When you think of setting off for adventure, certain images come to mind, no matter who you are. Wilderness explorers braving the great unknown with the latest gear and greatest vehicles: Shackleton, Hilary, Cousteau; ships, pack animals, submarines. It's doubtful that anyone pictures an old Mitsubishi van and the Lake District of Northern England though. Artist Andrew Groves of Miscellaneous Adventures, however, does.
Miscellaneous Adventures consists of Andrew, his wife Emma, and their son Benji. Together, the trio runs a series of outdoor workshops that help folks get exploring and become more attuned to the natural world. They teach classes like wood carving, basecamp setup, wild tea foraging, and the aesthetics of untouched natural habitats. Andrew also recently stepped into a role as caretaker of a 250-acre woodland estate on the shores of Coniston Water to help maintain the property’s biodiversity.
The three are also vagabond adventurers—but instead of traveling in a vintage Land Rover or a tricked-out Sprinter, they prefer a humble Mitsubishi Delica 4x4 van.
The Delica is a relic of Japan’s roaring ‘80s and ‘90s. It's a Frankenstein monster of a vehicle wherein Mitsubishi dropped all of its best off-road know-how into something similar to your mom’s old soccer practice runabout. But, somehow, in the intervening years, the Delica has become a mainstay in the adventuring community. And for good reason. The Delica isn’t a Chrysler Town and Country. It’s more of a Chrysler Town and Country that had carnal relations with a Jeep Wrangler.
Andrew, Emma, and Benji’s current Delica, a 1995 Delica L300 Starwagon, is just beginning its off-road life. But this is the family's first Delica rodeo; their Starwagon's predecessor was a home-away-from-home, allowing the family to indulge in the natural world they love so dearly and treat Benji to a life most children don’t get to experience from a permanent home.
With expertise on all things Mitsubishi Delica, and the rising popularity of the model as an adventuremobile in mind, we recently caught up with Andrew to learn more about his family's rig and their adventuring life. Below, he reveals what Delica mechanical issues people should be aware of, what future plans they have for their Delica, what the adventuring community can do to help promote keeping green spaces green, and more.
[Ed Note: Check out the Field Mag Guide to Delicas for a full 4x4 van rundown]
What made you get into the van life space? What gave you the itch for adventure?
We are definitely not true van lifers. For us, the van is a weekend, work, and adventure vehicle and I don’t think we’d contemplate living in such a tiny van full time.
We had wanted a van for a long time for surf trips and hiking trips, but when our son was born, that was the catalyst for finally taking the plunge. We are both self-employed and on a tight budget, so a van for us represented an opportunity to take more trips knowing we would have our accommodation sorted wherever we went.
The Delica has definitely delivered on this front; we have a ton of happy memories of traveling and camping together as a small family.
You already had a Delica before. There are plenty of other more spacious offerings available. What's the attraction to the Delica?
It’s true, there are plenty of other options, and the Delica is certainly not what you’d call spacious, but there’s just something about the character and proportions of the Delica that make it an obvious choice for us.
We lived in Japan for a while too, so there is a special place in our hearts for Japanese vehicles. Delicas are also pretty rugged. [They’re] a serious off-road vehicle, which appeals to our lifestyle and is necessary for the kind of work we do. But in truth, it comes down to the aesthetic.
What's your plan to customize this new Delica? And what are some of the lessons you learned from previously that you'll take into it?
With our second Delica, which is an older L300 model, we opted for a pretty simple camper conversion as we are on a tight budget and decided to keep as much of the van’s original features as possible. It came equipped with a rear access ladder and the factory-fitted expedition roof rack, which was amazing.
Our previous Delica, the L400, was a bit of a nightmare mechanically and we had to become amateur mechanics pretty fast. [We] pretty much rebuilt the engine over time ourselves (admittedly with help from my Dad who is a retired mechanic) and fixed all sorts of issues.
Our L300, however, has been a dream so far and was in great condition when bought, being well looked after by its previous owners. The engine on the L300 is under the passenger seat and access is tight, so we’re pretty glad we haven’t had to get too involved mechanically yet.
What are some things that potential Delica owners should look out for? Any sleeping grenades?
All Delicas are prone to rust; most mechanical issues can be fixed and there’s a good market for spares, but rust can be terminal or at least very expensive to deal with. The L400 is prone to overheating and cracked cylinder heads are common on this engine, which I know about only too well. There are two extremely helpful forums that got me through all my mechanical issues: Mitsubishi Delica Owners Club in the UK and Delica Forum in the U.S. I’d recommend checking those out for potential pitfalls before buying one!
Given space is at a premium, which rooftop tent did you end up going with for the new build? How long did it take you to build out the new one to its current specs?
We used the same rooftop tent on both vans. We actually posted an inquiry about rooftop tents on our social media feeds and someone who had followed our work for a while got in touch to say we could have his! [The rooftop tent is] a little slow to set up and take down but when it’s up, it’s a cozy place to spend the night.
There is a folding sleeping platform (I hesitate to use the word ‘bed’) inside the van but it’s a tight squeeze for both of us with our five-year-old son. The build didn’t take us that long, a couple of weeks perhaps. We had a deadline for a trip around Scotland and we got it finished just in time. The whole thing is made from birch plywood which we mostly had cut to size to speed up the process. We opted for quite a simple build but it all worked out really well on our first trip.
There are always plans for more additions and I guess it will never be ‘finished’ as such. We would like to add a diesel heater soon; the space inside is very tight but I think it can be done.
How would you suggest future Delica owners approach their own Delica camper van build?
First off, I would get it checked out mechanically, preferably by someone who has experience with these vans and engines. Second, enjoy having the van for a few weeks before delving into the build just to get used to the quirks and the space inside; a great thing about Delicas is that the seat configurations are such that you could go adventuring right away without doing anything if you wanted to.
Then think carefully about everything you might want in your camper, be prepared to scale back or think of ingenious space-saving designs as interior space is definitely tight. There are some amazing existing conversions out there so some internet research goes a long way when seeking inspiration. Then sketch out designs, start measuring, and get building.
It’s amazing what you can achieve in one of these vans on a small budget with a bit of careful planning and some basic woodworking skills. It’s easy to feel intimidated by some of the luxury looking builds out there but you don’t need to go high-end (unless you want to, of course), so just get some ply and get out there.
Your new gig is helping look after a 250-acre estate and conserve its biodiversity. Do you see the adventure realm and van life space helping to promote such things?
Tough question! This is something I often wrestle with; a 24-year-old 2.5-liter turbo diesel is definitely not the most environmentally friendly vehicle I could be driving and it’s hard to think of a way in which van ownership could be a force for good. For us, I suppose, our van has enabled us to visit wild places and spend time in nature which in turn has led us to want to protect the natural world, inspiring us to take positive action in other aspects of our lives.
Whether or not this offsets our emissions, I have no idea, but I do think that living simply and closer to nature has the potential to shape the way we think about our relationship with the rest of the natural world, which could ultimately lead to more people taking positive steps to stand up for nature and the planet.
The same could be said for the adventure realm in general, but I’d like to see adventure communities seeking deeper connections and valuing experiences with nature over the push to always do things faster or to go further, which only leads to the commodification of the natural world.