There’s no pussyfooting around with this Van. It’s sparkly, lives on the street, hits the shows and can regularly be found at the beach after a hard day at work

It would be a very boring world if we all liked the same things.  As the trends for exclusive and rather costly 22-inch rims, interior re-fits that belong on Amazing

Spaces and coilover suspension that costs well into four figures grow amongst an eager hoard of willing punters, there’s no doubt in our minds that imagination, resourcefulness and hard graft still remain mightier than a blankety blank chequebook. There’s just something more soulful about a vehicle that’s been built on a driveway in the snow and the rain, powered by nothing more than sausage sarnies, plentiful mugs of PG and dogged determination to see things through to the end.  Talk to Peter and Rachael Axford about their T5 and it’s soon clear that brand new, dealer-registered plates and the security of a manufacturer-backed warranty were never at the top of their shopping list.  What they wanted was to customise an old Van the way they wanted, and do it all without having to auction off any spare kidneys in the process.  It also needed to be a user and an abuser, not a pampered stancing queen. Something that could fulfil dual purpose as both work commuter whilst holding its head high at the weekend, never an easy duality to satisfy.

” A user and an abuser, not a
pampered stancing queen “

Having discovered Run to the Sun almost by accident in the early ’90s (the duo hail from the sleepy Cornish village of Porthleven, south west of Newquay), Peter embarked upon a string of the usual VW suspects.  A Beetle was swiftly followed by a trio of Mk1 and Mk2 Sciroccos, including a Rieger kitted one that was treated to a nippy little 16v engine conversion.  Then came a Mk2 Golf GTi, before Van enlightenment struck in the form of an air-cooled Type 25 that joined the Axford ranks and almost never left.  It proved quite a union, that particular vehicle hanging around for two years and returning some time later, a strangely unexplainable bond forming between owner and metalwork.  “I absolutely loved that Van,” Mark told us. “I renovated it inside and sold it on for a bit of a profit.  Where we’d previously been attending the shows in cars, we figured it made sense to save on B&B costs and buy a Bus instead.  And we haven’t looked back since.”

Tech info:
T5 2.5-litre TDi

  • ENGINE: 2.5-litre, 130bhp,  5-cylinder, turbo diesel; new Garrett turbo; ECU re-map upping power to 174bhp
  • CHASSIS: JOM coilovers down to -75mm; banded VW steel wheels in 8.5 and 10 x 16-inch; Hankook RA14 205/65 x 16 tyres; wheels painted Pug Ardent Rogue
  • STYLING: Stock, 55-plate T5 in Reflex Silver with Peugeot Ardent Red bonnet; roof bars
  • INTERIOR: Lavapod metalflake GRP kitchen unit with integrated storage, Smev 9222 sink and hob; custom GRP metalflake headlining; full black and carbon effect leather re-trim; VW captain’s seats on dual swivel bases

Scooby dooby

A brief fling with a T4 then began to tug at the Axford’s modern-day heartstrings but, after shifting that on for a tidy profit, they bought back their old Type 25, but sold it for a second time when they stumbled upon a very trick brick indeed.  “We found ‘Scooby’ (as he became known) roughly 300yards from our house, and he was the best thing we’ve ever owned.  We loved him so much, and the power and noise of the 2.2-litre Legacy engine was something else.  The previous owner had lived in the Bus for two years with his dog, so it needed a good old clean out, but he genuinely became part of our family [the Van, not the dog – Ed].”  Rachael takes up the story: “After selling him last summer for eight grand, we agreed we would look for a T5, as even though we had owned all types of ’Dubs, and though Mark loved the power and looks of Scooby, we were well aware that a newer Van would mean better all round condition, comfort and fuel economy.”

Having put their stamp on many different VWs over the years, and Mark being somewhat renowned locally as a man who can really bring a vehicle up to scratch, the search was on for the right Van.  “We scoured the internet and papers for weeks, and eventually came across this one.  We agreed that we would go and take a look at it [this time some 55 miles away], but not make any rash decisions as we wanted to be 100% sure we were buying the right Van,” Mark told us.  The seller, Rich at Lavapod, had bought it to build his prototype GRP kitchen pod before selling it on.  After a quick look inside and out and a drive around the block, it was Rachael who put in an offer – so much for not making a rash decision!  Mark’s face was apparently a picture when the penny dropped that a deal had been struck without any discussion between husband and wife. Mark: “The Van, although clean, had at one time been a VW fleet vehicle, and was later used as a daily hack by a local glazing firm [It later transpired that said glazier lived just three miles away from Mark and Rachael].  It had lead a hard life inside, but it was straight, albeit with 112,000 miles on it.  It just needed a little TLC to bring it back up to scratch,” mused Mark.

Sour peel

So, in July 2012, the keys were in their possession and, shortly after, so were a set of 19-inch alloys.  Unfortunately, after only a matter of weeks the stud faces started to tarnish and lacquer peel set in.  “We later found out this was a design fault with the wheels, and after wrangling with our local wheel supplier, they were replaced with a different style set of 20-inch alloys,” Rachael explained. Nonetheless, bad customer service and having no choice over the replacement wheels left a sour taste, which turned them against the whole shiny, bling rim thing, and they started looking for an alternative.  Wheel Power Devon agreed to trade their 20s against a set of nine and 10 x 16-inch banded steels, which have been painted Peugeot Ardent Red, the same colour as the bonnet.

“The wheels were ordered and fitted on the Friday before Devon Dubfest.  We were delighted to take runner-up in the show ’n’ shine on the Sunday, just two days later.” Thanks to those super-stretched Hankook 205/65 x 16 tyres, Mark laughs when he tells us how it’s not unusual for people to approach him and tell him his wheels are bent!

The cut and banded nature of the steels remains a hot topic here in the UK, particularly as their legality always seems to be called into question, so all we’ll say on the matter is don’t attempt to do this yourself at home, okay? Dialled down on a set of JOM height adjustable coilovers, fitted by VW Connections, it’s easy to underestimate the altitude adjustment that’s taken place here due to the comparatively small diameter hoops.  There’s also a surprising amount of negative camber on display here, when viewed from the rear.

Against the grain

With such determination to go against the grain, it’s no surprise to find functional roof bars rather than the conventional side bars bolted into place.  While inside, the couple worked with what they bought.  It’s a metalflake bonanza, with the aforementioned Lavapod kitchen and storage unit, a Smev 9222 sink and hob and a spangly, glass fibre, metalflake headlining – home to a smattering of 12v LED lights – satisfying Rachael’s obsession with suitably decorative nails and interior furnishings.

Fancying a step up in the trim stakes as well, matching bovine hide has been applied to the swivel-based captain’s chairs fore, and the rock ’n’ roll bed aft, all courtesy of CJM Upholstery. It’s a decadent place to be.

” A spangly, glassfibre, metalflake headlining, home to a smattering
of 12v LED lights “

Due to living on the coast, with its salty air and numerous local gulls (including Billy and Stephen, two newly adopted members of the Axford clan!), Mark has to invest a great many man hours in “playing around outside”, as Rachael calls it, and she reckons he “gets through car polish like water” in the process.Perhaps that explains why the original Reflex Silver paintwork is in such fine fettle nowadays. “He’s always out there tinkering,” says Rachael, “It’s not unusual to lose household items such as nail polish remover, Vaseline and even my hairdryer to the Van.  I’m used to it now though, and am prepared for answers to mundane questions like, ‘what do you want for tea?’ being greeted with, ‘I think I’ll check my leisure battery this evening.’”  Turns out Mark’s a bit of a nightmare in the winter as he can’t spend as much time titivating as he’d really like, but the results are clear to see.

Engine-wise, it’s largely as VW intended under the bonnet.  The 2.5-litre TDi has been on the receiving end of an ECU re-map, done whilst at Busfest 2012, not only for economy but also for a bit of extra oomph through the six gears.  “In second and third it’s particularly noticeable the way the torque ramps up now,” reports Mark,  “and there’s no additional smoke to worry about either.”  Maybe that has something to do with the new Garrett GT1749VC turbocharger that was fitted just prior to the map, but that remains to be seen.

All in all, Mark and Rachael are over the moon with their Van, and their patience, hard work, elbow grease, eye for detail and a dash of imagination have turned a Van that they quite literally must have walked past in the street on many occassions prior to their owning it into a real head turner.  Sure, they’ve chucked a few quid at it since adding their names to the V5 but, considering the budget associated with the project is less than we’ve seen some spend on their audio install, who wouldn’t love to soak up the miles in that captain’s pew?


Photos taken by: Thru-a-lupe Photographic

Click through the desktop wallpaper images in the gallery above to find the one you want. To see it larger you can click on the expand icon below the image on the right. If you want to download that image, simply drag it to your desktop or right click and select “Save image as”.

Please remember that these images are protected by copyright and can only be used for personal use. Selling or using these images for professional or promotional use is illegal.