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Base camp on wheels: A Honda Element’s transformation

Tribune photographer Joe Johnston’s 2007 Honda Element comfortably transports and sleeps two with room for gear. With the front seats laid back flat to meet the platform and the mattress unfolded the interior turns into a spacious sleeping area.
Tribune photographer Joe Johnston’s 2007 Honda Element comfortably transports and sleeps two with room for gear. With the front seats laid back flat to meet the platform and the mattress unfolded the interior turns into a spacious sleeping area. TRIBUNE PHOTOS BY JOE JOHNSTON

Joe Johnston, the Tribune photographer who shot the photos for our GoWesty story, doesn’t own a Vanagon himself. But he did turn his Honda Element into a nifty camping mobile.

He got some of his conversion tips from the Element Owners Club web-site. The conversion tips should work with other vehicles as well, though.

First, he took out the removable back seats and built a 47-by-45 inch-plywood platform about 10 inches high. When the front seats are folded flat (with the head rests removed), he said, they meet up with the platform, creating a nice sleeping area with room underneath the platform for two storage bins he uses for camping gear and other items.

To add support, he used half-inch plywood with strips of lumber underneath. He then used five steel pipes screwed into floor flanges for the legs of the platform, which was secured to the car with four turnbuckles that hook into the tie-downs near the floor. He then cut the sides of the platform to fit around the curves of the interior and topped it with indoor/outdoor carpet to give it a more finished look.

A camp bed from Cabela’s gave him something soft to sleep on that could be easily folded when not in use.

For privacy, he made blinds for the three rear windows, using the same indoor/outdoor carpet he used on the platform. For each window, he cut two pieces of carpet to the exact shape of the window, then glued them together using thin paint stir sticks in between to add rigidity. For the smaller front windows, he sewed small magnets into pillow cases, which could then be attached to the metal frame around the windows. For the front, he strung a fabric show curtain on a shoe string across the width of the car.

“With the platform in place and the front seats upright, I still have plenty of room for a cooler and other supplies right behind the seats,” he said. “It’s all pretty sweet.”

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