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My Toyota Motorhome


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  1. (I've edited this to reflect some changes in my plans, based on the feedback of the community! I'll keep doing so as the plan evolves.) Hi Everyone! Following is a pretty...let's say "thorough" project description. I'm just starting out. This is my first project vehicle, my first RV, and my first project home of any kind in 20+ years of adulthood. Originally, I was going to purchase a cargo van and convert it, per, well, everyone else these days. Then I discovered Toyota motorhomes, and I fell in love. I had a friend who is a collector, and he was selling this Micro...I had to have her! What follows is a highly detailed description of my plans. I'll post project updates here, but I'm also going to have a Facebook Page and an Instagram (@adaringloss) for my friends and family to track the project. No, I won't be doing the typical "#vanlife" thing. I'm not interested in being social media famous. I'm shrinking my life, not trying to further complicate it. I'll try to organize this as clearly as possible, in a way that makes sense. I'm posting it for the ultra-curious, the ultra-nerdy, who may actually be interested in a pretty comprehensive description of my plans. Live vicariously through me, if you like, and relive your first project! Offer advice, ask questions, make stray observations. I'm learning as I go, so I welcome input! Overview I've lived in Colorado for 12 years, somehow without a weekender. Yes, yes, I know. Shame on me. I've just sort of used my Subaru for that purpose, but crawling into a back seat to sleep is getting old. However, having a weekender isn't my only motivation. I also want a home; yes, I want to live in this camper. At least for a little while. I travel for a living producing triathlons–about 20 per year–and I'd like to work a season from the road, rather than the air. My overall goal is to keep as much of the original structure and layout as makes sense while updating this lovely motorhome to meet both my tastes as well as modern aesthetics. (I'd like to continue to be inspired by the coach's original design, of course.) I'll be adding some modern conveniences, and generally making this "camper" a home. There are some small issues, as is to be expected with any 40-year-old vehicle or home. But she runs. Most stuff works. And she's mine. Name "Saoirse" (Pronounced "SER shuh"...it's Irish. It means "freedom".) Model 1978 Dolphin Micro Mini, 200, 20R Goals Keep as much of the original design intact as makes sense. Update the look and feel of the coach interior to feel more like a "home". Add some features and modern conveniences. Repair known issues so that both the camper and coach are in good working order. Desired Features & Modifications (This list is loooooonnng...) Important to Me Updated to power receptacles that include USB ports. All lights converted to LED. Addition of an inside/outside shower. (Designs and updates forthcoming.) Existing toilet replaced with a DIY composting toiled. (Again, designs and updates forthcoming...let's just assume that, shall we?) Standing platform on roof. After feedback from the community, it's become clear that this is simply a bad idea! Not going to do it. Rooftop cargo box. (After feedback, I will ensure that this is very small, and weighs no more than 50lb/22kg total weight.) Addition of an awning. Rear bike rack. Smoke, CO2, & Gas Leak detectors. Improved vent fans. Well, currently, all three are missing, so ANY vents will be an upgrade, technically. I just want thermostat-controlled fans. Hooks for bags gear, and tying off lines on both interior and exterior. Magnetic closures for everything. Compartmentalized storage solutions for shelves and cabinets. Table with a roadmap of US glossed on top. Table and benches convert to bed and sofa. Tinted windows. Removable insert for bunk, to make it a full-size bed when desired. Retractable clothesline. Message board. Pretty low-tech, but still... Rear backup camera. Not As Important, Still Desired Adding a solar power option for lengthy off-grid trips. Decent navigation/control center console added to cab. Bumper storage box. (Lighter, so as to not significantly add weight or affect weight distribution.) Multi-configuration audio system. Addition of a TV and media center. This is a big one for me. I'm very excited about my plan for this. Pull-out step and hand rail for people who need a little extra help getting into the coach. Dimmable/color changing LED interior lights. Loud horn to match her personality. Chalks, jack stands, & jack mounted to bottom of coach. (There is room.) Near blackout capability with velcro-mounted blackout curtains. Cell & WiFi signal boosters. Skylight above sleeping platform. Add aftermarket auto locks to doors. Add stuff to reduce engine noise when driving. Maybe Someday Swap the current 4-cylinder 20R with a 6-cylinder Toyota engine. 4WD conversion, including upgrades to suspension. A friend strongly recommended avoiding this conversion, and I agree, based on his feedback. Leveling functionality added to suspension. This is probably not worth the investment on such a small vehicle. Aftermarket cruise control. Exterior motion-activated security lights over doors. Design Aesthetic Exterior will eventually be a satin grey, with white detailing. (Better for boondocking; I don't want the camper to stand out.) I'd like to add exterior LED's where appropriate, so that when I want, the camper is highly visible. Switch them off, when I don't want it to be. Inside, I plan on going white, white, white. With lime green, deep red, and charcoal accents. The floor will be black hardwood (or more likely, laminate). I'll be preferring natural materials, as all considerations allow. Form follows function in something like this, IMHO, with weight being my chief concern. I'd like to throw in subtle flourishes. For example, a tiny hanging lamp over the table, and glow-in-the-dark stars painted on the ceiling. I'm currently reviewing many, many "hacks" to see what ingenuity I'd like to integrate into my home. Phases Now, I know what you're thinking: That's a LOT of stuff, Dan. You've bitten off more than you can chew. Seriously, dude. Don't worry, I was born, but I wasn't born yesterday. I know it's a lot, and as such, not only have I prioritized this stuff accordingly, but I've also divided it into project phases, to make it more manageable. I also know that my plan is loosely scheduled over 2 years–though I'm aware that these things often take twice as long to complete, as best laid plans are typically insufficient. I'm also aware that some of these things will be easy, some will be difficult, and some will be impossible. Or at least feel that way. Lots of research needed, and if I hit the mark of even 80% of this stuff, I'll feel like it's a raging success. 1. Study I'm currently in this phase. I'm learning everything I can about the RV. I'm documenting, measuring, writing, planning...hours and hours of just learning. 2. Phase 1A - Get It Running & Livable (Before Christmas of '17) The focus is on making sure that the truck itself is running really well. I'm flushing fluids, updating wear parts (pads, belts, etc.), and making sure that the roof doesn't leak. Because it does. Based on feedback, the roof is first, then mechanical, then I'll move on to other stuff. 3. Phase 1B - Get It Running & Livable (Before March of '18) Yes, I still consider this part of Phase 1, it's just the non-critical stuff to get it "running & livable". Make sure the heat, water, & toilet work, that sort of thing. 4. Phase 2 - Add Some Creature Comforts & Pretty Her Up (Before March of '19) Several of my functional mods will happen in this part. This is all about making Saoirse my own. 5. Phase 3 - Trick This Bad Girl OUT (Before March of '20) My fancy-schmancy, really non-essential stuff happens here. TV, sound system, etc. Major Modifications So, the word "Major" is probably somewhat hyperbolic here, but relative to everything I want to do, these are as "major" as I get. Bathroom - Add a shower, replace toilet with composting. This one's only slightly ambitious, but also rather simple. I'm planning on removing the existing toilet (It will be for sale...), the black water tank (ditto), and building a much smaller, DIY composting toilet against the back wall of the bathroom. Yes, I've heavily researched the ups and downs of composting vs. black water, and I'm sold on the former, though I'm always convincible by a well-thought-out argument and/or the voice of extensive experience. The space where the black water tank is currently will become the housing for my solar batteries, should I pursue that in the future. Once the toilet's replaced, I plan on adding a freshwater tank to the top of the camper, and running a gravity fed shower line into the bathroom running a line from the freshwater tank, and pumping water to a shower head in the bathroom. I will, of course, waterproof the entire bathroom. My plan at this time is to drain to the ground, and only use the shower where that is appropriate, and also only use biodegradable, environmentally safe cleaning products. I can easily be convinced that this is a bad idea, of course, and instead plumb my drain to the grey water tank. Table, Benches = Bed, Sofa This is actually not an original idea, and there are multiple plans and products to make this happen. From my photos, you can see the configuration in the rear, with to benches on either side of the coach, facing each other. The original floorpan design called for a shelf-mounted table between them. Instead, I plan on mounting a telescoping table base, on top of which I'll affix a solid plywood table, with a roadmap of the US on it (should I expatriate my camper, I'll swap table tops) for dreaming and making general route plans with wet-erase markers. With the flip of a switch, this table will then lower, forming a solid contiguous base with the benches. The pads on the benches will slide forward, creating a cushy bed. Add some throw pillows, and you have yourself a sofa for viewing... Media Center, My Magnum Opus I don't have a diagram (yet), as it's all in my head. So words will have to suffice until I tackle this project, which will likely not be for another year. So patience is a virtue, even though I'm incredibly excited about it! I can't wait to share it with you as I'm building it. Imagine a track, perpendicular to the camper, mounted and centered above the sleeping compartment, starboard side. Attached to that track is a hinged TV mount, on a swivel. The TV, once mounted, can be swung to the ceiling, slid forward and backward, and also rotate. The idea is that if you are in the sleeping compartment, you can lower the TV, and slide it against the starboard wall for watching movies. If you have a guest, and would prefer to watch from the sofa mentioned above, it can slide forward, and rotate to face the rear of the camper. My sound system, mentioned in the desired features above, can be configured for either viewing scenario. The TV can also be stowed securely against the ceiling, and I will be designing a padded, waterproof sleeve for the it, for cases of possible leakage. This entire system will be powered by shore power, obviously, though I could run it off of batteries in case of emergency. Like, if I absolutely must watch the rest of a Stranger Things episode. I love this concept, because it flies in the face of going completely off-grid, somewhat. I'm very outdoorsy, and spend the vast majority of my time outside playing in the snow and the mountains I love. However, I love, when the time calls for it, curling up and watching a movie. This gives me that option, and will be completely unexpected in a retro, compact motorhome. Known Issues Despite being in very good condition, there are some known issues that will need to be addressed. Important AND Urgent Some water damage on the interior of the coach. Because of vandalism after I bought it, one of the side windows and the rear window are broken out. Not currently lockable (seriously). No ignition key on the steering column. It's currently rigged to be hot wired each time you start it. All three roof vents are missing. At least one of the batteries is bad. Both may be. Both the fuel level and temperature gauges are broken. It's burning oil. I've been informed this is a coolant leak! The driver's side mirror is missing. NOT Urgent Seat upholstery in the cab is torn. Light rust and small dents on body. Small cracks in windshield. There are synchro issues when shifting. Idles just a tad high. There's a leaky fuel filter. Windshield wiper motor is very weak. The headlights are super dim. Engine noise isn't mitigated well. Conclusion Yes, this is a beast of a project. Each of those bullet points above will potentially require hours of research, hours of planning, and hours of implementation. I have no delusions of being able to do this in a weekend or 5 weekends or 50 weekends. I know that this is a multi-year project, but it will be a labor of love that I enjoy immensely, even when I hate it. The camper is currently parked at my parents' house in rural, eastern Ohio. I have access to tools and materials here. I travel for a living, so I'm able to be here often, between gigs, focussing on the renovation. I'm going to knock out Phase 1A from above before Christmas...as well as Phase 1B if the gods look kindly on me. I've attached a series of "before" pictures, that I've taken over the last couple of days. Enjoy, if you like. I said it above, and I'll say it again: Advice, observations, and questions are welcome!