Our requirements, we thought, were simple:
A camper van in which we could travel and develop our businesses, combining our skills and knowledge to develop design and photography work around food and travel. Food because it is an abiding passion of us both, and travel because of the joys of discovering different places and cultures – and a desire to help others learn about how we can sustain and be happy on this surprisingly delicate planet.
Despite lots of research and attendance at shows, we found it hard to get a camper van that could meet our requirements. Usually the van would have most of what we wanted but be missing an ingredient or two. I wanted a roof canopy that could be unzipped so that I could take photos from an elevated position through 180 degrees. Great for landscapes, wildlife and some events. Sarah is used to sailing so wanted to be able to organise our supplies and have a few nooks and crannies for home comforts. There had to be somewhere for a wet dog (inevitable at times!) to dry off and a way to sit in the shade and chill at the end of a busy day. We also required really secure and concealed storage, a large enough bed, etc…
We could not find these things in one van and, despite getting close to compromising our requirements, we didn’t succumb. Had we been willing to bust the budget, we could have ordered a bespoke van incorporating elements from different suppliers that would have needed to be ready in a short time frame, which was always impossible.
Oh, and it must look cool to make a statement about us and our business.
‘Brian’ started with seeing the iKamper SkyCamp at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) for the February Camping and Caravanning Show. Our tour of the camper vans there was depressing but as Sarah describes in another blog, we loved the size and usability of the SkyCamp and within a week we had researched enough to order it from Andy Warder, aka iKamperUK. We first installed the roof tent on our Renault Laguna estate, but although this functioned, we knew this was not the best solution.
The plan for Brian grew as we explored our options. We worked out that we wanted an all-terrain 4×4 vehicle so we could go anywhere (within reason). We knew our budget. But we didn’t know all our options. A trip to the Adventure Overland Show at Stratford Racecourse in April showed us what lots of others had done. We are not at the level of converting an old Army ambulance or Land Rover ourselves, but we met someone who installed high grade aluminium canopies on the back of pick-up trucks, sourced from South Africa. This provided security and concealment options, combined with the versatility and power of a 4×4 pick-up.
As soon as we got home I began working on this plan. Studying the iKamper Community on Facebook and other internet resources, I soon pinned down our options. Amongst others, we looked at Toyota Hi-Lux, Jeeps, Land Rovers, Ssongyang, and Isuzu. Then an ex-demo Isuzu D-Max came up for sale with three weeks to go to our inaugural expedition date. One great test drive, and the suppliers of the backs had a metal canopy to fit. No reason to delay.
We had the canopy installed after removing the plastic liner from the pick-up back and having it Rhino-lined. We mounted the iKamper on solid bars on the canopy, and topped it all off with the fabulous Thule EasyFold Bike Rack on the tow bar which allows the tailgate to be opened without taking the bikes off.
We use standard camping kit for cooking and sitting. We currently transport everything using sealed plastic boxes but may add additional fitted secure units in the back when we understand how we work with the space Brian affords us. The iKamper awning is great addition – there is a full tent annexe you can buy, but we don’t need it – and we have the mesh tent for the hottest climates and an insulated tent liner for colder nights. So now we have a large double bedroom, masses of storage space, five comfortable seats, four wheel drive with all-terrain tyres, the ability to tow up to 3.5 tonnes and a canopy back that has been load tested to 2.5 tonnes.
Our experience of driving fully loaded over terrain, demanding at times, is getting an average 31.5mpg (just under 9.0 L/100km). The Isuzu has a lot of power for a 1.9 engine and the manual transmission works for us. We can continue to customise to our needs, and are considering a lithium battery so we have more freedom from electric hook-ups. Maybe something to boost 4G or WiFi connectivity because it’s pretty naff in many places. Maybe a trailer to carry a small car or a mobile studio on a trailer…
We have gained flexibility, something that works well for our business, with the power and energy that we need. And the cost? Considerably below that of a good long-wheelbase camper van with restricted customisation and limited ability go across all terrains, and massively below a bespoke van. Brian is taxed as a Light Goods Vehicle, which is good value, and does not need to have his registration with DVLA changed as can happen with camper van conversions. For the Eurotunnel he is classed as a large car, which is another benefit. Insurance is higher because we travel abroad a lot with work, but is a good policy for our needs.
We are seriously in love with Brian and in our way proud of what we have done. Most importantly, we smile when we think of Brian and the fun we have in him. If you’d like any advice on this approach, please message us.