2012 Van Project Update

IMG_16082013 is here and I am way behind in posting updates on my van project. I was reminded recently that a few people have actually enjoyed learning about the project so here is an update.

Progress has been slow but I think the final results will be really cool. It’s been hard to find time with work and getting married a few months back. Another factor that has slowed progress is the fact that I have been slowly teaching myself about upholstery so I can do all the work myself. This post covers work I did during the summer and fall of 2012.


Where to begin

The first step was to decide what color I would use for the upholstery. I decided on white marine vinyl over gold velvet because I liked the color contrast and vinyl  should be cheaper and more durable. White will be really hard to keep clean but C’est la vie. I also decided to tie in some of the dark wood color from the paneling in the original interior.

Once the color scheme was worked out I decided on how to design the surfaces like the walls and headliner. I knew I didn’t want to have just flat smooth panels covered in white vinyl. I spent some time looking through my old custom van magazines. A lot of people back in the 70s did diamond stitched interiors in their vans and that seems to be the most popular route today. The button, diamond and biscuit tufted interiors were my favorites. In the end I decided to combine a rectangular tufting with a few other things to keep things interesting.

I decided to do the interior in a rectangle tufted design. It seems like everyone else is doing diamonds in their interiors and thought this would look different and still period correct.

I decided to do the interior in a rectangle tufted design. It seems like everyone else is doing diamonds in their interiors and thought this would look different and still period correct.

Wall to Wall

Once I worked out how to do the tufting I built out the wall panels for the back of the van. It took a bit of ingenuity and trial and error since I didn’t really know what I was doing. The parallelogram shaped opening that exposes the old paneling was meant to tie in to the paint scheme and the side windows. I think the combination of surface treatments looks good so far.

Driver Side Wall

This is the current state of the drivers wall. The bottom area will be covered later by the wrap around sofa.

Passenger Wall

This is the current state of the passenger wall. The bottom area will be covered later by the wrap around sofa. The sliding door will also get a lower door panel.

Sew Much Harder

After the initial work on the walls I decided the project required an industrial sewing machine. It took a while but I found a great old Consew on eBay for pretty cheap and started practicing. It’s harder than you might think to use a real industrial sewing machine with a clutch motor and I’m still getting the hang of it.

Console Myself

After the walls I decided to do the overhead console next. I was still looking for the industrial sewing machine and thought it would be a manageable project to do with my old singer portable. It came out ok and so far it’s really a focal point of the interior. I decided I wanted to mount the main front speakers in it because I didn’t like the look of them in the doors and the kick panel area is pretty crowded. I also wanted a CB (mostly for looks and the PA system) as well as a musical horn and a switch plate to control lights and other stuff in the van.

Console Installed

Here’s a shot of the console installed prior to completion of the front headliner and doghouse cover.

In the Doghouse

With the console in place I decided to make a doghouse cover. I used the crusty one that came with my van as a template. This was the first thing I made for the van with the heavy duty sewing machine. You can see I had a little trouble controlling the speed of the machine.

Doghouse Cover Installed

This pic shows the doghouse cover installed in the van.


After some more practice I did the cab area headliner. It was a little tricky because the sunroof I got a while back did not include an interior trim piece. It came out pretty nice though. The headliner for the rest of the van will probably be more exciting. I have a few things in mind for it.

Cab Headliner Installed

This pic shows the headliner and console installed over the front seats. Dig my retro speaker grills. I made them using Fender guitar amp grill cloth.

Wrap it up B

Well that pretty much catches up with the current state of the interior. The van is in storage for the winter but I plan to build the wrap around sofa, make the door panels and recover a set of captain chairs by summer. Wish me luck.

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3 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Brian,

    Cool van, and thanks for the photos. I’m building a model of a ’77 Chev van,
    so your dash pics are a great reference for me.



  2. Glen says:


    The van looks great. Really cool that you are doing the work. I am buying a 79 van end of March from a guy that I used to go racing with. It towed race cars all over central US. Your project is making me look forward to getting it even more.


  3. martin says:

    Hey Brian,
    Van looks SO GOOD. Fantastic website also, I’ve just soaked up two hours at 2 am looking at all the photos. Hard to find such good photos of details and step by step documentation. I’ve got a ’95 beater conversion that I’ve kitted up for camping but it lives on the street in Brooklyn – so lets face it, I cant get too obsessive with it. Killer to see what a real project van looks like. Keep it coming bud.

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