Infernal combustion: the #crankedwagen story, part 3

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 suggest you look away now?

MOT time. The crusty mess within inches of the driver’s seatbelt mounting point on the offside front wheel arch was – how to put this? – not encouraging. The remains of double-sided sticky tape under the rubber mat that covered the offending rot suggested the previous owner’s approach had been to hide it from the MOT tester. Naughty. And dangerous.

Fresh metal welded in, it was time for the MAD Workshop crew to check over the mechanicals for potential failure points. I gave them a blank cheque to replace anything that looked old, worn or dangerous. The result? New rear brakes. New shocks all round. New upper and lower ball joints. New upper wishbone bushes. The front discs were pitted and corroded, but still serviceable. There wasn’t time to do anything else.

It passed. Sigh of relief.

With an MOT ticket sorted for 12 months, it was time to move onto the main meal: metal. Or rather, rust.

If you’ve been following the story so far you’ll know that, from a distance, the Crankedwagen already looked reasonably tidy. Given that it wasn’t wearing its original medium blue colour, that wasn’t a surprise. A previous owner had clearly spent at least some money tidying things up, and that had extended to stripping out (most of) the cab interior and repainting that too.

But.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to deal with encroaching tinworm. For the most part, the previous attempt had been done the wrong way. Filler. Expanding foam. More filler. Paint on top.

Oh dear.

The closer we looked, the worse it got. This wasn’t altogether surprising – I’d been expecting some hidden nasties. But I wasn’t prepared for how far the grot had progressed in some areas.

There was nothing else for it: it was time to break out the angle grinder and cut large sections of grot out. Replacement panels were sourced; original VW wherever possible. The front panel, both front wings, front steps, bits of B pillar and sill, and most of the rear panels below the deck were replaced. Factory rear side panels – the ones with the vents – were deemed in the silly money category at around £700 each, so we decided to modify van panels instead.

Hundreds of hours went into the cutting, fabricating and welding. The more we looked, the more we found. An innocuous-looking scab on the back of the driver’s side seat box inside the cab turned out to be hiding extensive grot and a bodged repair to the battery tray. There were many more examples. It all needed to be sorted.

In an attempt to keep costs reasonable, I initially decided not to investigate beneath the chequer plate load bed. But one day, having peered beneath the original load bed with a torch and not liked what I was seeing, I decided that we might as well pull the whole lot off. It created a ton more work, but it also provided the opportunity to build a new bed from scratch, with a custom framework and a hinged rear to give access to the engine and several previously dead spaces that VW’s design had left unused.

Time was pressing on. I’d set a deadline of Christmas 2016 for the Crankedwagen to be finished and show-ready, to allow a bit of wriggle room for its first outing: the London Bike Show. But all the unexpected problems, and the fact that I changed my mind on a few things like the load bed, meant that Christmas came and went and it still wasn’t ready for paint.

What could possibly go wrong?

To be continued…

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