The Early Days
A.K.A “What have we bought???”
The background to all this was that I found a very sweet SIIa 109 Lomas Ambulance / camper on eBay, and rather than do the sensible thing of hitting me and telling me not to buy any more cars my better half let slip that she quite fancied some sort of camper van. Thus ensued a Mexican stand-off of me trying very hard to be sensible and NOT buy a new project, but her not actually telling me not to be so stupid.
Anyway, that one went for over 6k in the end, and despite being cute as hell it had a lot of drawbacks - namely the smallness, the fact it had drum brakes, no PAS, a 2.5NA Diesel on a Series (4-speed) box, and the camper conversion was usable but not exactly 5-star. Basically, we'd have been spending 6k on a vehicle which would then probably need to be torn apart & rebuilt to be usable for what we wanted. Mind you, you'd pay lots more for a similar quality & vintage VW camper these days!
So, with that bullet dodged I had a quick cast round eBlag and spotted a few 127's & 130's of varying quality and price. There were (probably still are) a couple of ready-converted ones, but again the conversion jobs were not exactly what we'd want (and one of them seemed to count throwing a camping stove, some scatter cushions and his collection of bongs and dream catchers in the back as a “camper conversion”).
Then this one came up; The back had been gutted, it hadn't been buggered about with by hippies or amateur mechanics, a V8 engine puts a lot of people off these days (but not me), it looked scruffy but only in a well-used kinda way and SHE STILL DIDN'T TELL ME NOT TO BID.
And then she went on a long weekend and left me at home with eBay and the joint account.
And I didn't win it.
…but I came close to getting it for really quite cheap.
So then we had a proper think, did some measuring up, googled to see what other (non-hippies) had done conversion-wise, and thanks to a mate (Chip) with a very similar 130 ambulance/camper we had a drive round and a poke about in his one to see if it felt liveable with.
Although not as cute as the Series, the 127 ambulances do have a fair few positives - things like 5-speed box, PAS, disc brakes are all already there as standard, plus there's more space in the back in every dimension.
…and then this one got re-listed!
I actually found the previous-previous-owner's advert through google, which suggested some proper money had been spent despite the non-shiny finish.
Even allowing for some artistic license it seemed worth a punt, so we punted and won it for £4600 (the previous-previous advert had it for 8k about 2 years ago).
We collected it from Kidderminster on Sunday. The previous owner is a hopeless case - he's got about 5 Land Rovers and had just bought a 6×6 TACR2 Range Rover crash tender, so something had to go. Makes me feel quite sensible with only 2 vehicles. Well, 2 and a half now.
This was the previous-previous camper conversion:
This is as it stands at time of arriving home:
The “No Smoking” sign is not just for decoration, there's two 120L LPG tanks in the back there… I think for the mileage we're likely to do and the space they take up I'll be removing the conversion and selling it. (Note from the future - we did flog it for £100 in the end)
A quick appraisal of the situation having got it home:
- It's got a 3.5 Pulsair V8 on carbs & points. Some or all of this sort of thing will not stay, I hate carbs and the Pulsair kit does nothing useful except make a simple engine look more complicated and emit various chuffing noises whilst driving.
- Exhaust blows slightly (what is it with V8's and exhaust blows?) I'm planning P38 manifolds on the 109 anyway so may well do the same here. (Note from the future: P38 manifolds don't fit other V8's with the usual clutch setup, damn.)
- The twin LPG tanks are heeeuge and it wouldn't be my choice to have them indoors, feels like driving a car-bomb
- It's on a set of almost brand new BFG AT's, which is what I'd have chosen in an ideal world if it didn't have them.
- The under-body armour is all there, dunno who made it but it has a chunky Southdown sort of style to it - steering guard, front diff, rear diff, fuel tank (turns out they're Scorpion/Scrapiron products, decent kit from a now-defunct company of arseholes)
- Bulkhead is good, a bit of attention needed but no horrors.
- Gearbox is a tight feeling nearly-new R380 which is nice
- It's got electric windows! I thought the handles had fallen off but it turns out there's two mystery switches on the dash that make the windows go up & down!
- Steering has a fair bit of play in it, will have to check it out & maybe adjust the box
- Temp gauge doesn't work
- The roof rack is big enough to double as a helipad
- Passenger mirror has lost its grip so ends up pointing at the floor
- Passenger door has been broken into at some point, and the frame is rusty, but it works.
- Windscreen is cracked
- Driving position is VERY upright due to the bulkhead behind the seats, I suspect it may come in for the chop at some point.
- It has 3 batteries, a charge controller and an inverter all wired in
- There are a load of extra switches in the dash for various ambulancey sorts of things, all I know so far is the nee-naw button doesn't make nee-naws :(
- There is a petrol-fired eberspacher in a cubby under the floor, operational state unknown as someone bolted an LPG tank over the cubby - so basically there's a small petrol-fuelled fire directly underneath the massive tank full of flammable gas. I think I'll leave that one for later :o
- Quite a few dents and scrapes but no show-stoppers. Big one in the back door apparently the work of a drunkard with a firework at a festival. It's only metal, it'll come out, we know a man with a TIG welder and a HobNob weakness
The V8 definitely needs a tune-up, it's smooth enough but there's a few gaps in performance which seem to be very much down to fuel or ignition adjustment. Oddly enough it didn't use anywhere near as much fuel as I was expecting on the drive home, I guess the 109 is not an ideal benchmark for MPG what with all the stupid :D
Thanks to a bit of googling I even discovered the previous-previous owner using it as nature intended:
Fair play I say!
Most amusing of all is how very sensible I'm managing to be about this as a long-term project while my better half (usually voice of sense and reason) is like a small child who's just got a new bike for Christmas. She's already bought a set of camping wine-glasses (priorities, priorities!), been looking at interior decor, and casually brought up the subject of driving it across America to drive the Al-Can highway along with optimum stops along the route with the best micro-breweries… not that she's thought about it much, of course.
Oh and height of ambulance (minus roof rack) is 2.5m, height under door of shed is 2.4m
Bulkhead Rust Repair
One of the first jobs was to touch up the crusty bulkhead corners;
Tickle with wire-brush in grinder to reveal shiny metal:
Cut out crusty bits:
Weld shiny stuff in:
Ensure it doesn't happen again in a hurry: I am a convert to Dinitrol, their naming system is bizarre (same product in a different shape can has a totally different name!) but it is much nicer to work with than Waxoyl.
This never read right, quote from previous owner: Temp gauge has never worked. We did try to get it working without success, but as it never overheated I never bothered about it.
Yeah, not my style I'm afraid! I tried the obvious - new sender, new gauge, new wire(!) but against all reason nothing seemed to work, I wonder if the older V8's had a different sender that's no longer available - certainly the parts book gets murky with super-cessions and leads you to the “tropical climates” sender, which didn't seem to help. Anyway, to prove I'm not going mad, temperature labels are your friends:
This gave some peace of mind, eventually we did the decent thing and bought a VDO Vision gauge & sender from Merlin Motorsport who are decent sorts. Worth noting the P38 sensor thread is 1/8th NPT.
We had to replace the leaky fuel tank, at first it wasn't obvious but on the first outing to Seven Sisters it got worse, the whole campsite could smell it & it left a puddle of petrol on the floor overnight!
Petrol's supposed to be on the inside, or being turned into burbling at the pointy end.
The ambulance came with 3 batteries, a 3-way split charge, an inverter, as well as the factory-fitted split-charge and 2nd battery system for the ambulance gear. Under the passenger seat was not brilliant:
I've seen Land Rover owners do much worse, but it wasn't great, it wasn't super safe - the cables weren't rated for the current and there were not fuses, the box lid is metal, the battery posts are VERY close with only a bit of rubber mat to prevent them from touching & resulting in the top of the seat cushion being ruined by the terrified passenger simultaneously with the bottom being ruined by a small explosion of unpleasant chemicals.
You had to be careful how you worked on it too, you have to disconnect the -ve terminal before trying to undo the +ve one:
Here's everything removed from the passenger side - 3rd battery was wandering free in the boot, connected by wires but not bolted down to anything!
A single battery put back for now, with shiny new cables, a good earthing point, and quick-release terminals which have the handy benefit of having plastic tops. Factory split-charge wiring taped up for the time being.