We feature Valda The adventure Van as a two parter. Part one is HERE, and concentrates on the stripping out and the exterior. Now that Mark has finished the interior and had 5 weeks away in Valda it’s time to do Part Two…
Mark Nickolls, father of 10 year old twins, Queenstown resident and mountain biking guru. In June 2019 Mark took the plunge and bought an already kitted out Mercedes van, it was the start of a very very long build journey.
The original camper was fully functional, self contained and ready to go, big call stripping it back to the metal huh, why’d you do it?
Yeah so I definitely had a vision on what would work for me, the original fit out happened in Japan in the 90’s and was tired and needed a total refit to achieve what I wanted, modern materials that are easy to maintain, its an adventure rig so needs to take some punishment. The garage space and a full sized bed was top of the list
You mentioned in Part one, this exposed a lot of remedial fixes that needed to happen, was these like a major set back or you kind of knew what you were in for?
I had a fair idea that the engine (only just clicked over 125000km now), brakes and transmission were all in good order, the last owner had sorted that side of things. Refreshing brake lines, adding a larger radiator and new hoses. I knew I wanted to delete excess holes in the body, like a window, air and water heater exhaust holes and a crappy fridge vent on the passenger side.
Panel and paint was going to be expensive as I couldn’t do this myself, but there is no point doing anything else until it’s all water tight. I had budgeted for new window and door rubbers too. Plus it is a big rig, tonnes of litres of paint where needed, Vlada’s sprayed in Audi Nardo Grey.
What were those repairs to get you to the start stage, and how many man hours do you reckon were spent stripping out and making ready?
Honesty I stripped the full interior in 6 hours. I only kept the windows and interior window frame surrounds as these had roller blinds and mosquito. I revamped the frames and painted them black, I changed out the blind materials to new black out roller blind fabric. Ohh and the kitchen sink which is now black too. Then taking everything off before panel and paint took 1 full day. All 5 doors off, front and rear bumpers, front grill, all lights, badges the lot. All that was left was the motor, driver’s seat and front window. I then striped each part back, cleaning and scrubbing until they were like new. Anything metal was podwercoated black.
The new layout, you had a firm idea about what was going to work for you, can you talk us through the new floor plan?
The garage space and a king sized bed was top of the list, who wants to sleep in a single bed right? The total inside space from behind the front seats is 4100mm x 1650mm wide and 1800mm high. I raised the full king sized bed (2100 x 1600) up enough so I could fork mount a bike with the front wheel off but low enough so you still had a good bed space.
I built a couch unit (1600 long x 900 deep x 650mm high). The couch houses the Dometic 65L fridge on a slide out, porta potty, diesel heater unit, 70L fresh water tank with exterior fill point, full 600w Solar controlled 12v power system and 200 amp hour lithium ion battery. These systems are Valda’s heart. I haven’t boxed out the rear wheel arches. I was thinking of building gear storage over them but have since decided to carpet them to allow more space.
What materials did you use and why did you choose those?
I wanted materials that were reliable, performed strongly, could take some rough and tumble but still clean up and look mint or keep running with no issues. Cabinetry is all high pressure laminate with a ply core all biscuit joined, screwed and glued for added strength. A mate Steve was throwing out lots of full sized sheets from their joinery workshop so I grabbed what I needed!
The wall panels are birch ply of differing thickness and I wrapped the garage wall panels in marine carpet. I had the team at Upholstery Workshop Queenstown wrap a heavy duty outside furniture interweave fabric on the door panels and couch swab as well as the upper wall panels. We foam backed these so they are soft to a touch. I added 3m thinsulate insulation blankets and for added comfort in cold temps. I went with the Heater X diesel 2.2kw air heater, this unit is a game changer and 1/3 of the cost of other units. The ceiling is stained ply board sheets that I routed grooves into to create a negative detail , everyone loves this look!
Is the workshop you used for making all the cabinets at your house, it looks like you’re well set up?
Like any guy I’ve always wanted a shed. We built a 80sqm workshop tall enough for Valda to park up in and to have something to do on bad weather days.
And further to that, what tools would you say are essential to making a good interior?
Definitely a biscuit joiner for cabinets, they are only boxes at the end of the day. So just a circular saw, a straight edge and drill and drill bits.
How many man hours do you think the interior took?
Easy 400-500 hours. Easy for a proper job. That’s doing everything from laying the truck bedlinner ply for the floor, putting windows back in, sound deadening, insulation, running all the wires for 12v electrics, fresh and grey water hook up, templates for panels. Then adjusting them and again and again, Upholstery, Cabinetry and final fitting of electricals.
You’re back from a big roady now, that included the Jamie Nicoll’s Nomad Weekend… how’d it all go?
I had 5 weeks on the road mainly around Nelson/Tasman and went to Jamie’s Nomadic weekend in Craigburn. It was such a cool time meeting likeminded people others have simlar interests in vehicles, riding bikes and adventuring.
Have you done a bit of a debrief?
One of the springs in the window blind snapped, so that is coming out again and I’ll carry some spares for the next one that goes? Other than that all systems and layout worked bag on! The Solar set up is dialed, I never saw the house battery go below 84%. That is running the fridge, sound system, fans and lights.
Mark is keen to do high end van fit outs, if you are interested, check out Valda and Mark’s adventures on Instagram HERE
And thanks to photographer Simon Noble for the epic internals; Check out his Insty HERE