The Van

Here you can find information about our means of transport. A van, not the youngest one. But with age comes experience (as the Dutch tend to say). With a design originating in 1968, our van is one of the third generation, designed in 1986.

By today’s automotive standard it could be called old-fashioned. But it’s robust and simple mechanics combined with a diesel engine it has the benefit of easier maintenance, worldwide. It has a mid-engine, rear wheel drive layout with a limited slip differential and part-time selectable four wheel drive. So, what are we talking about?

It’s a Mitsubishi L300 4×4 Long Wheel Base Van 3rd generation! Sometimes called Delica, and it makes an appearance all over the world. Our van started it’s life as a commercial van. The conversion to a camper van is something we did ourselves. Inspiration came from a lot of different web sites. Two sites I want to mention, not least because they cover the same vehicle type, are Dinoevo and Herr Lehmann.


How did we get to this point?

In 2014, to me, it seemed a good idea to get my hands on a VW T3 Syncro. Because I wanted to do a project by myself. I like vans and I thought that the T3 Syncro was really cool and could be converted nicely into a camper van (lots of examples can be found). Soon I realized that these vans were popular (duh!) and as such, they were pricey compared to the (poor) technical condition they were in, at least according to my budget. Then I came across an L300 4WD. I remembered them from my youth as well but at this time (2014) these vans actually almost disappeared from the streets and as such seemed to be forgotten. They also had that boxy look, but compared to the T3 the L300 is somewhat narrower. On the plus side, the L300 has proper 4WD with a transfer case and low gearing. Technically it is based upon a Pajero gen1 (L040) which has been tried and proven in the Paris-Dakar Rally. Compare that to the T3 Syncro: it only has one extra low gear before 1st gear, called the “G” gear (comes from German “gelande”).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1985_Pajero_Dakar.jpg
Pajero in natural habitat.

So, all in all, the L300 is at least as cool as a T3 Syncro I guess. I found a really nice L300 that was in relative good shape to start with, and it matched the budget. That is how it all started.

Staying within budget

In the Netherlands, the tax system is such, that the heavier the vehicle, the higher the tax. On top of that, a diesel is the most expensive fuel type to have in terms of tax. When you have a camper, the tax is reduced to 25% because usually a camper is not used full-time. So, the first item on the list was to get this vehicle registered as a camper. the Dutch tax office has some very specific rules that you need to oblige to in order to get a camper registration. I am not going to cover that here, but it meant we needed a pop top. That was outsourced. The rest of the project was based upon the idea that I would do as much as possible myself; the technical maintenance, modifications and interior build. To keep the cost down and learn what would work or not, and because it was almost summer, the first year was a really simple build that we used to visit Corsica.

Starting the Build

So, before we went to Corsica, we tackled the most important layout items, in order of importance: the bed, the water tanks and the kitchen. The bed because you want to have a good night’s rest and the amount of water will determine how long you can go between refilling (time). But water is heavy so it needs a good place that does not influence the vehicle dynamics too much. What we also installed was a household battery with separator switch, a Waeco cooling box and a simple, 30 years old, campingaz furnace with two burners.

Using the sun

Our setup proved to be working for us, so now it was a matter of improving and further detail the interior and adding the remaining technical improvements. In 2015 we added a solar panel to the electrical system. We went to Morocco and had a really great time travelling there. The solar panel worked great. And because of this addition, it was no longer necessary to use shore power to properly charge the household battery. We did have a broken leaf spring during the trip, one in between the pack, therefore not critical, and we managed to get home with it without trouble.

Next on the list was obviously to replace the leaf spring. We replaced al rear leaf springs and improved the front suspension. These suspension improvements, especially the front end were a big improvement in comfort.

In the pursuit of happiness: More Comfort

In the Spring of 2016 we visited an annual overlanders reunion. We had a great time there and loved hearing all those great stories about travelling and experiencing other cultures and climates. In the summer we went down to Italy. By this time we also had installed a coolant heater which gave us hot water each time we were on the move, and the ability to heat up the interior in case of cold weather. It is really nice to have hot water to wash (shower!) and do the dishes. Despite the cost and effort I would advise this to anyone when building an overland(-ish) vehicle.

Easy access

In 2017 we went to Scandinavia. Vehicle-wise there were no improvements except for the usual maintenance. We really enjoyed having the heater because, despite the summer, it was still quite chilly and wet from time to time. Upon our return I decided it was time for a better solution to carry the bikes with us. Until now we made do with a simple hook-up carrier that hanged from the tail gate with straps. Not really comfortable because, when you have to open the tail gate (use the shower for example) you have the choice of removing the bikes or lift it up the entire assembly. So it was time for a swing away carrier.

2018, Balkans. This year we went to Albania as main destination. What a great country to roam through! Of course along the way we came through a lot of similar great countries with magnificent nature, mountain ranges and good opportunities for making a bivouac. It was the first real test for the new bike carrier, but still with the spare wheel mounted in it’s original location. It worked great and we had some serious off road in Albania!


Final improvements for overlanding

2019, Eastern Europe. We had a really great time spending some days along the Donau in a secluded spot, nicely in the shade and with a small beach. But then the solar panel does not work. Until now the necessity was not there to do something about it.

Donau – Danube

Two other things that needed to be improved were the gas bottle capacity and storage, and the drinking water filter system. Because the van is compact, it is difficult to reserve a space for these items. In the end, I think we managed to have a system that fulfils our needs.