Rikki Nights - Ratty Panel Van Split
Behind every great van is a great story and this one' a got a great story.
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Ratty Panel Van Split
Behind every great van is a great story and this one has got a great story.
Rikki Knights start out “I had wanted a VW camper from my early 20’s but didn’t get one until my mid 20’s when I managed to buy a 74 bay for £850 that had been sat for about 10 years, it was a large project but started me on the road of owning a camper. After selling my old van, a 65 westy to free up some money in the Autumn of 2013 I was in the market for another van, after selling my previous van I didn’t know what I wanted but I did know it had to be different and a van”.
Like you do when you want something but unsure what Rikki spent time scrolling through the for-sale pages when he stumbled across this panel van in November, the only problem was it was in Amsterdam (bugger). “I kept going back to the advert but the wife, Dawn, kept trying to talk me out of it due to the distance but I knew I wanted it” Rikki recalls. Like any serious buyer, there were emails back and forth and loads more photos, a deal was done; now there was a long trip ahead to go and collect it.
A ferry was booked, a trailer hired and a tow bar fitted to the daily driver, everything was ready. Rikki said, “I caught the Saturday night ferry from Harwich to Hook then drove up to pick it up. On arrival I was met by the seller Jandirk who is a really nice guy obviously well into his VW’s”. The van was loaded up onto the trailer and a necessary pit stop down Jandirk’s local for a coffee and slice of cake and it was time to hit the road for the homeward journey. “I made really good time and was able to get the afternoon ferry back and was home by 2300 Sunday night.” When purchased it was pretty much just a rolling shell, it had the original beam on the front and beetle swing axle at the rear sitting on a mix of spilt screen and beetle wheels.
As well as the rear bumper, engine lid and rear valance were missing and the wiring loom had been cut off at each end of the chassis, otherwise, most of it was there. It seemed obvious it had been sat for a long time, with one side of the van faring better than the other. “It needed a bit of metalwork but nothing too bad, I enjoy a bit of a project. Nothing was really a shock as I had seen plenty of photos before seeing it in the flesh, but it was exciting seeing it and I couldn’t wait to start getting my teeth into it. I loved its patina and signwriting, the reason why I had to have it.”
It is believed a small engine fire took the van off the road by the look of the engine bay. Excited to finally have it, homework was soon started. Once all the metalwork was complete saving as much of the original as possible, the running gear was next. “I knew I wanted it low so had the spindles flipped and restored and mated them to an air valley 4 inches narrowed front beam.” The beetle swing axle box that came with the van stayed and brakes got overhauled keeping it on drums all round. “At the beginning, I was just going to put a 1600 engine in buying parts as and when they came up but when I went to have the case I had sourced line bored one thing led to another and I ended up deciding on going bigger,” Rikki remembers.
The cases got traded for an AS21 case which got machined for 94mm cylinders and full flowed. “I purchased a new crank, cylinders and rods and had them all balanced at scholar engines who I knew from my previous job in motorsport.” Once the engine was built and installed the wiring was next which all needed replacing with the help from father-in-law Tony as it had all been cut at each end of the chassis – really unhelpful. Luckily enough the van came with stainless safaris in the front and rear which were put back in and all the rubbers were replaced.
The dash got a coat of clear over the patina and the front seat was reinstalled which came freshly covered when the van was bought. “I have installed a Sun pro tachometer and a set of worry gauges.” In the back, it got lined out with sound deadening and insulation and plyboard overtop. There is a full-width rusty lee rock and roll bed which Rikki covered himself after buying a sewing machine “which was by far the most stressful part of the build. I also installed a leisure battery and mains hook-up. It’s not great but serves a purpose.” Rikki says. The van is treated to a coat of colline wax a couple of times a year to protect it as best as possible. It’s always nice when you buy any classic vehicle to know the history of it, luckily Rikki knows the history of this van and it’s very interesting.
Rikki managed to get in contact with the original owner’s family through Facebook, what we would do without social media these days. In 1954 Bill Johnson moved to Texas to set up Johnson Brothers Hotpoint Appliances with his brother Aubrey selling and servicing Hotpoint appliances. Bill was the original owner of the van which was used as his service van up until the late ’60s when they changed the company’s direction and sold the van on. “It was great getting in contact with the family of the original owner,” Rikki says, “unfortunately Bill has passed away but his wife is still alive.” Emails were received from both Bill’s son and daughter reciting their memories of the van from when they were children. Rikki was fortunate enough to be sent a photo of the original owner with the van. “It was more rewarding knowing they were excited about the van still being on the road than it was receiving the photo that I had originally set out to do.”
I asked Rikki what he loves about owning and driving a VW bus, this is what he said; “I love the fact people either get it or they don’t, some give it a thumbs up while others just look confused by it. Old original patina vans aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, the purists want them restored but the way I look at it is once it’s been painted it will never be able to be like it is again, and it’s taken a long time to get like this!!
It's great attending shows when work allows with the family which my children enjoy and hopefully, its planted the seed for them in the future my best experience is “it’s won a couple of trophies over the years which is nice when I have built the van myself.” So these vans have been pretty much everywhere on the west side of the world and now it’s here in the UK and cruising the roads of East Anglia.
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