several tent poles and rain flies after a music festival. This allowed me to experiment with a few different tent pieces until I found a system that worked.
2. Since it's made from tent scraps I had to combine a few poles to get the right length pieces. I cut the bungee from the inside to separate the poles into smaller sections. I combined the smaller sections till I had the right length I needed. After the pole is the appropriate length I threaded the bungee back and tied off the ends.
3. In order to get the poles to stay put with the canopy I sewed in a couple of pockets the hold the pole ends in place
4. One spot needed a vertical pole to keep the canopy full, in order to hold it in place I used a tent stake that slides onto the center of the pole.
Step 12: Moped/Storage Rack
I decided a little bit of extra storage would be needed for certain trips so I made a storage rack that doubles as a nice bench. Although I've transported the same moped fully assembled in the car I'd like it if I didn't have to air it out for gas afterwards.
1. First I removed the bumper and and the foam behind it. Then I sanded the metal portion of the bumper until it was clean enough to weld.
2. The triangle I welded between the tow points and the bumper is made of 1/8 inch angle iron and can be seen in the first picture.
3. I bolted various scrap 2x4s and 2x6s onto the top of the angle iron triangle.
4. Then all the wood was coated in water sealer.
5. I replaced as much of the original bumper as I could but some parts had to be cut out to fit right.
Step 13: Adding a Logo With a Spray Paint Stencil
I figured I mine as well put a couple of decals on it. Simple spray paint stencils got the job done quick.
1. Print off your image and gather some thick card stock, glue, and some cutting tools.
2. Glue the image to the card stock, spray glue is better but elmers will do in a pinch.
3. Cut out the design and save the pieces.
4. For extra crisp lines you can put double sided tape on the stencil and cut it out. The tape will keep all the edges of the text in place which will produce cleaner lines.
6. Mask off the area you don't want paint on, newspaper works great.
7. Spray several light coats until it is even, to heavy and it will bleed around the stencil causing ugly lines. Follow the can for drying times and make sure it says the paint will bond to plastic.
Step 14: Have Fun!!!
Travel around and have fun with your new camper! I've taken it to many lakes, a moped rally and a couple music festivals, it's always a curiosity and draws people in. If anyone attempts to make something along these lines let me know. I love seeing how people tackle different design problems! Follow me on instructables for more cool projects!
This is my first instructable although I have been browsing the site for years and I wish I started posting sooner. Thank you for all the comments, critiques and criticisms. It means a lot to have such a positive response from the Instructables Community. Thanks again, you makers are the greatest <3
Thanks for reading and good luck building your own camper!
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