Monday, 28 February 2011

Column Shift...

Attempting to fathom the gears.  I did not know Rachel was filming.

Homeward Bound

   After being delayed by the snow on several occasions Rachel and I made our way down to Somerset ahead of Molly for the third time.  We had a call from Andy (the chap towing her) to comfirm he'd set off and said all was well.  We were just passing Taunton when the phone rang again.  It was Andy and he'd turned back.  His Defender had spent half the trip sliding sideways and he'd nearly jack-knifed a few times.  He went on to make a rather rude comment about Molly's weight but I'll not go in to that now.
   The cost of ragging Rachel's little Clio up and down the M5 was starting to take its toll se we resolved to make this the last trip; Molly was going to be in Somerset before the day was done.  After a customary cup of tea we got on the phones and rang every poor bugger that owned a vehicle bigger than a defender in a 50 mile radius.  Eventually we hit on family run company that moved caravans and motor homes and the deal was done.  We sent the bloke off to meet Andy in Shaw and waited for the call.
   We heard nothing for hours.  When finally we received a call we could barely make out any of the words for either broken signal or provincial dialect.  One word, however, we did understand; 'Eight.' 

   At nine O'clock there were four of us peering into the darkness from the driveway.  It started as a distant murmur shaking the still nights air.  We couldn't be sure if we'd heard it.  We ran out to the lane just as six bright lights came flying around the corner, baring down on our position.  An engine roared passed us and with a flash of white, was gone.  We look at one another utterly perplexed.
'What the hell was it?' Asked Bob.
'I, I, I don't know.'  Zac finally replied.
Then the noise returned.  With a roar and cloud of dust a great bounding hulk arrived in the yard.
She was home.

The driver informed us that he loved the vehicle but if it were down to him he’d drop out the current engine and install a Rover V8.  We thanked him for his advice and he barrelled off into the night.

Monday, 21 February 2011

An Ode to Molly

O, Molly! How I love thee when it rains,
And we shelter with solitaire and ker-plunk
Along the coast, next the boats still In chains
You are tipsy with gin, but I am drunk
With love for thee and thy happy lot
Your supreme beauty so effortless
Soon to breach the far-reaching seas
And evade fearful folk of mischievous plot
That envy your sweet contentedness
In sidling through summer with ladylike ease

O, tis true you are of vintage
Long ago was your birth,
In mellow flora and mouldy green
You've spent a long age midst the brambles and earth
And to the critics of thy brows and mouth,
That savagely dent your self-esteem,
Those from Pickney, with vehicles dull and dim
Lets flee from them, away further south
Where we will drink, and leave the world unseen
As you tell us young things 'live life to the brim'.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Relocation relocation

Once in the yard we got the resident welder to size up the job in hand.  The bulkhead is pretty eaten away as is the nearside wheel arch.  Problem is, the bloody thing is fibreglass and thus rather liable to set alight.  A job for a pro perhaps?  The chap said the best idea would be to remove the windscreen and cut the area below it out to gain access to the affacted area.  He also mentioned the figure £800.

 Obviously the next job was to get Molly loaded up and get her down to Somerset where we could take our time over the restoration and call in a few favours with local welders.
The Defender, our chosen horse, struggled.  Snow had been falling for a week or two and it was trecherous on the roads, especially when towing a ton and half of rotting Bedford.  We were delayed several times when the weather came in and one attempt had to be called off half way through because the Landy couldn't hold traction.  Molly then, had to spend Christmas in the yard with her new stable mate; a 101 faulklands veteran.

We finally we got the go ahead for the journey down to Somerset and loaded her up.  Easier said than done when you have no brakes.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

On the road

We made 100ft dash to the hard standing whilst being watched by the bemused grins of the Canavan's. Once parked up we got our first proper look at the van as a whole.

The next leg of the journey took us down the drive and toward the A-Road. We pulled up just before hand to check things over. A passer by kindly pointed out there was a gallon of petrol beneath the van. Well at least the fuel tank was unblocked then.

And so, with no brakes, no fuel tank, no way to shut the engine off and no tax, MOT, insurance or registration, we made our merry way down the road and toward the Landrover yard.

In the mean time...

...We found some rather splendid material for the curtains...

The rush was now on to get her out of the garden before the rain and snow settled in. Luckily, in our search for a condenser, we had chanced upon a Landrover and classics restoration centre just next door. The chaps there were apparently all too happy to let Molly stay a week or two while we tried to find a way of getting her moved down to Somerset. This meant we only had to traverse about 100ft of lawn and 300ft of A-Road to get her to relative safety. The important thing, however, was not to chew up Mrs Canavan’s lawn.

Firstly the configuration of the column shift boggled us; namely where in the hell the Bedford company had put reverse. Once we had established that, I tentivley put her in gear and tested the clutch with a few revs. She shuddered a moved about 10mm. A success I'd say. Now we tried to gently rock her out of the ditches that had appeared beneath her tyresover the last ten years. Each time the engine began to come under load it would try and cut out. A finger down the carb mouth revealed a puddle of fuel in the manifold. The float valve was presumed to be not seating properly so I decided to rebuild the carb as a matter of course. A kit was about £15 I think, same Zenith downdraft as the series Landrovers.

Then the spark disappeared again. Bugger knows where because it was back again a few hours later. Electronics is not my forte. In fact, my ad-hoc wiring seemed to have bypassed the ignition switch, so as soon as the batt earth was connected that was it, she was ready to go. This meant shutting her down was a matter of pulling off the battery strap and waiting for her to wind down.

The exhaust manifolds had decades of oil and dirt on them so as soon as a bit of temperature got threw them they began bellowing out with smoke that made your head feel spooky.

We decided to test the brakes at this point. The pedal was very stiff and then, worryingly, went very floppy. No brakes then. Or, more significantly, brakes fully on.

Thus began the circus act of trying to move her from what was meant to be her final resting place. I saddled up while Rachel filled her Fairy liquid bottle. The battery strapped was tapped lightly on so it could be released with a nudge of a toe. Pump primed, ignition on and she jumped into life once again. The exhaust manifolds promptly started profusely smoking. We got loose of the ditches in one great lunge. She would only move in bursts so we roared our way back across the garden. The cabin was now full of smoke and noise and petrol. I signalled for Rachel to jump out. I took the key out the ignition but nothing happened. Rach knocked off the battery strapped but Molly continued to run. We stood by her side perplexed (probably from the fumes) as she slowly wound down. It was a grand moment, we'd moved 13 1/2ft.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

How the leopard got its spots...

            When we first explored Molly every cupboard was still littered with clues of bygone times; OS maps, a tourist pamphlet for Cheddar Gorge caves, McDonalds Happy Meal toys, story tapes, birthday cake candles, a bright pink canvas purse displaying ‘Siobhan’ in scrawled biro, china tea cups, orange floral camping chairs, a straw hat, shells and pebbles from various beaches, scrabble and backgammon, a whistling kettle.

            The Canavan’s bought Molly in the late-80’s from an elderly couple called Mr and Mrs Picton-Phillips who lived in Beckington, near Bath, and who had loved and used Molly, the log book tells us, since 1974.  The Picton-Phillips’ informed Charlie that the van’s name was, and always had been, Molly.  And so it goes. 

            Molly enjoyed dozens of Canavan family holidays travelling the South West of England, parking by the seafront for a cream tea or sheltering from the rain playing Rummy.  Until the children became teenagers and the camper was retired to the bottom of the garden to join her sister Dolly (so christened by a young Siobhan) in quiet repose for a decade.  

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Signs Of Life

   We shook on the purchase of the two vans and wandered off down the garden to start fettling and exploring.  Rachel grabbed Molly's door handle and without hesitation, the door fell off  its hinges.  A sign of things to come perhaps.
   After releasing Molly from the briars we set about taking a look at the engine.  The bonnet is about just about big enough to get your head trapped and nothing more.  The carb to air filter hose and the engine inspection cover were off already so that made us think that someone may have attempted to start her at some point in the last ten years.  We connected up a half knackered battery from my freshly scrapped 405 and tried to jump it off Rachels little golden clio.  The engine turned over freely.  There was, however, no spark and no fuel getting to the pump, let alone the carb.

   We presumed that the diaphram had perished, or, more likely, the fuel tank/ lines were blocked with silt, rust and other crap.  I pulled off the pump, took it apart, gave it a nod and put it back together again.  It still didn't pull fuel up from the tank so we settled for a bit of old pipe and a fairy liquid bottle as an auxilary tank.
   Next was the ignition system; new rotor, coil, condenser, plugs and leads.  Still no spark.  I followed meters of corroded wiring around the van without any joy.  One of the terminals on the starter solenoid looked a bit iffy so we replaced that as well.  Still no spark.  Then a helpful voice muttered in my ear; 'Have you cleaned the points?'  and with a splutter and a puff of smoke Molly merrily woke up and appeared to be rather over come by the whole ordeal.
   That makes it all sound rather easy but in reality there was much more head scratching, cups of tea, bleeding knuckles, swearing, kicking, chocolate hobknobs, petrol soaked gloves, electric shocks and shitting in the garden.

Meet Dolly

I fell so in love with Molly on first glance that I couldn't bear to cause her any pain, or separate her from her sister (the non-running donor vehicle) and that is how we came to own two Debonairs'.


and Dolly

Dolly is a later model, 1967.  Bought by the Canavan family in the early '90s as a donor vehicle for Molly, although never used for any parts, she has sat idle beneath this tree for twenty odd years.  Dolly will be our next project, once Molly is up and running!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Exhuming Molly

A university friend of mine, Siobhan, contacted me telling me she had the answer to my prayers - and it came in the form of an old Bedford campervan.  The van belonged to her parents and sat in the garden of their home in Bath,  along with a dozen other vehicles; her father Charlie was once a collector of curious British Marques but had had to forfeit his interests due to ill health.  On our first visit to the Canavan's glorious garden we found an assemby of old vehicles awaiting love and salvage.  Here are some photo's of a few;

Molly sat nestled in the brambles of automobile purgatory for nine years... here is how she looked when we found her last September.

Champagne and Caveats

This is the story of Molly.  Beware of spurious prose.

For the truth about Martin Walter and Dormobile -

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Story So Far

It's 1965 and Martin Walter lies on his death bed. He attempts to regain his focus on the world whilst waiting for the call that could send him happily to sleep. His room is piled to the ceilings with blue prints and plans. Artist’s impressions of strange vehicles hang from the walls and the smell of engine oil is thick in the air.
He was a dreamer; an automotive visionary and a figure head for the liberal and creative revolution that in only a few years time was to reach its peak.
His past life gently scrolls through his mind; Jackie, his wife, his children; Caspian, Stryker and Claremont.
'Such joyful times.' Thinks he as his vision again begins to fade.
But one lingering doubt remains still. His life's work is incomplete. For nearly forty years now he has worked on one project, one defining machine to triumphantly carry his name through the eternity of time. The summit, the absolute pinnacle of his vision, skill and devotion to his work but his life is waning and he has heard no news now for days. The phone rings.
His clasps the receiver with a frail hand, there is a momentary pause and then a familiar voice shatters the silence.
'You did it Walter, she's alive, and...'
'Tell me John for God's sake.' Said he.
'And, Walter... She's beautiful.'
The receiver drops to floor and there is silence.


Forty six years later and a couple are walking down the side of a road on the outskirts of bath. It’s four in the morning and it’s cold and wet. They are both miserable and soaked through, having been trying to get a lift now for hours. Suddenly, between the thick matted hedges they see a light. They push their way through the undergrowth and find themselves in the grounds of large abandoned house. In the ravels of briars and shrubs they spot an unusual looking van with a warm glow coming from within. The rain is hammering down now so without hesitation they clamber inside.
A single light in the ceiling of the van shimmers yet it looks as though it has not been used for decades. A pair of gentlemen’s driving gloves lie neatly folded on the bench along side a tweed flat cap. A pack of cards sits in a royal flush across a dining table beneath a thick layer of dust. In the sink there is a tea cup and saucer. In one of the numerous cupboards is a copy of the Times dated 1965.
‘This is rather queer isn’t it Herewood?’
‘I dare say it is Hermione.’
‘What ever do you think it is?’
Herewood paused for a moment considering his surroundings.
‘It is almost like a home but in a van. Look there; a cooker!’
‘Oh yes.’ Said Hermione. ‘And here, a cocktails cabinet.’
‘Ah ha, running water, and here; a toilet.’
‘It has a double bed Herewood, no, there are two!’
‘By Jove! This is a grand thing, whatever is it doing here do you think?’
‘I don’t know, but shant remain here a moment longer.’