I’d been searching for ‘The One’ for what seemed like my whole life…
I’ve always loved the Mercedes Vario, but no matter how deeply I scoured the internet or tirelessly I pored over magazines, all I ever came across were complete rust buckets, or the extra long wheelbase version (and I didn’t want some converted library on wheels).
But in January 2016 a listing came up for a medium wheelbase Vario with just 2,000 miles on the clock. It was the 2013 model, the last year of production, and I put a deposit down immediately.
I knew right then that this was going to be the Jimmy’s wagon of destiny, but there was a whole heap of work ahead and I knew if I was clever with the space inside, I could transform it into something more than just your average surf whip. So I turned to my cousin Pete who runs Ecologic Developments, a specialist in designing and building wooden structures and a master of maximising space in confined enclosures.
I sat down with Pete recently to talk about the project. “Every millimetre counts when you’re working within a restricted space,” he said. “You need to really spend time in the design process, it’s the absolute key to a successful result.”
With Pete’s help, we were able to fit way more in than we initially thought and without the Vario feeling cramped. “The way we model it in 3D gives us a much better understanding of how we can maximise the internal volume,” he continued, “and you want to have multi-functional areas wherever possible in a van like this.”
The Vario was already in mint condition. I mean, 2,000 miles on the clock is nothing! But we wanted to pimp the hell out of this thing. We wanted an all singing, all dancing Swiss Army knife on wheels. A vehicle that we could sample from, sell from, sleep in, cook in, road trip in, dance on and generally have fun in.
Thanks to Pete’s experience of working with small spaces, his attention to detail and eye for design we’ve been able to tick every single box with the Vario. We have two double beds as well as a single bed in the pop-top. We’ve got two separate eating areas and the windows open up by the counter which makes it perfect for serving out of at events. We even have a roof rack that turns into a three metre high roof terrace that we use to kick back with cocktails, DJ from and judge surf comps from.
There’s a cupboard or cubby hole for everything. I’m really proud of the things you don’t immediately see when looking at the van. Things like the catches that hold the drawers and cupboard doors closed while in transit, or the sink cover that doubles as a work top and chopping board. Useful touches like the bungees on storage cubby holes are great and make it easy for stuffing duvets and pillows in too.
The Belfast sink we installed is also big enough to bathe our kids in when we go on holiday in the van which is super handy, as is the projector screen which is awesome for late night movies, surf flicks and keeping the kids entertained when they’re whacked from a day outside.
Finally, we had the van wrapped by my pal Shane at UTWS who has looked after us since the very beginning when he wrapped our first company car – a little Suzuki Wagon R we called The Bogey.
I’d like to thank everyone who helped us bring the Vario to life as well as Arran Witheford for all the awesome photography.