If you think about small camper vans, the famous VW's immediately come to mind. These vans are real cult vehicles nowadays, and for good reason. These started a whole movement and many loyal fans around the world are still enjoying their VW vans everyday, many of which are 50 years or older.
Unfortunately, because of their ever growing popularity, good ones are harder to come by and that means they are quite expensive too. Finding a cheap one usually means quite a bit of work needs to be done on them, which may be worth it. But not everybody is a handyman and willing to put the time and/or money in to get it done well.
If you are looking for a small camper van, but it does not necessarily have to be a VW , there are several alternatives to the VW's that are worth checking out. These vans capture the same spirit as their Bavarian cousins, good and bad. They are similar in size, appearance and level of convenience, but are also not new verhicles, so they may need some TLC from time to time.
This light commercial vehicle by Toyota has been in production since 1967 and is still seen riding on the road in many countries around the world. Recently, it has been replaced by the Proace in many european countries. The older types have the engine under the front seats, while in later years the engine moved to the front of the vehicle. Most vans are rear-wheel drive, but in some countries part time or full time 4wd versions were available.
It is a great van to do a DIY camper conversion on, but there have not been many factory conversions, outside of Japan. Researching Hiace campervans led to a few available in the UK, but they may very well be imports from Japan as I did not find any factory converions.
A great way to get to know more about Hiace campervans is to read the Hiace Hobo blog. A guy named Chris started living out of his Hiace van in April 2012 and has been ever since.
In Japan though, this seems to be a cult vehicle in itself judging by the amount of modified vans that are on displays at this Toyota HiAce specific car show in Tokyo:
Like the other VW alternatives mentioned in this post, the H100 has the engine underneath the front seats as well. Later models (H200) moved the engine in the front of the vehicle. as far as I know, these have been available in rear-wheel drive versions only in Europe.
Camper van rental company “Crazy Campers” in the Netherlands, uses these as their base vehicles for their DIY conversions to rental campers. I have rented from them several times in the past and that is how I fell in love with this way of travelling. We even used one as our “wedding car”.
One of the strong points of this vehicle is its durability. I noticed that one of the vans we had rented, had well over 300.000+km on the clock. They told me that in their experience, these things are nearly bullet proof (provided you don’t park them against an 18-wheeler or something) and if they do need maintenance it is quite easy to do. Also parts availability is apparently good in (western) Europe.
Mitsubishi L300 aka Delica
This vehicle has its own loyal group of fans in various parts of the world. In the english speaking countries it is known as the Mitsubishi Delica, in other countries it is often called the L300. The undercarriage is the same as the Hyundai H100 mentioned above, but it has different styling and engine configurations. The Delica was also quite regularly available as a 4WD. Owner clubs and dedicated online forums are a great indication of the popularity of a vehicle; Delicaclub.com caters to owners in various countries, but mostly Australian owners. I also found that there are dedicated owner clubs in Hong Kong, Georgia, Canada, UK and Japan.
The successor of the Delica/L300 was the L400, also known as Space Star and Star Wagon. This van has the engine in the front and of course updated looks. It has also been available in 4WD.
All three of these vehicles can be a great alternative to the well-known VW's. Although not as popular for factory camper conversions, these make great base vehicles for the handy DIY-er or a custom conversion shop.
Header image: Flickr