All this talk in the mag of late of cunning hacks or whatever got me thinking about some of my own over the years... or, as in the case of my column this month, my son; who has set up his Suzuki Vitara five-door for overnight stops. Comfortable sleeping for one person or two really good friends. Very cosy. I’ve enjoyed seeing him continue a family tradition and do it well. It’s a deck behind the rear seats that unfolds a bed forward to the driver’s seat. The driver’s seat-back needs to tilt forward a little to extend the bed fully, a short front section of which folds for travel. Both left side seats are unaltered. The bed extension may be stored at the rear if all seats are needed. It’s well planned, well made, versatile and removable. There’s plenty of stash room. Opening the bed leaves a big space below in the foot-well where the mattress travels. Below the rear deck is a pocket for a large plastic bin and, ahead of it, a useful lidded space. There’s a handy space each side for gas bottles, cooker, kitchen stuff, supplies, shoes, whatever. A work table slides out to cook on. This sleeper is not intended for cooking with the tail door closed. There’s a tarp and pole arrangement to cover the open door and cooking area in inclement weather. From my own experience modifying short-wheel-base 4WDs I know it’s a very practical arrangement.
Building a foldable bed into a SWB vehicle does take some ingenuity. For instance, when on the bed there’s not much headroom in the Vitara. Choosing the bed height is critical. It’s a balance between room above or storage below and how it relates to bodywork shapes or rear mudguard intrusion – go around or over it? A tall person may need to sleep diagonally which may complicate the build. Removing a trim panel may reveal useful plain or threaded holes or cavities. Note that, though the vehicle is lined, mudguards are external panels covered only with thin trim carpet, so may be a cold surface at night. For the same reason sleeping on a floor needs good insulation. Without curtains a full moon can be a distraction! Romantic, perhaps... Myself and mates have built beds and kitchens into many 4WDs to sleep two in comfort. But you usually have to, and should, cook outside. Longwheelbases offer more options. Minimum bunk width for one person is about 600mm. Vitara’s is wider and son reports that it’s OK for two.
Measure twice, cut once
Planning a fit like this can be an enjoyable task. Measure, measure, measure, draw, draw, draw, recheck. Trace that curve – cut a cardboard template. Open and close the doors. Think of access to common tasks – can you get to the tail-light bulbs or the jack and spare wheel. Ease of escape in an emergency. Can you reach all internal door handles. Where to put the fire extinguisher for fast access from inside and outside. Where to store cooker fuel – not next to the extinguisher! If driver’s seat has to be adjusted as in this one and my own, can it be made drivable in just a few seconds? I’ve noticed that many people, when building camper mods into a 4WD or van, go overboard when planning and incorporate lots of trick features for maximum versatility. Small spaces always demand compromises but too much lift this, fold that, move that over there, go round the other side, unbolt the seat, whatever, to change between options soon becomes a pain, especially when it’s raining and dark and you just want to grab a snack then hit the sack... Keep it simple is the answer and this conversion does that. Sometimes you want to leave the bed made and airing all day but for a full day on dusty shingle it’s best packed away. It’s advisable, too, that movable cooking/work tables or flaps can be locked in position when in use. It’s too easy for a knock, a wind gust or a slamming door, to wipe your lovely lunch to the ground upside down, or worse, flip a boiling pot over someone.
It’s not recommended – but you can boil a billy inside in a storm providing there is plenty of ventilation – like a lee-side window opened a hand span or a door ajar. But it’s risky, and demands care and awareness that if you feel drowsy kill the cooker (or a candle!) before it kills you! Get air. Do not go to sleep! And don’t cook the roof lining.
Suzuki Vitara ‘sleeper.’