Infernal combustion: the #crankedwagen story, part 1

Warning: this post contains petrolhead content (and very little about mountain bikes). We like things of all kinds with wheels. Not all of them are polar bear-friendly. We recognise that. If you’re offended by talk of non human-powered vehicles, may we direct you to our other blog posts?

Here’s a question for you: what d’you reckon the most popular category of Cranked social media post is? Sick riding shots? Rad trails? New gear? Mag previews?

Nope. None of those. It’s the #crankedwagen, Cranked’s 32 year old VW crew cab pickup. Bests anything else we put up on social media, by a country mile. Go figure.

Given its popularity, we thought it was time to tell its story. Well, the last 18 months or so of its story. We don’t know much about the first three decades…

For a while after Cranked’s launch I’d had the idea that it’d be handy to have a mag vehicle. It could serve several purposes: rolling billboard; trailhead transport; mobile event display stand. So far, so conventional. The solution was obvious: buy a VW T5, slap some bling wheels on it and treat it to some new paint or a wrap. Right?

Wrong. I’ve never been a fan of obvious. I mean, print mags are dead, right?

So if not the obvious, practical solution, then what? Something less obvious, that’s what. I’ve been a fan of the 1980s crew cab pickup version of the VW Transporter – doka, or doppelkabine, to its friends and fans – for a while. To my eyes, it’s the best of the bunch. The squared-off lines suit its utilitarian purpose. The cab is spacious, with plenty of room for up to five riders (or fewer riders and a lot more kit). The load bed is the ideal length for transporting bikes. There’s even a full-width locker under the bed and behind the cab for all the extra gear that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. And it’s cool.

Say what?

Yeah, you read that right. It’s cool. Or, at the very least, it stands out. Which, for a vehicle destined to spend its life shouting about something other than itself is important. Sure, there were likely to be downsides to buying an 80s builder’s ride – decades-old bodywork, neglected mechanicals, thirsty engine among them. But hey. Ultimate practicality is over-rated.

I spotted a suitable-looking recruit for a Cranked makeover on a VW forum. It had clearly had some bodywork and paint at some point in its life, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good, in that it had had some love. It’s bad, in that filler and paint can hide an awful lot of trouble. But I’ll come back to that.

It also had a couple of very appealing features. First, a previous owner had spent a fair bit of money having the five cab seats trimmed in leather. Leather seats in a bike-transporting ride are a Good Thing: wipe clean and durable. And second, this particular doka was running a Subaru engine. That meant, in theory, decent power and a more modern design than the quirky, thirsty and generally rather awkward VW flat four water-cooled alternatives, of which I already had some experience (not all of it, as you may have guessed, good).

I made the owner a (very low) offer. And stopped talking. He hummed. He hawed. He thought about it. For 10 days. And finally, after the longest price negotiation in the history of buying and selling used vehicles, Cranked was the proud owner of a new (old) set of wheels.

The drive back to base threw up a few issues. Filling up at the petrol station, my observant daughter asked if it was supposed to smell that much of petrol. I peered underneath at a slow but steady dribble of fuel from somewhere near the top of the tank. No, I said, but not to worry – we’d drive a bit and the level would go down. These vans have a U shaped channel in the top of the fuel tank that originally accommodated the heat ducts for the air-cooled engine at the rear. They tend to accumulate crud and rust out over the years, so I’d been half expecting it (I was wrong about the cause, as it turns out).

There was more. The gear change felt like I was stirring a pot noodle with a particularly long and imprecise fork. A persistent creak under the passenger seat was, I was sure, a knackered upper wishbone bush (I was right on that one, at least). It didn’t seem particularly keen to go faster than 50mph. And I already knew about the rotten offside front wheel arch, just forward of the seatbelt anchor which was going to be the only thing preventing me from ejecting through the windscreen if we stopped suddenly. That, apparently, hadn’t prevented it from passing its MOT.

So, then: a project. This much I had been expecting, having previously owned two 20+ year old VWs. What I hadn’t expected was just how much of a project it was going to be.

To be continued…


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