Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The carpet goes in

I decided that carpet would be nicer than rubber in the end so yesterday I bought some tough green carpet and spent today fitting it in the back. There's plenty left over for the front too but that's a much trickier job which I'll do another day. I also bought some of that stuff you make door mats from and fitted that to the back steps. At the same time I addressed the problem of the back door not shutting properly with the step folded up and fixed that too. She looks a lot better and I am starting to get glimpses of what she'll look like when she's finished. Tomorrow I'll finish off the bed/bench woodwork ready for the cushions which should be ready in a few weeks. A solution to the problem of how to make it open both ways popped into my head today so I'll try it out tomorrow.

I also had a crazy idea about chopping the insides out of an old 1960's TV I have and converting it into the kitchen base unit but I'm not so sure it will work. It would be superb if it did.

Monday, 29 December 2008

An Exhausting Christmas (including bums on seats part 3)

I thought I'd take Althea up to Yorkshire for a few days over Christmas so I chucked a couple of my guitars in the back and headed for the M1. On the way I stopped in Watford for lunch with my friends Toby and Ru where I dropped off an amplifier which was part of a swap for a Roland drum kit and off I went.

About 100 miles into the trip I realized that the screws I had used to secure the driver's seat were not all the way in and that they were being literally a pain in the bum. I stopped at a service station and cut up some foam as a temporary fix.

As I left the motorway and hit the steep hills of Yorkshire I noticed the already loud engine sound had started to become deeper and more guttural. When I started the engine next morning it was very noisy and smoke was pouring from the front. The cab filled with smoke too.

The flexi exhaust pipe had come away from the engine. Not good. On closer investigation it became obvious that it had never been properly welded. This explains the very loud engine and lack of power from the start. I bought some emergency repair stuff and did my best to patch it up but to no avail. I even managed to coat my right leg in dog shit whilst doing it too.

Being Christmas and Sunday by then I had no chance of getting it fixed. I made the decision to drive her home anyway. So I did. 170 miles down the M1 in the dark with a top speed of 55 mph and the smell of smoldering plywood on the hills.

Today I tried Kwik-fit and not surprisingly they wouldn't attempt it. The local welder will probably do it but he isn't back for a few days. I think I'll buy a cheap basic welding kit and have a go myself.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Bums on seats part two

This morning I took Althea to the used office furniture shop round the corner in Brockley. The two guys who run the shop were clearly charmed by her as was an old chap who crossed the street to come and talk to us. I doubt I will ever get tired of how much pleasure she brings to people.

My idea was to buy an office chair and take the seat part off to use on its own as the driver's seat. I looked at a couple of cloth and plastic ones which were pretty ugly. I spotted a couple of leather look ones but the guys said they were too expensive at £40. Once I'd explained what I was going to do one of them led me into the back room and pointed out a black fake leather chair with bits missing and a damaged back but the seat was perfect. They let me have it for £10, wished me merry Christmas and loaded it into the back.

It took about 20 minutes to unscrew the seat and mount it in position. Not only does it look great but it's the perfect height too. It also allows the battery compartment lid to open fully now too. Getting in and out is not as hard as before but still a bit tricky.

I received some of the chargers and connectors I have been waiting for today so now I have a much neater solution to my sat nav and GPS problems too.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Bums on seats

Yesterday I drove Althea up to hackney to collect a rear seat from a V reg Mercedes ambulance I bought on eBay. Alas it's no good for either driver nor passenger seat so it will probably go in the back if I use it at all. It was only £23.50 so no great loss if it doesn't get used.

On the way there a kid on a bike with L plates stopped very suddenly in front of me causing me to do an emergency stop. Althea's brakes are completely manual and take some effort to stamp on but she skidded her 3 tons about 20 feet and missed the bike by about a foot. I hope it was enough to teach the lad a lesson. By the look in his eyes (which were of course all I could see through the helmet) he made a pretty quick decision not to do that kind of thing again.

After Hackney we headed to central London and my place of work to collect the American walnut I salvaged from some building work we are having done. The tourists were predictably delighted by the sight of her trucking through town and though my route didn't take us through Trafalgar Square we came pretty close. Apart from all the usual smiles and nods one woman videoed us as we went by and another was very excited and gave me the biggest grin with a very enthusiastic two thumbs up. I got the feeling she may own one or something similar.

Driving through the city wasn't as difficult as I thought it might have been. It's surprising just how patient people are when there's a slow moving vehicle in front of them if it's something they can enjoy for a few moments I suppose.

So I got the wood and the seat home and today spent the afternoon cutting out the horrible Volvo seat and re attaching the seat belt properly. I have no driver's seat now but there's a bit of folded foam rubber doing the job until I can get something suitable. Hopefully I can find something or have something made. It's such a relief not to have my knee wedged against the wheel at least.

In a few days I'll be heading off up North for the holidays and taking her with me.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Bah Humbug!

Apart from 12 hours at work and 2 hours traveling on horrible trains I have found the time to relax a bit in SL with my old pal Plum and some Germans we've recently met who are like a reflection of our little group in so many ways that someone (we can't remember who) said it was like the scene in Shaun Of The Dead, when the two groups of survivors meet. When "tolberg" played some of his very early music and it sounded exactly like my first noodlings it sealed the deal so to speak.

So what does this have to do with the ambulances I hear you ask? Well not much. But while all this was going on I was cutting out the printed photo's of Althea in the snow, printing and folding the backgrounds for the cards I am making and winning on eBay a very stylish green passenger seat for her.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The bench gets started.

I spent most of the day making this bed-base/bench. It still needs more work but I've got the biggest part of it done. I also found some spares for the rear interior light and fixed one of the three non working ones which is just as well because the one that was working before gave up.


Today I went to Rolls and Rem's to see about the cushion covers and choose a fabric. I had decided not to use the brown fake suede and went for a deep green heavy duty corduroy instead. On the way home I stopped off at Halfords and bought some bulbs that looked right.

Later I spent a while just sitting in the cab listening to the rain falling on the roof and watching little drips find their way down the inside of her windscreen and form pools on the dashboard which eventually overflowed and found their way out of a small rust hole in the floor.

I used one of the bulbs I bought to find out which of the dangling cables were live or not. I unscrewed the cover of the cab light and luckily the bulb was indeed exactly the same as the ones I had bought. I replaced it with a new one and flicked the switch....nothing. I decided to look at it again in the morning.

I sat back again and relaxed. About 15 minutes later the light came on. I hadn't moved anything or touched anything. I'd forgotten all about it.

There's something really calming and comfortable about being in Althea.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Althea gets new eyelids and goes shopping

I guessed that the headlights would be the same as Morris Minor lights so bought these chrome peaks off eBay and after a small amount of physical persuasion they were on. She now looks even more "alive" and like a prop from Wallace and Gromet.......(thinks....where can I get a life sized plasticine dog?.......)

I took her to Lewisham on Saturday to get the foam for the bench/bed. The car park I normally use is restricted to vehicles under 6 feet high so we went in search of a parking space. I drove up a side street which became narrower and then just ended. There were cars parked on both sides and as I discovered after attempting a 300 point turn, not enough room to turn round. It would have been hard enough in a small car but with her size and weight and absence of power steering it was extremely difficult.
Eventually I had her facing forward again and carefully picked my way back out in reverse.
I put her on a meter outside the Salvation Army shelter much to the delight of passers by and fellow drivers. I'm thinking of taking a video camera out soon to record the reactions of people on the street.
In no time I had ordered the foam and got a number for someone who can sew the covers for me.
On the way home I stopped off at the local welder's to discuss a couple of little jobs.
I bought a big red button for the klaxon which just happened to be exactly the same as the broken and badly fitted big red button I removed. I cleaned up the hole and the new one fits perfectly.
The coolant filler cap I bought from eBay fits perfectly. It has been way too cold to do much more and there's no point doing much until the window seals have been replaced anyway.
I was going to buy a free standing kitchen unit from IKEA to put the sink/hob into but after measuring the space I need to think again. There's a piece of Sicilian marble I've had for years that looks the part but it weighs a hell of a lot.

More soon Camper Fans

Friday, 28 November 2008

Althea blocks the road and gets towed

Althea Comes Home

Yes folks that's right she's home!!

On Saturday morning last week I filled myself up with paracetamol and throat sweets and took the train to Bridgend then a taxi to the garage where Althea had been having her brakes and king pins fixed. I borrowed some tools and fixed the indicators and wipers and the man gave me an MOT certificate. I took this and the insurance documents (which I had nearly forgotten) down to the village post office and watched with delight as the lady filled in "nil" as the amount paid, confirming Althea's tax exempt status.

After seven months, three engines, two tow trucks, two bikers, five trips to South Wales, one broken down car, £1500 plus and umpteen hours on the phone and internet. I was ready to bring her home.

I thanked the guys at the garage and jumped in. I drove her about 300 yards to The Bus and Truck Company where I bought another battery and some replacement mirrors. I attached the power supply for my sat-nav to the new spare battery and was somewhat surprised to find that in this case red was negative. This was confirmed by the little wisp of blue smoke coming from the back. So without sat-nav or a map I trusted to the British road sign system and my memory (neither of which I would bank on normally) and set off with the intention to fill up at the first service station I reached.

About 10 minutes and less than a mile later I was standing on the verge at Junction 37 of the M4 calling the police. Althea was doing her best not to completely block the road. Diesel engines aren't like petrol engines when they run dry. They need to be primed which is easy when you know how. But I didn't know how. A couple of young coppers in a van took me to get fuel but it didn't help. Another policeman arrived and stayed with me until the tow truck came. There was a whole episode involving 5 AA telephone people and a supervisor over the fact that I was being forced to pay a company the AA use for towing me when I have full AA cover and the comapany they had called had got lost. Another short lesson in reason, logic and customer relations was called for and did the trick.

Althea was hoisted onto the back of the tow truck and we were dropped off at Sarn Services (see photos) About 40 minutes and one burger later an AA repair man came along and had her started within minutes. I filled her up and headed out of the services.

It soon became apparent that though capable of much higher speeds, at anything above about 65 mph she becomes very hard to handle. I couldn't be sure about these speeds but later when I tested it with my GPS my guesses were right. We'd done about 150 miles when I found the dip switch for the headlights. We'd almost reached Maidstone before I was certain we were heading the wrong way. I stopped a few times to stretch my legs, get the ringing out of my ears and top up the fuel. The steering wheel and driver's seat need to be changed. At the moment my left leg is wedged between the wheel and the engine cover and the seat is extremely uncomfortable. There's no heater so it's cold in the cab. The sound proofing is largely missing so it's very noisy in there too. Every time I stop someone will ask about her. On the motorway cars and trucks were slowing as the passed to have a look. She has so many different sounds and "ways" about her I felt like DR Who with my very own Tardis.

Exactly 12 hours after leaving home I arrived back.

Althea hadn't faltered once apart from running out of fuel at the start and that was my fault not hers. I was confident enough to take her out again the next day on another long trip. So after topping up the water and giving her a good clean out I set off again. This time with an inverter converting the spare battery to mains so I could run my sat nav and with my GPS for a speedometer.

I filled her up with fuel at a nearby petrol station and leaving the fuel cap on the pump I drove to Norfolk. When I arrived at my destination in the middle of nowhere (near Little Snoring Airfield) it started snowing very heavily. I picked up the stuff I was collecting and set off home stopping briefly to take the photo. The sat-nav though working, had no idea where we were and kept telling me to "take a sharp left" into a field. My phone had died and it occurred to me that if Althea gave up I would be in serious trouble. Even though we were very close to where Donna is parked and where my oldest friend Ed and his family live I decided to head straight home. It was freezing and the snow was piling up and I was lost in a 40 year old ambulance with no heating and no phone. I was glad I had made a flask of tea.

Once again Althea was unshakable. She almost seemed to be enjoying the snow. I think the slippy surface making the steering easier made it feel smoother. The snow ended and the roads became less icy in no time at all. Being cold and fibreglass the snow stuck to her all the way home. When I stopped to fill up a woman asked me where I'd been. It did look a bit odd having three inches of snow on this battered old ambulance while all the other vehicles were new and dry and shiny. I should have looked bewildered and hinted at being abducted by aliens in the 60s but of course I only think of these things after the event.

It was here I realised I had no fuel filler cap and had to buy an emergency one which was too small, and gaffer tape it on. I had almost run dry again. I do apologise to anyone who may have slipped on my spilled diesel.

250 Miles and 8 hours later, still covered in snow I pulled into the petrol station where I'd left my filler cap and retrieved it, much to the delight of a woman filling up her car.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A ha'peth of rubber

Like on those far too common reality contest shows where this week's loser has to wait that extra ten seconds to hear their name. I just have to wait until tomorrow morning now to hear if the small rubber hose that will complete Althea in the eyes of the MOT tester, has arrived. I don't know why but I quite like the fact that after all the hassles, 4 engines and so many extra weeks it has now come down to the size and type of thread on the end of a bit of hose. One arrived yesterday but it was the wrong type.

There's no reason why the next installment shouldn't be the one telling you all about the 202 mile drive home. Hopefully with photos of Althea at the service station or on the road and the two of us making daisy chains in a sunny meadow. But I am quite prepared for there to be photos of her being hoisted onto the back of a recovery vehicle or having her fifteen minutes of fame by blocking the M25.

I need to buy a three pole three way toggle switch and a car battery to cigarette lighter connector. I must remember to pack my gps (for speedo) and sat nav. Also tools and blankets just in case.

Watch this space camperfans.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Althea goes to the garage

This afternoon Chris is delivering her to a garage in Pyle where she'll get her brakes and king pins fixed. Hopefully this should take a couple of weeks at the most but it depends on how long it will take to repair the old or fabricate new king pins. After that there's no reason why she'll fail her MOT and I should be collecting her and bringing her home. Fingers crossed folks we're nearly there.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

One step closer

At 18:45 on Friday evening I jumped aboard the Swansea train from Paddington. As soon as it started moving sat down in a seat that was reserved from London but had nobody in it, and waited for the inspector to come along and sell me a ticket. Two and a half hours later I arrived at Bridgend and got off, still without having been sold a ticket. RESULT! I saved £59 thanks to the lack of an inspector.

I took a cab to Mucker's house, dropped off my stuff and went out to get beers.

In the morning he took me on the back of his bike to Chris's place and Althea. It was the first time I've been on a motorbike in over 20 years and though he rode carefully and slowly I still hate riding pillion especially going round corners. Not enough wheels on motorbikes.

I woke Chris up and we discovered that the battery was flat and not taking a charge very well. My car had been dropped off at his house after being repaired (see two entries ago). However when I put the key in the door it was twisted and cracked so I popped across the road to the garage and after a short lesson in logic, reason and good business practice they agreed to send a boy into town to get me a new key cut. I took their courtesy car and we went to buy a battery. Chris took me to the place where he'd bought the exhaust parts and we got one for over £100 less than it would have been at Halfords. RESULT!

We put the wing mirrors on (not without some last minute "why wasn't this done ages ago" from me). Chris climbed into the back and I very carefully and gingerly inched Althea through the gates and down the lane onto the road. For the first time I was driving her on the road and it was GREAT! The brakes are deadly, the clutch takes three strong men to depress it fully and the steering is like dragging a bag of coal up a ladder. The seat is too high and too far forward so my left knee is wedged against the wheel and the engine hood. The engine is in the Cab remember so the noise is pretty bad too. The indicators are on a large wobbly flappy switch and the window wash is two pathetic little fountains that bubble up a bit in front of the screen. When she's moving the gears are very difficult to change and bits did drop off inside as we went along. There was a popping sparking sound too which we couldn't trace. When we got into 4th gear and started climbing a hill I noticed so much thick white smoke coming from the exhaust that everything behind us was invisible for about 2 miles but it soon cleared up. Chris said this is because the engine has been standing for a while.

Almost straight away other road users and pedestrians started looking, smiling and even waving. Hardly anyone we passed didn't react in a positive way. Althea's charm was working its magic on everyone as I had suspected she might. When we got to the garage the MOT guys jaw dropped. "What the *!ck is that?!" he said. At first he was genuinely shocked but once we'd established that she'd fit on the rolling road he set about her with his list of tests and we headed off to the Cafe.

When we got back he was just discovering that the King pins were worn and that means a fail. He showed us a worn brake pipe and a couple of minor electrical faults. The brakes weren't perfect but that's all. He remarked that she is in much better shape than he expected and we discovered that the tyres are of the same kind of strength that the military use.

When the garage boss came on the scene he was quite visibly delighted. I even saw him give her a friendly pat. He was clearly enjoying having my lovely ambulance in his garage. We arranged for him to look at what needs doing to get her through the test and I left him and his boys to their fish 'n' chips.

The indicators had died during the test so we drove her back to her field with hand signals.

I'll go back in a couple of weeks and drive her home.

Though disappointed I'm not surprised she didn't pass and am happy that she failed on something that would only show up under proper test conditions. Driving her was very exciting and I've definitely got the bug for driving something that makes people happy to see it go by. Yes a super car is a lovely thing but I reckon the kind of pleasure I get from my shabby old ambulance is worth ten times the ego thrill of a Ferrari any day. (but I wouldn't say no to one if anyone wants to donate).

So I came home in the MX5 which after driving Althea felt like a skateboard made of feathers.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Althea is booked in for her MOT

She goes in on Saturday morning. We're confident she wont fail on anything major. Let's see what happens.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Another lump bites the dust

The last time but one that I drove down to see Althea, I hit a two hour traffic jam just as I came out of the toll booths on the M4. As I reached the same place on Saturday I was pleased to see the traffic flowing freely so I relaxed, comforted by the fact that I was going to be there in plenty of time. Just then my car died. My little Mazda MX5 had just enough momentum to get me across the carriageway onto the hard shoulder. Luckily it was a lovely day so I took the advice of the policeman who arrived in less than a minute and stood on the other side of the barrier while I waited for the AA and enjoyed the sunshine. The man arrived, turned the key and announced that my cam belt had broken. I had been led to believe , as I'm sure most people do, that a cam belt has about 30,000 miles in it. This one however lasted about 3,000. The man who towed me off the motorway said most of his work comes from broken cam belts and that they can go at any time at all. Luckily my car isn't one of those that suffers all kinds of piston damage when this happens. It is however one of those that has to be taken almost completely apart to replace it. So she's now sitting on the raod waiting for me to arrange having her picked up and repaired. There is a garage accross the road so with a little bit of luck they will be able to do it.

Now to Althea.

When I arrived Mucker and Chris were both up to their elbows in her and Chris shouted from inside the cab, "What time do you call this? We start work at nine o' clock round here!"
This I thought rich coming from someone who never gets up before midday.

I told them about the break down and then Mucker offerred me the good news or bad news choice.

The bad news was that the engine had siezed (this was number three while I've owned her) and had been replaced. The good news was that the new one had slotted straight in and was running like a dream. They had even moved her under her own steam and when they turned it over it did indeed sound like a healthy engine.

We had to move her back away from the gate, so sitting on an old TV set with my knees either side of the steering wheel I turned the key and fired her up. Very slowed and nervously I eased off the clutch and she started to move. A few jerks and a wheel spin later I had reversed her up the field and driven her back to her resting place. It felt fantastic! I'm looking forward now to having a seat and a floor next time I get to drive her. The steering is more like a tug of war and the clutch is more like a trigger but these are things that I'll get used to.

We got most of the wiring done and worked out what was wrong with the rest of it. We changed the oil and the oil filter. The floor is nearly done and she's going in for her MOT this week all being well.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Althea gets another new engine and much more

It's very hot and humid outside. Hurricane Gustav is beating up the Cayman Islands, Hanna is still keeping us guessing. I'm not far enough away from them to not worry if this flimsy wooden house I'm staying in is safe.

That's right folks this report comes to you from Atlantic Beach in North Eastern Florida. A long long way from rainy South Wales where I spent last weekend.

So now Althea has yet another new engine. The last one was fine but the gearbox was a mess so Kevin "Mucker" found a Ford Transit diesel engine and gearbox and installed them. I took a trip down there to lend a hand and see how things were going. I got to meet Mucker, Chris and Jake the horse. II fixed the hole in the roof and a couple of the lights.I also fabricated and repainted a couple of wing mirrors and gave her a bit of a clean to see just how dirty she was. Luckily the mold comes off easily and the green paint sands down nicely too. She needs a new floor in the cab but that's pretty well all. I'm quite hopeful she'll be on the road very soon.

Apart from that I had a great time meeting some of the locals in the pubs we visited in the evenings and seeing Mucker's house/workshop.

See below for some piccys

Introducing Mucker and Chris

Chris and Mucker cut a hole for the alternator


Althea gets hungry and bites Mucker's head off.

Jake loves Althea

He's such a lovely old cart horse. Very affectionate and gentle and he seemed quite fond of Althea too.

Fixing the hole where the rain gets in

I made a bit of a bodge of fibreglassing this hole where the chimney used to be. But nothing that can't be made good with filler and paint before the respray. Apart from learning how to work with fibreglass on the job I also learned that sticking your shirt to your hairy chest with resin is quite a painful experience.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Rain Rain Rain Rain Rain

It turned out that Althea's gearbox was no good so Kevin has sourced an engine and gearbox from a Ford Transit and stuck them in her. He's made all the bits he needs and all we are waiting for now is a few days of good weather so he can fit all the parts and then I'll go down there and we'll put her in for her MOT and see what she fails on.

Donna is still resting in John's yard in Norfolk enjoying the company of cows and sheep. Sharon says she'll pay for the electrical work to be done once she's sold some land in Second Life

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Althea takes the lead again

Sorry for the long wait I've been on holiday and there hasn't been much to report until now. I visited Donna last week. She's now got brakes and a prop shaft. The engine turns over and she's ben driven but not far. The bad news is that her wiring is a complete mess and will need a huge amount of work. I got an estimate of around £1000 so am looking around for a cheaper one. I will probably end up doing it myself but that will take a long time.

Althea is getting another new engine and gearbox. The one she got wasn't right and Kevin has sourced another. He called me yesterday to say that it's quite likely I should be going down to Wales at the weekend to help him with the last few bits and pieces before we put her in for her MOT. I'm expecting her to fail first time but then at least we'll know what needs doing and get it done.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Seat backs and stretcher for Donna

I just won a stretcher with seat backs on eBay. They aren't from an LD at all but they will fit and the seat backs are the right colour. This will give me four seats with belts in the back and a stretcher to play with.

Monday, 7 July 2008

New Hope

Dom, Toby and I had a great time at Glastonwick. There'll be some photos soon. It was a taster of what it will be like when Althea and Donna are on the road. The lights and sound system were good and attracted a lot of the right kind of attention. When on the second night the members of our favourite band of the festival turned up we were all delighted.

The shuttle bus was a beautifully restored 1956 Metro Cammel 39 seater bus which I fell completely in love with. The guy who owned it was a smashing bloke and we talked restoration for a while. He let me sit in the drivers seat and I had some pictures taken. I loved the sound, smell and smoke of the 6.9 litre engine starting up "mmmm carbon footprint". Photos to follow.

If we'd had the ambulances instead of a rented Citroen Berlingo it would have been ten times better and a lot more comfortable. The weather made sleeping in and dismantling the tents very unconfortable. But I wouldn't have missed Toby's yell of "Fuck off weather!" on the Sunday morning, for all the rain and wind. So for one or two people we use one and for a whole bunch of us we'll take both.

The so called "heavy duty gazebo" crumbled in a mild breeze so I'm starting money back proceedings. I'm thinking about tarpaulins and scoffold poles now. Forget these toy things they advertise on QVC.

Anyway the new hope is due to all the required parts and people all being in the required places with the time and space to do the job. I am once again hopeful that by the end of the week or sooner I will have two working ambulances and can start organising their collection.

I saw a souped up VW Beetle the other day with a black metalic paint job with flakes that split the spectrum in a rainbow like way. I'm thinking about Althea's paint job and the idea of having her in an interesting subtle metalic green but doing the go faster stripes in something stunning is really appealing to me now. I'm thinking of having "nee naaw nee naaw nee naaw" very vaguely written into the stripes. Maybe it can be done by somehow controlling the way the flakes lie in the laquer?

I've seen little eyelids for morris minor car headlamps and am betting those lamps are the same as the ambulances. Going to go out with a tape measure and find a morris minor.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Extremely unimpressed

At 9:30 pm I got a call from Kevin saying that the steel plate required to fit the new engine still hasn't been made. I wonder how it can take weeks to do a three hour job. I am seriously reconsidering my options. I'll give Kevin a few more days and then if there's still zero progress I'll act.

Neither ambulance will be ready for the weekend. I'm going to hire a van tomorrow.

Donna is back in the race!

It's hotting up now. I published the previous post saying Donna was out of the race then I called a number I had for the bell housing and they had one. It's the right one and it's on its way to John. Though the prop shaft is looking a bit tricky now so I'll have to chase one of those up now too. All bets are still on!

Althea gets a new engine, Donna is out of the race

It's one day to the deadline and Donna is out of the race. The bell housing she needs is proving quite elusive.

Althea on the other hand is striding ahead with the finish line in view. Kevin tells me she will get her new engine this afternoon and go off to be MOT tested tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed.

I'll post another update when I hear anything more.

Monday, 30 June 2008


I phoned both mechanics today. John informed me that Donna's brakes still aren't working and that the bell housing we need isn't going to be that easy to find. Also that he still hasn't got the two halves of the prop shaft. I chased a few things up and got things moving again. But it is looking unlikely that she will be on the road by Thursday. I will have more time to find a bell housing tomorrow and get it couriered over to him.

Kevin tells me everything is still on track and that he's quite confident though not promising that we'll have Althea on the road by Thursday.

I've decided to wait until Wednesday night and if neither of them are looking likely to hire a van on Thursday anyway for the weekend.

At work today one of the exhibitors has a vinyl floor made up with a picture of a glacier from the sky. It's superb and I am going to do my best to scrounge it for Althea's floor.

Everyone says the furry speakers look gay. I suppose they do a bit. I don't mind. They'll look great in context.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Lilac Fur Band is born

For a while now I've been talking about lining the inside of Althea with purple fur. I could only find lilac fur so I bought some to see what it might look like. Then I started thinking about the red fur covered amplifiers that Murph and the Magictones had in The Blues Brothers.

My friend Plum and I have been talking about getting together to play some weird music and last night he in his random precision genius way came up with "The Lilac Fur Band"

So this morning I drove to Ladbroke Grove and collected a rather shabby pair of Alesis Monitor Two's I bought on eBay and have just finished covering one of them in lilac fur.

I thought I'd take the photo now so you can sea the before and after. Note the floppy ears :)

I'm trying not to think about how long it will take to get all those fibres off the carpet.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Donna update

Donna has been delivered to John's garage and good old Terry knows where I can get parts for her too.

Work starts on Donna.

Donna gets towed (or On your knees Mr Sugar)

Yesterday it was as simple as arranging for the recovery company to come and take her to John's garage. This morning was a whole different ball game......

I call John to discuss times and ask him about the weak bridge I have heard about near his place. He confirms that there is indeed a 3 ton limit so it will have to be carried to the bridge then towed on a long rope over the bridge.

No problem. I call the recovery company and confirm this.

I call Ed to see about getting the keys from his pocket, to Donna. He says he's a very long way off and there's no way he can do that today. I beg him to move her for me as it's costing me a fortune. He says he can at the weekend but not before. This is no good as John only has today free and I need her running and MOT'd by the 3rd if possible.

I remember Dave (the previous owner) said it was easy enough to get into so I call him to ask him how it's done. He tells me how and then remembers he has put a krooklok on the steering wheel and he has the key in his pocket. He is in Norwich town centre and won't be free until 5 pm. I count to ten, see the logic behind locking a vehicle he no longer owns but wonder why he hasn't told me.

I call a mini cab company near Dave's work and arrange for them to get the key and take it to the recovery company. Then they tell me they don't accept card payments.

I call the recovery company to see if they are near enough to Dave to get the key. They are not. They also inform me they do not accept card payments. I take a deep breath.

I call Ed again. Over the sound of sawing wood in the background which does indeed sound like a baboon being punched (see Eddie Izard) he explains that it's not going to be possible for him to get the cash and get it to the recovery company.

I call John. He also can't help with paying the recovery company.

Ed calls me. he tells me about North Tuddenham Garage.

I call North Tuddenham Garage and Terry is great. They accept card payments and charge a hell of a lot less for it too.

I get a text from Dave saying his friend is going to unlock Donna and remove the krooklok.

I Call terry and he says he has spoken to John and it's all happening at about 2 pm today.

I pour myself a plastic cup of fizzy water and relax.

All this while dealing with a slightly complicated client and doing my job too.

This is actually a potted version and there were a lot more calls involved.
I can't help thinking how those over inflated egos and super confident idiots they have on "The Apprentice" would have handled this. I have visions of a van full of non Kosha cheese being dumped into the sea.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Work started on Althea

Althea has been measured up and the plates for the new engine are being made. It looks like she'll need some new brake pipes too. Apart from that the rest is cosmetic as far as we know but let's see what the MOT turns up.

I have been promised some photographs of the work in progress which I look forward to.

I have taken out insurance on them both now. The price isn't a problem but boy was it difficult finding an insurer who would insure them as they are. They aren't camper vans, they are old, they don't show up on any data bases and they aren't motor homes either. They are now insured as classic cars. I must say I am looking forward to going to the post office and buying two tax discs for nil pounds.

Up town top ranking

I've decided to name them Althea and Donna after the 70's Reggae stars. Althea on the left and Donna on the right

Althea has finally been moved to the garage in Bridgend where she will be given a new engine and made roadworthy. As far as I know Donna has yet to be moved. I am still hopeful that at least one of them will be on the road, MOT'd, taxed and insured (don't get me started on insurers) by the 3rd of July.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

And then there were two

Last week I was browsing the web looking for anything at all relating to the ambulance. I typed "Morris ld ambulance" into google and came up with an eBay entry for just that. The next thing I know I'm doing a bit of maths and working out that buying this ambulance would make a lot of sense even if it just gets used for parts. I have been looking for the original seats anyway and having a spare windscreen stashed away wouldn't hurt a bit. So a few emails were exchanged and I arranged to go and view it on Sunday.

Extremely conveniently my friend Ed lives 15 miles from where it's parked up and I remember he has a Land Roverand a huge garden. When I got to Ed's house I had to laugh when I saw, two Land Rovers, two people carriers, two vans, a huge Nissan 4x4 and a couple of cars. Also two portakabins, a trailer and a caravan. There's just enough room to squeeze my MX5 onto the drive.

After some Sunday lunch we head off to see the Morris. It's in very good condition compared to the first one. All it needs is the brakes fixing and the prop shaft repairing or replacing, so I bought it there and then.

Ed has put me in touch with a local mechanic and after I finish writing this post I'm going to call him and see what the next step will be.

Monday, 16 June 2008

There's good news and there's bad news.

I spent half an hour in the garage this morning tidying up and sorting out all the camping supplies that will be living in the ambulance when she comes. When I got back to the flat there was a rash of messages on my phone. Firstly from Shaye saying that the mechanic I was expecting (see previous posting "Saved") was being horrible and that he'd refused to come and pick up the ambulance which is now blocking her neighbour's access.

I spoke to the Van Engine Man and sure enough his initial confidence had turned into complete failure to locate any parts at all. He had known this for some time and not contacted me at all. He also was increasingly rude to me too.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I called a number Shaye gave me for someone who had tried to buy the ambulance and had let her know they had a couple of engines that would fit her. I eventually ended up talking to a bloke who does indeed have two engines for her. But also will be able to install one of them and has a mate who will be able to tow her up the narrow alley where she currently sits. And all this for a fraction of previous quotes. AND he sounds like a lovely chap.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

A car boot full of cloth

This morning I went to a great fabric shop in Lewisham to get some purple fur. They had the right colour but only in short fur so I bought some other cloth instead. See above. I also got some great dark brown fake suede which is really good and strong and will do for the seats in the back. The metallic green on the bottom right is very close to how I'd like the exterior paint job too.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Dave from Travellers Vehicles

I contacted this chap who runs the Travellers Vehicles site and got a lovely email back. This is an extract from it. Do take the trouble to have a good look at his site. It's a valuable archive.

" Good luck with the LD .. hope your coping with double declutching ? I can
remember my first journey with my Albion ... also non assisted steering
and hydrovac brakes make life interesting !!"

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Refurbish booked

Next week they will collect her on the back of a pickup and drive her to a garage in the midlands where she'll have her engine refurbished. I've asked them to do whatever it takes to get her through her MOT and they said I should be able to go pick her up in about three weeks and drive her away.

Providing I've found a buyer for my "eye teeth" whatever they are.

It should be interesting learning how to double-de-clutch the first time I drive her on a 200 mile journey home. I think I'll have got to know most of her quirks and "features" by the time we've trundled down the M1 together at 45 MPH. I only hope nothing drops off.

I am now behaving like a new parent and have taken to carrying pictures of her around on my ipod. I am extremely excited at the prospect of getting her on the road and even more so at the thought of getting her looking good, functional and comfortable. It's such a pleasure to see how enthusiastic people are when they see her and how my friends are inspired by the whole project too.

Sound system check two!

I dug out the speakers from the garage and assembled the sound system with the laptop, mixer and amplifier. I daren't take it past about 1/5th of it's capability but it sounded great. I have a strong urge to cover the speakers in fur. I think they'll look great with that and the grills I have on the way. There's still a problem with Traktor and the mixer on the laptop. It freezes up after a while. So more tests and troubleshooting to come.

I tried the 12v Battery to mains inverter today and though it ran the system comfortably there's a fault with the inverter and it kept going to fault mode. The fans didn't work either. I hope this doesn't turn into a long drawn out eBay drama and that they just send me a working one.

I'm going to buy a generator anyway but it would be nice to know the inverter works as I have plans for it .

(Oddly enough the inverter seems to have fixed itself now. I think there's a physical relay in there that was sticking but that's only a hunch. It's working now so hooray!)

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


I have found someone who can collect her, recondition the engine and get her through her MOT all in two to three weeks. All this for less than my previous qoutes. What Joy!

Monday, 9 June 2008

We meet at last

At 10:30 yesterday morning my friend Kris and I got into my car, folded the roof down, selected "fastest route" on the SatNav and headed for South Wales. Kris said something about sunblock and I laughed it off......Big mistake.

Some hours later we were carefully guiding the Mazda down a narrow lane at the back of a row of houses and at the bottom we found the old green ambulance.

On first impressions she looked exactly as I expected. I had a good look inside, out and under and found nothing scary enough to make me change my mind so I left Kris messing with batteries and headed off to the cash machine with Shaye.

It wasn't surprising to find the engine wouldn't start but it did turn over. The lights work and so do the wipers and screen cleaner squirters. We found all kinds of horrible bits of bodge jobs here and there, a few holes in the floor and a pair of mole grips as a door handle on the passenger side.

Considering its age and probable life story it is in great condition. Once I have had the engine repaired or replaced and got it through its MOT I can do the cosmetic and electrical work myself.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Sound system check one!

I always knew there was a reason why I kept the Alesis monitor 2s (that's dirty great mid field studio loudspeakers) They are big, loud, and bassey enough to do the job nicely. They are also designed for studio use so have a lovely clean sound. I just realized they are "mid field" monitors hahaa. I have manged to scrounge a powered mixer amplifier with enough power to drive them nicely too. Yesterday I received a Sony Vaio laptop in the post (Thank You Sharon) which is more than adequate to run Traktor 3 (DJ software) and after spending the last 7 hours messing with all kinds of nonsense I managed to persuade my BCD 3000 (USB DJ mixer) to work with MS Vista.

Basically this means I now have a tough, clean sounding, loud enough, clever enough portable enough sound system for the ambulance. Check one off the list. I feel over the moon now. Imagine how I feel when we have our first disco in a field somewhere.

Tomorrow Kris "The Bear" (my giant Polish pal) and I will drive down to Wales, kick the tires a bit, take dozens of photos, hand over the cash, pick up the documents and drive back.

Friday, 6 June 2008

"It's like a disease"

This morning I have spoken to a few mechanics and I think I have found the right one. Firstly I was quoted £500 just to have it towed to London. Another guy said he wouldn't do it then said he would and I could hear the pound signs rolling round in his eyes. Then eventually I found a bloke who specializes in restoring BMC vehicles. I was impressed at his reluctancy to give time and price estimates but what clinched it was his enthusiasm and the way he went straight to google to find the adverts for it. When I told him how I had bought it without even seeing it in the flesh he said, " I know, it's like a disease."

He understands me and my ambulance.

I am now resigned to the certainty that what I was hoping wouldn't be true, will in fact be inevitable. This project is going to cost between £1500 and £2000 just to get it on the road and short of a miracle there's very little chance of it being ready in time for Glastonwick.

The good news is that I have found a powered mixer which I can have very cheap which will be perfect for the psychedelic mobile disco part of the project.

"Oh my God what have I done!?"

I have looked at so many websites and spoken to so many people in the last couple of days my head is spinning with it all. This morning I paid 1/3rd of the agreed price into Shaye's bank account and a couple of hours later as agreed the eBay listing was withdrawn. I spoke to Yasha the ice cream guy who knows all there is to know about keeping very old diesel vans going and he said it's better to fix the existing engine than replace it. The thinking being that a replacement engine will be an old engine anyway and is just as likely to break down as a repaired engine. That is if it's repaired at least you know there's one thing that wont go wrong with it for a while. ie I could spend a fortune replacing the engine that has its big ends gone with one with big ends that are about to go.

So I have started the search for a mechanic in Swansea who I can hand it over to and who will hopefully hand it back in time for Glastonwick 2008

Some of the design ideas I have been having and that have been suggested are starting to gel. So far this much I know is true. It will have a sound system that involves a laptop with a hard disk full of music, a big amplifier and speakers that can be used as seating.

It will have a respectfully tongue in cheek hippy theme to it, involving lots of purple, tie-dye and paisley. There will be lava lamps and UV lights and a mirror ball. There will be a glow in the dark galaxy on the ceiling and furry bean bags and cushions.

Right now have no intention to change the outer appearance very much at all but I'll see how I feel when I see it in the flesh so to speak. This will now happen on Sunday not Saturday. As promised lots of photos to come.

Although everyone I have told about this has called me crazy. They have all fallen in love with the idea when they see her. I have spent quite a lot of today going through the "oh my god what have I done, this is crazy" but the drive to go on and make this wreck into the realization of what I have in my mind and have dreamed of for more than 20 years is stronger than ever.

Watch this space blogfans

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

How it all began

First a bit of background. More than 20 years ago a couple of friends I was spending a lot of time with were given an old BMC Mother's pride bread delivery van which had been converted into a camper van and driven half way round the world. I fell in love with the van but never got to enjoy it. Our friendship became strained , the van was loaned to someone who drove it under a tree and wrecked it. I never forgot that van and have always thought I would love one of my own.

Recently I decided I would buy a small van to help get rid of the junk I have in the garage and then sell it again. So I started looking on eBay.........

About two hours ago (3:30 pm UK time) I agreed a deal over the phone with Shaye in Swansea to buy her 1968 Morris ambulance / camper van. It is currently parked up and broken down. My first task is to find an engine and someone who can install it.

This blog will be the story of its repairs, decoration and the adventures we will have in her. I will be driving down there on Saturday to have a proper look at it and will take a few photos.