The Sideburn VW Transporter started making a noise 80 miles into our 2000-mile road trip to Snow Quake, Motor Bike Expo in Italy and back. My Sportster had just run out of petrol, two miles from Birchanger Services on the M11, and Dave Skooter Farm, who was driving the van, pulled up behind me. We splashed some fuel in the Harley and continued to the services.
When Dave pulled up he explained the van made a terrible noise after he accelerated off the hard shoulder to follow me. We called out the AA. The breakdown service turned up soon after. The AA man reckoned it was a blocked exhaust, causing back pressure and that was what we could hear. He told us we should turn around, go home and get it fixed. It was 11pm. We were meeting James Cox, the videographer at 5.30 the next morning. I was happy to believe the AA man, made calls to Co-Built Anthony and Tom Clemens for any kind of advice, considered renting a van, but decided to press on. We had to make the Heading South for Winter video, and get to Italy in two days. We couldn't lose any time.
The next morning me made the Channel crossing and continued the ride and drive down. The first few times we stopped in France Dave said he thought it was getting worse. At this point we were still believing it was the exhaust. The van got to Italy, my Harley ride was over and after the race it was time for me to drive the van to Verona, then back to England. It would easily do 70, but it would vibrate badly as it was accelerating. Now I had time to experience the sensation, it felt like the five-cylinder engine was running on four. We were as far away from home as we were going to get. We filled up the oil and continued, steady away. I'd seen puffs of white smoke when I was following the van up the mountain to Riva Valdobbia. Tom Clemens said that was probably unburnt diesel, also pointing to it being down on a cylinder.
In Verona I got pulled by the Guardia di Finanza, the militarised police that, according to Wikipedia, 'is essentially responsible for dealing with financial crime and smuggling; it has also evolved into Italy's primary agency for suppressing the drugs trade.' They got heavy with us, rude, in our faces, asking for more paperwork than I had. Dave legged it to Mr Martini's shop, where we'd just been. Our good friend Mr Martini came over and sorted it out in 30 seconds. God knows what would have happened if he hadn't been there. Don't they have anything better to do?
I booked the van in with CFM in Sleaford, for the Wednesday after we got back. The van made it back, trucking through France at a steady 70, not giving any more concern. After sitting on my drive for 36 hours the van started and seemed no worse, but just five miles later it lost power and would hardly pull 45mph for the next 20 miles to Sleaford. I limped to CFM where Carl immediately reckoned it was down one cylinder. Then the news got worse and worse.
The manifold was broken. A new one is £500.
The cam and cam followers are worn.
The intercooler is wrecked.
The head was sent to a specialist who said it would need all new seals and head bolts.
A week and a half later the van is still off the road and the bill is mounting, but I'm committed to it. The 2003 130bhp Transporter was bought from my mate Jason and has a solid body. And it has that lovely Ornamental Conifer painting on the back doors. The only real problem I've had is a driveshaft go. I had new heater plugs before Snow Quake 2016. That's it in over 70,000 miles. Even with a massive bill coming, I reckon I'm still in credit and it'll feel like a new engine when it is returned.