In October 2019 we set off for Amsterdam, choosing bicycles we made our way along the cycle routes of South Holland. Travelling slowly, cycling is meditation, a way of life and a way to reconnect.
From the early morning ride through the dunes towards Scheveningen with the lycra-clad speed freaks on carbon machines. Onwards to Den Haag and the cycle-shoppers with their baskets. Along the long straight roads that lead towards and past Schiphol airport and the deafening noise of planes from who knows where, into Amsterdam and Vondelpark and the chaos of cycling inner-city style.
A day to explore, the Jordaan of course, walking the streets and talking, making pictures and plans.
Leaving Amsterdam as the sun comes up, the wind is a mighty 45km/h full on headwind, 100km to go. Onwards towards Leiden, Den Haag and through the carefully constructed urban wilderness of the Haagsee Bos with commuters and prams. Approaching Hoek van Holland as the sun goes down, exhausted from the relentless wind. Satisfied.
This short film was made from the handlebars, conceived as a memory but so much more. Riding fills our heads with thought and mine with music, I remembered Seasons, this is Autumn but there are always thought of Spring and Summer. The serendipitous juxtaposition of the visuals with the early 70’s soundtrack is magical, at every musical juncture there is an extraordinary synchronicity with the hypnotic visuals, press stop at any point for a still, a silent moment in time on the journey.
The ‘Turkey B’ project continues. Over the past few weeks I have managed to install the repaired Citröen AX GT dashboard in the AX 11, all cabling, switched and other associated plastics have been located, cleaned and installed. EVERYTHING works!
The dashboard speedo unit is now refitted complete with speedo cable and all electrics, all lights work as they should. There is a little more cleanup and tidying work to do but for now it is looking really good and great to have it all functional.
The outside is coming on too, the bumpers have been cleaned and treated to some boiled linseed oil to bring them back to the correct colour. I think that the front bumper is missing one of the hidden steel supports towards the right hand side of the car, will need to see if I can find any reference to one being there, if there is a reference then my one is missing.
All exterior lights now work, the front has later model indicators with orange bulbs. The two rear light clusters have been refitted with new bulbs and all work. The rear wiper even works.
I managed to find a set of four genuine Citröen ZX 13″ wheel trims that almost identical to the original AX trims. The wheels have been cleaned and painted inside and out.
The front right hand wing had to be wrapped as the damage was such that it would have been impossible to repair and not that easy to find, if one comes along it will be swapped out.
Next job is the interior, the seats need to come out, carpet up and a thorough clean. Next time I am in France I will pick up some seat covers from the supermarket, I am sure I can find something there that will be fine.
This update has been a long time coming but I have had so much to do over the spring and summer I have had no time for updates, everything of interest has been on Instagram and Twitter, videos have been a bit slow to appear but as the nights draw in towards the closing of the year time becomes available to sit down and review things.
The first video update is from a trip we took to The Haut Languedoc at Easter this year. We took the VW T5 and spent 8 days travelling across France and back.
This is not a Van Life Video though, this is a document of a road trip. I like to see VanLife videos on YouTube and stuff on Instagram with people doing things and travelling with their chosen vans though these have become something of a cliché these days, the pained expressions of those who are catastrophizing about the worst case scenario of the predicament they find themselves in, the ‘big deal’ about travelling Europe in an old vehicle, perhaps even 30 years old, well I have a couple of those and it doesn’t phase me, I have probably been doing it too long, once upon a time we were called ‘New Age Travellers’ I suppose. How to ‘make the most of a small space’, simple, get rid of your stuff. The worst is probably the ‘chavs in vans’ type thing, no interest to me, I like to travel and see stuff, no supermarket Park4Night for me.
It has been a long spring and summer and most of it has been spent travelling around France, Belgium, Holland and Germany in the VW T5, the Mercedes Benz 608D Fire Engine Camper and the Renault 4, some work on the Citroen AX and a cycle around Benelux.
This is the first of a number of films made while travelling.
In this short film I document the main points of a road trip we took to the Haut Languedoc in April.
Leaving Cambridge and travelling through the Channel Tunnel onwards to Amiens for La Grande Réderie d’Amiens, on around Paris to Orleans, driving through the centre of France to Clermont-Ferrand and finally to the Haut Languedoc and Sète and the Mediterranean. Heading back we spent another day in Amiens and then the final afternoon and evening in the citadel of Montreuil-Sur-Mer.
This film has no talking, no explaining or how to information, it is just a document of 8 days spent travelling and being in France, April 2019.
Early April 2019, the Mercedes Benz 608D Fire Truck has been parked up for most of the winter months in Suffolk. We decided to take a drive around the Suffolk countryside to test everything.
A cloudy day but dry and ideal for a short shake down drive towards the fuel station to get a full tank of fresh fuel.
There have been a number of modifications over the winter, most significant is the new storage in the bedroom area, the main unit has been adapted from the original Fire Truck hose reel holders using the original 1980s hardwood marine ply with the addition of some other pieces of pine as trim. Here is a picture of the unit before it was adapted.
There is quite a lot of this plywood left over, the truck had two of these hose reel boxes so I have disassembled them both and now need to find useful homes for it all, more to come on the bedroom area and additional storage and lighting.
Check out the video of the short drive, some good engine sounds too.
It is only the second time I have done this, last year for the first MOT we had a very snowy day, no such luck this year.
We set of early so we could get to the MOT station as soon as it opened, we had an 8am appointment. I knew there was nothing to worry about but with all MOT visits I am always reminded of the past and the very poor vehicles I have take in the past.
The MOT tested required some assistance with the basic controls of the converted fire truck, ‘Where are the lights?’ and ‘How do I start it?’ shortly followed by ‘How do I stop it?’ This year though there didn’t seem to be any need to test the flashing lights and siren, shame.
The MOT tested had several comments such as ‘Its like new isn’t it.’ and ‘It is in fantastic condition.’ Then, after a swift exchange of the fee and I now have another years MOT. It will only require 4 more then it will qualify for exemption as it will be 40 years old. Still only showing 24,000kms on the speedo.
German Fire Truck Camper Conversion | DIY Camper | DIY Campervan
So, here is the thing, February is in the winter, Looe is in Cornwall, I go on holiday to Looe in February, why is the weather always so good?
Last month I spent the warmest February days on record in Looe walking on the beach and The South Coast Path.
I took a section of my cameras to document things, my iPhone 6 128GB camera with the Rode Micro attached, the DJI Spark drone and an old GoPro Hero3. I have hours of material from the week, this video is from a short section of a walk along the rock pools to Millendreath and the Black Rock beach café.
Look out for more or watch more stuff on the YouTube channel.
Spring is in the air, well at least it has been, perhaps it still is. Time for the Velosolex 2200 autocycle to get its registration plate and take a road trip.
Last weekend in the sunshine I spent a few hours fixing the small problems, it runs very nicely now and I can’t wait for the registration number to arrive.
In order to get the UK registration I need to have a dating certificate, thankfully the DVLA have an arrangement with a local owners club that can issue the certificate, thanks to my friend Alan Course I am now a member of the EACC ‘East Anglian Cyclemotor Club’. I have submitted all of the required information and paid the small fee, just waiting to see what happens next.
Insurance is already in place, Bikesure have insured the Velosolex on its frame number. They don’t have frame numbers but 5 minutes with a set of number metal punches and a hammer produced a reasonable frame number to be going on with.
This is not a restoration of a Velosolex 2200, it is simply a registration and repair process to get the bike fit for a few trips around wherever I might be, will look great on the back of the fire engine.
Of course there is a video of the thing that have been going on…
The work to convert and refine the fittings on the German Fire Truck, regularly posting updates on my progress and then a couple of videos about the trips last summer has meant that I had yet to finish the first video, the film I made when I collected the Mercedes Benz 608D Fire Truck from Kempen in Germany.
The video takes me from Cambridge via EuroStar to Brussels and then on to Aachen and finally Kempen. Each day was an early start. Travelling back through The Netherlands loaded with enough German beer to see me through the conversion and a few clips of the first night camping in Alblasserdam.
I took the ferry from Hook of Holland and arrived in Harwich in the early morning sunshine in late September 2017.
There are many more videos in this story, all on my YouTube channel.
There have been quite a few small jobs to do on the converted German Fire Truck over the last few months, nothing very significant, mostly refinements and minor modifications to what has already turned out to be a great fire engine camper conversion and an amazing space to be in while travelling and camping.
The diesel heater arrived but was damaged so that has now been returned, this has caused some delay in fitting and perhaps a couple of missed opportunities but it will happen, the replacement is here and I will be able to fit it soon enough. Will make some video of that, not another ‘here is a diesel heater’ video but a video showing where I have installed it and why.
The first road trip of the year is almost here, 10 days in April to the south of France, lots of video to come from that including the now mandatory drone material.
All work on the ‘Turkey B’ has been put on hold, there has been some work to do on the Renault 4, I say work to do but really it’s been more learning that work.
I have become more aware that the suspension on the front end of the Renault 4 is not what it should be. I have changed the upper wishbones and all shock absorbers but the front driver side has been low and often reaches the lower extent of its travel all too often.
How to Fix it – Reset the front suspension, measure and adjust, that involves removing the two front torsion bars.
It must be said that removing the front torsion bars is not difficult, dangerous or anywhere near as much of a specialist job that everyone on the internet makes out, no special tools are really required and even the most ardent couch mechanic should be able to do this work with only a basic tool kit, a basin wrench and a trolley jack.
I have read a lot about doing this work and I was sure there was some black magic to it and approached it with a sense that it might all go very wrong. Over the last few weeks, working one day at weekends, we have found that all of the ‘How to’s’ online are one kind of bodge or another, some are just wrong.
The torsion bars on my car had been off before, badly adjusted and the rear boss adjusters damaged.
This is not a ‘How to’, this is the way I approached it and found it to work.
It’s my opinion that the only way to adjust the torsion bars on the front is to first totally disassemble the entire front suspension, that means releasing the lower ball joint, track rod end, tie rod, brake calliper, loosen the bolt at the front of the lower wishbone (it’s easier to do this when the bolt is under some load, it’s a French bolt, with only one end) and drive shaft, this will enable the hub assembly with the brake disk to be removed from the car.
At this point the wishbone is only lightly loaded.
I decided after looking at the torsion bar adjusting boss tapered nut that it needed a tool, a normal basin wrench ground down lightly to fit the taper is more than strong enough to unload and load the torsion bar.
After reading that this could be done on a ramp with all manner of complex nonsense tools and hocus pocus I wasn’t sure if this could be done even with the wheels on or not, but here is the big question… How do you know how much to adjust?
There are some bits written about how much to adjust, splines here and there but everything I have read fails to mention that you actually need to know a kind of ‘day one’ or ‘zero level’ of the torsion bars before you start, well in my case I did as they had been poorly adjusted and I would suggest that if you are going to do this work you make a point of ‘zeroing’ the torsion bars before adjustment if you don’t know how they are set to start with.
How did Renault do it? Maybe nobody knows, this is what I did….
First of all, if there was a French Heath Robinson, he surely would have done it this way.
First of all, soak each end of the torsion bars in penetrating oil, WD-40, GT85 or something, but soak each end, did I say soak each end, make sure you soak each end, plenty of lubrication.
Leave it for 30 minutes and soak them again, the more you can soak them the easier this is.
While you are waiting for the soaking to ‘happen’ it’s time to position the car. No need for a ramp or anything magic, I just jacked the car up so it was about 40-50cm off the ground, small ramps to the rear and wooden blocks under the floor at the front. Soak the torsion bar ends while you think about how to position the car.
With the car positioned simply strip down the front suspension, so the lower wishbone can be lowered to its lowest point against the chassis, the torsion bar are all but unloaded now. Use you new basin spanner on the torsion bar boss, one end on the boss and the other on the cup of a trolley jack, looking from the rear of the car, add a little pressure on the spanner with the jack by jacking it upwards in an anti clockwise direction for the left side and clockwise for the right.
Next, I slid the front seat forwards and loosened all of the bolts. First problem we ran into was that the bolts had been cross threaded so they resisted the ratchet a little but an impact wrench worked well. I just took all of the bolts out as the basin wrench had the tension under control. Release the jack under the car and the torsion bar relaxes.
At the front end, hit the lower wishbone beside where the torsion bar enters, soak some more and keep hitting, I found a metal club hammer was the tool of choice here. Occasionally, as the torsion bar drifts backwards we had to tap it back into the wishbone and start again, this allowed for more soaking and more drifting until it all came out.
I didn’t mark anything at all, no need, it was all filthy and needed a good clean on the wire wheel.
After a bit of paint and a few new parts, ball joint and plenty of grease it was time to put it all back together. The torsion bar goes into the lower wishbone first, I added copper grease, plenty of it, just in case.
The bit I decided was important was to know how the car sat on the ground if I extended the lower wishbone as far as it would go then fitting the boss on the rear of the torsion bar and fitting it into its correct location within the car, vertically aligned, as if adjusted up. I did this and of course reassembly is quite simple, just a trolley jack under the lower wishbone to work again the tension of the torsion bar. We did this on both sides.
Once everything is back together and the car lowered it’s quite easy to tell how low the car is and how much adjustment is required, the car looked ok really but I wanted it a little higher.
Remember, my car had been damaged somehow so things needed a little care. The drivers side I decided need the rear boss rotating three splines and the passenger side one spline.
It’s even more important to remember here that everything you read, perhaps including this is wrong. You don’t rotate the torsion bar, you first need to understand its ‘zeroed’ position and the increase its torsion by repositioning the boss at the rear and adding tension, don’t take it out of the lower wishbone any more.
So, back on the small ramps and blocks, strip down the front suspension again, everything comes apart easily as there is plenty of grease on everything. Release the torsion bar tension then ONLY remove the boss from the rear, this can be done with a centre punch under the car. I turned the boss three splines in the clockwise direction (anti-clockwise for the right side boss) when viewed from the rear and then fitted the boss back on the torsion bar and into its retainer.
Now it’s time to add some tension to it. We used the basin wrench again and making sure the lower wishbone is fully extended a little pressure added to the basin wrench with the trolley jack soon added the right amount of rotation to line top the bolt holes (our job would have been easier of we had good bolts and good bolt holes.).
It’s worth remembering here that even a little rotation adds significant tension to the torsion bar, adjusting three splines needs a rotation of about one eighth of a turn, nothing more than that and certainly not a scary amount of pressure.
Again, reassemble the front end and lower from the health and safety proof ramps and blocks, stand back and admire the work, the car is level.
This turned out to be more about learning what was happening rather than difficult, quite simple really and only a few basic tools, I seem to remember there are only about ten nuts to remove at the front end and four at the rear, so hardly a lot of work.
If this was once your car and you know that you tried to adjust the suspension I have to tell you you didn’t know what you where doing and you made a terrible job, we have addressed that and it’s back to how it should be.