We are Shaun & Fiona, a British couple of an age where the kids have moved on and lucky enough to be mortgage free. Having worked all our adult lives in stressful jobs (my blood pressure was becoming an issue), mostly living apart and endured the ups and downs that brings, we feel it’s time to think about us.
We are fortunate enough to be in a position to retire early at 55, though not to live an opulent or carefree life, but enough to get by and enjoy the fruits of working for 37 years – retirement has now commenced and we are on the road!!!!!
Our bus is still very much a work in progress and we will have to learn how to do more of the mechanical work ourselves in order to be able to self-help when in the middle of nowhere and to drive it to get the best from it. For example our current trip has highlighted a need to properly go over the brakes. Along the way we will continue to customise the bus, redesigning the interior where we see things not working for us and decide what kit is worth carrying, plus of course having fun travelling. We will also review the equipment and blog our travels as we go along.
So you’re thinking about retiring, or maybe even taking a few years out while the kids are little, or perhaps you’re just dreaming of what might be, hopefully you’ll find this blog interesting.
Memories are important and experiences are the most important, as they make memories. Memories will serve you well when you’re old, infirm and gazing into the middle distance whilst dribbling down your front….. Go make some memories!
Recce is a 14″ Syncro Caravelle Bus, converted into a Westfalia camper in the Czech Republic before being imported into the U.K. The 14″ refers to the stock wheel size and is the most commonly available version, as opposed to the rarer and beefier 16″. These tyres are piddly, so we have fitted 15″ steels and General Grabber AT3 All Terrain tyres and find this a very easy to live with upgrade which transforms the van.
For those that don’t know, Syncro refers to the Volkswagen 4×4 system developed by VW and Steyr Puch, using the British Ferguson viscous coupling system to deliver seamless four wheel drive when needed. This coupled with optional front and rear differential locks and a “G” gear (gelande-crawler or low ratio), made for a capable off roader. T3s (known as T25s in U.K.) were available in early air cooled (not Syncro) or late water cooled diesel and petrol options, there was plenty to choose from.
Recce was a 1.6TD version with no power steering but has a rear difflock. As a German fire support vehicle or Feuerwehr, Recce was pretty basic. The interior added during conversion was an elderly beige Westfalia unit, with 3/4 width rock and roll bed, table, suit hanging wardrobe, water tank, sink, gas fridge and gas cooker. There is also a pop top which means the fibreglass roof can be tilted up to give another double bed space in the roof. All in all, not a bad setup for regular camping. But….. not what we wanted.
But after several trips, we decided this layout was heavy and too inflexible, plus we rarely go camping with our suits and needing a hanging wardrobe, so we changed it. At the same time we fixed the rust (minimal, or so we thought) – 09/2022…… Haha! This didn’t age well……), changed the wheezy engine for a more modern TDi engine, added power steering, cruise control and started to fit out the interior to our own design. We are updating the electrics (and again) to allow self-sufficiency, fitted new cab seats and a diesel cooker to allow a single fuel source. The criteria for the build is to create an overland truck we can live in. We are avoiding the temptation to buy a huge truck and convert it because I don’t have an HGV licence and also because we can fit our truck into a shipping container. Anything we do has to be fixable anywhere in the World, hence no fancy engines or unusual mods.
It began when one day I came home to find Fiona had ripped the interior out and it was all over the driveway!
We entrusted the bodywork and engine to a reputable local specialist (so we thought), but the experience became overly long and turned unsavoury so we will leave out the specific details. The engine to be installed came from a 1.9TDi Sharan (code AHU) and allowed the power steering and cruise control to be fitted. The body work was stripped back and revealed crash damage on the front offside and cab doors. This necessitated extensive repairs, new cab and sliding doors and a bare metal respray. The batteries were moved under the bed and a diesel Eberspacher heater added alongside, thus keeping them accessible and the weight low.
Whilst this was going on we had the gearbox rebuilt by the gearbox guru Aidan Talbot, replaced the VC with a refurbished unit from Brickwerks and overhauled the brakes.
Once we got the van back we set about designing an interior. Firstly we ran in wires in anticipation of the eventual equipment requirements. Then we insulated the van body panels with 9mm self adhesive foam that has a reflective finish, before filling the cavities using foam pipe lagging insulation. All the interior trim panels were carpeted with Mega Van Mats stretch carpet and a vapour barrier added behind. We then decided to look for a modular storage system made from lightweight materials, settling eventually on repurposing airline galley equipment. This is modular, made from lightweight aluminium and honeycombed materials. Starting with two tall cabin service lockers with their wheels removed, which have removeable drawers and six Atlas boxes which also accept the locker drawers, we made a supporting frame from 12mm outdoor plywood. To keep everything light, as much material as possible was removed from the plywood frames. At the rear we added a larger cupboard with a tambour roller door. The lockers were then topped with an 18mm plywood work top that is oiled and sealed to protect it. A small stainless sink was sandwiched under the worktop and a Webasto X100 diesel cooker was then let into the surface. Between the lockers and below the cooker, is a 12v, 80 litre Waeco compressor fridge with ice box. The only original equipment left is the bed and the 60 litre water tank.
As you can see it’s still not finished yet. We have more LED lights to add, a shelf over the cooker and more storage over the bed. Also we will soon have the bed reupholstered. We have however replaced the cab seats with leather heated units from a Saab 9-3, very comfortable.
The electrical system now has separate leisure and engine batteries. They are recharged from the alternator when the engine is running via a split charge relay and when parked a 120w roof rack mounted solar panel tops them up whenever it’s daylight. There’s even a solar extractor fan in the skylight (not anymore – it was junk!). Eventually there will be a 230v hook up which will include a charger for the batteries, but it’s not a priority as the 12v system seems to cope. We have replaced all interior lights with LEDs, the fridge, tap, heater and cooker all run from the leisure batteries. The cooker and heater are fairly current thirsty on start up, so they significantly drain the batteries and they (the batteries) will be upgraded to a higher capacity from 2x75Ah.
Other equipment fitted includes a roof rack, roof bars and ladder, side mounted panniers, rear mounted spare wheel carrier, CB radio, fire extinguishers, USB charging points, map light. Still to be done includes 58 litre auxiliary fuel tank, floor insulation, toilet box, new cab headlining, mosquito nets, fans, external floodlights, plus several mechanical modifications and adjustments.
Update: the upholstery is done! Yay!
Updated again 09/2022:
So much of what we did above is holding up well. But we have swapped the heavy lead acid batteries for 4 x 68ah Li-Ion batteries, the split charge relay for a battery to battery charger, added more USB points, changed the PWM solar charger for MPPT, added a toilet (in a box/seat… cosy) and have a list of other upgrades as long as my arm, including water filtration, extractor fan and maybe hot water! Stay in touch for these updates in the blog and reviews in the equipment section. Still haven’t properly sorted the heating….
Oh and got a big, ludicrously hairy and farty dog…..