Once home to grass and compost, this squeaky clean T4 is now packed to the rafters with subtle details and great fabrication work

Mid-way through 2007 a fairly knackered T4 was bought from a landscape gardner for £500. Yep, that’s right, £500.  But just look at it now.

James Edward’s 2000-plate 2.5 TDi was, how shall we put it? hanging when he got it.  At the time James was working for a VW Van centre in the south west when this W-plate offering rolled through the yard one day.  It smelt like a garden centre and had been diagnosed with a well and truly spent gearbox, but he wasted no time sticking in a cheeky bid to buy it, fully expecting to be rebuffed. Only problem was the gentleman from ISS Landscapers immediately accepted the bid, leaving James wishing he’d gone even lower to become the owner of a tired T4 that smelt of manure.  Now, before you all start going a little green at that crazy price, considering how well it looks sitting here amongst a load of BMXs, bear in mind that was around five years ago and much has changed since.  Sure, it was a bargain considering how stratospheric T4 values have risen nowadays, but come on, £500.  Crazy cheap.

” ditched the rear coil
springs in favour of a Vito
air suspension set up “

Having graduated from a ’98 2.4 diesel, James knew he was onto a winner with this one, especially after sourcing a difficult-to-come-by replacement EWB gearbox, and whacking a new clutch into place.  Some 18mm adapters from Kinky Mick, a set of Porsche Carrera wheels, -60mm springs and the removal of all the faded signwriting followed shortly afterwards, and James was happy for a short while.  But plans changed rather rapidly when the Van was taken off the road at the tail end of 2007, largely because the poor quality paintwork was starting to get James down.

Prep was soon underway for a glass-out, doors-off respray, and James got stuck into some minor rust repairs around the rear ’arches.  New doors were then sourced and he scoured the classifieds for a one-piece tailgate to replace the twin openers.  “After I’d spent ages tracking one down that was solid, it arrived so dented and bashed up by the courier you wouldn’t believe.  I spent at least 12 hours panel beating, shrinking and filling on the tailgate alone, de-badging and taking the wiper out while I was at it,” James tells us.

Tech info:
2000 VW T4 2.5 TDi

  • ENGINE: 2.5-litre, AXG-cod,e 5-cylinder motor; bigger Garrett turbo; larger injector nozzles; front-mount intercooler; custom turbo-back stainless exhaust; ECU re-map for 180bhp; DQR gearbox from ’02 Multivan
  • CHASSIS: Avo shocks; Mercedes Vito rear air suspension and compressor; custom rear suspension turrets; 320mm AXG brake discs; red calipers
  • WHEELS & TYRES: 8.5 and 9.5 x 16-inch banded steels, Continental 205/55 x 16 tyres
  • STYLING: Resprayed in BMW Sepang Bronze with a Pepper White roof; long nose T4 conversion; Mk3 Golf VR6 front splitter; Mercedes Sprinter wing vent; stubby LHD passenger mirror on driver’s side; electric mirrors; de-badged and de-wipered tailgate; genuine VW green tint windows; T4 sliding sunroof; Mazda Bongo electric sunroof; gas tailgate struts; custom fridge outlet vents
  • INTERIOR: T5 captain’s chairs on low-profile bases; custom Westy trim; Waeco fridge, Eberspächer D2 night heater; lockable VW passenger side door panel cubby cover  (part no. 7d1 868 885); heated seats; central locking; electric windows; Climatronic air con; KW Conversions rock ’n’ roll bed; bespoke brown ash and American walnut units; Reimo 49L under-bed water tank; 140a/h leisure battery; Smev 8022 hob / 8005 sink; custom Caravelle headlining with 12 LED lights; Thermowrap insulation; split charge relay; 240V hook-up fuseboard

Straight paint

Evidently, he’s no stranger to hard graft as he also dressed and tidied the window recesses in the side panels and set about making the sliding door as straight as possible, while cutting the holes for the custom made fridge vents as well.  “It’s been through a couple of guises since I first started doing the bodywork.  First time round, I had a cheap body kit lined up for it, but it’s arguably more tasteful now than it was when I started out.”  Come the middle of 2008, with prep and fabrication still underway, James and the Van underwent a massive change in direction.

Before James could get anywhere near painting the Van, he decided to cut in a conventional T4 sliding sunroof, then followed that up with a second gaping hole for a Mazda Bongo electric sunroof, along with the accompanying strengthening plates.  He certainly likes a grinder does this lad.

While he was in the mood for cutting and welding, the multi-talented 31-year old, who by this point was working for Mercedes Commercial Vehicles on the diagnostics side of things, ditched the rear coil springs in favour of a Vito air suspension set up, turreting the back end beneath the KW Conversions rock ’n’ roll bed in order to bolt the components in place.  To the best of our knowledge, this is the only Mercedes compressor and air suspension set up to regulate the undulations of a T4 out back, and it’s very neatly done indeed.

Of course, being a W-plate also means that the long-nose front end is decidedly out of place here, particularly with the custom Sprinter-style wing vent James neatly grafted in.  Despite being hyper-critical about his workmanship (like most feature vehicle owners, we suspect he’s the only one able to spot any flaws!) the next move came as a surprise, even to James.  “I spotted the complete running gear from a 2.5 TDi AXG on German eBay and had to have it,” he laughs.  As you’re probably all aware, the 150bhp (AXG) Multivan engine, ’box and brakes are very sought after amongst T4 owners.  So, £2,000 later, a sizeable pallet arrived in Wiltshire.  “I took the old 88bhp AJT engine and ’box out and sold that for £900, so it was kind of a bargain really as tuning upgrades goes.  I dread to think what I’d have spent getting the blue I motor up to similar power levels to the red I reliably.”  More on that in a moment though.

Proud as Punch

But first, paint!  After many months of arduous prep, etch and high-build, two-pack primer and plenty of DA-ing each coat back with 600 grit, the big day finally arrived.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is how straight it looks down the sides, even though I’m very critical of my own workmanship.  I’d liked to have painted it myself as well, but unfortunately work commitments kind of got in the way,” James explained.  Instead, he dropped it off at a mate’s paint shop and, roughly a month later, it came back in the BMW Sepang Bronze and Pepper White two-tone finish it now wears.  For a Van with a definite retro theme, these thoroughly modern metallic hues are bang on.

With the Van back at James’ workshop, he set about dropping the new engine, DQR gearbox, front-mount intercooler and radiator into place.  Problems arose because the LHD wiring loom wouldn’t stretch to fit the RHD layout, so the loom was stripped out of its protective conduit and extended to suit. Seemingly, there’s nothing James won’t tackle, and when the chance to bag a genuine VW Climatronic unit arose, he jumped at that, too. “It’s a job I wish I’d never tackled, as it was so complex and the spare parts so expensive to source, but it went in there eventually.”

Thanks to the slightly larger Garrett turbo, bigger injector nozzles, considerably larger intercooler and a cheeky ECU re-map – after James overcame some ECU coding issues using VW’s official 5051 scan code tool to try and defeat the in-built immobiliser – he reckons it’s good for in excess of 180bhp, with a suitably impressive torque output to boot. On top of that there’s a five-pot exhaust note to die for, courtesy of a three-inch, two silencer, custom stainless exhaust. “It certainly goes okay for a big ol’ thing,” reports a very modest James.  Being a sensible chap as well, he also saw fit to bolt the complete ’02 Multivan 320mm brakes with beefed-up calipers into place to ensure there’s plenty of stopping power to match the nigh-on 100bhp increase over stock.

DI why?

Towards the start of ’09, the old T4 was finally starting to look like a Van once again, green tints and new Porsche GT3 wheels lending it a more sporty demeanour, but the interior was still to receive the killer Mr. Edwards’ touch. Thermo wrapping and insulating behind the Caravelle-spec panels was followed by the construction of a one-piece ply floor to mount both the leisure battery and Reimo 49-litre water tank.  Then, as if mounting T5 captain’s chairs on low profile, powder coated bases wasn’t enough, James set to work wiring in ’leccy windows and mirrors to add to the wiring complexity within.  Nutter!

” a perfectly fitting old school, yet thoroughly modern, interior “

As you might expect by now, when it came to cabinets there was no way James was just going to buy some off-the-shelf numbers.  He started by making templates from 12mm ply then, when happy with those, he handed them over to a pro to make the finished article in brown ash that’s trimmed in American walnut. Attention is well and truly diverted from the Waeco fridge and Smev appliances by the amazing varnished grain and texture of the beautiful real wood units.  There’s just boundless workmanship and man hours in this Van that’s way more than the sum of its parts.

And so, in Sept ’10, the T4 was finally MoT’d and embarked upon its first journey to north Devon.  “It was great to finally have it on the road and ready to hit some shows,” says James, “but it still didn’t feel like it was finished.”  When are they ever, hey?  Another couple of years passed as James continued to rack up the miles in his trusty steed, but all the while there was an itch that needed scratching when it came to his need for perfection.

As 2013 dawned, he decided the time was right to re-work and freshen up some of his earlier work.  “I stripped the paint from the sides and set to straightening it all out once again as I was never really happy with it to begin with,” said the world’s harshest self-critic.  Fresh BMW Bronze was then re-applied at the trusty Safe Drive Services Bodyshop of Dave Edley, before attention turned to bringing the retro vibe into the cabin.  Using authentic Westy tartan material and a period-looking tweed on the side bolsters, it’s a perfectly fitting old school, yet thoroughly modern, interior that South West Auto Trimming tackled while James busied himself doing the door panels and side trims. It’s perhaps our favourite part of this Van, but then we do so like those perfectly stanced 8.5 and 9.5 x 16-inch banded steels, so we’re stuck on what to pay attention to first.

Words like epic and legend are used all too flippantly nowadays, but no other superlatives will do here.  After more than four years of continual blood, sweat, tears and research, and an unending commitment to this cause, this rates as one of the most inspirational T4s we’ve seen so far.  James, we salute you!


Photos taken by: Laurens Parsons

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