This post has been resurrected from a previous incarnation of my web site. Looking at the statistics for the site, several forums continue linking to the post even though it had been removed for quite some time.
If it’s of interest, who am I to argue!
Before I begin, we no longer own this vehicle. It served it’s purpose well, both as a day-to-day runabout and a weekend camper. Eventually though, age and mileage took their toll, so the Kamper Kab is no more 🙁
Without it, we would never have started following the British Touring Car Championships or been able to take spontaneous weekend breaks when we had the calling. We got so used to the convenience, it became something we couldn’t do without, so did make the upgrade to a touring caravan in order to fulfil our mobile accommodation needs (apologies to all those ‘wobble box’ haters out there).
With that out of the way, let us begin.
The Fiat Doblo Kamper Kab
Early in 2010 and against my better judgement, we became the ‘proud’ owners of one of the ugliest cars in Christendom, a high top Fiat Doblo. Primary reason for getting the vehicle was for tip runs and shifting stuff that just wouldn’t fit in our other cars. It was also cheap!
During her business travels, my wife had become acquainted with a mechanic who looked after the vehicles belonging to one of the local taxi companies. They get rid of their cars once dealer warranty had expired and although high mileage (our example had 197k on the clock) they had full dealer service history and had been maintained extremely well.
Our Doblo was one of those ex-taxis on an 04 plate and cost £600 complete with 11 months tax and nearly a full tank of diesel! So in real terms we had a great run-about and utility vehicle for about 400 quid.
The ‘high-top’ variants were generally used to transport wheelchair owners and ours came complete with ramps! These actually prove to be very useful as our sack trucks were a spot on fit for the ramps so shifting heavy things like washing machines and the like became an absolute breeze!
One of the first things we did was to remove the back seats as they were probably never going to be used. On doing this, the amount of space in the back became evident and the old grey cells began to form some ideas!
After some weird looks from my wife when I asked her to lie in the back with me, I determined that the rear of the Doblo was in fact big enough for 2 people to sleep in! This had the potential of making our visits to motor-sport events that bit more civilised from a camping point of view or save us the expense of having to book other accommodation.
With this in mind and a number of wild ideas running around in my head, I set to work on knocking together something that would provide us with a bed and enough storage for all the gear we needed to survive a weekend at the races!
First things first. If we were going to use the Doblo as a ‘mini camper’ we would need a power source separate from the main battery. Having done a bit of measuring, I found that a 110Ah leisure battery would fit quite nicely in one of the rear foot-wells so this was fitted together with a split-charge unit and separate fuses for interior lighting and auxiliary power. A couple of strip lights were mounted in the head-lining and a multi-way socket mounted on one of the rear side trims. This also had a separate switch so that things don’t have to be constantly unplugged. All wiring for these additions was hidden behind trim panels and the head-lining.
A major hurdle to overcome was the fact that the back of the Doblo was not entirely flat as it had an angled box section that is used to mount the rear seats.
Hardly a comfortable sleeping surface and in completely ‘the wrong place’ for mounting anything. Initial thoughts were to remove it with the judicious use of an angle grinder, but this would have precluded using the back seats if required and also constitute a physical modification from an insurance perspective.
Instead, I decided to construct a false floor that would cover the entire rear of the car. It was built in a sort of pallet-like arrangement and in two sections.
The front section could be removed and the seats put back in without having to disturb the rear and was also constructed with two hatches that allowed access to the foot-wells.
The tops of the floor sections and hatches were then covered with cheapo carpet tiles from B&Q. On the whole, these were attached using a spray on carpet adhesive. As they seem to have some form of bitumen backing, I found that they could be folded over the back of the rear section with the application of some heat from a hot air gun and then stapled on the underside to give a tidy edging.
Storage and Seating
Next – how to provide a combination of storage, a bed and the potential for seating? Boxes/benches (or whatever describes them best) seemed to be the best solution. So, I constructed a suitable framework using 44mm timber.
Top and bottom were 9mm MDF for strength, with the sides clad with hardboard in an effort to save weight. The tops were removable and positioned by battens fixed to the underside ends of each lid. Fronts and one end of each lid were cut short to provide a lip on the front and forward end of each side box and the front of the forward most box. More on that later!
I had no intention of screwing the boxes to the floor as the idea was to make everything easy to remove but something had to be done to stop them moving around in transit.
After a bit of thought, I got hold of some bog standard rubber door stops and mounted them to the underside corners of each box. Holes were then drilled in the floor for each door-stop to sit in. This effectively gave the boxes rubber feet that keep them off the ground when out of the vehicle and provided mounting points when in situ. The edges of the carpet tiles were melted around the holes to prevent fraying.
So we had storage and seating, but what about the bed? Well, erm, slats!
The reason for cutting the box lids short was to provide a lip for slats to sit in that fill the gap between the boxes. The slats were held together with some form of webbing (something to do with curtains?) that was stapled to the underside of the slats. They could then be folded up into a little pile that didn’t take up much space.
Once all this was done, I measured the boxes and space between and ordered up some seating foam from Ace Foam and Sal, my wife, made an excellent job of making some covers for the foam slabs. We obviously needed a bit of privacy so she also made matching curtains that were mounted using curtain wire onto hooks screwed into the centre of some of the conveniently placed trim caps in the rear of the car.
During some random internet surfing, we also found a ‘drive-away awning’ which fits the side of the Doblo extremely well. We used this to house our cooking equipment, and multi-fuel cooler while away. This means that we normally keep the bed erected for the whole weekend as we have enough space to live in the awning.
So there you have it. How to turn a Doblo into a mini camper, or as it has been nick-named – ‘The Kamper Kab’.
Additions After The Main ‘Conversion’
As part of our camping kit, we had a 3-way fridge, dual burner cooker a gas barbecue and one 4.5kg gas bottle. Now, we obviously wanted the fridge to run all the time, so swapping the gas connection between these three bits of kit was a no-no. If you can run more than one thing off a gas bottle in a caravan or motor-home, why not when camping? Well you can, if you can source the bits! A company called B.E.S. Ltd sells a number of ‘interesting’ gas related fittings including snap on/off connectors that cut the gas when disconnected and adaptors letting you split one hose into 2 or 3 ways.
After purchasing the required bits, I fashioned a set of pipes that had a 1 metre tail from the gas bottle regulator connected to a 4 way adaptor (one to the bottle and three to the ‘appliances’). Each appliance had a short pipe tail with a snap connector allowing any combination of appliances to be connected to the bottle. This worked brilliantly and allowed the bottle to be kept at a safe distance outside of the awning.
I still use the snap connectors to this day. They are great for connecting a caravan BBQ and you can connect tails to various regulators which allow us to also use the BBQ at home on a patio gas bottle without having to go through the hassle of removing the regulator each time.
Obviously, adding a false floor and those wooden boxes to the back of our Doblo increased the weight being carried around by some margin. Whilst we didn’t notice a marked increase in fuel consumption, the rather tired rear suspension was struggling a bit!
After a lot (and I mean a lot) of searching on the internet, I managed to find a company called Graystone Engineering who supply spring assisters specifically to fit a Doblo. These come in the form of supplementary springs that fit between the standard leaf spring and bump stop. The Doblo ones come in two versions. We went for the highest rating in order to raise the ride height on the rear by about 35mm. Fitting was extremely easy and was accomplished in about an hour and a half (an hour for the first and half for the second, once I’d worked out the best method).
The springs made one hell of a difference to the ride of the Doblo. It no longer ‘wallowed’ or felt like it was going to fall over when cornering a little too enthusiastically. Ona wine-run to France it handled a significant quantity of vino in the back (as well as the camping boxes and floor). So, whilst not cheap (about £170), the upgrade was well worth it.
Links to Suppliers
Please note that some of the items used are no longer available but you may find alternatives. Links open in a new window.
Electrics: Combined Precision Components (CPC)
Suspension Spring Assisters: Graystone Engineering
Drive Away Awning: Outdoor Revolution
Gas Fittings: B.E.S. Ltd
Although our beloved Doblo is now probably forming vessels containing many millions of baked beans, the work involved in creating the internals has not entirely gone to waste.
The larger rear box combined with the awning canopy poles is now a cable reel storage unit.
The two other boxes are stacked and have made a work bench/power tool storage unit in the garage.
Part of the floor is also in the garage providing a safe place for the mower to live.
The leisure battery continued to power our caravan for another 3 years and the split charger was used to replace a dodgy one in my car.
Everything else was removed and is safely stored for that time when it may become useful again!