Tech Blog : Impreza camper conversion

Dreaming of #vanlife, but don’t own a van? Great news, it is possible to convert many other, smaller vehicles into mobile adventure bases! In this installment of the tech blog, we will explore the process of creating a sleeping platform and window covers as a basic camper conversion for a 2007 Subaru Impreza.

Step one: the design phase

Imprezas are small wagons, with rear seats that fold down almost flat. With the seats folded down, there is about 5’ of length to sleep on, too short for most of us. BUT if you slide the front seats all the way forward, there is enough space for 6’ of sleeping length. The solution to take advantage of the extra space: an extension of the sleeping platform on hinges that can be folded back while driving. This solution was key for deciding to build the sleeping platform!

The other design consideration was creating additional storage drawers or a pull out table built in to the sleeping platform. The maximum platform height that also allowed for enough functional space above the platform was 8”. Considering the 4” lip at the wagon gate, this does not provide enough height to make a drawer worthwhile. It is the perfect clearance for a pull out table!

The constructed design

½” construction grade plywood is the minimum that will work for a sleeping platform. ¾” adds a bit more weight and quite a bit more strength. The ¾” birch (one grade higher than construction grade) plywood was chosen for this project, to achieve a tidier finish and for better strength in areas not directly supported underneath. 1×8” lumber was selected for the platform support pieces.

Other possibilities ultimately not chosen:

  • Add an additional horizontal hinge line corresponding to the base of the rear seats, to allow the entire platform to fold up into the back wagon area when not in use.
  • Create a wider platform that reaches the edge of the inside space and jig saw around the wheel wells.
  • Cut flaps at the front or rear of the platform and add hinges for easier access to storage underneath the overhanging sides of the platform.

Step two: take measurements

To make the most of the available space, and to make sure the design will work, measurements are super important! Take each measurement a few times, and use scrap material help visualize how it will come together and anticipate any issues with the plan. Key measurements taken for this project:

  • The wagon lip to the point where the full wheel well width is available (let’s call this rear platform edge position): 4”
  • Rear platform edge position to the back of the seats in the pushed all the way forward position: 70”
  • Rear platform edge position to the forward edge of the rear seats folded down: 54”, therefore height of hinged extension will be 14”
  • Forward edge of the rear seats folded down: 32”
  • Therefore, with 8” platform height plus 1” platform, there is 23” remaining for hinged extension to travel through when swinging flat – and it is 14” high, lots of space!
  • Rear platform edge position to the base of the rear seats: 32”
  • Wheel well to wheel well at the narrowest point, 8” up from the floor: 36”

Step three: sketch it out

The measurements were used to make a scaled sketch and a list of exact dimensions of materials needed.  Here is what was needed for this project:

¾” plywood – 4’x8’ sheet
  • 54” x 36” (main sleeping platform)
  • 16” x 36” (hinged extension to platform)
1×8” lumber – 8’ piece
  • 32” x 3 pieces (2 pieces for main support pieces and drawer slider attachment for pull out table; additional piece for forward support piece across front edge of folded down seats)
½ “ plywood for the pull out table – 2’x4’ sheet (this ultimately was not used, a scrap piece of laminated particle board was chosen as a better option for the pull out table)
  • 18” x 30”
  • 2” x 30” x 2 pieces (to fasten drawer slides onto and attach to table piece)
Piano hinges x 2
24” ball bearing drawer slides
2 ½” screws – small box

 

Drawer slides, piano hinges, screws

Step four: go shopping!

Many hardware stores will cut the materials you purchase to the exact dimensions you need. Having a scaled sketch and a list of materials with exact dimensions is super helpful! For this project, the hardware store did the big cuts of the plywood sheets and smaller subsequent cuts were done at home.

Step five: the build

The assembly is straightforward with the plans in place, although often surprises are encountered despite the best efforts made with planning and anticipation! In this project, the measuring and installation of the drawer slides took at least as long as everything else put together, but everything eventually came together as planned.

The workshop consisted of a heated garage with a portable table saw, compound mitre saw, jigsaw, palm sander, cordless drill/driver, level, square, measuring tape, ruler, and pencil.

Here is a basic summary of the construction steps:

1. Tidy up the sleeping platforms – round the corners off with a jigsaw and sand a bit.

Rounding the corners of the sleeping platform

2. Cut the 1×8 pieces for the platform supports.

Sleeping platform, support pieces, and pull out table top ready for assembly

3. Install the drawer slides, attach the 1x8s to the main platform, and cross your fingers that the table pulls in and out smoothly!

Attaching the rear support/drawer slide pieces
Installing the pull out table

4. Attach the forward support piece.

Measuring and adding the forward support piece

5. Install the hinges to connect the main platform piece and the platform extension (offset them as shown in photo, to stop the hinging movement once the pieces are lying flat with each other ).

Installing the hinges – notice they are offset

 

The extension platform folds back while driving

6. Add a support for the platform extension piece, either legs on the edges that reach the floor or a piece at the front/centre to rest on the console.  If a support piece is not used, the hinges will bend at the edge of the sleeping platform piece.

7. Measure and staple on a utility rug.

Utility rug stapled to sleeping platform

8. Install a cool handle for the pull out table.

Step six: window covers

There are loads of different options for limiting light and vision through your windows. Reflectix was chosen for this conversion, for maximum light blocking and also insulation. Reflectix has an R-value, meaning it provides insulation to keep it warmer inside on colder days and cooler inside when it is hot outside. Fabric was added to one side of the reflectix using spray-on adhesive.

A roll of 4’ x 10’ of reflectix plus foil tape was $50 at Home Depot (in Canada). Make a newspaper outline of each window, then transfer it on to the reflectix and cut out the shape, leaving an extra buffer of 1-2cm for adjustments. Then stuff the shape in the window and have your scissors and foil tape handy for fine tuning. An oversized piece works well for stuffing into the edges and blocking the most light, where a more closely trimmed piece is easier and faster to push into the window frame. Some others suggest duct tape on the edges provides a bit of grip, in the Impreza windwos the reflectix with a trimmed fit and without duct tape stayed in the windows the best.

Step seven: home is where the stars are

Speaking of finishing touches, this was by far the most exciting and satisfying step in the whole project! Getting the cooking station setup, throwing in some cozy bedding, and adding some twinkle lights really made the Impreza a homey little adventure home!

Cost and time

Here is a look at the time and money put into this project.

Supplies
Reflectix $45.00
Foil tape $5.00 Day Hours
Lumber and hardware $150.00 1 6 Supplies shopping + prep work
Utility rug $30.00 2 6 Assembly day
Lights $12.00 3 3 Drawer handle and rug cover
Duct tape $8.00 4 4 Cut Reflectix
Fabric spray $15.00 5 3 Reflectix covers
Fabric $50.00 6 2 Setup and finishing touches
Total $315.00 Total 24 hours

 

 

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