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.

Head space

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.

Safety first

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.’

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