Week Twenty – End of The Build

So here we are finally finished, or at least as finished as it ever will be because there always be something than needs doing, changing or repairing.

First thing this week the custom shower tray arrived from Henderson Plastics. It is a nice piece of work and very good value. I must have got something right because all it needed was a hole in the floor for the waste, a cut out around the fridge pipe and it dropped straight in. I had a plastic slatted insert ready and with a simple size adjustment it too dropped straight in. Delivery of the shower was followed by a large piece of acrylic mirror cut to size and shape with a cut out for the shower fitting. A little bit of work to trim and seal as best as possible and it is ready to go.

I also replaced the plastic sliding door track with an aluminium channel and a strip of PVC in the bottom to help it slide and added a couple of diagonals of tambour door tape. Now the door works as intended.

With that done there was one more big job which involved a trip to Glide-Rite in Liphook to have a Ride-Rite Semi Air Suspension system fitted. This involves 2 Firestone suspension bellows in place of the bump stops, a small compressor and a small control panel under the dash. So now we can adjust the rear ride height by about 75mm and the springs all the way from soft to rock hard. As the van will always be closer to its design weight this will help prevent the springs sagging, it will make the van more stable and we can adjust the height for camp site levelling and obstacles such as ferry ramps. Not a cheap option but given everything else we have done it seems like a worthwhile addition.

Other than that I have adjusted the tank position slightly to miss the below and shortened the fill and drain pipes. In addition I have made an alluvium tailpipe extension for the exhaust to direct it below the tank. Hot exhaust was already damaging the insulation I put on the tank so this seems a necessity. If this works then I will buy a short piece of 89mm SS tube and make a more permanent job. As I said at the start of this piece – there will always be something to do.

Putting on Weight

I said a few weeks ago that we knew it was getting heavy and when I weighed it it was already 3280kg so something had to be done.

I think the problem is that the original weight can be anywhere between 2150kg and 2450kg depending on the van spec. I have been assuming 3250kg but it looks like it was likely to have been nearer 2450kg. Another lesson, weigh the original vehicle before you start work. Although the van is plated at 3500kg (the limit that younger folk can drive without passing another test and the limit before a taco is required on a commercial vehicle) the front axle is rated at 1800kg and the rear 2100kg so potentially 3900kg. So on Tuesday I put in a call to SVTech who didn’t respond however John Ruffles at JR Consultancy did and with minimum fuss for £180 uprated the MGW (Max Gross Weight) to 3900kg.

I have popped it back on the weigh bridge with a full tank of fuel and all the camping equipment and got 3340kg total and 1740kg for the back axle only. That leaves a margin of 560kg for us, cloths, provisions, water etc. split 200/360kg between front and rear axles which should be plenty.

So now we are a 3900kg Motor Caravan. Things to remember / be aware of are;

  • over 3500kg you require a C1 driving license that those of us who passed our tests before 1997 have.
  • over 3050kg unladen weight speeds are once again restricted to vans, so 70mph on motorways, 60mph on dual carriage ways and 50mph on ordinary roads. Of course unless indicated otherwise lower.
  • Similar and even lower speed limits apply across Europe.

Go West Young Van

So the time came, exactly 4 months to the day the van was delivered and we were setting out on its first adventure. The naval term would be “Sea Trials” except were doing it on land. We had planned a week away to Cornwall and back visiting friends old and new on the way.

Loaded up at around 3750kg the van travelled well and made for easy driving. Aiming for Devon and Exmouth the first night would provide a mix of single and dual A road as a well as a bit of motorway without having to push it. Clearly silly season is upon us when we tried to stop for coffee on the A27 and the lay-by we normally use was blocked by a 40 tonne artic – not his fault though – it was the idiot with the caravan that had literals pulled into the entrance and parked up with his legs and step down. It makes you wonder if they should be allowed…

We were hoping to try a mix of camping including pub stop overs. So the first night we looked for a small Camping and Caravaning Club certified site. The first one we found, Grindlebrook Farm, looked dreadful and we turned around straight away but a trip down a nearby lane took us to Forringdon Caravan Site. A nice property with adequate facilities and although their listing says no dogs Fred was quite welcome. The following morning we popped down to Exmouth and parked up on the sea from for coffee. The Social Media links on our back door worked their magic and we got messages on Facebook and our Blog.

Our next stop was a visit to Dartmoor and an afternoon and evening with Tim and Carole, we haven’t seen Tim for 35 years or more. Getting the van in and out of their tight driveway was a lesson of what is to come but we managed. We ate at the Old Inn at Widicombe in the Moor and tasted our first experience of pub car park camping. A very peaceful night with the odd owl and a cuckoo in the morning. We were sold on it.

The next morning we headed into Totnes for a quick shop and a cup of coffee before heading for Cornwall and and a beach for Fred. The Camping and Caravan Club site at Westgate bay provided a perfect location although the staff were a bit difficult about providing a decent sized grass pitch without electric but relented in the end. The surf was busy and there was plenty of beach for Fred to run around on.

We had a couple of visits to do in Cornwall. First we were keen to show the van off to Mirko at Premium Camper in Wadebridge. Mirko did the California Roof and the furniture for Van Blanc, our T6, and he has been following our build of this van. Suffice to say he seemed impressed.

Our second visit was to see Steve and Sue Rogers who recently retired to St Agnes. Dinner with them was at their local, the Victory Inn and another night of pub stopovers. After dinner we had a stroll across the heath toward the coast and the settled to watch a crimson sunset from the comfort of the van. The following morning we took a drive into Penzance to buy lunch and dinner and stopped by Marazion for coffee and to let Fred have dip in the sea.

We headed for a CC&C site at Tavistock but were disappointed by the unfriendly welcome so we left. A fairly quick drive across Dartmoor found us at California Cross near Kingsbridge where another and this time friendly CC&C site restored our faith in the club.

From California Cross we headed East for West Bay at Bridport in Dorset where we were meeting cousin Stuart and Marina for pizza lunch at our favourite Watch House Cafe. Before lunch we were able to talk along the beach under the Dorset Jursaic cliffs. It was a glorious morning with a flat calm sea with clear views as far as the Isle of Wight. The first car park would not allow Camper Vans but looking further just around the corner was a car park with bays specially for Motorhomes, we had arrived.

Our last night was at the C&CC site in Salisbury before a visit to Jason at Absolute Audio. In a couple of weeks time they are going to have a poke around the VCDS for me and see if we can change a couple of things. On the way home we payed a visit to another company who are going to do a bit of work for us in a couple of week but lets keep that a surprise. Unfortunately they have some large speed bumps in their access road and our side step bottomed on it and is badly damaged. I knew it was low so it needs looking at.

Week Eighteen

Well there you have it – the finished product – well almost. The van was delivered to us on 17th of January and here we are on 17th of May setting out on our first journey. Registered as a Motor Caravan and up-plated to 3900kg it is massively spacious inside and really looks the part

I say almost finished because there is the showers tray to fit in a couple of weeks and then we can trim and seal the toilet / shower. There are a few trim jobs to do and no doubt there will be a few things to sort after our shake down run out.

This week it has been time to catch up on a lot of small jobs; The threshold strip at the sliding door, adjusting and levelling cupboard and locker doors, fit the sliding toilet door, trimming and sealing the bathroom sink and the roof vent, wallpaper Fred’s kennel with sticky back plastic and several other small jobs.

A few weeks ago I put the van on a weigh bridge and as I suspected it was a wee bit heavier than I imagined at 3280kg. While I was watching the weight I think my starting point was wrong. VW say 2060-2460kg depending on specification and I have been thinking it was about 2250kg. In reality it was probably closer to the higher figure especially with that tow bar. Lesson for everyone else – the first job in any big conversion should be a trip to the weigh bridge.

So really it could do with a few extra kg, perhaps 100-200kg and while it is registered as 3500kg the axles are rated at 1800/2100kg which given that our heaviest stuff is between the two should work nicely gaining an MGW of 3900kg. Here is a benefit of our age as both our licences have C1. I called SVTech and filled in their forms only to never hear back from them. On the other hand John Ruffles, JRConsultancy, have turned it round in a week and apparently it is in the post to me.

Another weight that would have been useful in respect of speed limits would have been the Unladen Gross Weight. Motor Caravans weighing less than 3050kg can do car speeds whereas those that weigh more are restricted to van speeds. In addition Motorhomes heavier than 3500kg are generally limited to van speeds throughout Europe. Ho hum – we will just have to do more relaxed speeds which was always the theory in our other vans but not always the practice.

Let the adventure begin!

Week Seventeen

What a week it has been but I can safely say that now the van is ready for the road. OK so there are still a few things to do, mostly titivating and nothing that if it isn’t done in the next few days will stop us going on a trail run to Cornwall on Friday.

It took a couple of days but the revised hot water system was plumbed and tested and on Wednesday the replacement exhaust and combustion pipes for the water heater arrived and got fitted. It fired up straight away and we have HOT water. I think I should read the instructions this week, go through the the settings and give it a longish burn.

When the toilet was going to be right at the back I bought a shower tray for it but now it is by a wheel arch the tray won’t fit. I’ve contemplated several possibilities including resizing the tray which bit the dust today. Instead I have found a Henderson Plastics who will make a custom one for us from 5mm white polypropylene that also covers the wheel arch for a very reasonable price. They will take 3 weeks so it will get installed before we go to Le Mans.

Meanwhile the toilet has been installed, the sink secured and connected and the sliding door fitted. Fitting the toilet required a vent through the floor to remove smells – something the literature doesn’t tell you about. Of course we couldn’t go straight through the floor so I had to create a dog leg with some 40mm waste pipe and fittings. Otherwise it was all pretty straight forward although there will be a lot of trimming and sealing to do once we fit the tray. You can see we have fitted a Bulldog shower even though they are meant for outside the van. The advantage is that we can use one shower head in two places, it has a trigger so won’t use masses of water and we don’t need it dangling in the toilet all the time.

Now on to more important things – Fred’s kennel. Right at the back of the van with an opening in the back wall is Fred’s own space into which will go his bed. It is pretty much the same size as his kennel in the utility at home. However access to the toilet cassette is through the side of the kennel so the back and side panels simply side out to give access. I have also made the side by all the services easy to slide out in case of the need to get at the pump and heater. At the same time I have put the mains hook op though the floor with the 16A plug fixed under the bumper. Usefully the flat hose for filling the water fits neatly under the kennel floor. Just one small job to do – Fablon the inside of the kennel to make it wipe clean.

Storage being important in a confined space I finished the week off by panelling the rear doors. Getting the shape right was actually not as bad as I expected and they turned out well. So now with the doors panelled I could top them off with the hooks and bungees for the the deck chairs. All I need to do now is stop the outdoor table falling off the step every time I open the door. I also need to store the Silver Screens – they are a bit bigger than the old ones for our T5&6, something I didn’t consider.

You can see we have packed a lot in. The clothes drier and ramps are held by bungees and the awning rafter and wind out handle have their own clips. There is also a “Hela” 12V rocket into which we can plug our outdoor LED strip that will hang from the rafter. The tray above the fridge compressor box has space for all manner of odds and ends and there is a Bulldog shower outlet for outdoor / dog use.

Meanwhile Sue began deep cleaning and getting rid of dust and dirty marks all of which there are lot of. She has been sealing the panel edges paying attention to getting a fine finish and it does look good. As well she has reduced a spare topper in size and made it fitted for the bed and been organising storage in the cupboards and especially trays and containers without which everything rattles and slides around when we are on the road.

And finally this week we got the V5c back from DVSA – we are now officially and legacy a Motor Caravan.

Van Wolf Graphics

There were several reasons why we chose the name Van Wolf for our van and one was the availability of nice graphics based on the idea of a wolf. We had some ideas about how we would like the van to look certainly not flashy and fussy rather classy and understated.

A visit to Steve @ Design Lab in Eastbourne was called for. Steve is a fellow dubber and his van graphics are always top notch. A couple of discussions about ideas and detail and we were booked in within a few days.

We have used a silver metal flake 7 year vinyl that has about the same amount of sparkle as the vans own paint. The wolf head designs I purchased as Jpeg and EPS from my usual source – 123rf.com. The Wolfsberg shields are just internet downloads. Anyone who knows VW recognises them as old school VW and they might help explain the vans name. On the rear door we have social media links that may get us some like minded friends and followers.

We are over the moon with the finished result. Steve’s attention to detail is noticeable. He spent all day getting those 6m long stripes straight and he has started them from behind the headlamps and made them follow through the door gaps – you cannot see a break in them. The added bonus to Steve’s work was a very reasonable price tag.

If anyone within striking distance of Eastbourne is interested in using him Steve can be contacted through his FaceBook page, @Eastbournedesignlab

Week Sixteen

We are getting excited now, just a couple of weeks work left before we take the van out for a shakedown trip.

We spent a couple of days trimming the living area. We have covered the original mid door card and made a new top card both in headlining material. To hold the panels in blind fir trees weren’t going to work but I found a bag of trim buttons were a good match and did the job. The coving panel over the sliding door was bothering me because of the curvy roof but it has worked quite well. Held up by Velcro it is covered in the headline material and incorporates the original courtesy light.

I purchased a length of keder rail with the intention of fitting this at the bottom of the coving to act as a curtain rail for a mozzie net. In the end we decided it was simply ugly. There is a convenient small gap between the coving panel and the bodywork into which we can slide a net suspended on magnets. Also we have decided not to trim the C post and found some suitable plugs for the holes so now we can attach the back of a net again with magnets. So now all we need is a fixing down the B post, i.e. magnets, Velcro or pop studs. Watch this space.

The gap between the uprights of seat bed when it is a seat has been finished off with a flap. Fixed to one side it has magnets on the other that cling to the frame. When you drop the bed the flap simply slides off. Simple and effective so you can’t see our luggage under the seat.

The storage cubby holes at the back of the kitchen have plenty of room for the washing up liquid and dish cloths beside the sink. They are lit with short LED strips on the same circuit as the roof lights. The back wall now has its cupboard door and 2 neat Southco pop out hooks convenient for the toilet & shower.

Back in September last, that would be about week -14, I spoke to Planar Heaters about using their Binar 5S as an occasional direct water heater. They told me it would work fine so when the time came I ordered one. So now I have fitted it only to find that they were wrong and it won’t. After several days of evening emails (they don’t answer their land line and the “tech” guy seems only to be part time) it turns out that I do need heat exchangers, circulating pumps and header tanks, all the things I wanted to avoid. Lesson learned and won’t be going back to them. Anyhow now I have a Webasto type 22 plate heat exchanger, expansion tank and pressure vessel and spent the weekend redoing the plumbing. All that is left is to add longer combustion and exhaust pipes and redo the electrical connections.

You will see from my post yesterday “Van Wolf Graphics” that the van has been off to have its graphics applied and is looking every bit the smart touring van.

This week we sent the V5c off to DVSA to get the body type changed to “Motor Caravan”, that should be back in a week or two. I have been worrying about the overall weight and with good cause as it turns out. I took the van down to the local public weigh bridge to get a ticket and it is 3280kg. There is about 50Kg left to add but when you add us, our food, clothes, general paraphernalia and a tank of water will be a couple of hundred kilos overweight. I think the problem is that the original weight can be anywhere between 2150kg and 2450kg depending on the van spec. I have been assuming 3250kg but it looks like it was likely to have been hearer 2450kg. Another lesson, weigh the original vehicle before you start work. Although the van is plated at 3500kg (the limit that younger folk can drive without passing another test and the limit before a taco is required on a commercial vehicle) the front axle is rated at 1800kg and the rear 2100kg so potentially 3900kg. So on Tuesday I will put in a call to SVTech to get the plate uprated to 3900kg.

Week Fifteen

Slowly but surely we are getting there but now we are at the point where a lot of what we are doing is detailing or those fiddly jobs I have been putting to one side.

As I said last week the start of this week was all about plumbing. Deciding where the components should go in relation to one another was time consuming and I think I moved the pump 4 times, only a few millimetres and guess what – yes it is back where I had it in the first place.

I am quite pleased with myself because I was worrying about the amount of pipe below the floor. In the end I have got all but a bit of waste pipe above the floor and saved some run length into the bargain. I decided to use reinforced hose from the tank to the pump and water heater before changing to 12mm John Guest push fit. We have fitted Bullfinch external type showers in the toilet cubicle and just inside the back door. The point being that we have only one shower hose, it has a trigger spray and doesn’t need to be connected if we aren’t using it.

I soon discovered fittings I was short of or had got wrong such as connections to the showers which are oddly 15mm push fit and then I realised I needed a couple of valves at the lowest point to allow me to drain down for maintenance or winter storage. So that resulted in a trip to Johns Cross and another order to Caravan Accessories.

Another piece of kit to finalise was the fridge compressor. This can be located up to 1500mm from the fridge so I have it right at the back of the van while the actual fridge is in the kitchen area. I boxed it in but with good ventilation. The point of this is that any noise (regardless of its night mode setting) is as far away from us as possible.

Looking at the equipment a lot of it came with chunky wires. I got worried that whilst I had used suitably rated cables they were nowhere near the size of the tails. Their reasoning is voltage drop and I decided to bite the bullet and pull some larger cables through. Only one fought back because it followed a difficult route but we managed. With all the equipment installed and cables upgraded it was time to put the fuses in. The fridge worked fine as did the toilet lights and extractor. Next the hob which worked but wasn’t getting diesel properly. I primed the line by sucking on it but without any luck. Then I saw that the pipe had a loop in it just before the unit and by eliminating that it fired up and ran beautifully. The only bit of kit that is playing up is the hot water heater which looks like it has a duff fuel pump.

Meanwhile the seat cushions came back from the upholsterer so our next job was to finish the vinyl wall covering before they got fitted. That was followed by the lining and lighting in the headboard unit.

We topped the week off installing our tables. We have two one small day table and a larger dining table made for us by Chippy’s Workshop. They look great and and the dining table can be used from the front seats and the seat bed. The dining table stores neatly behind the fridge.

I also took delivery of and fitted a Thule bike rack – far better that the Fiamma one that it replaced and which didn’t fit.

Week Fourteen

What a week it has been. While everyone else has been out enjoying the spring sunshine I have been flat out on the van and got so much done.

The time has come to do a job I have been dreading – the headlining. The ceiling is basically 3200mm long x 1200mm wide with a slight 20mm curve and I wanted to lose minimal height rather than just level it off and have it as unobstructed as possible. So I didn’t want the roof vent frame protruding and reducing height height or lights set in it. We planned to used 6mm lightweight ply with a headlining material from Kirvans that comes with a scrim backing.

First off I had to finish the toilet ceiling. This is 6mm lightweight ply with 3mm vinyl ply simply glued and screwed into place. I made a recess to go around the roof vent so that the frame doesn’t protrude below the ceiling – good practice for the main ceiling. The ceiling and partitions are designed to let the main ceiling oversail and create a shadow line in which there is a row of Loox LEDs that are controlled by the dimmer module. To be honest I am less than happy with  toilet but will address that in the next week or two. Its a small space and I can hide a few sins.

So on to the main event. The ceiling consists of 2 panels, a smaller one above the kitchen and a larger (full sheet of ply) above the living area. It is 6mm ply covered in a light grey headlining fabric that is backed with a 3mm scrim. We wanted to follow the curve of the ceiling so as to avoid losing any head room. Our plan was to secure the edges and hold the boards up to the roof beams with heavy duty Velcro. We applied the velcro to the roof ribs and boards the day before so that the adhesive would have cured by the time we put the ceiling up.

My original rebate above the lockers failed but the day was saved using a small anodised aluminium channel, tight but it works. The other side above the toilet was easier as I could simple create a shadow gap from black painted wood and have the panel slide over it. Laying the first smaller piece up with contact adhesive was relatively easy. We covered the top side and Velcro with plastic dust sheet held in place with a few tabs of masking tape and slid the panel into place. Once we were happy with it we pulled the dust sheet out and pressed the panel onto the Velcro – now it is going nowhere.

The large panel was a whole another prospect. First off I had to frame the roof vent with an upstanding will letting the panel follow the curve of the roof. All of which I did in 12mm ply. Next came a big hiccup with the material, we rolled it out face down so that the scrim side didn’t pick any dirt and when we turned it over it had to large crayon marks in the middle of it. We had another length which also had marks but fortunately we could get enough clean from it. Words have been had and hopefully we can still get the small panels we wanted from the damaged piece.

After a lot of discussion we eventually decided that we had to lay the material up in 2 halves, i.e. roll back one half and glue it and then do the other. Once done with the edges roller and trimmed and the roof vent trimmed we again covered the top side in plastic dust sheet and up it went. A bit of juggling, easing and persuading and in it went all lined up. Rip out the dust sheet and press on to the velcro and it too is going nowhere. The left hand side was then pressed into place with a batten along which I have stuck the LED strip. It will get a capping between the wall and the ceiling as we go through and finish off.

One useful point was to be able to use the original bulkhead fixings to fit angles onto which we would stick Velcro to support the front edge where it meets the cab head lining. So now the fished article looks great an we are well please with the tight join in the middle and with the cab head lining.

With all that finished and a delivery of plumbing fittings Easter weekend was spent under the van drilling holes in the floor and running pipes. Getting the van up on axle stands is a struggle for my 2 tonne car jack and a 3 or even 5 tonne item might be on its way. I did spend a lot of time contemplating and now I believe I have some tidy routing and minimised holes but only after swearing a lot, working in some tiny spaces at ridiculous angles. Holes have been sealed with underbody spray and where appropriate rubber seals or Sikaflex. Next week it is time to make things happen.

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