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.