As well as taking photos, I also love everything Volkswagen and, after owning nearly 50 cars and motorbikes since passing my test at 17, am lucky enough to finally own a VW Transporter.
Unlike other people who purchase, or convert their vans into, a campervan - my van will never be slept in. It is used primarily as my daily transport, to securely transport our bicycles or shopping in the back and as somewhere to get changed, eat lunch and generally chill out after a walk or bike ride. A kind of day van but not as there is no bed - I don't really know how to describe it actually! I suppose it is just a Kombi.
After 18 months of running my T6 with lowered suspension and low profile tyres I decided it was time for a change. After all your van modifications are never finished right?!
This decision was primarily due to forever needing to dodge potholes (aka craters) on our UK roads, but I have also casually followed with interest the emerging scene for Transporters that look abit more aggressive and like they could handle any kind of off-road terrain - a style commonly referred to as a 'Swamper'.
28 June 2020
Up to this point, the van has been riding on -55mm Cobra lowering springs and 19" alloy wheels - these were originally from an Amarok pickup truck and are called Cantera. They looked particularly good on the Transporter, it drove very well and are suitably load rated. They are a direct OEM fit using original wheel bolts.
Here are the specifications of the current wheels and tyres:
● 19" 5x120 8J ET43 65.1CB Cantera alloy wheels
● 245/45/19 load rated tyres
I bought my van as a standard panel van, so other modifications to date include a full Kombi conversion using genuine VW parts, additional side opening windows, black side bars, LED DRLs, a front splitter, rear speaker upgrade, combined reversing camera/dashcam, removable 600mm round table with cranked leg, single passenger seat with swivel base and underseat safe.
I also have a sportline style rear barn door spoiler to re-fit but this has fallen off twice already so am reluctant to spread more of that black sticky gunk all over my back doors for a third time.
We shall begin the transformation into a full on Swamper !
But what does that actually mean?
According to the internet, this is one definition - 'a person who inhabits, works in, or is exceptionally familiar with swamps'.
Well I prefer this description, taken from the VW Swampers Facebook group - 'VW Swampers is a way of life. It’s about adventure and transporters that are practical and customised to do extreme adventures where the road takes us!'
You could argue that a true VW Swamper should be four wheel drive - or 4Motion. I agree that in the off-road world having 4WD is a necessity or you'll get stuck in some muddy bomb hole, but for me with my front wheel drive van I will probably never take it further 'off road' than up a kerb, on some grass or in a loose gravel car park.
Click here for a selection of VW Transporter Swampers to give you some inspiration.
10 July 2020
This is all about the wheel and tyre replacement. Going from a 19 inch rim with low profile tyre to a smaller wheel and taller tyre combination and is the first modification on my journey to transform my van into a Swamper.
There are literally hundreds of combinations of wheel and tyre available, so it is vital that they'll work with your van and more importantly not look poo - they'll need to clear the brakes and hub assembly, not foul on the suspension, not rub on the inner wheelarch splash guards, not stick out past the bodywork (all of these are an annual MOT or road-worthiness inspection failure in the UK) and also not mess up the speedo reading by being significantly bigger (or smaller) than standard.
Lots of people on the internet have various suggestions when it comes to wheel and tyre choice. I read alot of these, sometimes contradictory, opinions and preferences with caution as I didn't want to cause myself any hassle or wasted money because someone on Facebook said 'yeah mate, they'll fit fine mate innit'.
I purchased the following (based on hours of my own research so please make up your own mind before blindly proceeding):
● 16"x8J 5x120 ET25 Black Steel Modular wheels (these have a 70.1 CB so you need spigot rings more on this below)
● 235/70/16 BF Goodrich K02 All Terrain Tyres (with raised white lettering more on this below too)
The wheels are branded as GOJOS and supplied by Tyres Direct. Whilst it is important to ensure the stud pattern is correct for the T5/T5.1/T6/T6.1 at 5x120, the centre bore or CB is less important provided it is BIGGER than the VW size of 65.1 as you can buy spigot rings to take up the difference. You MUST fit spigot rings to ensure the wheel is sitting properly on the hub.
These wheels are advertised as being for a Land Rover Discovery 2 but with the spigot rings they fit the Transporter perfectly. I wanted an 8" wide wheel with a fairly aggressive offset to ensure they filled the arches nicely - and they sure do!
Spigot rings are available on fleabay for around 5 quid.
As these wheels are aftermarket rather than genuine VW, you also need to use the proper 60 degree tapered wheel bolts as the OEM ones are not right. Yes, I could have bought VW steel wheels and not had to buy spigot rings or new wheel bolts but this is the look I wanted and they were in stock at the right price.
Tyres are load rated and have a superb knobbly tread pattern. There appears to be divided opinion on the raised white lettering - some people want this on show on the outside, whilst others prefer to have this on the inside and plain black lettering on show. Infact some sizes of this tyre come without any white lettering at all.
BF Goodrich use the codes RBL (raised black lettering) and RWL (raised white lettering) so you need to ensure you confirm the code if you want the white lettering or you don't.
Tyres were also from Tyres Direct and if you buy them together with the wheels they come already fitted and balanced which is helpful !
Awesome - I never intended to keep the lowered suspension, and will probably still change it for standard springs or a +30mm lift, but it looks 'hard as nails' like this.
There is plenty of clearance at the back and whilst it still clears everything at the front it does look a little close to the inner arch. However, it doesn't appear to rub at all on full lock nor on a bumpy surfaces and I have driven over 200 miles so far.
There is a slight increase to tyre/road noise which is most noticeable between 20-30mph. It is kind of a whirling or humming noise - I expected it with these tyres and it really doesn't bother me.
I did experience abit of additional noise on the front two wheels/tyres that was really hard to put my finger on - lots of helpful suggestions from the FB groups I posted on about the noise - it was like a buzzing/clicking noise and you could hear it more when braking, but no real conclusions. Nothing was rubbing/touching - the wheels/tyres didn't foul the brakes or the suspension.
Outcome was that the noise is tread shuffle - the large tread blocks not fully scrubbed in and moving around on the tarmac - ultimately this was nothing to worry about and has virtually gone now.
Just crank up the stereo and you can’t even hear it !
The ride is now more comfy compared to the bigger alloys, the steering is light and the supplier has balanced them correctly as there is no shudder or shake at any speed up to the legal limit. The speedo reading is virtually bang on when tested at 30, 40, 50 and 70 against my GPS speedo app on my phone.
As for fuel consumption - don't care ! but if I had to comment I'd say it has lost about 4 or 5 mpg combined.
19 July 2020
Next up is the bull bar, nudge bar, roo bar or A-bar dependant on where in the world you reside. Any serious off-road machine needs something mounted up front to fend off those outback wildebeast - don’t they?
I remember fitting one of these that was like an iron girder to an old Range Rover Classic years ago and hooning round the lanes looking for trees and bushes to drive into - I won’t be doing that in my van but things move on and the law has changed in regards to these bars and pedestrian safety. According to this page on the GOV.UK website since 2007 you have to fit type approved/E-marked bars.
There are some cheaper ones (£150) on flea bay that do not appear to be E-marked, so I found a German manufacturer called Delta4x4 who make TUV/E-marked bars for approx double the cost of the cheaper ones and they come with a certificate of conformity. The last thing I want is trouble with the PC Plod or insurance company.
The package arrived on a 3 day courier and I set about installing it. There is no drilling or cutting required and it has been designed with brackets that crumple in the event of a front end accident. The bar is very light and the tubing is nice and chunky. I needed to remove my splitter first and then cleaned the lower part of the bumper prior to installing. The instructions are poor but the holes for the brackets are easy enough to identify and the brackets fit neatly. On my T6 I had to use a trim tool to remove the left and right parts of the lower grille so I could get my hand in and get hold of the bolt easily without it falling into the depths of the engine bay.
Do them up finger tight first so you can line the bar up before tightening - ensure it is level and the same distance each side.
Finally I had to lower the front numberplate by an inch or so to ensure it is still legible. There are some brackets supplied to enable it to be relocated above the lower cross bar but this is where I want to fit the additional light(s) so I didn’t use them instead just screwed the plate a bit lower into the plinth on the bumper - these extra holes would be covered by a standard numberplate if I ever put it back to OEM.
Looking awesome !
Fitting genuine VW centre caps onto these GOJOS modular steels
25 August 2020
How do you fit genuine VW centre caps onto discovery 2 modular steels? the genuine VW steel wheel centre caps fit on by clipping over the standard VW wheel bolts. Due to the aftermarket GOJOS discovery 2 modular steels needing 60degree taper bolts you cannot use the standard VW bolts, therefore the centre caps won’t clip in or stay on.
● The head of these aftermarket tuner bolts is 20mm diameter and the size of the centre cap clips is 26mm.
● Using a piece of silicone tube 20mm internal diameter and 3mm wall thickness makes 26mm outer diameter.
● Cut 5x pieces of tube approx 20mm long and fit these into the clips on the centre cap.
● Then push the whole thing on ensuring the tubes go over the top of the tuner bolts.
29 August 2020
A little deviation from the swamperisation of the outside sees the build of some furniture units in the rear of my Kombi.
As mentioned further up, I have no intention of sleeping in the van so this DIY furniture build is specifically centered around a slide out kitchen in the back.
I wanted somewhere to cook lunch on the camping stove and RidgeMonkey grill or to make a hot drink - and I wanted this 'outside' of the van because I have an OCD thing about cooking smells and grease!
This would be in addition to the front passenger swivel and table that mounts on the B pillar - we will continue to use this for eating 'take-away' food e.g. fish and chips, a Subway or other pre-packed sandwiches.
I also wanted whatever I built in the back to be anchored down for safety but removable, along with the 3 seater Kombi bench - so that I could still use it as a van if necessary. Finally, I still need to get our bicycles in the back as well.
There are several companies out there that make removable pods and slide out furniture for the Transporter. They all looked very nice indeed, but I simply couldn't justify the VW scene tax prices - the range being around £800-£1500 (and more in some cases!).
DIY being my preferred option I set about measuring and sketching what I wanted on the back of a fag packet....
....and making cardboard mock-ups :)
Initially, I thought about making this at the same height as the folded Kombi seat so that if I ever decided to try out sleeping in the van I would just need a piece of wood to bridge the gap between the two units at the back and a mattress topper to make a double bed that extended across the folded Kombi bed.
But.... by making the right hand unit the same height and then adding on the thickness of the cushion meant that I couldn't sit upright as my head touched the roof! In the end I reduced the height of the right hand unit by approx 20cm which resolved this particular issue. I would now need an extra cushion or something if I ever did want a bed.
Main criteria: slide out drawer for camping stove and food preparation, seating, storage for chairs, cooking items etc, somewhere to mount my rear speakers, still able to get two bicycles in and had to be removable.
Here are the main parts (click through to see where I got them from) I bought for the project:
● 12mm MDF 8' x 4' sheet, various lengths of 2"x 1", 1" x 1" and 2" x 2" wood and wood screws
Took about 3 weeks on and off to finish (including waiting for things to be delivered, things to dry) and cost £375 in total - includes things that you don't necessarily need like speakers, wiring harness and LED lights.
Now I have built it I can see why these companies charge so much! but I am glad I chose to make a DIY solution.
Small Update - Bonnet Wind Deflector
10 September 2020
Bonnet deflector arrived today from Vanstyle so quickly fitted it in my lunch break :)
14 September 2020
After going backwards and forwards for a couple of weeks over whether I liked the 'lowered swamper' (abit of an oxymoron actually!) look, I finally decided that I was done with lowered suspension. The van definitely drove better with the chunkier tyres but it was still abit crashy on the -55mm Cobra lowering springs - particularly where potholes were concerned.
After all it was the combination of the ever deteriorating UK roads and the low profile tyres/lowered suspension I was running that got me to start the swamperisation project in the first place.
So the van was booked into my local independent VW specialist for the work to be done - actually it was having a timing belt kit, waterpump and DSG service so whilst they had the van I got them to swap the springs over as well.
Once up on the ramps, you could see that the Cobra springs were actually coil bound - they had sagged to the point that the middle coils were touching each other - hence the very harsh ride.
So they were destined for the scrap pile - I would have liked to have sold them on to another Transporter owner but after seeing them like that I wouldn't have felt comfortable passing on the issues on to someone else for the sake of a few quid.
The springs that were being put on were the original T30 springs that the van came with - judging by the condition of them I reckon they were changed to the Cobras after only a few miles by the previous owner. When I bought the van the Cobras were fitted and the standard 'like new' springs were in the back.
I was surprised how much higher it sits on the new/old springs - in fact I don't think it actually needs lifting any further. We'll see.
The other area that has been transformed is the way it rides, goes round corners and handles the bumps - it is now like riding on a magic carpet!
I've not yet driven more than 5 or so miles - if it turns out to be abit to wallowy round corners I will research the H&R uprated anti-rollbars.
I took these photos on the way home from the garage (I removed the hub caps and the bonnet wind deflector before it went in to save the garage fiddling about - they are now back on).
As a side note - there are a couple of car parks I use that have height barriers and could get under them with no problem previously. I was conscious I would need to know the new height of the van now that it is sitting on the standard springs and bigger tyres to ensure I don't clunk the barrier and damage the van.
Distance from ground to roof is now:
● Front is 1.95m or 6ft 4in
● Back is 1.98m or 6ft 5.5in
So it looks like I'll clear the barriers (just) as one car park is 2m and the other is 2.1m - unless I add roof bars, a rack or anything else on the roof of course.
Thoughts on the Standard Suspension...
17 September 2020
I've now had the chance to drive about 60 miles on a mixture of roads since having the standard T30 springs fitted to the van earlier in the week.
I love it - like driving a different van!
I was concerned the van would be too wallowy round corners due to being alot higher and with a softer spring rate than the Cobra lowering springs.
Actually, all of the crashyness has gone, the ride is a lot smoother and you don't feel every lump and bump in the road. It isn't as firm as before so you can feel that it is not as flat in the corners but it really isn't that bad.
The BFGs have broken in nicely now too.
The extra height is even noticeable when climbing in and getting out of the cab - I've only got short legs.
So definitely a worthwhile exercise. I don't think at this point I want/need to lift it any further.
LED Light Bar & Rear Door Bar
21 September 2020
Had a couple of packages over the weekend so got on with fitting them.
The first box contained a 22" LED Light bar and wiring kit. This is an Amazon special and fairly cheap so not too worried if it turns out to be rubbish - it looks good anyway!
Easy enough to mount to the A-bar/nudge bar/roo bar using the supplied nuts, bolts and washers. There were already two captive nuts, or rivnuts, in the A-bar that I used and the supplied bolts were the same thread so fitted perfectly.
The supplied wiring loom comprises two battery wires, a relay, a fuse, a toggle switch and the two wires that connect to the lightbar. There is plenty of length to the wires between each connection - so I will save connecting this up for another day !
The second box contained something for the rear door - I have spent alot of time adding extra bits to the front of the van but am conscious that from the back it doesn't look very Swampery....
I 'borrowed' the idea from someone on one of the FB Swamper groups and it wasn't a very expensive purchase if it doesn't look right.
It is actually a front mount bracket for a Lightbar but I think it looks just as good on the rear door - a kind of body protection bar I guess.
Anyway, it literally fits behind the numberplate and is fixed using the two VW captive nuts in the door. Simply unscrew the numberplate, hold the bracket up behind the plate and then re-fit the bolts.
Looks OK but I wonder whether it will pass an MOT though? something to do with bits of metal sticking out. We shall see.
Change of Plans
20 September 2020
Back in August (scroll back up to Stage 3 above) I built some furniture units in the back of the van and installed a slide out drawer for the camping stove and comfy seat cushion.
Although I was pleased with the outcome I had a couple of reservations once we actually got out and used it to cook lunch - namely you had to get out of the van and walk round to the rear barn doors to use it, the way I designed the left hand box with the small door at one end meant there was a a fair bit of wasted storage and the Kombi bench seat was now wasted space - a premium in a short wheelbase of course.
Just to refresh your memory if you didn't bother scrolling back up :)
So, I decided to take both the furniture units out and either try and sell them on fleabay - to recoup some of the money I had just spent (wasted) or to adapt them.
After thinking for a few days and looking at endless photos and videos of Transporter campervans and Kombis and the seemingly endless types of furniture available, I saw that someone had moved their Kombi bench seat back to a similar position that you would install a rock n roll bed - actually they moved the first row Kombi bench into the factory second row position.
Ahah! - a lightbulb moment.
As I mentioned at the beginning I didn't want a bed in the van - effectively it would have been an expensive seat and we wouldn't have used the main 'seat that converts to a bed' feature.
From the factory the floorpan has provision for the first and second (and third if you have a LWB) rows of seat brackets - in the form of dimples in the metal that indicate where the brackets would fit and so that they line up when you've drilled multiple holes in your van and try to clip in one of the quick release seats.
So, I could buy and install the second row quick release brackets and move the 3 seater bench back to open up the space inside - like you would have in a campervan.
Obviously the first row seatbelts that I installed would not work in the second row - further investigation showed that I could install the second row seatbelts but in my van that has been ply lined and carpeted it appeared to be a bit of a ball ache as the panel van does not have the captive nuts in the various places required.
In the 18 months or so since I converted my panel van to a Kombi, I have only carried a rear seat passenger once!
With the seat installed in the second row, I would only be able to use the centre seat as this has an integral seatbelt. If I did need to carry more than one rear passenger then it is simply a case of moving the seat back into the first row position so that the Kombi seatbelts for the outer seats would function properly.
I would then be able to build a kitchen and storage furniture unit inside the van - meaning we wouldn't need to get out of the van as we can climb through between the two single front seats.
Moving the Kombi Seats
29 September 2020
After I listed the furniture units on eBay for a week, I had 20 or so watchers but nobody was interested enough to buy them - so I cancelled the listing and dismantled them with a view to re-using some of the parts.
Next, I bought a set of 4x Kombi quick release floor brackets and floor re-enforcement plates - again from eBay.
Unlike the first row location, where I had to remove the exhaust, undertrays and drop the diesel tank down to access the underside of the brackets, the second row location is so easy - nothing to remove. I did need a wobble bar to enable me to get to the very front most nuts of the front brackets as they come through the van floor inside a suspension box section.
It was simply a case of rolling back the padded Kombi floor mat, locating the four dimples, measuring and marking the middle of the dimples, then measuring 55mm either side of the front to rear line. The centres of the two holes should be 110mm apart. Measure twice, and again to be sure, then drill 8x 10mm holes.
Paint some rust protection on the bare metal of the holes, wait for it to dry, then insert the floor brackets and get under the van to do up all the bolts and torque them to 55nm.
Last job is to look at the underneath of the padded Kombi floor mat and you can see an outline of where to cut the mat to go around each of the new brackets.
DIY Removable Kitchen Pod
30 September 2020
Now that the bench seat was moved back into the second row position I had plenty of space for activities inside the van - and without getting out in the cold or wet!
Still intending to warm toasties in my Ridge Monkey, boil a kettle for a cuppa or warm some milk for a hot chocolate - I shifted my thoughts to the Kitchen pod.
There are several very nice kitchen pods on the market - the Vangear Kombi 3 and Evomotion Design in particular. They both had a lead time, the Evo was flat pack and both were around £800 - again, I decided to do a DIY build.
Still to come...
03 November 2020
The main project is now complete - I have completed the Swamperisation of my VW Transporter and have a Swamper :)
It is like having a new van actually, it drives so well now and doing this mini-project has renewed my interest in modifying it again. After I completed the transformation from a panel van to Kombi over a year ago I was pretty much just getting in it and driving it.
But there are still a few trinkets I have my eye on so check back regularly for more Swampering adventures!
Additional Swamper parts and modifications that I am considering:
● Rear Speaker box(es) - now that I have dismantled the rear kitchen units I have nowhere to mount my 6x9s!
● VW Black Roof Rails / Roof Rack (height barrier dependent)
● Rear Door Spare Wheel Carrier
● Black or Carbon Roof Guard
● Genuine VW Wheel Arch Extensions
● Leisure Battery and Split Charge / Solar Panel
● H&R Uprated Anti-rollbars (possible)
● Savage 30mm lift kit (unlikely)
Thanks for stopping by :)
In case you missed the link further up the page - click here for a selection of VW Transporter Swampers to give you some inspiration and links to other Swamper related resources.