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Monday, August 29, 2011

VW bus living- YOUR tiny house/cabin conversion, on the cheap?

     (First off- MANY of my cabins/things I built are for sale- to fund NEW projects/episodes of "Tiny Yellow House"- CLICK HERE!) 
Well, I just spent a chunk of last weekend (aside from preparing for the hurricane) in the New Paltz. NY area for weekend #1 of "The Wolfe's Den" treehouse installation. While out there, I noticed an inordinate amount of vw buses and campers cruising the back roads- some of them in pristine condition. I even saw a Vanagon for sale- a mere $1200- and as that's something I've wanted to own and convert into micro guest quarters for some time now, I did actually stop to pick through it.
     Anyway, off craigslist, here's a non-running model for a mere $850 or bo. Now, some of you may be thinking "Just what the heck could you do with a hulking wreck like that, Deek!?"

So here's what I would do, so as to make this into a very unique vacation camp in the woods (once I had it towed to wherever after hopefully buying it for less than the asking price- which is very feasible- say, $600).

-Repaint it- even if I had to do it the non-pro way and use a glossy house/exterior paint. A REAL paint job would be ideal (costly), but if its just a woods cabin, anything would be an improvement and would help to additionally protect it from the elements. I'd do so after scouring the rust off of the front, of course....

-Position it on blocks, or some sort of platform- those tires aren't in great shape and won't hold forever (again, this is for a static cabin, I wouldn't even bother trying to get something like this to run).

-Tear out ALL the seats and benches as I can assume they're in bad shape and have been sitting around for ages (You CAN sell these so as to make back some of your purchase price to other vw mini-bus owners and collectors). I'd then bolt in a simple floor frame to level out the contours- and add a layer of light weight, tongue and groove cedar or pine for flooring. Tearing out the front seats would give you MUCH more room for living, sleeping, and hanging out- or you could leave one seat- if you could turn it around and re-install it, as a sort of vehicular lounge chair.

-Level out the dashboard's top with nice, poly-coated piece of wood for shelving.

-Recoat or paint the roof to prevent leaks and to make it look less awful. If the roof had too many problems, you could bolt on a simple gable frame with corrugated roofing over it, or build it around the van, in a picnic-canopy manner (4 posts and a roof- a structure which you could later screen in).

-Install (safety pending) a tiny cast-iron or sheet metal (thick gauge) tent woodstove- again, assuming I could add some fire walls and do so SAFELY.

- Add a tiny, tiny solar panel to the roof for lighting.

-Build a tiny deck off of the front- and keep in mind if the vehicle were anchored, you could remove the large side door and even build a foyer (or additional living space) off the side of this down the road.

Basically, I'd leave the shell intact for the most part, but remove almost everything- steering wheel too, from the interior so as to give such a small space a more wide-open feel. You could then position a new boxed-frame bed (with MUCH storage underneath), and add system of simple/narrow shelves against one side.
Keep in mind (perhaps you have to leave this one wheels) that as this would be classified as a vehicle or camper in some counties, you might be able to circumvent certain cabin building or zoning restrictions- you'd have to look into that.

And there's just the inkling of an idea I've been wanting to try for some time....

Yes, my book has this in sketch/plan form- but an idea that uses, or can use. almost ANY junky car shell.

-Derek "Deek" Diedricksen


  1. Dude, it's a *VW microbus*! Whaddaya think about a "micro-Further" paint scheme?

  2. Micro-Further paint +1

    Something to jack up the thermal mass + insulation would be a nice touch.

    Maybe a variant of a mud oven (the People's soapstone) with, say, external air feed and a metal door?

  3. Well, our rusty, homely, Gimme 73 Bus is in perfect running condition after $2100 in the motor, brakes, tires, a little at a time. Love Tiny House ideas, including these, but seems like a sacrilege, not making it run. How many are left in the woods, anyway?

    Magic Bus

  4. As VW buses grow more and more rare,they become more redeemable,even in a ghastly state. I think that every effort should be made to make an old split window or even a lunchbox roadworthy. At least have it as an ultimate plan when one is thinking of alternative uses.
    ( I have a 65 bus just waiting for the next adventure)

  5. Yeah, I have my hesitancies about tweaking or changing an old bus- but if you don't/I don't have the funds to drop a few thousand dollars (or time) to rebuild an engine, and all the other hard to find parts/fixes (or find an engine at all)- I'm merely suggesting the option of saving this in another way, by means of making it into a static micro-cabin. Otherwise, this particular bus might remain rotting in the woods. Also, I didn't say the changes had to be permanent, or couldn't be reversed- I just personally don't need/want one to be road-worthy, as I don't need the added expense of buy/fixing one to that state, then paying insurance on it, taxes, registration, etc... But I do know where you're coming from. Thanks for chiming in/your opinion- I appreciate it. -Deek

  6. If you wanted to paint it on the cheap and didn't care about the look you could use paint on truck bed liner. May help hold it together:)

  7. My only issue with this concept is cost - can't you build a better structure for $600? A fully ticked-out Westfalia with functioning or repairable plumbing and gas would probably be worth the effort, but otherwise you're talking about a metal shell with doors in all the wrong places.

    While it's a cool idea, I _know_ that you can do a lot better than that. How about an idea with the same budgetary range (call it $800) that features 2-3 micro-cabins as sleeping pods and a communal foodprep/hangout area?

  8. I love the idea Derek, and read every word soaking it in. I wish that I hadn't let my new hubby talk me into junking my ancient toyota little van when it finally bit the dust. I could have so easily done what you described. Maybe one day I can buy one from the junk yard?

  9. Patamomma- the "large" $600 base price tag occured to me to- as there are certainly even cheaper ways to go the micro vacation cabin route (I've build many for $200 or so)- but to have one as wild and unique as a vw bus, in shell and shape, to me would be worth the eventual $600 to $1000- even better yet if you could somehow find a bus that runs- obviously. But I do know where you're coming from. The main point is that in many cases it would still be cheaper than scratch-building something (esp, in time/skill)- which was mostly the point- and it would in essense be saving an old vw wreck and somewhat preserving it.

  10. Just came across this mobile sauna in Finland made from a VW microbus:

  11. It was great to see the old printshop and everyone who works there again. I am excited to see a printing business still operating and growing, great job guys
    Tow Truck