Who’d have thought a banged up old plumber’s Van could look this good?

It all started on a stag weekend in St. Davids. Not only is it Britain’s smallest city in terms of both population and size, but it’s also responsible for switching one man’s allegiance from rear-wheel drive Bavarian muscle to VW’s finest in a heartbeat.

Typically, most people come back from a weekend on the lash with the boys sporting monstrous hangovers, a dodgy tattoo and possibly a burning need to visit to a nearby ‘specialist’ clinic [speak
for yourself Mr. Wallace! -Ed] but not Michael Lewis, he came back with a burning desire of a very different kind.

” Capable of being a three-figure cruiser, should the chance ever present itself “

Having been running about in luxury with the effortless performance of a straight six-powered BMW 5 series, the canny plasterer from Newport realised over that fateful weekend that what he really needed in his life was a Volkswagen Van.  He knew the very moment he saw one in St. Davids Bay that the swanky BM was destined to move on in favour of the modern day counter culture ’Wagen.

Ably assisted by a Transit for his dirty, derv, daily duties, but with the desire for a VW Van for his down time, Michael wasted no time whatsoever and quickly set his sights upon a suitable candidate.  That was five years ago now and some eight T4s, five Beetles and two T5s later, he arrived at this particular Van, which at the time was in need of some TLC to bring it back from the grave.  “I found this one languishing in a plumber’s yard.  It had been involved in a heavy front end smash and needed a lot of bodywork to bring it back,” he told us.  “It had covered 120k and was filthy dirty, as well as having obviously been driven into a bollard at some point, smashing the bumper, headlight and one of the wings.  It wasn’t in bad nick mechanically though.”

As a self-confessed petrolhead of the highest order, none of these things bothered him as he had a vision for how it was going to look.  “I don’t go down the pub or waste money on any other hobby, cars and Vans are what I do in my spare time. At the moment I’ve got a quad, a 911, a Saab convertible and another pair of T4s, so I work hard to play hard and keep me in vehicles,” he laughs.

And so, in Feb 2013, Michael took the plunge and parted with £2,500 for this somewhat bent example.  Thanks to his last half a decade of tinkering with VWs, he already had a complete facelift front end for a T4 in the garage, ready to transform this unloved and forgotten Van into something much more desirable.

It’s thanks to the fabled and increasingly desirable long nose swap that T4 OOOH has taken on a later character than its registration plate suggests.  “There’s quite a lot to it,” Michael explains. “I had the bumper, lights, front crash bar, slam panel, bonnet, de-badged grille, wings, wing hangers, radiator and mounts, both front grilles and the headlight loom to switch over.”  Not afraid of getting on the spanners, he swapped on the later Caravelle front end before cutting the holes for the cabin windows, fitting a ‘stubby’ European passenger side mirror on the driver’s side and bonding on a GRP rear infill panel to occupy the gap between tailgate and bumper.

With the Van stripped to a bare ’shell, Michael set about the prep work to begin the switch from the jaded and flat VW white to the 172 Silver and Black Magic Pearl roof.  With it all Scotchbrited and any minor bumps and dents given a skim of filler and some extra fine stopper, it was handed over to Ian at Automation for the magic to happen.  “I stripped all the doors off, tailgate, bonnet and bumpers and sent them down to him first.  Then he mixed a custom silver for me and painted all the removable items before I trailered the rest of the Van down to the workshop.”  Just four weeks after the Van was stripped of its dignity, it was back in Michael’s garage being bolted back together.

Tech info:
2002 VW T4 Campervan

  • ENGINE:  2.5-litre, 88bhp TDi; custom re-map and later top mount long nose intercooler; Allard EGR delete kit; 133bhp / 300ft.lbs
  • WHEELS: 9 x 19-inch Audi RS6 Phase 2 wheels; 235/35 x 19 Fullway HS168 tyres
  • SUSPENSION:  Boge lowered shocks; -50mm springs; red brake calipers
  • BODY MODS: Refinished in 172 Silver with Black Magic Pearl roof; long nose Caravelle front end conversion; de-badged grille; R8-style LED headlamps; Euro-spec stubby driver’s side mirror; rear tailgate infill panel; chrome big bore side bars; T5 shape rear spoiler; carbon fibre rear step
  • INTERIOR: 6mm ply-lined load area; lambswool insulation; heavy duty carpet throughout; white / red LED lighting; Ikea cabinets and wardrobe layout; Smev 9222 stove and sink; PMS power management system; 125amp leisure battery with split charge relay; re-trimmed front seats with matching rock ’n’ roll bed; anthracite flooring / red shag pile rug; Ripspeed TV / DVD player; 15-inch pole-mounted Freeview TV; flyover shelf; flocked cab area with colour coded door handles; custom made sub enclosure / centre console with intergrated four channel JBL amp; JBL speaker upgrade; eight-inch gear lever extension with pool ball knob

Boge shortened and lowered shocks with -50mm springs were slotted into place to bring the Van down over a set of genuine Audi RS6 9 x 19-inch Phase 2 alloys.  The beauty of using OEM Audi and Merc fitment wheels has always been the T4 hub-friendly 5 x 112 fitment, albeit in a slightly more strut worrying ET45 offset.  There was no fouling here though, despite the extra width.  Shod in 235/35 x 19 Fullway rubber, this Van rides surprisingly well, despite the slim sidewalls and reduction in ride height.  Perhaps most importantly, the driveshafts and steering arms remain nigh-on level, so geometry is good even under hard load.

And with a useful 133bhp and a torque-rich 300ft.lbs delivery from the re-mapped and top mount intercooled 2.5 TDi (blue i) lump, Michael reckons it’s every bit capable of being a three-figure cruiser, should the chance ever present itself.  Not that the opulent interior really lends itself to hot footing it down your favourite B-road, but it’s always useful to have some poke and a little more smoke to lug around the additional few kgs now residing in the back.

“It’s all DIY out back,” Michael tells us proudly.  “I used 6mm ply to line the walls and installed everything after a trip to Ikea to buy the gloss red cabinets, wardrobe and granite-effect work surface.  It only took three days in the end to wire in a split charge system, 125amp leisure battery and a power management system.  Then there’s the leather clad rock ’n’ roll bed that was stitched up by Steve at Autostitch.” Tying in perfectly with those swanky re-trimmed front pews, both of which happen to be captain’s chairs, the whole thing is a custom-made affair throughout, with all the cabinets, wardrobe and overhead red and white LED lighting installed by Michael’s own fair hands. The clever use of flocking (a process where fabric particles are fired at glued or electrostatically-charged plastics) throughout the cabin make for that velour-like texture on the dash, centre console and door panels.  It’s a technique that’s more commonly found in motorsport applications like rallying, where low reflectivity is a key consideration.  Love or loathe it, we bet you’ll want to touch it.  Hell, we’ve even seen some people use the furry wonder stuff on their wheels in the VW Golf scene, as it’s hard wearing and easy to keep clean with a wet rag by all accounts.

Not that Michael is short of things to play with in the cabin.  A fold out, in-dash Ripspeed TV / DVD player feeds its signal rearwards to a 15-inch monitor, with a smattering of JBL’s finest 4-inch (dash), 5¼s and 6 x 9s deal with the frequencies the neatly integrated Clarion 10-inch active subwoofer can’t hope to reproduce.

All in all, this Van has undergone a pretty full-on conversion, with no stone left unturned.  From the modern LED daytime running headlamps to the carbon fibre rear step, colour-coded brake calipers and the silver accents on the dashboard, the amount of attention to detail is really quite surprising.  Yet it remains functional and practical enough to really rack the miles up, with Michael’s little lad, Connor, particularly fond of packing it up and venturing off somewhere new.  It seems kids and Campers really do go together well.  Maybe it’s because they always know that when the food and drink is being packed onboard, something exciting is about to happen.  And with this Van, we’d expect nothing less.

Photos taken by: Thru-a-lupe Photographic

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