One of the first jobs I did on the van was get the engine out, but as these were the early days of the project I was then still working on grass under a tarpaulin, which was fraught with difficulty. I had to put chipboard down so that I could roll my hydraulic hoist around. But inevitably the shifting weight made this a precarious business. I had already removed the gearbox and propped the engine up at the rear with a block of wood.
Early on I discovered that in order to get the hoist in close enough to the side of the cab I'd have to remove a wheel, which necessitated hoisting the propped up part of the engine through the windscreen aperture, then jacking up the cab and and removing the wheel.
Helping me in all this was my mate John (below), who can always be counted on when a job calls for two men or when technical wisdom is needed.
Once the wheel was out of the way, reaching into the cab through the nearside door was a relatively straightforward business.....though, again, the chipboard floor wobbled somewhat and the hoist needed some steadying.
We lowered the engine into an engine trolley I had prepared for the purpose. The castors on this were very small and the engine very heavy, so trundling this was a bugger. Eventually I got it into my workshop and hoisted it into a bathtub, where I scrubbed it down with paraffin.
Having received a complimentary ticket through my Practical Classics subscription, my girlfriend and I went to a classic car show at Alexander Palace, London, which I have to say I thought at the time was poor value for money (even though I had only paid for one ticket), mostly because it felt less like a gathering of classic car enthusiasts than a cynical attempt by commercial outfits to sell them polish etc. When I go round a show I want to feel people's enthusiasm.....and when even the guy with an E Type Jag doesn't seem too bothered one way or the other, you know something is wrong......and that was the bit that disappointed my girlfriend, an E Type fan; she says the E guy was just rude and off-hand towards her (which angered me for two reasons: firstly, because she was paying him the compliment of admiring his car and secondly because enthusiasts owe it to people showing what may be first glimmerings of interest to give some encouragement. - Dickhead!).
Eventually, however (and this is the reason why I mention Ally Pally at all), we came across the stand of the Cambridge-Oxford Owners' Club and they were doing a mickey-take of Pimp My Ride by taking an A55 and putting exaggeratedly huge fins on it and remodelling the entire car with cardboard and sticky tape. I warmed to these guys immediately and got talking to them because their marque has B series engines too.
The up-shot was that they said that the chap most likely to be able to help me find an engine in decent shape lived in East Anglia (right near me!). I had been working on the idea of not bothering to restore my engine but to get a replacement from a car which was running and I had in fact won an auction on ebay for a Morris Marina but had aborted the purchase when the guy's claims about the mileage and an alleged rebuild did not add up. It seemed to me that instead of restoring the engine, when every type of spare would have to be sourced and every problem and tolerance would be a mystery requiring research and specialist tools, it might be best just to concentrate on the vehicle and get round the engine problem by replacing it. And of course, B series engined cars are common and cheap, even in running order.
I could then run my van with a replacement engine and restore the original one at leisure later, swapping the two over when done.
When I contacted my local branch of the COOC I was put in touch with Colin Smith, who lives about half an hour away who has a whole bunch of B series engines, though his are 1600s, generally. I went to see him and his car collection...and his garage is a veritable Aladdin's cave of parts. You literally can't see the walls or ceiling for stuff. Anyway, he invited me to let him take my engine away and get it going. Naturally I was very nervous about price as he said it was "nothing to worry about"...which made me even more nervous because my mate "Truman's" engine cost him around a thousand. This situation required tact. Certainly there would be expenses and I certainly needed to assume that some of them would be costly and would need budgeting for....and I would need to gently ask along the way what sort of expenses I had incurred but in a way that did not offend this good man who is ostensibly doing this because he loves the engine type and regards it as a challenge and as an occupation in his retirement.
I have been back and seen the progress, which is terrific. He has done the main lump and finished it in green paint but unfortunately the cylinder head is cracked and he has been trying to find a replacement. He did find one but that too had a crack. Eeek! He tells me he knows a guy who is a stuntman and does machining and owes him a favour....so they are talking about welding the crack in the head and machining it out. Crikey, that sounded expensive....but again I am told that it is nothing to worry about.
My girlfriend says, "You always bloody fall on your feet!" And she is right. My mate John has been a tower of strength, Carl, my neighbour, put power in my shed for a song, Paul, another neighbour, felted my workshop roof in return for a negligible favour and so it goes on. I can't explain it but I think it is something about the way blokes love the chance to share a project. Take my mate restoring the "Truman's" van for instance. We keep in regular contact via email and reading each other's blogs and contributions to discussion forums (another place where people help each other out). When I salvaged parts off the Gislingham van he came up and got some bits he needed too. I am going down to his next weekend to help him get a dent out and he is very generously giving me an ammeter and a replacement for a part I shagged up trying to forcibly remove it when it had rusted solid.
Incidentally, the Goat Lady's van tip came from one of the members of the local branch of the COOC, when I attended the next pub-meet after Ally Pally last year. He rescued an A55 from the same site about fifteen years ago and the timing of the tip was incredible; a few short months after I salvaged parts, the land was cleared for development. Also, having just been up that hill to Ally Pally, it was interesting then to see it featured in a Dr Who, set in 1953, which also featured a J Type van. So, all told, it wasn't such a bad Classic Car show after all.
Nb. The lines between paras are a nuisance, I know, but using the Blockquote is sometimes the only way I can get the compiler to paragraph. Sometimes I will see paras in the preview, but when I publish it takes them out and pushes all the text into one ugly block.