Billy the Bus's Blog

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The story so far

I bought Billy in Feb 2004, from a guy called Gary in Bournemouth. The story is he had been stored in a barn for about 15 years without moving, so the bodywork was in pretty good nick (I've had it confirmed by my garage that rust-wise, Billy is in pretty good health). I bought him for £2,800 which included a partial Devon interior and a new (if a little slapdash) paintjob. Immediately I paid £200 for a dynamo-to-alternator conversion, so I usually consider him having cost £3k. He is tax-exempt (just!!) and the serial number shows he was originally a panel-van.

Here are some pictures of how he looked when I first got him. That exterior picture is the one I always show to people when they ask what Billy looks like - he looks his best in that picture because the paintjob is fresh (3 years on, inevitably, a small amount of rust has started to bubble through on the gutters and other joints).

Billy lived with me in Bournemouth for about six months, during which time I did some tarting up of the interior. The list includes:
  • fitted a make-shift roof lining done by gluing on some table-covering felt stuff (the condensation you get when you sleep in a tin-roof camper is a nightmare unless the roof is lined)
  • fitted a car stereo, which included having to cut the dash to fit
  • fitted a radio aerial
  • fitted a cheap carpet throughout (though not the cab)
  • built a top-locker unit from 12mm ply, and installed speakers in it
  • built a sink and fridge unit from 12mm ply, and fitted a second hand sink and 12v fridge, complete with mosaic'd lids!
  • fixed the cooker unit onto hinges, attached to a hastily crafted (!) piece of 2x3 wood
  • fitted recoil seat belts
  • fitted a split-charge relay and leisure battery, with auxiliary fuse box for non-driving electrics (stereo, interior lights, sink motor, fridge, lighter socket)
  • removed some crummy wood-effect interior panels that had been fastened, and made my own which I upholstered with denim :)
  • fitted some shelves inside the bizarre Devon wardrobe unit, to make it mildly useful
  • bought and installed a gas canister and a number of cooking vessels and tools!
  • painted the bench seat and my new units in white gloss
  • fitted Silent Gliss curtain rail, and threw up some cut up old curtains from the house
As you can see, he became a bit of a project. Even after just 6 months TLC, Billy started to look quite respectable. Here's a picture of what he looked like in March 2005 (these photos are taken annually, for insurance purposes). I managed to go camping in him a number of times from the Bournemouth base, including to Exmoor, Lulworth, and er Southampton! There was an amusing incident with the Devon pull-out bed right near the beginning, when we realised (by virtue of ending up with our arses on the floor) that the bed wasn't properly fastened to the car. I didn't get proper Devon legs for Billy until about two years later as well, and was making too with make shift scraps of timber - quite an adventure in the middle of the night, when you wake up feeling yourself falling...

In Sept 2004, Billy and I moved to London, where we still are now. The rate of jobs slowed down, partly due to the work that the London flat needed doing to it, and partly because of the now lack of working space, tools, places to store timber, etc etc (the Bournemouth house had a very nice lean-to out the back that my Dad and I built, which became a bit of a workshop; the London flat is on the first floor and any work is done in the lounge or out in the street!). That said, little jobs that did get done during that first year in London included:
  • Painted the dashboard with black hammered hammerite (it was quite a bit rusty)
  • Replaced rear bumper and rear off-side quarter panel, after an altercation with a london bus (their fault, I should add, and they paid)
  • Made Billy his very own curtains, from a nice blue and white stripy fabric (yep, I used a sewing machine and everything)
  • Replaced the stereo after some swine pinched it, and also had to replace the off-side window unit, because that's what they broke to get into the van (moral: never leave CDs in the glove box, and never leave the front panel on the stereo)
That year, Billy had his first trip to Europe (Northern France, Easter 2005, left) and also had the privilege of going to Glastonbury (the year that all the tents floated away in a river of shit - needless to say, Billy's comfort was appreciated, but the noise of a monster rainstorm on a tin roof camper has to be heard to be believed).

As enjoyable as these little trips were, they started to highlight a major problem with Billy's
engine (especially Glastonbury, where climbing hills at full revs but only 15mph started to get quite scary). Over the space of a year, I made three separate visits to Jack's Garage in Ladbroke Grove for tunings, replacement parts and other work. The general consensus was that the engine had been cooking for those first two years, and was pretty much buggered. The timing had been set to +20 degrees for about two years, the fan was impeded with some foam housing, and the tappits were practically closed shut. It was no surprise that finally, during a trip back to Bournemouth in 2006 to properly move out of my old house there, Billy conked out for the last time. I recovered him to Jack's, swallowed hard and opted to wipe out all my problems in one £2,700 fell swoop.

But I don't regret it for a second (before and after photos, left). The brand-new 2006 VegeUK 1.6L air-cooled engine purrs like a kitten, cruises at 65mph, doesn't burn oil in the slightest, and most importantly instills me with complete confidence. I think even if I'd had major restorative work done and every part replaced (which might have been cheaper, but taken longer) I would still have a nagging doubt every time the road surface changed and caused a different noise to come from down below. As handy as I am, and despite my "Beginners Engine Maintenance" night class last year (!), engines scare me. It's something I need to get over if I'm to enjoy Billy properly, but it's a task ahead.

So Billy has a new heart, and his body is in pretty good shape as well for a 34-year-old, so I'm starting work on giving him facelift now as well. My main focus at the moment is the cab - here's a list of jobs in progress:
  • Have fitted door speakers, though I think I will actually replace the door cards with new ones, because mine are quite water damaged. While I'm there I'll insulate the doors, and upholster the door cards in the same denim as I used in the back.
  • I'm fitting a pair of Porsche seats to replace the fairly battered original seats (I know, I know - they can be restored and made to be very comfortable, and I'm destroying the original look and feel of the van, but I'm not a massive traditionalist, and I'd rather go for comfort any day). I'll get the Porsche seats upholstered one day, but for now I'm installing them as-is.
  • I'm going to paint the interior metal work white, to cover all that unsightly rust and stuff.
  • New cab carpets or rubber mats? Not sure
I've also lots of ideas for the main van, including a rock and roll bed, full wardrobe unit to the rear, remove the devon wardrobe unit and build something proper, maybe a DVD and screen, renovate or replace cooker unit, full proper head-lining etc etc. Lots of ideas, not much money, and wherever possible my own skills. I'll keep posting on this blog to show how it's going....


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