Join my journey in converting a 1995 Mitsubishi Delica L400 into a campervan for for outdoor and photography adventures around the Pacific Northwest.
It happened! I finally pulled the trigger and purchased my future camping van!
She ain’t pretty, but she will be very functional … fingers crossed!
She is a 1995 Mitsubishi Delica L400, and this page will capture my journey converting here into a campervan for outdoor and photography adventures. Join me in the journey!
A Mitsubishi What?
Her full name is 1995 Mitsubishi Delica L400 Exceed Space Gear Green Field 2800 Turbo Diesel. Now how about that for a mouthful? To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure what order all these words are even supposed to go. Typical 1980s/1990s JDM car naming silliness.
Let’s just call her my “Deli” for short.
But Brad, why did you buy a 28 year old, right-hand drive van?
Deli is a Japanese domestic market (JDM) vehicle … meaning that it was designed for use in the Japanese market, and was not sold by Mitsubishi in North America. They are built to Japanese environmental and safety standards, which are different than those of North America. Such vehicles need to be at least 25 years old to be imported into the United States.
Luckily, the Delica’s have a small following here in the Pacific Northwest, so it is possible to buy them off the lot from local used car deals and to get them serviced around here. In fact, the Mitsubishi Delica are also somewhat popular with the off-road and over-lander crowds in Australia, Canada, Russia and Taiwan.
Why a Mitsubishi Delica Campervan?
So why did I choose a Delica for a campervan? Several reasons:
- Small-ish: A smaller van is easier to maneuver, easier to park and gets better fuel economy. And since most of my trips will be solo, a small camping van will do.
- Reasonable Cost: These old vans don’t cost anything like a modern Sprinter, Transit or Promaster.
- Super Select 4WD System: With options for 2WD (rear wheels), AWD, 4WD-high and 4WD-low, how could you go wrong? I’m sure I’ll spend the vast majority of my time in 2WD for best fuel economy, but I’ll have lots of options for snow, mud and sand, and the occasional off-road excursion.
- Clearance: With 8.25 inch (810mm) of clearance, good approach and departure angles, and the capability for 4WD, I should be able to get up most of the mountain roads around here … and be ready to take on a bit of Utah backcountry this next winter. If nothing else, this all gives me some safety margin when I’m out solo.
- Reasonable Fuel Economy: I have some long trips in mind, so fuel economy is better for the environment and for my wallet. I’m expecting around 20 mpg with the Delica (fingers crossed).
- Different: I wanted something a bit different.
Do I have some concerns about all this? Yes:
- Reliability: It is 28 years old!
- Maintenance: I’ve never been much of a grease-monkey. That’s going to have to change.
- Crashworthiness: No airbags. No ABS. No vehicle safety improvements of the 2000s, 2010s or 2020s.
Camper Van Mission
So what do I want out of a camper van?
My vision for the van is mainly three-fold, but all set around supporting my outdoor photography and adventures.
First, I see the van as a way to camp at or very near my sunrise photography locations. How convenient would it be to pop out of bed right at my sunrise photography location without having to drive a couple hours in the dark from home? Why not drive there the day before, scout the location in daylight and then get a full night’s sleep before the morning shoot? Maybe even do some night sky photography while I’m at it.
A camper van makes this really convenient. It can always be set up and ready to go, providing a simple and convenient shelter in all weather conditions, with a place to cook.
Second, the van opens possibilities for easy regional photography trips of 3-5 days, with the flexibility of camping wherever I want and not being tied to expensive hotels. I imagine quick trips to destinations all over the Pacific Northwest.
Finally, I do have some bigger photography trips in mind, to destination like Alaska and the desert Southwest. These trips could be 1-3 months long. A camper van will make these trips efficient, flexible and cheap. I can drive where I want for as long as I want (flexible itinerary), feed myself from grocery stores (healthy and cheap) and sleep anywhere (flexible and cheap).
So join me in my camper van conversion journey, as I convert this 28 year old van into a lean camping machine.
My Camper Van Requirements
One thing I don’t envision is living full-time in this camper van. My conversion will focus on being simple and comfortable, as well as flexible. It will be mostly a DYI effort, focused on basic functions and comforts.
I come from a backpacking background … so for me, a camper van with a flat dry surface is a major upgrade from sleeping in a tent on the ground.
I will keep everything modular and flexible. Out on a winter trip, leave the refrigerator and solar cells at home. On a summer outing, leave the heater behind.
Need to move some furniture? I want to be able to pull out the entire camping setup in less than 30 minutes to transform my Deli into a cargo van.
Most of my trips will be solo, so my conversion will be optimized around that. But I will also have an optional bed extension for those cases where my wife comes along, or I’m using the van with a friend as a “trailhead vehicle”.
Here are the main requirements I jotted down at the start of the van conversion project:
- Comfortable camping for one. Reasonable camping for two. Can drive three (me, my wife and our daughter).
- Comfortable for all season camping in the Pacific Northwest (cold, mud, rain, snow).
- Secure place to store photography equipment when I’m away from the van.
- Interior installs/removes in 30 minutes, to also allow occasional cargo van capability.
A few things implied here:
- No built-in refrigerator.
- No built-in stove.
- No built-in plumbing.
- No built-in toilet.
- No supplemental air conditioning system.
Finally, I also have a desire to avoid adding any new holes to the van, or removing any carpets or wall liners. I’d like to retain the ability to restore everything back to its original condition for when it comes time to re-sell the van.
Delica L400 Campervan Conversion
Below are individual posts and videos on each major element of my campervan conversion, in approximate chronological order.
Details the layout and build of the campervan interior, including seating, sleeping platform, general storage, secure storage for photography equipment and swing-arm mounted table.
Detailed description of mounting a Rhino-Rack roof rack and Yakima awning to the roof of a Mitsubishi Delica L400.
Also includes design and build of a quick-deploy “mini-awning” that can be set up in 30 seconds just to cover the side entry door area when the full-size awning is not needed.
We make custom bug nets to cover the camper van’s pop-out side windows for both insect and rain protection, with easy magnetic attachment to the van.
Campervan Ventilation & Heater
This post covers development of a custom ventilation fan and use of hcalory portable diesel heater to keep the van well ventilated and dry, thus protecting it from moisture, mold and mildew.
We make a custom rubber floor mat to protect our van’s floor from the Pacific Northwest’s rain, mud and snow.
We finally get to test out the camper van conversion on its first camping trip in Olympic National Park to photograph the rainforest and wildlife.