This isn’t our usual Heritage Magazine feature. Nigel’s bus is far from a beauty queen, but behind the black masonry paint bodywork, she is the considered creation of a clever man who enjoys finding any reason he can to add something new to make his time away in it a little more refined.
Let’s address the elephant in the room straight away, and who better than Nigel to explain. “There is no theme, it is what it is. I use it as my everyday vehicle and have done so for the past 12 years.” He continues. “I decided I wanted a campervan but had no idea about them, I wasn’t particularly after a VW and had no awareness of the VW clubs or shows before I got this.”
No need to test drive!
Nigel bought this bus without even giving it a go. The Bilbo’s conversion met with his requirements and with the sliding side door was more practical than the classic Bedford he’d checked out before. “I already owned a 5-year-old Nissan Micra, which I bought because I was fed up of old cars and fixing them, but I found the T25 to be such a pleasure to drive that I sold the Micra, put a replacement engine in the bus (after the old one overheated) and converted it to LPG. It does 10,000 miles a year with me and has never left me stranded.”
“T25s suit me because they are modern enough to be easy to drive and repair, but old enough not to have an ECU” That may sound like an odd comment from someone who’s carved a career from electronics but as Nigel says “with an ECU it becomes much harder to find faults; having a computer running a vehicle is out of my league. I wouldn’t even swap it for a brand new T6” he adds. Nigel drops the glove box to show us his T25 fuse box. There are a few additional wires, and that’s on top of everything you can see inside and out.
Elk, not Moose!
Although Nigel isn’t into art and claims most of his added extras are for practical reasons the road signs are purely for aesthetic purposes, whether you find them attractive or not. “The foreign road signs came from a friend who stole them 20 years ago, while out with his Dad lorry driving.” The sign on the door is an Elk, not a Moose, as the sign came from Europe he confirms. The piece of guttering above the sliding door acts as Nigel’s awning “it stops the worst of the wet weather dripping inside when I open the door.”
Calling upon his electrical knowledge Nigel has gone to town with upgrades throughout the vehicle. “I’ve fitted a 10” tablet in the dashboard as a satnav, I have in-car WI-Fi, which I put on top of the flagpole to get a better signal when camping. I’ve shoehorned in a Waeco 78 litre fridge to the original cabinets and wired it to turn off at night and run off the alternator while driving to remain cool for when I arrive at a campsite.” The lever behind the indicator stalk? “Oh that’s just for the comedy horn,” he tells us and duly demonstrates.
Nigel has installed solar panels on the roof and under the windscreen to help generate his own power, which is then fed to a bank of 4 leisure batteries, situated around the van. He’s a year or so into a wild meadow pop-top and covering the body in lichen too – not a quick process, and one that’ll potentially make it look even more like an abandoned vehicle!
Painted by hand
The vans original red paintwork has been hidden away behind Nigel’s special mix of masonry paint and sand. “People pay silly money for shiny paint, and waste their lives polishing it only to have rust breakthrough at the seams.” This unorthodox coating has been applied liberally with a brush, but not before all seams and cavities were treated to their share of LM grease, 12kgs worth to be precise. “I used a grease pump on a 12kg keg of grease and filled the sills and between body panel layers.” For the hard to reach areas Nigel put a brush on the end of a stick to ensure the inner arches and inside of all the panels were protected. “I’ve owned so many old cars which needed expensive welding, I wasn’t going to let this one go the same way.”
In Nigel’s words “the only bad thing was when a rusty section which I had prevented from getting worse was spotted by a different MOT station to my usual one. The garage had to remove many handfuls of grease before welding. Doug’s exact message said “it was like cleaning up after the Amoco Cadiz minus the sea birds” We can only imagine…
Gas in the tank
“There are 2 LPG tanks located under the rear seat. 65 litres for running the engine and an extra 35 litres for the cooker and Propex Heater. I can flick a switch and use that as a reserve should I need too and it still has the original petrol tank in place, as an additional back up on top.”
Along with the LPG and petrol, Nigel can carry up to 82 litres of freshwater below his bus. You may have clocked the hose on the front just below the front grille? This is cleverly long enough to stretch to most campsite taps, enabling him to fill up the tanks directly without busting his back or walking back and forth with small containers all the time.
In the belly of the beast
Jump inside Nigel’s van and it’s a little more conservative and still largely resembling of the Bilbo’s conversion it was first fitted with. The T25 seats are finished in a grey and white vinyl, with a buddy seat in the back to make it a more social space at events and shows. The steering wheel has been customised and is now wrapped in 10mm hemp rope “it is much easier to hold and almost feels like it has power steering now.” Underneath the buddy seat Nigel points out a handy speaker holder he has created, and situated to the side of the tailgate, behind the bed is a vent which is connected to an electric fan “this can be switched on to bring a bit of fresh air into the van at night, without sleeping with the tailgate or windows open.”
Smile for the camera…
“I use 4 dash cams. 1 pointing inside, 1 pointing out the back window, and 2 facing forward as they are so unreliable.” Nigel explains “and the van has 2 reversing cameras. One facing straight back, and the other on the end of an arm pointing straight down. It enables me to reverse to an inch of any obstacle.” I point to the big black box on door card and Nigel identifies it for me “It’s a retrofit electric window kit from back in the day. Driving on my own most of the time, it’s useful to be able to put that window down without reaching across. It is now wired to a switch on the dash.” The other side you will notice has been treated to a DIY manual winder after the previous one broke…We sell the original type window winder here should you need one!
Not everyone’s cup of tea!
Keen to utilise every nook and cranny in his campervan, Nigel has another flag pole hidden away inside the passenger door cavity and reveals “I have the plants on the dashboard as I’d forget to water them if I kept them at home.” Nigel is well aware his van has become an acquired taste. “My friends like it, but no-one has ever said they want theirs the same. I’m not into lowering things if I had alloy wheels and low profiles I’d soon ruin them on a pothole or a curb – I like steel wheels and C rated tyres!”
Once you have started…
“The first thing to be screwed to the outside was the hardest. Once you have got to this stage I’ll put anything on, and it doesn’t matter!” There are wires clipped in place running all over the body from solar panels and aerials. I spot the perished window rubbers and ask whether it lets water in. “I don’t know there” Nigel responds. “If it does, it drips out the bottom, or it is filling up with water and I just don’t know!” The grey box light switch on the B pillar in case you were wondering operates spot lamps mounted on the pop-top. “That’s so my friends can turn them off if I’ve already gone to bed” Nigel confirms.
A big thanks to Nigel for taking the time to explain his creation and allowing us to share it with the world. It might be unorthodox, but after chatting with Nigel about it, it at least makes more sense now. I think I’ll hold off following in his footsteps for now though. How about you?!