Happy Campers: Ryan Lovelace

“You really have to sack up and just do it sometimes.”

Ryan Lovelace shares with us this and other thoughtful insights about his Cosmic Collider van conversion, which you may or may not have been following on Tumblr. Here the well known surfboard shaper gets into the nitty gritty details about some of the best and worst parts of his DIY camper conversion process, with tons of pictures, even some that have never been published anywhere but here. It’s a great little inside track on how to get started living the van life.

Ryan Lovelace Van Conversion Cosmic Collider

1. What was your purpose behind modifying your vehicle?

Man, have you seen the thing? Did I have any other choice!?  hahahaha! Actually, I really didn’t start out thinking I’d have to do any major modification – it already had the VW roof grafted on top, but as I started to realize what living in that space would actually entail, I realized if I could free up the footprint that the bed would take up then I’d have a whole lot more room.

Ryan Lovelace Van Conversion Cosmic Collider

2. Describe the materials and tools you used to make the conversion

Stupidity, innocence, Sawzall, welder, steel, plywood, and a good reciprocal saw, a good impact driver was priceless…salvaged windows and doors, and any random wood I could find from other projects to save money…so far it’s been about a year-and-a-half process, a vehicle this big isn’t that simple really, but a little bit here and there and over time it becomes something you couldn’t have ever envisioned in one sitting.

Ryan Lovelace Van Conversion Cosmic Collider

3. Why did you choose to convert your 1948 Chevy bus?

It kind of cannon-balled into my life – as in I wasn’t looking for a 1948 Chevy Bus with a Volkswagen on top of it, per say…I was actually looking for a Step Van, or delivery-style truck to build a house in the back of (a project I’m sure I’ll still do one day, or convince a friend to start…then get my hands into it…I’ve got a really good idea…If anyone’s curious, let me know, mwahahaha). I saw the thing for the first time and knew that was the project for me, then never turned back!

Ryan Lovelace Van Conversion Cosmic Collider

4. How long did it take?

Off and on, about a year and a half – there were some big mechanical issues I had to get help sorting out before I let myself start on the interior/living space. I knew how badly I wanted to do that bit of it, but I also knew that if I started and finished the living space, I’d likely lag really hard on the mechanical stuff, and I really wanted to approach this project with some maturity and patience, so I did it the right way. Once I started the interior and bedroom pod modifications, I’d say about a month and a half of pretty feverous work by myself with a friend here and there to lend a hand or teach me a new skill. (Thanks for the welding lessons, Lando!).

5. About how much money did it cost?

I really don’t know. With the purchase price of the bus, and everything I’ve put into it since, my best guess is about $10,000, if you add hours, frustration, dumb luck and work though – millions. Easily.

Ryan Lovelace Van Conversion Cosmic Collider

6. What feature are you most happy with?

The bedroom – without that the whole space would be a completely different story. I built the pod around a queen-sized mattress, so there’s ton’s of space and its extremely cozy, the perspective from inside it is insane too…kind of like a little treehouse.

7. What skills did you learn in the process? 

Welding was the main new skill, but also confidence – you REALLY have to sack up and just do it sometimes, like cutting the back of the bus open for the bedroom…that was terrifying. With no real well-thought-out plan, I just kind of spitballed the whole thing as I went along.  I don’t suggest that method for everyone, but its how I work best so I had to just let it fall the way it was going to. I have a pretty heavy trust in knowing that what I put myself into will turn out exactly the way I want it to be, even if I can’t see it in my head yet, but this project took all that to a whole new level.

Ryan Lovelace Van Conversion Cosmic Collider

8. Is there anything else you’d like to modify in the future? Why? 

I’d really like I tear out the front axle and wheels and convert it to disc brakes. Driving this thing is a pretty heavy responsibility and anything that I can do to ease my mind in the process is awesome…I plan on keeping it on the road for a long time, so every bit helps – disk brakes would be huge! If the engine ever blows up I’d like to convert it to veggie, but honestly the engine is so solid and runs so well right now I’m not gonna tear it out for that. Any modification I want to do now is going to aid in the longevity and reliability of the vehicle, not so much the space inside for a while.

9. Are you hoping to live in this or just use it for trips? 

It’s my living space, and trips are difficult given the fuel it gulps. That being said, the more I drive it around the more I realize it’s more road-worthy than I am worthy to drive it…it’s never missed a beat so far, it just keeps cruising so I’ve got to get over my mental block in that regard before I decide to take it on a legitimate road trip.

Ryan Lovelace Van Conversion Cosmic Collider

10. What tips do you have for others looking “camperize” their rigs? 

Go nuts! Keep the structural integrity of the vehicle totally intact, but other than that, theres no reason you can’t take a sawzall to a panel or roof and modify it if you’ve got the skills or knowhow or just the drive to learn all of that. It’s a huge undertaking, and totally worth the journey.

Simplify everything – get rid of everything you don’t use regularly. You don’t need half of what you think you do. I’m still down-sizing, its a constant battle to not gather things, just stay on top of it – the biggest blessing is it gives you a really great outlet to just give people things…your friends are gonna end up with all kinds of radical stuff, hahaha!

See more of the Cosmic Collider on Tumbler here: http://cosmiccollider.tumblr.com/


  • Jeffrey Hill

    Really good little write up! Sacking up is key! So many dreamers and talkers out there wanting to get into it but not pulling the trigger and letting their dreams be something more. Ps my van needs a Korduroy sticker. Ha!

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