Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Blue Smurf/Smartie Motorhome...

We've bought a Motorhome.

Whilst our plans may seem sporadic and ... well ... UN-planned they are far from it. We will definitely be working ski seasons during the winters whilst we are in Europe however our intentions during the summers are somewhat changeable. And that, I feel, is the beauty of vagabonding. There is always a choice.

We've toyed with cycling through Europe, but my cycle camp with Kerry's Dad soon dispelled the myth that we could carry it out. I found it very hard cycling with enough stuff for one night let alone an indefinite amount of time.

Many travelers backpack through Europe, using public transport and hopping between towns and cities. We contemplated whether backpacking would fit with our intentions for the summer. We are interested in the WWOOFING programme and invariably these farms are located in rural parts, as expected. We were unsure whether backpacking would make getting to these Wwoofing farms more difficult.

I've always been interested in motorhomes. I think they are a viable way of life and have been fascinated by stories of people who live in them 'Fulltime'. So we looked in to the costs associated with motorhomeing around Europe but soon hit a brick wall. It seems the majority of insurance companies want you to be aged 25 or over to insure a motorhome and there is a certain grey area over whether a motorhome can be classed as a van and insured on a van policy.

We've been looking at motorhomes on Autotrader and eBay since April and nothing seemed to fall in to our budget until the beginning of September when 4 or 5 potential vans popped up.

Alex, a very good friend and Auto Mechanic, agreed to come up to Swindon to view a 1995 Ford Transit that had been converted to a camper.

She's a basic van that's been Self Converted in her previous life but to a fairly high standard. The rear and driving compartments are totally seperated with a carpet covered bulkhead. Entrance to the living area is through the rear doors.

Upon opening the doors there is a gangway between two kitchen type units. The left houses a propane/butane gas bottle that powers a gas oven, grill and 3 burner hob. Alongside this is a sink and draining board that have an electrically operated water pump from a container that you place outside the van.

On the right are a row of low level cupboards under the work surface, one of which is big enough to house a simple porta-potty type camping toilet that we may invest in. Above this unit is a row of smaller high level cupboards.

Moving forwards towards the front of the van there is a U shaped bench seating area with table that folds away to the floor at night. Above the driving compartment is quite a large storage space that houses the centerpiece of the bench seating area to convert it to a comfy sized bed.

Structurally the van is quite a tidy example of a 17 year old Transit. The door sills have had work done to them but other than a few spots of surface rust the main steels seems to be in good condition. The chassis has covered 160,000 miles but apparently the original engine was damaged during a cam belt change and a re-conditioned engine sourced from the Royal Mail with 74,000 miles on. There is, however, no documentation backing this up so must be taken at face value.

Electrically the van has a 12 volt Leisure battery connected to the water pump for the sink and 2 fairly power hungry, yet lumen low 12v lights. I intend on completely changing the wiring and installing a new Surface Mounted Diode LED lighting system along with a number of cigarette lighter sockets and a rather stylish mirror with LEDs down the side.

Unfortunately the 12 volt leisure battery is wired directly to the starter battery with no automatic (Split Charge Relay system) or manual isolation. I found this out when Kerry and I were sitting in the van one night with the lights on and the next day she wouldn't start :(

There is also a 240 volt hook up system installed with Distribution board and a set of 240v lights and sockets. This is quite a good install and I intend on further expanding it with the addition of a trickle charger so that when hooked up to mains the leisure battery is charged and we can use all 240v and 12v appliances and lighting.

So There are a few things to sort out. She drives like an old Transit, which is to be expected, but after a good service, bleed the brakes and a few water tight problems she should easily take us around Europe.

I've already started on the Electrics and managed to pull out a massive amount of redundant wiring from the engine bay. I can only assume that an after market stereo head unit was installed and just the unit taken leaving the wiring behind. Some of the wiring I have no idea what was used for and I'm quite surprised there were no direct shorts resulting in a fire!

Andy and Debs, the people selling her, were very helpful, answering any questions they could. He had had it over the summer for festivals, camping trips and fishing. My kind of guy! However he wanted to move on to a trike so the van had to go.

Andy said he liked the idea that she would be used for her purpose and would see Europe. After a touch of haggling we were able to secure her for £2100 and collected her the following Monday with the help of a work colleague and friend Ross. We ate a KFC in the back at a service station on the way home!

Now I have a little project to be getting on with! Then, once she's tip top, we have to put her in to storage over the winter while we slip and slide on our ski season, ready for our return in April.

We are currently arguing over names for her. I'm all up for the Smurfmobile, or the Blue Smartie van while Kerry is adamant with Betty Blue Eyes.

What do you think? Comments below