August 2020

    Benchmark Vehicles: Setting The Bar High

    “This team has an immense sense of pride, as they build and craft with their hands.”


    Customized adventure van pulling out of auto shop.

    Benchmark Vehicles, based in Portland, Oregon, truly sets the bar for custom adventure vans. Founder, Leland Gilmore, is seen here, pulling a completed van out of the garage.



    Portland, Oregon.

    The land of food trucks, Mt. Hood skiers, hipsters, and a heavy dose of “weird.”

    But it’s also the home of makers…




    Problem solvers.

    A few blocks off the beautiful Willamette River, which courses its way through downtown Portland, sits the bustling garage of Benchmark Vehicles, one of the premiere custom adventure van builders in the United States.

    The giant garage acts as a canvas for the steady stir of industrial saws, power drills, and a local radio station pumping out rock tunes from a sawdust-covered speaker in the corner.


    Man saws sheet metal, causing sparks to fly.

    Systems Specialist, Ben, letting the sparks fly!


    Garage door lifting, revealing multiple vans inside.

    At any given time, there may be 5-6 vans inside the shop, all at various stages of completion.


    Far beyond stock build-outs and run-of-the-mill modifications, the philosophy at Benchmark Vehicles is simple…

    They are here to make their clients’ dreams into reality.

    Every single adventure van build-out they oversee is completely customized to the liking, preferences, options, and visions of the client.

    Recently featured in the New York Times, Benchmark prides themselves on being able to build the ultimate escape vessel; they want to truly build an escape for those who are seeking it.


    Shop owner sketches edits on a draft.

    It all starts with an idea, followed by the alterations and adjustments., and culminating in the execution.


    Computer screen that is showing digital blueprints for the interior of a custom van.

    Being able to visualize the finished product is a huge part of the process.


    Benchmark Vehicles owner & founder, Leland Gilmore, has built the company from the ground up, but has also worked hard to surround himself with top-tier craftsmen who can execute with precision and truly bring the clients’ ideas and visions to life.



    Body work.





    It’s all on the table.

    Ranging from rugged roof racks, to timeless Pendleton wool ceiling overlays, to exhaust snorkels, the customization options are as vast as the nearby Mt. Hood National Forest.


    Man carrying wall panel.

    Each van has the ability to be fully customized, both in the interior and on the exterior.



    Each of the shop’s employees bring a valuable set of skills to the table, but they also have the opportunity to develop and grow beyond their current set.

    Many of the builders drifted into this specific line of work from other trades, like auto body shops, electrical, or custom cabinetry and woodworking.

    They have found a place of work that fuses together various trades in a compelling way.

    Not to mention, there are some pretty unique (and downright fun!) things you get to do as a builder in this world of customization.


    Man drills hole in body of van.

    How often do you get to drill a giant hole in the shell of a vehicle?


    Every time a completed van rolls out of the garage for the last time, driven off by the happy owner, it’s evident that the van is the culmination of the full team’s collective effort and attention to detail.


    Man focuses on electrical wiring and soldering task.

    What good is an adventure van if it doesn’t have rock solid, reliable electrical?


    Man examines mechanical situation.

    Problem solving is part of the process, so patience is also a necessary skill.


    Watching the Benchmark team work (and observing the masterful products they create) will communicate one thing above all else…

    This team has an immense sense of pride, as they build and craft these custom builds with their hands.

    They don’t merely want to finish the work…

    They want to ace it.


    Man concentrating in wood-working section of the shop.

    Cabinetry Lead, Chris, has an unmatched eye for precision.


    One of the other keys to the shop’s success is the fact that they are supervised with a watchful eye by the ever-present, four-legged … er, shop floor managers…

    King George and Oakley.

    They keep the morale high and the shop running like a well-oiled machine.

    And the occasional belly rub and neck scratch doesn’t hurt, either.


    The shop dogs watch as a van pulls out of the garage.

    King George and Oakley, the shop dogs, are the real heroes.


    WATCH: Click play, to see Benchmark’s craftsmanship in action, as a premiere custom van builder.



    As with any job site, workshop, or garage, safety is always consistently the foremost priority, but not far behind that is the expectation and desire for producing vans of unrelenting quality.

    It starts with ensuring that the shop uses top-tier workwear & gear that will stand up to the rigors of daily use in a shop, but also remain versatile enough to grab a drink or bite to eat after work, and still feel comfortable.

    For this, they’ve been wearing and benefiting from some hardworking pieces from the HH Workwear line.



    Men’s Oxford Work Pant

    Men’s Kensington T-Shirt

    Kensington Trucker Hat

    Men’s Lifa Merino Crewneck¬†


    And of course, the power tools, hand tools, shop equipment, and building materials are all of premiere stock, which eliminates a world of worry.

    Each of the team members knows that creating a frustration-free work environment and a frustration-free experience for the customers is a big deal.

    With Leland infusing a foundational passion for excellence into the very floorboards of the company, the entire project journey from ideation and consultation, all the way to completion and satisfaction, is about the customer.


    Man focuses on drilling large hole.

    Focus and attention to detail have been two foundational ingredients to Benchmark’s growth.


    To truly “build someone’s escape”, it is counterproductive to create more points of stress and a frustrating experience for the customer, along the way.

    The escape shouldn’t only start when you drive the van out of the garage and take it on your first roadtrip or camping adventure.

    It starts when you first meet Leland and this hardworking team of craftsmen.



    In today’s world, with the speed at which most of us live our lives, it is crucial to prioritize intentional time to slow down.

    Hard work, exertion, and effort can be an extremely rewarding aspect of life, no doubt.

    But so can rest. So can recovery. So can escape.

    The Benchmark team knows the meaning of “Work hard, play hard,” and ultimately, they want to work hard on their van projects so that their clients can play hard.

    The balance of drilling holes and building campfires is a beautiful thing.


    Man in front of scenic Mt. Hood mountainscape.

    Work hard. Play hard. It’s what drives Leland and his crew.


    Man cooks on stovetop of van kitchenette.

    Home-cooked food out in the middle of nowhere? It tastes at least twice as good. We promise.


    Three men take in the scenic view of Mt. Hood.

    At the end of the day, it’s really all about having the ability to find that escape and feel alive.




    All Images by Andy Cochrane. Video by Adam Wells.

    To keep up with Leland and the Benchmark Vehicles story, you can follow them here: 


    Facebook: Benchmark Vehicles

    Instagram: @benchmark_vehicles