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A van conversion, Paul Cowland style!

There’s nothing quite so versatile as a van. Having acquired a brand-new Toyota Proace panel van, I’m rather looking forward to thinking inside the box for a change. If you want to know how to plan a van conversion, then buckle up and join me on the ride over the coming months!Why do I love…

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There’s nothing quite so versatile as a van. Having acquired a brand-new Toyota Proace panel van, I’m rather looking forward to thinking inside the box for a change. If you want to know how to plan a van conversion, then buckle up and join me on the ride over the coming months!

Why do I love vans?

The question that often comes up during the various interviews that us TV types regularly do is: ‘What was the first car you ever bought?’.

The thing is, it wasn’t a car at all. In my case, it was a van. And I’ve been smitten with the things ever since.

For me, aged about 7, that first foray into the exciting world of vans was fairly rudimentary. Splitting a tired, engineless Bedford CF MoT failure between 8 or 9 other kids seemed like the logical way to give us our own super cool clubhouse, as well as introducing us all to the pure magical versatility that comes with every great van. I learned then, what I know now. That big old box out the back can hold, do or become anything you want it to be.

I’ve owned and driven dozens over the years, but recently, I thought I’d splash out and go for something a little smarter, a little cleverer, and certainly a lot faster than any other van I’ve had before: the Toyota Proace.

Why did I choose the Toyota Proace?

I liked the look and I was impressed with the standard kit on the Design-grade, medium wheelbase I went with. I specced double sliding doors and a lift-up tailgate to make life perfect on rainy days. As for what’s inside – you get everything you might ever need: Apple Carplay, cruise control, Active Climate Control, and even a head-up display? No excuse for speeding in this shapely shifter.

Read more Introducing the Proace Electric van

You may scoff that this once fighter-pilot-only tech has landed in the commercial vehicle world, but there’s one other box that I ticked that means this really is a useful feature. Although I tested the 1.5-litre engine and found it to be a real sweetie of a thing, a quick drive in the 180bhp 2.0 revealed that to have a most un-van-like set of dynamic stats.

Try a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds! It wasn’t that long ago that this was a decent enough time for a hot hatch. In a van? That’s just ridiculous. Add in a smooth-shifting 8-speed auto box and ‘flappy paddle’ gear shifters on the steering wheel, and you’ve got a van that can go toe-to-toe with a few 1980s performance icons. How things move on, eh? That head-up display might just save me a ticket!

Why do I need to plan a van conversion?

So the Proace panel van is handsome, it’s remarkably fast, drives well and is fully equipped, but these were not just the only reasons that I got it.

As well as having a seemingly endless amount of car parts to move around on a daily basis, I’ve also decided that I need to own a modern, reliable camper van. Something I can take away to motorsport events, tow my track car with, and even enjoy the odd weekend away with the family every when the diary allows.

The more observant among you may have noticed it’s just a big empty box back there… but that’s the fun part. It means I get to plan a van conversion and build my own dream spec from scratch. I’m going to document the whole thing here on mag.toyota.co.uk for you as I do.

I’ll be finding a talented converter to help me to design and build the perfect van over the coming few months. And as well as the usual bed, hob, taps and fridge you can expect a few extra improvements that might have the other campsite inhabitants spilling their tea. BILSTEIN coilover suspension? Cobra race seats? A full Pioneer audio visual system? There’s going to be all that and more. After all, if it’s going to be my second home, I may as well get it exactly how I like!

Join me next time when the work begins.

Words by Paul Cowland.

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Toyota Motor Corporation works to develop and manufacture innovative, safe and high-quality products and services that create happiness by providing mobility for all. We believe that true achievement comes from supporting our customers, partners, employees, and the communities in which we operate. Since our founding over 80 years ago in 1937, we have applied our…

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Toyota Motor Corporation works to develop and manufacture innovative, safe and high-quality products and services that create happiness by providing mobility for all. We believe that true achievement comes from supporting our customers, partners, employees, and the communities in which we operate. Since our founding over 80 years ago in 1937, we have applied our Guiding Principles in pursuit of a safer, greener and more inclusive society. Today, as we transform into a mobility company developing connected, automated, shared and electrified technologies, we also remain true to our Guiding Principles and many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to help realize an ever-better world, where everyone is free to move.

SDGs Initiatives https://global.toyota/en/sustainability/sdgs/

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It’s late Sunday afternoon on one of the warmest spring days of the year. The ground looks dry and is already beginning to crack. Songbirds and bees compete for attention as the low sun gently warms thousands of blossoming apple trees on a south-facing hillside in the heart of Kent.But with unseasonably low temperatures in…

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It’s late Sunday afternoon on one of the warmest spring days of the year. The ground looks dry and is already beginning to crack. Songbirds and bees compete for attention as the low sun gently warms thousands of blossoming apple trees on a south-facing hillside in the heart of Kent.

But with unseasonably low temperatures in the overnight weather forecast, the race is on to protect a 75-acre orchard from frost damage. One way to do this is to make sure the grass between each row of trees is kept short. This helps to increase airflow and reduces the chance of cold air settling. 

Claire Seymour, 43, gently edges her Toyota Hilux between a row of trees at Tubslake Farm, near Hawkhurst in Kent. Her pick-up’s white paintwork and red signwriting match the flowering pink and white Braeburn apple blossom. Her husband, Steve Bowles, also 43, then sets about unloading a large green Fendt 209V tractor from an enormous six-wheeled flat-bed trailer behind the Toyota. He starts up the brand new tractor and then begins to set up and test the Fisher variable-width mower before handing it over to its new owner for an evening of urgent grass cutting.

Claire is managing director of NP Seymour Ltd, an engineering and agricultural machinery dealer set up by her family in 1974. Based in nearby Cranbrook, the company supplies and makes equipment for orchards, vineyards and fruit growers across the UK. 

“We’ve had other pick-ups in the past but I was impressed with the comfort of the Hilux. We bought it from Beadles Toyota, Medway, in the spring of 2019.

“It’s the Invincible model and is fitted with off-road tyres and a Truckman top on the back. We use it all the time for customer deliveries all over the UK, visiting growers and going to shows. The 3.5-tonne towing capacity is really important to us as lots of our kit is very heavy,” explained Claire.

Surrounded by apple blossom, NP Seymour’s Toyota Hilux delivers a tractor to an orchard at Tubslake Farm, Hawkhurst, Kent.

“We’ve been really busy since we’ve owned it. Covid didn’t really slow us down at all. We just had a few difficulties with staff numbers. But the demand for our machinery hasn’t stopped.

“The Hilux has already done 50,000 miles, and absolutely nothing has gone wrong with it. We’ll definitely buy another Toyota when it’s time to replace this one,” she said, just before hurrying off, leaving the orchard in a cloud of dust to go and enjoy the rest of her Sunday evening with Steve.

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