Camper Interior Fabrication
First, we mounted the modified Z-bed mechanisms from a '79 Westy into position. I decided to make this a full-width seat/bed since it's primary function is to shuttle the family around. The loss of the closet will actually not be as profound since the entire width of the seat will be like a chest since the late Westy Z-bed mechanisms are made that way. I also made the sides about an inch longer than the original pieces; this allowed the facing to come right up to the rib in the walls.
Another modification I wanted to do was to have a sort of half cab divider that I could hang a curtain from. I've never liked the way Westies would have a spring or chord that would stretch from the sides up to the bottom of the overhead vent. It just always looked like an afterthought to me. So we engineered this for my bus as well as fabbed & installed the overhead panels from 1/8" Baltic Birch.
I wanted to keep the look of the icebox, but wanted more storage than the ice box gave me. I had no real use for an icebox so we gutted the entire original unit saving only the door and door frame and setout to make a cabinet that looked like the original but was more functional. I think we succeeded. It looks almost just like the original, but has almost twice the storage if the previous unit. Don't worry all you vintage purists; the original parts were preserved and made available to folks who needed them in their own VW campers.
The ceiling was next on the agenda. We were able to do it in one piece since we were using 5' X5' Baltic Birch. We simply used a 1' X 5' piece we already had, and began to slowly cut pieces off until we were left with a 1' long piece that fit snuggly the full width of the roof. We then ripped a new piece down to that width and fitted it into the roof. We also had to locate the hole for the dome light wire. Originally our plan prior to installing the roof panel, was to glue three strips if wood to the roof to support the panel since it only had support at the rear. Unfortunately it just didn't work well and there were huge gaps between the roof panel and the half divider. So we ended up gluing 2 strips of foam (one on top of the other) to tighten the seam. It worked GREAT!! Now we had a tight front seam.
The ceiling cabinet was next. We wanted to be able to have no seams in the roof, so we extended the ceiling cabinet forward so that it began 60 inches to the rear of the cab divider. Extending this cabinet also helped reclaim the rest of the lost storage from eliminating the closet. The doors would be fabbed & installed at a later time. Another thing worth noting is that we needed to make a hidden back panel for this cabinet so that stuff placed inside wouldn't get caught in the rear hatch mechanisms (see the first photo). This cabinet ended up about 12" deeper than the original. The last photo is of my Dad (the REAL craftsman) doing some trimming on the cabinet face with the Bosch jig saw. Yes, we even used some real GERMAN tools too. :-)
Once we had the upper cabinet in place, we could make the side cabinet. One thing to note here is that if you were to make a side cabinet like this one with a bed in front of it, you need to attach the seat back so that you can see how far back it will travel during operation so that the back of the rear seat doesn't hit the cabinet. Otherwise you could end up with a seat that doesn't fold out into a bed!! :-( This cabinet was made from 1/4" Baltic Birch. The door would be made separately and installed later.
The drivers side rear corner always poses a problem since the wood needs to make a compound bend in order to fit correctly. Anticipating this problem, I looked for alternatives. What we decided on was a half cabinet that would only fill the top corner but wouldn't interfere with the sleeping area. This one was also made from 1/4" Baltic Birch. Since the top edge has to bend in order to fit into the back hatch area, no door was made for it. Here's how it looks installed.
Now that the rear of the bus was "finished", we had to work on the wall paneling prior to anything else. There had to be one seam showing on the drivers side, so we had it follow the rear rib. This would be totally hidden at the top behind the window frame (to be installed later). The remainder of the seam would have a strip of white maple covering it.
With the "icebox" (now a pantry) anchored down, we could get true measurements for the jump seat. We made the bottom of the seat bigger since it was a little small previously. We made an outer profile panel and mounted it directly to the drivers side ribs behind the paneling. We then measured, made & installed everything. The top of the cab divider was capped off with a piece of solid white Maple, which is a perfect wood to use along side the birch since it has similar color and grain. We also used solid white Maple to make all five window frames. These frames proved to be one of the more challenging and time consuming things to make since they are not flat when installed. We had to make sides that were curved in order for them to lay flat against the curved walls of the bus. They were assembled with biscuits at all the joints and glued together with high-strength polyurethane wood glue.
Once everything was in place the sub-floor could cut from 1/2' plywood and laid down. I chose to use a light Oak Parquet floor. It took about 14 of the 12" X 12" pieces of floor to cover the sub-floor. This was applied to the sub-floor with special parquet floor glue which was applied with a grout trawl. Once it was dry, it was finish-trimmed and laid in place. Then oak molding was used to finish out the floor and hide the gaps around the edge.
The entire interior was finished using marine grade products. It's important to use quality marine finishes because your bus is subjected to rain and other moisture during it's lifetime and it needs to be protected from these elements. Interior finishes just won't cut it in the long run and you don't want to see all your hard work get ruined, would you?? First we used a penetrating waterproofing sealer from Dalys® called Seafin™ Ship'n Shore™. It was allowed to dry for 24 hours. This seals and waterproofs the wood from moisture. The wood was actually tougher and harder once sealed. Dalys® claims this sealer will actually harden the wood 15% - 25%!!
Then we used Dalys® ProFin™ oil finish. This was applied with a brush. While it was wet during the first coat, we sanded the panels w/ 400 grit paper. Then the excess was lightly wiped away with a rag soaked in ProFin™. It was allowed it to dry for 8 hours between coats. 3 coats was enough to provide the finish desired and should be all that is needed since these panels are not outside in the elements. These finishes caused a slight yellowing of the wood, but REALLY brought out the wood's natural depth and beauty. A nice advantage to using this type of finish, is that if it gets scuffed, you only need to break out an old tee shirt and rub some more on and it looks like new again!! That makes it practically KID-PROOF!!
The upholstery for the two rear seats and the back bed cushion was farmed out to Stitch Wich Upholstery in Lemoore, CA. I'm no "seamster" and since these would be totally custom fit, I thought it best to have a good group of professionals do it for me. Believe it or not, this was a tough decision for me because I really don't like to have to pay others to do things to my vehicles. Well, they did a SUPER JOB covering the seat boards and making the custom back bed pad from gray tweed facings and gray vinyl sides. they also did a super job at matching the fabric that my TMI front seat covers are made from; talk about a PERFECT MATCH!! Big "Kudos" go out to Rick and his expert crew of craftsmen (and craftswomen) for the super job they did!! All I had to do was to spray everything down real good with Scotchgard™ waterproofing treatment. This will help repel dirt and spills which should cut down on staining.
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Revised: August 24, 2003 .