Roger Beck
Roger Beck

DIY RVs and Vans You Have to See to Believe

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Roger Beck
Roger Beck

When You Want It Done Right

If you have the money, there are plenty of impressive luxury RVs for sale. There are also ways to make your own luxury for less though, or just for fun. Some innovative designers have made their own awesome RVs using recycled parts and vehicles, or building from the ground up. Here are 16 of the best DIY RVs and van conversions we've seen. (If you're looking to do some DIY upgrades on your own camper, be sure to check out Creative Van Conversions to Simplify Life on the Road.)

Zach Both
The Vanual

Zach Both's Mobile Studio

Filmmaker Zach Both is on the road a lot meeting with artists around the U.S. So he needed to take his studio wherever he goes. That's why he converted a 2003 Chevy cargo van into a rolling studio. The how is documented step by step in his online guide The Vanual, including learning how to insulate the van as living space and repurposing church walls as a ceiling. 

Related: 12 Expert Tips for Saving Money on RV Living

Zach Both Interior
The Vanual

A Look Inside Zach Both's Mobile Studio

Inside the van, Zach has a futon bed, stove in the kitchen and a solar powered refrigerator. He learned carpentry to make the wood interior himself, and the van is not all work. He installed a home theater, too. When not cooking, Both uses the kitchen as his desk. However, he admits he didn't install a shower so he catches those on the road.

Ian Dow's Ambulance RV
Ian Dow/YouTube

Ian Dow's Ambulance RV

DIYers can repurpose all sorts of vehicles to make their RVs. Ian Dow from Newport Beach, California, got a used Ford E-350 ambulance and turned it into a home. It's still got the flashing lights, siren and PA system, whose existing electronics proved useful in wiring the kitchen appliances.  

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A Look Inside Ian Dow's Ambulance RV
Ian Dow/YouTube

A Look Inside Ian Dow's Ambulance RV

Inside, Dow built drawers and wine cubbies to hold his kitchen utensils, magnets to hold his dishes as they dry, a horizontal refrigerator to maximize space, a fold-out dining table and an L shaped couch that turns into a queen sized bed. The ambulance also features an outdoor shower.

Jim and Debbie Gadberry's Joy
Life is a Joy/YouTube

Jim and Debbie Gadberry's Joy

Retirees Jim and Debbie Gadberry have hundreds of YouTube videos about how they converted a school bus into their RV, which they live in and with which they travel the country. They replaced the yellow exterior with sheet metal, and the Joy is powered by solar energy and 130-amp batteries.

Related: Should You Retire in an RV?

Jim and Debbie Interior
Tiny Home Tours/YouTube

A Look Inside Jim and Debbie Gadberry's Joy

Inside that former school bus is a complete home space with kitchen, office, living room with an entertainment center (Samsung flat screen and DVD player), bedroom, and bathroom with shower. Their skylight came from the rear of a 1995 Jeep Cherokee and covered with perforated vinyl to minimize heat and glare on the TV.

Wothahellizat 2
Rob Gray

Rob Gray's Wothahellizat 2

Back in 2006, Australian photographer Rob Gray's off road RV was legendary. Then he built a second one. This time using a fire truck, Gray shaved about 2.4 meters of length for maneuverability. While the first model extended in all directions, the Mark 2 is a streamlined steel box. It's solar powered with a generator for backup and has a completely steel frame. 

Related: The Coolest Off-Road RVs for Battling Rough Weather

Wothahellizat 2 Interior
Rob Gray

A Look Inside Rob Gray's Wothahellizat 2

Inside, the 360-degree windows could all open and flood the bedroom with natural light. The pine wood kitchen has a three-burner stovetop, two refrigerators, gas oven and grill, microwave and cabinets hiding the bathroom facilities. He fit an entire office into three stacked shelves, and built storage for up to 65 bottles of home-brewed beer.

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House Box
The Indie Projects/YouTube

Helga by House Box

Hay is for horses, and now so are RVs. This Mercedes 814 Horsebox used to carry equestrian animals, and from the outside, it still has the barnyard flavor. But the U.K.-based company House Box converted it into a human home.

House Box Interior
The Indie Projects/YouTube

A Look Inside Helga by House Box

The boiler is actually a retro marvel adding to the atmosphere of an old-timey barn, along with the hardwood walls, floors and cabinets. There's a kitchen with wood burning stove, a bedroom up stairs wrapped around a hawthorn wood column, shower and copper composting toilet for the bathroom, and top of the line entertainment center: a television with a 4.1 surround sound system. 

Related: 32 RV Accessories to Make Road Life More Luxurious

Matthew Hofmann
Hofmann Architecture

Matthew Hofmann's Airstream

California architect Matthew Hofmann bought a 1978 Airstream and remodeled it and then moved into it full time. Then he made it a business, Living Vehicle, designing such mobile spaces for customers. Hofmann likes to leave the exterior in its original shiny state, only polishing it to bring out that classic aluminum glint. It's the interior where Hofmann lends his own touch. 

Related: 13 Airstreams That Made the Silver Bullet So Iconic

Matthew Hofmann Interior
Hofmann Architecture

A Look Inside Matthew Hofmann's Airstream

Inside the 160-square-foot trailer is Hofmann's and his wife Joanna's home and Hofmann Architecture office. His dining room stows computer accessories in sliding drawers under the benches and can turn the dinette into an extra guest bed. Hofmann used bamboo for floors, counters, and the dining room/office. In his custom renovations, he uses teak.

Related: These Stunning Custom Airstream RVs Are Perfect for a Summer Getaway

Japanese Mobile Home Exterior

Japanese Style Mobile Home

Two Japanese high schoolers built their own camping car for a road trip around Japan from 1998 to 2001. Starting with a Toyota ToyoAce truck, they kept in mind the narrow Japanese roads when they added on the two story house. The house was made with plywood over a steel frame.

Japanese Mobile Home

A Look Inside the Japanese Style Mobile Home

With two stories, they were able to fit a bedroom, bathroom (with tub and shower), living room, kitchen (with sink, gas range, and rice cooker) and storage behind the cab. When the collapsible second story is lifted pneumatically, the Japanese style bedroom maximizes second-story space with its angles and a skylight to let the sun in. All the controls are in the front cab. The stairs connecting the first floor to the bedroom also contain storage. 

Related: 26 Little-Known Facts About RVs

Jan Van Haandel
Outbound Motorhome Products

Jan Van Haandel's Fire Truck RV

The Man Fae 8.136 was a Danish Army truck, but this particular one used to be a German fire truck. Dutch off-roading enthusiast Jan van Haandel put the floor on swings to hold the interior steady while the truck drove and painted the truck white. A diesel fueled power and heating unit warms and generates electricity for the interior. He even added a hydraulic elevator for loading up portable vehicles.

Jan Van Haandel Interior
Outbound Motorhome Products

A Look Inside Jan Van Haandel's Fire Truck RV

While the fire truck was originally meant to carry a brigade of firefighters hanging on the outside, it now comfortably sleeps two people inside. The couple who sleeps there could entertain four in the dining area. A simple sink and two-burner stove make the kitchen, and the bathroom includes a shower. Van Haandel's innovation led him to start OutBound Products to sell conversion accessories to other DIYers.

Aaron Wirth
Bryon Dorr,

Aaron Wirth's Overland Adventure

Oregon businessman Aaron Wirth said he was inspired by the million plus dollar EarthRoamer XV-HD, but Wirth built a comparable vehicle for one-tenth the price. Okay, he had a little help from some sponsors. What's more, Wirth's Ram 3500 truck and Lance 825 camper can be separated, so the truck can be used without the camper attached. Wirth designed the aluminum flatbed with nine storage spaces, including pull-out fridge and barbecue.

Aaron Wirth Interior
Bryon Dorr,

A Look Inside Aaron Wirth's Overland Adventure

Inside the Lance 825, Wirth fit a queen-sized bed, dining room, kitchen, bathroom with shower, and plenty of closet space. Aaron and Renee Wirth gave up a few frills, such as an air conditioner, in favor of lighter weight and more storage, and they've hidden plenty of compartments within the frame. The Wirths live, travel, and work in the Overland, and they didn't have to go into debt to buy it.

Related: How to Earn Money Working From Your RV

Ryan Lovelace's Cosmic Collider
Ryan Lovelace

Ryan Lovelace's Cosmic Collider

When surfboard craftsman Ryan Lovelace from Santa Barbara, California, bought a used 1948 Chevy Bus on Craigslist, it had already been converted into an RV by its previous owners. Lovelace knew he'd have to do his own renovations to really live in this former bohemian greenhouse. The VW roof grafted onto the top gave Lovelace more room to work with, but take a look at what it looks like today after a year and a half of work. 

Related: From Covered Wagon to Winnebago: The Evolution of the RV

Cosmic Collider Interior
Ryan Lovelace

A Look Inside Ryan Lovelace's Cosmic Collider

Lovelace used found materials wherever possible to keep costs below 10 grand to build the downstairs living area. He built an upstairs bedroom for a queen-sized bed and learned to weld it onto the bus. Katie Lovelace was with her husband all the way and painted the floor herself, and the gang gave the roof a new coat of paint to finish off the exterior.

Ron Onrust
Ron Onrust

Ron Onrust's Double-Decker Bus

It took Ron Onrust of the Netherlands four years to turn a Neoplan double-decker bus into his RV home. First to go were the 90 seats. He still used the two levels, though, with a floor plan he designed on his computer. Upstairs he placed bedrooms and a bathroom. Downstairs are the kitchen, dining room, and TV area. He made two walls out of cherry tables and others out of shiny white flooring.

Ron Onrust Interior
Ron Onrust

A Look Inside Ron Onrust's Double-Decker Bus

Onrust still had to figure out how to power the home and provide indoor plumbing. He installed a hose to cool the entire bus, and piping for clean water and wastewater. He designed the kitchen and stairs himself but did have to pay others to install them. The lights dim for romantic dinners. With two floors and 12 meters long, the Onrusts have more space than many apartments at least. 

Related: Over-the-Top Celebrity RVs

Gypsy Wagon
Michael Leinweber/YouTube

SunRay Kelley's Gypsy Wagon

Artist and designer SunRay Kelley in Washington state went mobile when he turned this gas guzzler into a bio fueled hybrid. Ripping the camper off a 1984 Toyota motorhome, Kelley built a new curved roof aluminum RV. With electric power, solar power and (bio)diesel generator, Kelley's design has three alternatives to fossil fuels.

Gypsy Wagon Interior
Michael Leinweber/YouTube

A Look Inside SunRay Kelley's Gypsy Wagon

The cedar adds to the natural aesthetic, and the bedroom over the cab has a complete window to sleep under the stars (while protected from the cold). Built for a family of four with room for two sleep areas and a kitchen, Kelley made more Gypsy Wagons based on this model for customers.

Dipa Vasudeva
Dipa Vasudeva Das

Dipa Vasudeva Das' Earthship

Dipa Vasudeva Das, a master woodworker in Eastern Europe, turned a simple van into a mobile home, and he documented the whole renovation in photos and told his story to international writers. First he hollowed out the van completely. Then, Das built a frame for the interior to shape the living space. Then he built all the furniture out of wood.

Dipa Vasudeva Interior
Dipa Vasudeva Das

A Look Inside Dipa Vasudeva Das' Earthship

The inside can be seen as a bedroom, dining room, or office. It's all three with pull-out tables and seats for quick conversions. He's even got a wood-burning fireplace for cold nights or roasting marshmallows with a chimney to pump the smoke safely outside. He's also got a fold-down deck outside for outdoor barbecues.

Roger Beck
Roger Beck

Roger Beck's 1952 Housetruck

A former Hollywood prop maker, Beck built four houses on truck beds. The fourth from 1975 being the peak of his experience, Beck learned how to add length to truck beds to support the frame of the house and reattach the bumper, leaving room for a propane tank under the bottom. He'd also lower the bed so the house would be closer to the ground.

Roger Beck Interior
Roger Beck

A Look Inside Roger Beck's 1952 Housetruck

Once the truck was ready, Roger picked up wood and built the house. Handbuilt by himself, Roger manually raised walls and attached to the rubber foundation. Having collected windows with stained-glass borders, Roger built the bedroom loft over the cab with a front bay window and skylights in the roof. He chose redwood siding.

Terry E Van
Terry E

The 'Terry E' Moving Van RV

DIY enthusiast "Terry E" didn't trust factory made RVs or used resellers, so he built his own, according to Wade Shepard, founder and editor and Vagabond Journey. He bought a Penske moving van and cleaned it all out, added carpet, cabinets and a 32-inch TV. He cut and mounted heavy-duty insulation to the ceiling to beat the heat of the midday sun. He was all in for only $4,500.

Terry E Interior
Terry E

A Look Inside the 'Terry E' Moving Van RV

Terry's interior plans included a bedroom and kitchen with electricity, but no hot water. He built a bathroom with a porta-potty and planned to shower at campsites. With granite counters and polished wood, the kitchen looks mighty nice, although the only warm food will come via microwave. Still, it's got all the necessities and a few luxuries of home considering its storage and transportation roots.

VW Tank

VW Tank

Those old VW campers may have given DIYers enough room to build an RV inside, but they didn't offer much traction. To solve that, one DIYer placed a camper atop the tank treads of a WWII Studebaker M29 Weasel. It was painted in military camouflage to go with its new lower half.

VW Tank Interior

A Look Inside the VW Tank

Thanks to the treads, this vehicle can go through terrain that a VW never could, such as snow, sand, or rocky mountains. It looks like most of the focus was spent on welding the top to the bottom, as the inside looked janky. Unfortunately, the original classified ad selling it in 2011 is no longer online, so we'll never know if someone bought it, how much they paid or even if it actually worked.

Related: The Coolest VW Vans Through the Decades