Brian's vital parts - David Kennedy and Sarah Sheehan

Brian's Vital Parts

Golden Brian in the Medoc, France

Our requirements, we thought, were simple: a camper van in which we could travel and develop our businesses, combining our skills and knowledge to develop design and photography work around food and travel.

Food because it is an abiding passion of us both, and travel because of the joys of discovering different places and cultures – and a desire to help others learn about how we can sustain and be happy on this surprisingly delicate planet.

Despite lots of research and attendance at shows, we found it hard to get a camper van that could meet our requirements. Usually the van would have most of what we wanted but be missing an ingredient or two.

I wanted a roof canopy that could be unzipped so that I could take photos from an elevated position through 180 degrees. Great for landscapes, wildlife and some events. We also required really secure and concealed storage, a large enough bed, etc…

We could not find these things in one van and, despite getting close to compromising our requirements, we didn’t succumb. Had we been willing to bust the budget, we could have ordered a bespoke van incorporating elements from different suppliers that would have needed to be ready in a short time frame, which was always impossible.

Oh, and it must look cool to make a statement about us and our business.

‘Brian’ started with seeing the iKamper SkyCamp at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) for the February Camping and Caravanning Show. Our tour of the camper vans there was depressing but as Sarah describes in another blog, we loved the size and usability of the SkyCamp and within a week we had researched enough to order it from Andy Warder, aka iKamperUK.

The plan for Brian grew as we explored our options. We worked out that we wanted an all-terrain 4x4 vehicle so we could go anywhere (within reason). We knew our budget. But we didn’t know all our options.

A trip to Stratford Racecourse for the Adventure Overland Show in April showed us what lots of others had done.

We are not at the level of converting an old Army ambulance or Land Rover ourselves, but we met someone who installed high grade aluminium canopies on the back of pick-up trucks, sourced from South Africa. This provided security and concealment options, combined with the space and power of a 4x4 pick-up.

As soon as we got home I began working on this plan. Reading the iKamper Community on Facebook and other internet resources soon pinned down our options.

Amongst others, we looked at Toyota Hi-Lux, Jeeps, Land Rovers, Ssongyang, and Isuzu. Then an ex-demo Isuzu D-Max came up for sale with three weeks to go to our inaugural expedition date. One great test drive, and the suppliers of the backs had a metal canopy to fit. No reason to delay.

We had the canopy installed after removing the plastic liner from the pick-up back and having it Rhino lined. We mounted the iKamper on solid bars on the canopy, and topped it all off with the fabulous Thule EasyFold Bike Rack on the tow bar which allows the tailgate to be opened without taking the bikes off.

We use standard camping kit for cooking and sitting. We currently transport everything using sealed plastic boxes but may add additional fitted secure units in the back when we understand how we work with the space Brian affords us.

The iKamper awning is great addition – there is a full tent annexe you can buy, but we don’t need it – and we have the mesh tent for the hottest climates and a tent insulation liner for colder nights.

So now we have a large double bedroom, masses of storage space, five comfortable seats, four wheel drive with all-terrain tyres, the ability to tow up to 3.5 tonnes and a canopy back that has been load tested to 2.5 tonnes.

Our experience of driving fully loaded over terrain, demanding at times, is getting an average 31.5mpg  (just under 9.0 L/100km). The Isuzu has a lot of power for a 1.9 engine and the manual transmission works for us. We can continue to customise to our needs.

We are talking about a lithium battery so we have more freedom from electric hook-ups. Maybe something to boost 4G or WiFi connectivity because it’s pretty naff in many places. Maybe a trailer to carry a small car or a mobile studio on a trailer…

We have gained flexibility, something that works well for our business, with the power and energy that we need. And the cost?

Considerably below that of a good long-wheelbase camper van with restricted customisation and limited ability go across all terrains, and massively below a bespoke van.

Brian is taxed as a Light Goods Vehicle, which is good value, and does not need to have his registration with DVLA changed as can happen with camper van conversions. For the Eurotunnel he is classed as a large car, which is another benefit. Insurance is higher because we travel abroad a lot with work, but is a good policy for our needs.

We are seriously in love with Brian and in our way proud of what we have done. Most importantly, we smile when we think of Brian and the fun we have in him. If you'd like any advice on this approach, please message us.