Toyota Camper Van – Adding Carpeted Panels

Now back from another camping trip on the Yuba River where owls hooted through the night and osprey glided above the water during the day. My focus has now shifted towards polishing the rough edges of my camper build on my 1985 Toyota Van. I personally like to go camping, I don’t like to wait for my van to be “perfect.” I’d rather spend time in remote areas then worrying about putting a final piece of trim up. With that said, I’ve taken some time off of work and with that time, I can make some aesthetic as well as functional improvements to the build.

My new friend Eric showed me a method of building some panels by wrapping the wood in cheap carpet. The key is to use carpet with no backing. I used some utility plywood (about 11 dollars for a 4’x8′) and bought some carpet 10’x12′ (60 dollars) to make the inside a little more cozy and polished. I also think the carpet/wood combo has some insulation properties as well as reducing outside noise. I attached the carpet with a staple gun to the wood then screwed the wood to the metal using self drilling/tapping screws meant for metal. An impact driver and the screws make this job easier. Do not use wood screws for this job or you will be having a heck of a time.

Tools for the job, self drilling/tapping screws 3/4″ and a impact driver.
Roof with insulation before adding plywood with carpet.
Roof after adding carpet.
Back windows are covered but didn’t cover mid windows because it’s nice to have a view. Can you spot the tenkara rod?

dry car camping along highway ca-89

A sweet lil’ tune on the banjo.

(This trip occurred in Spring 2019)

One way to get to the East Sierras from the Bay Area is through Highway 89. Most people’s destination lie past this highway and along highway 395 somewhere but I argue to take a stop along this highway to enjoy the beauty this area has to offer. CA-89 goes through a goo size portion of California and for this post I’ll be talking about the part of the highway south of highway 50. Along this section of the highway you’ll make your way along the West Fork of the Carson River which I’ve never fished but have heard of good fly fishing and often see many lining this section of River.

Section of CA-89 we travelled.

Where 89 meets CA-88, if you turn right and head East on 88, you’ll see pull outs for a couple miles that offer access to fishing the West Fork of Carson River. This adventure had us turning left and continuing on 89 through the cute town of Markleeville. Right after the turn about a 1/4 mile up and on your right is a bakery/cafe worth stopping at (Hope Valley Cafe).

West Fork Carson River past the Hope Valley Cafe.

As you travel further down the road, you’ll drive right through the town of Markleeville. Markleeville is a quaint town and is the start of the Death Ride, a bicycle ride that transverses the passes. Those who finish this ride will have travelled 125 miles and climbed 25,000 feet in elevation. I’ll save my legs this time around but I do plan to do this ride some day! You can stop in town at the deli cafe for a breakfast burrito or sandwich or take a peak inside the information center to learn more about the town. There’s also a small post office and general store. The river follows the highway until 89 turns off and heads East. Along this stretch of the highway, it’s worth stopping for a break and a nice walk around Heenan Lake. Heenan Lake is full of heritage trout, if you wait long enough around the shores of this lake, you’ll see schools of very large trout, quite the scene. If you happen to visit in spring, you’ll also be given a nice wildflower show that coats the hillside.

A view from the hillside at Heenan Lake (June).

Between Heenan Lake and 395 is where we pulled off and tested the off road capabilities of my 85 Toyota Van. We were lucky to find a spot that was private, although not close to water, it was located around some beautiful woods with great bird watching and day hikes. It’s amazing what you see when you pull off the highway, park your car and take hikes over tops of mountains. Valleys filled with quiet except for the birds that scatter amongst the brush and blooming scrub.

A view we were treated with on a day hike from camp.
The colors of wildflowers were beautiful. The camera never captures the full beauty.

We spent a beautiful 3 days here, waking up, watching birds, playing the banjo, and taking day hikes to see what others can’t see while driving on the highway. We ate simply and enjoyed the slowness of it all. Cool mornings, morning coffee and allowing ourselves to sit in one spot til the birds became comfortable with our presence is something that was so refreshing and energizing. It was lovely time of relaxation and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

A view of our campsite along CA-89.
Buster doing his morning yoga.

why i chose a toyota van for my camper van

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Toyota Van Wagon Camper Conversion Part 1

Since the last time I posted, I bought a van. A 1985 Toyota Van, yes, that’s the model name, Van. Oh, the simpler times. The purpose of this van is a camper, a weekend getaway machine. Will I live in it? Probably not long term, maybe short term but this is more of a weekend machine. Sorry #vanlife Nazis, if this isn’t hardcore enough, move on.

Vehicle: 1985 Toyota Van 2WD
Odometer Reading: 195,xxx

This post will be broken into three sections.

  1. Why I chose an 80’s Toyota Van.
  2. What mechanical work I’ve done on it.
  3. An update on where the conversion is at the moment.

Why the heck did I choose a 1985 Toyota Van? 
1. Looks like a spaceship, number one reason, yup.
2. Toyota’s are known to be reliable. You see many Toyota’s with 200-300k miles.
3. Widely available in stick, the only way to go in my opinion on these older cars with 4 cylinder engines.
4. Good space inside the van.
5. Pretty cheap to buy, got mine for 1500. Beats blowing  a ton of cash on a sprinter.
6. Parts are widely available, great when hopefully traveling to Baja!
7. Pretty good clearance for 2WD, I can give it an oil change without putting it on a jack stand.
8. Rain gutters for easy rack installation.

Some of the cons I’ve noticed.
1. To access the engine, you have to lift the drivers seat up and access in general to certain parts is restricted. It limits what you can do behind the seat and the seats can’t be made to swivel towards the back.
2. Depending on the previous owner, you may need to replace some parts initially.
3. Stock temp gauge can be inaccurate.
4. Obviously not as much headspace or space in general as a Sprinter or pop top.
6. limited power

What mechanical work have I got done on the van since purchasing it?
1. Clutch was toast, if the person won’t let you test drive it, there may very well be a reason. Replaced the clutch, always go OEM with these Toyota Vans. This was done by a mechanic in a shop.
2. I thought the van was running hot and I didn’t know if the fan clutch and water pump were fully functioning (turns out they were fine, the temp gauge wasn’t reading accurately). So, I replaced the water pump and fan clutch, got that out of the way and at least I know that’s new. Thought about doing this myself but just had a mechanic install the parts for me.
3. New aftermarket digital temp gauge that told me my van was running at a perfectly normal temperature. I installed this myself.
4. Replaced the spark plugs with iridium plugs.
5. Gave it an oil change right away, full synthetic.
6. Coming soon – Needs a new brake master cylinder, just need to pull the plug on this one before I do any extended driving.

check my post on upgrades I’ve made to the van. (click here and here!)