my 78 very very long term project devon

Discussion in 'Restorations' started by MrF, May 2, 2024.

  1. MrF


    I bought a '78 devon camper for a present for my girlfriend as a fixer-upper (still have the receipt for 200 quid!) as it was her childhood dream to have one, and we lived together in her flat in sussex and I had a rentie unit on a farm etc & started to repair it when I had money. My memories a bit hazy because its about 23 years ago now, but I think I did wheel arches, footwells, a door skin and fettled the motor. Some of the previous work was pretty bad, so I was working my way through cutting out the worst bits.
    Then mid resto we got married, bought a house with a tiny garage and ended up working to pay for it all with no time. About then we just upped sticks and moved to France, and the VW came with us on a transporter who moved a lot of my treasure (junk) in a bulk price.

    Once in France, I had a garage again! but no time, & we didn't have a habital house just another project. So the camper sat in the garage, until it was elbowed out into a hardstanding so we could keep various things running. Then once the house was almost done, along come kids, and I wanted a bigger workshop, so took on another conversion of a even bigger run down old collection of cow barns. And I made a solem promise to my wife to not get distracted by vehicle projects until the new house was "done" as we had kids and I was responsible now. I went round and started the bus infrequently for a few years but I had to work away a lot for months on end and I stopped about 4 years back because everywhere just became so overgrown.
    So fast forward to current time and I've got my new workshop how I want it (almost...), current landrover projects well progressing and so I thought it was time I finally made good on my intent to fix the bus and while my mrs flew back the uk to visit relatives, me and my now car driving son and a visitor from the UK hacked back the brambles and chainsawed a newly appeared tree that had grown round the rear hatch upper body seam & winched a very recalcent bus with square tyres onto the trailer and out the garden. All the doors were seized stuck, and I had to break in carefully via the slatted window by sliding the sheets up one by one :)
    During extraction we found tools in the brambles, and my old neighbor told me there was a lot of interest, and a few years previous had disturbed people trying to steal it a couple of times. They had wrecked two of the door locks trying to screwdriver them unlocked. I guess I should be thankful they were so inept.

    Back to new home this Tuesday, steam cleaned the nature and slime/mould off the outside, evict the ants out the cab & wasps out the pop top, and found some old tyres that held air, and... its not that much worse than when it was parked up. Everything that is rotten bad I was intending to replace anyway & the only new jobs are chassis section repairs, which with the benefit of a ramp and better working conditions I can now see was previously bodged and plated anyway! 20 years ago I might have plated them, but now I'll cut it out on a rotisserie and do it properly with repair sections or make the panels needed.
    Once it was clean, we had to get it running and driving so its moveable in the workshop etc, and I was expecting seized rings or worse, but it turned freely, and after some fettling of the starter motor which appeared dead initially but I think was just a stuck brush, and a few other small jobs it fired up, amazingly the clutch wasn't stuck, the handbrake worked and didn't stick on & it drove. Which for 20 years in a garden is pretty astonishing...

    For panels it still needs replacements & I'll use the ones I have from 20+ years ago & make or buy the repo's that are now available (I dont remember the range of replacement panels being this good 20 years ago) & I still have some in their wrapping I never fitted. And I have access to a big cnc plasma table, so if anyone has any CAD drawings of the chassis repair bits that could be shared that would be superb...
    But fingers crossed, I get to finally finish it. I might have neglected it, but you have to give me marks for persistence :)

  2. 77 Westy

    77 Westy Supporter

    That’s a great story @MrF, whereabouts in France, are you?
  3. Chrisd

    Chrisd Supporter

    You wouldn't want to rush into these things :D

    Great story, good luck with the rest of the project.
  4. Zed

    Zed Gradually getting grumpier

    Just think - if you'd finished when you started you could have done it all again 15 years later and now be getting towards needing to doing it yet again. You've saved yourself at least one if not two restorations. :thumbsup:
  5. Ozziedog

    Ozziedog Supporter

    Well Mr F, that was quite a fab story. I’m glad you’ve persevered and as you’ve said, it hasn’t worsened to any degree.

    Ozziedog,,,,,,,,,That van was just resting :)
  6. scrooge95

    scrooge95 Moderator and piggy bank keeper

    Great story! Looking forward to following your progress :)
  7. MrF


    Centre (Indre), between Limoges and Chateauroux, near the Brenne forest. Which is why it was quite surprising it had so many people interested and a botched theft, because it really is the middle of nowhere with about 6 houses in the tiny village where it was kept.

    Thanks for the welcome all, I've owned old mercedes vans for years so I'm used to replacement panels arriving in the form of big flat raw metal sheets & have metalcrafting/panelbeating toys that I like to play with so I'm in much better shape to take it on than when I parked it up so perhaps it was just waiting until I was capable of doing it justice. We've been through the import process for classic campers and unusual vehicles a few times so that bit is understood now too & have a coachbuilt early ducato on a collection carte-grise already too.

    Ive been noodling round with it, and managed to get everything to open stripped all the door lock mechanisms & sliders etc and lubricate them while working them in the vice. I managed to find a 4th round tyre so fitted that so it had matching wheels & took a short video of the motor starting up. Ignore the state of the lower panel, I have a new inner and outer in the wrapping in storage already. The bumper had fell off on the previous owner while towing so that area was on the todo list when it went for its long sleep.
    Now to get a rotisserie...

    Merlin Cat, Huyrob, Meltman and 4 others like this.
  8. Dub and Dubber

    Dub and Dubber Supporter

    That sound ... It's what brings us together :)
  9. Getting the engine running is a milestone moment for sure. Stick with it.
  10. Ozziedog

    Ozziedog Supporter

    Once it was running, I would bet that you didn’t really want to turn it off. Get some roundish wheels on and drive it to your workshop ready for the resto. The rotisserie is the absolute key to a successful under floor resto, even more so if there is no ramp available.

    Ozziedog,,,,,,,,, another saved :)
  11. MrF


    I was ok with turning it off, because it was about to run out of fuel with that tiny header tank as it used most of the tank filling the float bowl :)
    We had to put replacement tyres on just to roll it onto the trailer that we used to transport it here once we broke it out of its resting place, I had some old jag wheels with semi useable tyres lying in the garden to repurpose, they were hard as nails to dismount by hand and get to seat but nothing ratchet straps and a few rounds of ether couldn't fix and they hold air. Id like a set of fuchs for it when its done, but it'd be foolish to be spending out on new wheels and tyres until the chassis and panel work is done unless they appear at a bargain price. I should probably get hold of some standard steel wheels for the import process as any changes or non standard parts just complicate things but the small ad's here seem full of them which is handy.

    So its in my workshop already on the four post ramp (that's at my current workshop in the 2nd pic). I needed it to be running and shunt roundable and its better if I don't have to tow it or risk moving it with the forklift. So currently the handbrake works, it steers, and it drives which is perfect.
    I'm going to collect a homemade rotisserie this weekend & it'll make the chassis work on two other projects much easier also rather than having to try and do awkward positional tig with the pedal between my aging knees, and if I put my landrover 90 together first that tidies up the workspace and frees up some pallet rack space that the engine and transmission for it are occupying to take the bus parts while its on the rotisserie. And wife has just returned from visitng relatives in UK with a load of new fasteners to finish that job in the boot of her car.
    Just got to keep nudging planets into alignment like y'do ;)

    Still can't find any cad models with chassis rails on them, just mesh models of the shape of the upper body and stl's to 3d print models. I'll probably have to measure up as I go along which will be slower but I'll keep looking in the meantime. I know when I start cutting that the damage will be more extensive so not having to find/wait for delivery on repair sections makes life simpler. I cant believe that copyright on chassis dimensions is a thing, on my landrovers the chassis plans with dimensions and alignment tolerances are in the factory workshop manuals!
    paradox, 77 Westy and art b like this.
  12. MrF


    Having wrote that I just found outrigger drawings & chassis dimensions on thesamba, getting closer all the time.
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  13. MrF


    Well the weather is pretty foul and I had to wade a few of the smaller roads nearby, but I have a rotisserie in the back of my old mamie mk1 master pickup. We had to take it apart to get it out the guys garage as he had too much "treasure" in the way of the main door, including a very nice Renault Juva van that he'd used it for and the smaller bits and castors etc are in the cab, I'll assemble it later before I forget how it all goes together.
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  14. MrF


    Not much progress, bought a cheap T2 cover as its going to have to go outside occasionally while I work on other stuff but the cover will make it discreet and loved looking and stop any random people from getting ideas about liberating a old unloved bus abandoned in a yard.

    Then went over the bus from underneath with atf/acetone mix over every fastener ready to take it apart and assembled the rotisserie (with a landrover 101fc chassis so no photos here :) ) . I'm going to hold off on more involved disassembly until a new impact gun arrives as the one I have has lost its efficiency. I'll repeat the squirty atf/acetone mix at a few day intervals while the gun is being shipped.

    And noodling round sunday evening got the bleed nipples free on the front calipers to try and bleed up the hydraulic footbrake. The whole nut part had the flats corroded off so they cant take a spanner, but shocking with a hammer then clamping with some facom brevettes (french vice grips) and turning the grips with a prybar was the ticket. With the nipples open, the master was moving fluid but when they were shut after pulling sufficient fluid through there's no pedal pressure so probably the master cylinder seals are bad too. I'll look more before its off the ramp midweek. A new master cylinder complete isnt expensive but it will need repiping because the brake lines are so corroded. There's also the brake proportioning valve could be the culprit, I've had grief with them in the past on other vehicles but I expect all the flare nuts are rusted to the lines and will twist off the brake line when undone, so stripping that for a inspection will end any chance of having foot brake before its re-piped, which I wont do until the chassis work is done and its being re-assembled.

    Prodding the chassis more intently, it needs a main chassis rail section repair in front of the front beam before the Y on the right side, but the left front is good and the rest of the Y is. Also the front beam is good & the inner deformation panel may be reusable, I'll see when I cut the outer off later. I'll take some photos when I'm in there later just because some people like gruesome pictures.
    The rear chassis section is a horror, around the torsion tube both sides its really rotted, and a few of the main crossmembers are bad and the rails that run alongside the engine are rotted out too, so basically everything just front of the torsion tube needs replacing. Midships there's some welded on plates covering up the sides out to the sills and outriggers but it will need all the outriggers and maybe there's worse when I cut the bodged plates near the outer parts off, but I think the main rails are ok. I know some suppliers do some main sections but a back of a envelope calculation saw 2500+ euro for the sections to repair the rear chassis, so I'll be drawing out and plasma cutting new sections.

    The main concern is keeping everything aligned once bad sections are cut out. I'll weld some temporary bracing in now, and also when the interior is removed put some X braces inside the shell before its rotated on the rotisserie.
    Its a big involved job, but I enjoy doing it as a break from my day job of working in computer security so why not. At the Controle technique they will go over my work with a fine toothcombe because its a pre-import inspection so it has to be right let alone for safety.

    Best of all, my wife who'd given up on the bus and declared it a stupid idea and beyond saving because some people told her it was, said that now the kids are driving their own cars maybe we dont need such a big coachbuilt camper like the ducato, and it'd be fun to go out in it for little holidays together in a classic vw camper. She is a very passionate crafter who does handbags and patchwork etc, and in the past she's done seats and interior parts for my projects. I know once the chassis is solid, she wont be able to resist getting stuck in & doing the interior & repairing the poptop window properly etc. And it will become "her" bus once more at that point.
  15. MrF


    Some photos, some would say autopsy photos but I dont think its beyond saving.
    The right front chassis leg in front of the beam where the section needs replacing. I'd expect the beam to be holed too but its not, so I guess someone turned a blind eye to the rot here and replaced just the beam in the past.
    In front of that rough spot the Y looks salvageable with a bit of blasting and jenoite, then some proper chassis paint and fertan wax treatment.

    Its nearly new on the left side, which given its a rhd that spent most of its life in the UK is bizarre, normally UK cars rot on the kerbside because they get the splash up from the gutter. Maybe someone has replaced it because things at the rear are the opposite.
    Speaking of which, things are not very structurally strong rear the end of the torsion bar tubes, as mentioned on the left side...
    The right side looks better, but it is worse than it looks in the photo and will still need cutting out and new metal welding in.

    The rearmost engine mount rails and battery tray etc are junk, but I knew this 20 years ago and it was on my original todo list optimistically written on the rentie units whiteboard...

    Workshops a bit full at the moment, hence not ripping straight into the chassis work of the bay. I have to assemble some of the other things to make working space and at least one of the 3 landrovers just needs assembling now. Although I'm off tomorrow to collect a massive old cast iron wood bandsaw with poorly bearings weighing in at over a ton, or as I see it, a really rigid large english wheel frame, so there'll be even more crap in there.
    77 Westy likes this.
  16. MrF


    Was occupied collecting the saw but managed to get the bus's hydraulic brakes to bleed up and the pedal to go firm after leaving a wooden block on the brake pedal overnight a few days and lifting it off each morning then try bleeding up. Do the same as a last resort with motorbikes by strapping the lever back when we cant get them to bleed with reused stainless hoses or when we have sheered off bleed nipples so thought I'd give it a go. This bus just wants to live, its helping us where it can seemingly against the odds at every step.

    So ordered some new m7x1 bleed nipples for the front calipers to change them as they are a bit misshapen after the shocking with a hammer while they are still able to be unscrewed easy. The calipers have freed off too, but will need a proper refurb with new seals and pistons later on.
    Also son pointed me at a online site that converts jpeg drawings of parts to dxf's needed to feed the cnc cutter and we fed the T2B outrigger & crossmember plans from thesamba into it, and the result was.... terrible, so we're just going to redraw them in solidworks by hand. I'd hope to rope him in to do it as he's a apprentice doing injection mould designs but he didnt bite so I'll have to do it.
  17. Zed

    Zed Gradually getting grumpier

    I bet you knew it would be!
  18. MrF


    Yeah, son suggested it to fob me off when I asked him if he wanted to do it as a mini project and I rolled my eyes but I went through the motions to humor him. It tried to vectorise all the dimension lines and numbers as strange unrecognizable blobs then ignored the main part and just imported that as a background image, but for some reason scaled it so it wasn't even a consistent size to trace.
    I think if you spent a age in a paint package removing all the dimensions and notation it might be better, but everything would still have to be checked after in case the "AI" decided to randomly mutate it for unknown reasons and at that point its quicker to just import in a actual cad package and retrace using the dimensions as line lengths.
    Zed likes this.
  19. MrF


    Still ticking along in the background. After a few drives round the yard to celebrate it having brakes but before I broke the rear suspension off because of the chassis rot, I put it under cover and its now sleeping quietly in the corner of the yard.
    The rotisserie is now assembled & being tested by a landrover 101 frame, and at first it had its axles and suspension on when lifted, so its capable of rotating the bus once the heavy lumps are removed.
    Some other bits and bobs have appeared, optimistically a towbar, but it will be good to have it when rebuilding the rear to take it, and it'll add a little strength. I'll take off the swan neck towball itself from the bar, and fit a square box hitch receiver, because its quick to detach as I can't imagine towing a trailer full time.
    And a complete Eberspacher petrol heater setup taken from a t2b bus which for 50e I couldn't say no to. This helps to make it friendlier to my wife who's used to truma blown air central heating and double glazing on the lmc motorhome we have. I have fitted chinese diesel heaters a few times in other places but wanted this one specifically because it runs off petrol and it means not having to carry a extra diesel tank for the heating. I considered the propex but they are a bit expensive to find s/h and I'm a tight wad. But it will be rebuilt and fettled before use.

    This popped up too, think I'll leave off integrating it until its on the road though. I'll wait for a column to appear cheap and work on that detached so it can just be swapped in and I can get the motor tucked away and build a oem looking cover for it. Again its for wife acceptance purposes.

    None of which fixes the chassis grot, but plans are evolving on that front too. Plus I've now bought new things for it therefore have to fix it.
  20. MrF


    On further research its not a Eberspacher (this info came from the seller), but seems to be a Stewart-Warner offered by Volkswagen of America as a optional extra and looks to be missing the inline fan for up front a bit of trim for round the heater body and the ignition coil. There's a sticker saying volkswagen of America on the unit itself but the rest of the sticker is so degraded its illegable.

    I can deal with the missing coil, and a inline bilge fan can do the front inline fan job plus I'm kind of tempted to eliminate the heat exchangers from the exhaust manifold and just use this without changeover valves to supply cabin heat.

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