The Rise Of The Panel Van Conversion

Sprinter 4x4

How things have changed within in a few years!

Enjoying the freedom of our Self-Build New Zealand panel van

When we made the decision to sell our big A-Class Carthago motorhome in favour of a small panel van conversion, the choice of vans on the market in the UK, was few and far between, so much so that we headed out to Germany on our search for a new panel van.

Well that was 5 years ago and the difference between then and now, seems to tell a very different story! From what we’re seeing out and about, it appears that us consumers, are buying very differently, to what has been a market dominated by the giants of the Coachbuilt and A-Class motorhomes.

This was never more apparent than our visit in the Autumn to the NEC show. Having been heavily involved in the world of motorhomes for over 15 years, both as a hobby and being one of the early UK Motorhome Hire businesses to set up, we lived and breathed motorhomes! We even started an accessory side, set up a storage facility and had a motorhome stopover at our base in North Wales.

We’d been to each NEC Caravan and Motorhome Show since as far back as we can remember and bought all our vans and previous caravans at a show! Having finished our business back in 2016 to pursue a life of travel, by campervan, the visits to the NEC show, are now purely recreational and the October motorhome show, was very different to all those past shows put together. I’m sure we’re not the only ones to have realised that it was dominated by panel van conversions! But why this big change?

We think the change actually started around the end of 2015, when the number of people telling us they were just about to buy or had just bought a motorhome was like no other. We were no longer in the minority, on trips to Europe, we were starting to see more and more motorhomes, to the extent, that on one trip to Spain, it seemed to be overrun with them.

So, what’s happened in those 4 years since, to bring such a huge shift from motorhome ownership to panel van longing and buying? Are those 1st time buyers from a few years ago now downsizing, or is it more of a case of the social media vanlife following, bringing an ideology of perfection to the life of travel in a panel van?

Our own reasons for abandoning the Coachbuilt and A-Class models, was based on our own travels over the decades and beginning to get a little bored after so many years. We felt we’d exhausted many routes on our travels though the UK and Europe and wanted to get to more remote places. It was a desire for more adventure type travel, but still with a van, we also wanted to park more easily and freely, be able to drive up those tiny mountain lanes or narrow, winding tracks.

There was also, the hope that one day, we’d be able to ship our van overseas or overland or both, it had to be practical in so many ways, something that our previous type of motorhomes just couldn’t provide for us.

The other big appeal for us, was that a panel van is just that! It’s made in a factory for one purpose, as a van, it’s not put together separately on a chassis, where habitation joins can be prone to issues such as water ingress and parts, such as bumpers, rear lights, side skirts, the list goes on, can take months to receive (yes we speak from experience!!) and parts come with a rather large price tag!

There’s nothing better than opening those back doors to a view like this!

At least with a panel van, if we needed any parts, they are usually off the shelf, it’s just a matter of picking one up from the nearest dealer, at a reasonable cost, after all, vans are built for trades and business, so parts have to be readily available and cost effective.

Another factor in the mass swap to the panel van, could be due to pricing. When we first started looking to buy our first motorhome, we could get a basic Coachbuilt at the NEC for £21,000, an entry level now would be double that. More luxurious models and manufacturers run well into the £100,000+ bracket.

We saw entry level panel vans at the NEC for around £40,000, so pricing may not be too dissimilar to a basic Coachbuilt Motorhome. This must mean then, that the surge towards panel van ownership is not based on price alone, so is it more to do with size and practicalities and also maybe, appearance?

Dare I say it, but the van conversion is somehow, the one with the most sex appeal, it’s the epitome of romantic, idealist van travel, the followers of those vanlife instagram pics around the globe long to be a part of the dream. Those glossy shots of van conversions of all ages, shapes and sizes, fabulously overhauled aging models, oozing more charm and charisma than any Coachbuilt or A Class motorhome could ever dream of!

The vanlife following gives a whole new appeal to campervan travels, it’s also the flexibility with both the exterior and interior look of the van, they can be so individual and homely in a cosy cottage sort of way! No more plain old white or silver paintwork, the various colours of the spectrum adorn the metalwork, bringing such a welcoming glance to the eye.

Self-build interiors are often the work of skilled individuals, a whole new era of craftsmanship has opened up in full view of the internet world. Intricate wood panels, wood-burning stoves, corrugated sheeting, colourful tiling displays and an array of interior design techniques that would leave the most experienced designers open mouthed with amazement.

Our own La Strada Sprinter has an exterior shade of Pebble Grey, a mellow tone of warm beige with the chunky 4×4 BG Goodrich tyres adding that extra bit of spice to the already unique look. We chose a rather dramatic interior scheme of reds and silvers, a bold contemporary look, which La Strada, have such a wide choice of, this we felt would match our new adventure based travel of vanlife!

Our van conversion in New Zealand, is very different, our own self-build on a plain white LDV, yet the interior has a lake blue theme with earthy tones, which we wanted, to reflect the outdoor lifestyle that is all around. It’s a basic but practical and functional conversion and so cosy, in many ways, we prefer it to our La Strada Sprinter!

So, here I am talking about panel vans as if they were a delicious plate of food! Well, there you go, that just about sums it up, it’s the whole concept, you can be whoever you want to be, express yourself so differently and have that unique element through personnel self-build designs, which has brought the panel van conversion to a whole new group of admirers.

From the wild colour schemes of the manufacturers, if you’re buying a factory build or of course, the traditional interiors, they will never have the individual attraction of the self-build instagram conversions, but with all the other benefits of easier flexibility in parking, accessibility to more difficult places, less problems on the habitation side and more cost effective maintenance, the appeal is huge.

But, there’s one thing for sure, it’s only with a panel van that you can wake up in the morning and swing open those back doors to some of the best parking spot views across the globe….. yes, it’s the epitome of vanlife travel, the famed shots of instagram, the creation of millions of vanlife followers, the result of millions of vanlife instagramers, one of the reasons for the biggest surge in panel van wannabe ownership ever and one reason why we just love panel van vanlife so much!!

Home is definitely where you park it with a panel van
Our La Strada Sprinter Panel Van

We hope you join us soon on the vanlife panel van circuit of travel wherever you may!

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