Updated: Jan 10, 2019
I am frequently asked how I arrived at building 4x4 conversion vans. It's a pretty niche market and to this day most people's eyes glaze over when I tell them what I do for a living.
I'm Tim, owner/director here at Timberline. I love the outdoors, riding bikes, skateboards and I traveled quite a bit. I am not likely a guy you'll find out on a 4x4 trail in Moab, or out in the brush camping every weekend. I'm a car guy, and more specifically for the last decade: I'm a van guy. Building vehicles that people love or need...that makes people happy, which makes me happy.
My father had already been in the car business for 30 years when I was 16, so we bought a ratty old 1982 BMW 318ti for $800; painted it and threw in some sheep skin seat covers. We sold it 6 months for later for $3,000. I didn't bankroll the deal so I didn't keep any of the money, but that's about when I started fixing up cars. I tried desperately to stay out of the family business, but life just kind of has its way.
I've always been entrepreneurial. At 8 or 9, you could find me selling golf balls at the tee-box we dug out of the creek, and selling drinks for half of what the cart-drink-girls were selling them for. We'd hide the cooler when they drove by so they didn't see us undercutting them. Through high school, college and thereafter when I worked in the family car business I always had something on the back burner.
In 1999, my father took a Delorean on consignment for about $4k with low mileage. We had no idea what it was worth, so we put it on Ebay, and to our chagrin, 5 days later it sold for $8k to a young collector from Las Vegas who flew out the next day to pick it up and drive it home. I still have a sign that came out of it that reads "Delorean Drive."
That tipped off about a decade of selling 2 and 4 wheel vehicles on Ebay,: trailers, hotrods, motorhomes, bikes, a boat. Some 8,000 vehicles later, I settled on selling fleet vehicles, which would last for several years. We started doing a lot of vans and trucks. Production has been something that interested me. I have always enjoyed building things, making things better.
I'm fascinated by streamlining and organizing processes and I loved how the fleet market basically meant we were doing the same thing over and over again and building economy from that. The car business is incredibly difficult to get good at, particularly as everything moved from that 'old-school used car lot walk on traffic' thing that ran all the way to the end of the millennium, to more of what see now with a very internet-heavy advertising/marketing presence in the car business.
So around 2008, we started buying some 4x4 vans, most of them came from the oil field. I think we did about 20 of them in 3-4 years, which was enough for people to start calling us when they needed or were looking for one....We couldn't produce them, there just weren't any around, which was an obvious sign of a market shortage.
The troops and I built a pair of U-Joint vans back in 2013 and boy did we loose our tail. I should have stopped there, because developing a scalable coil spring van that we were happy with took 3 years and countless hours. I will say I remember Chris was super nice to me and just helpful enough to get me on the path, but never really gave away any secrets. Nowadays I'll pretty well answer any question someone has. Time and time again, I hear people talk about how easy it is to build 4x4 vans and the 8 or so companies that do it are making a killing. To them I'd say: get out your checkbook and have a go, you'll learn quickly enough.
The vanning community is full of friendly people and characters. It's been great motivation to persevere through all the ups and downs. I closed our fleet business in December 2017 and In June of 2018 I was able to finally open up Timberline Vans in Golden, Colorado. It's beautiful (The city, not...eh, the shop's nice too). Within 6 months of putting up the lifts, we released a GM conversion that we're just so proud of and 2019 is bringing a ton of other great things along with our 100th van conversion probably in the fall. There's a lot more to the story and none of it was glorious. I'm super thankful to be doing something I love and proud to be where we're at, even though there was no road to get here.