Cover Photo: A Ram ProMaster conversion by Alex Gaebe. Photo Courtesy of Carolina Van builders.
These Blue Ridge Companies Will Build the Adventure Van of Your Dreams
People find their callings in unlikely places. Mike Williams found his while shivering in the desert.
It happened 20 years ago. After graduating from Brevard College’s Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education program, Williams constructed a truck camper using $100 of lumber and hit the road with hopes of rock climbing year-round.
“I was living the dream—traveling and seeing all these cool places,” Williams remembers, a nostalgic grin slapped across his face. But when he arrived at Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas, the high-altitude desert was “absolutely freezing,” he says.
As temperatures plummeted that evening, he watched longingly as a fellow camper cozied up in their warm, insulated van. That’s when it clicked. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow. I need one of those,’” he says.
Williams soon moved into a 1986 Volkswagen Westy. When that rig died in 2004, he bought a Mercedes Benz Sprinter and built it out himself. Today, a little shy of a decade later, he’s the owner of Bridge Bound Campers.
Rooted in Fayetteville, W.Va., Bridge Bound is a van conversion company that specializes in Ford Transits. Though the builds aren’t custom per se, clients do have the option of adding cabinets, seats, beds, and other features that clip into a nifty L-track system. This configurable design allows Williams and his team to cater to all walks of life—from outdoorsy families to roving retirees.
“The last build we did was for a guy in his 60s who wanted to fish and camp,” Williams explains. “But we also get a lot of remote workers and people who want to escape the crazy expensive housing market.”
Needless to say, the nomadic lifestyle isn’t just for dirtbags anymore. Thanks to the pandemic, more and more people are ditching the suburbs and taking to the road. In response, social media has been flooded with DIY camper van conversions—some stunning, others not so much.
“I think almost anyone can build out a van, but it’s probably going to suck,” Williams says matter-of-factly. The whole process is way more complicated and time-consuming than people expect, he explains. Plus, there’s the very real threat of botching your electrical system and turning your rig into a tinderbox on wheels.
Alas, if you want a safe van that’s built to last, Williams suggests hiring a professional. To help you do just that, we’ve rounded up some of the highest-rated conversion companies in the South.
Carolina Van Builders
For most of us, retail therapy means buying a pair of jeans or an overpriced latte. But when North Carolina native Alex Gaebe found himself in a funk at age 24, he bought a 1978 Thomas school bus instead.
“I was in a weird spot in life,” he says, shrugging nonchalantly.
After purchasing the yellow behemoth, Gaebe spent the following year adding custom trimmings. When the conversion was finally complete, he posted photos online. “It absolutely blew up—it went viral,” he says. “That’s when I thought, ‘Man, I could make a living doing this.’”
Five years ago, in response to increased demand for camper vans, Gaebe founded his Boone-based business, Carolina Van Builders. The company specializes in Ram ProMaster conversions, offering two thoughtfully designed layouts: The Basecamp and The Carolina. “The main difference is that The Carolina has a shower,” says Gaebe.
Gaebe is also refining a van conversion kit for folks who want to save some cash without scrimping on quality. “The kits will be ready to roll by summer at the latest,” he promises.
Pro Tip: Another North Carolina builder to check out is Blue Ridge Adventure Vehicles. Based in Fairview, this van conversion company can soup up your Ram, Mercedes, or Ford vehicle.
Moxie Van Co.
If you’re looking to buy a yacht on wheels, look no further than Moxie Van Co.
“We build our vans more like boats than RVs,” says founder Justin Mace. “Boats are meant to last for years and years while RVs have cheaper components that shake around and loosen up over time.”
Of course, you can’t raft down the Colorado River or sail to the Cayman Islands in a Ford Transit converted by the Moxie team. But you can bump down potholed forest service roads and stealth camp in Walmart parking lots. “That’s what I love about vans,” Mace quips. “There’s so much freedom.”
Mace’s clients also have the freedom to design custom floorplans, select from dozens of tweed fabric colors and cabinet finishings, and even opt for quirky add-ons like reading lights and batwing awnings.
“Our big emphasis is quality,” says Mace. “We never cut corners.”
Crescent Moon Van Conversions
A strait-laced accountant who can probably create a Gantt chart with his eyes closed, Matt Alburn is a stark contrast to the long-haired free spirits who once defined vanlife. But that doesn’t mean he can’t build a sick camper.
As the founder of Crescent Moon Van Conversions in Columbia, S.C., Alburn is all about creating high-quality conversions that cater to the client’s needs. Efficiency matters too.
“I’m very focused on the business side of things,” says Alburn, a University of South Carolina grad. “Because of that, our lead time is only four to five weeks—not four to five months.”
Alburn and his team—which includes his dad, a long-time handyman and licensed electrician—also do way more than your run-of-the-mill van conversions. In the past, they’ve reimagined a skoolie into a roving art studio and a cargo van into a mobile doctor’s office.
“Right now, we’re seeing an uptick in box truck conversions,” says Alburn. “They’re about $20,000 cheaper than a cargo van and offer more headroom.”
Regardless of your rig, Crescent Moon Van Conversions will walk you through the building process step-by-step. They’ll even help you find a vehicle, if that’s something you need a hand with.