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Coach build, part 1 - The vehicle

As you may know, I am due to receive a large sum of money. With that in mind, I have spent time thinking about what I should do with it. My first thought was to spend it doing everything I need to my caravan. However, after discussing it with friends and family, I was soon persuaded to not spend it on my caravan, but to start afresh with something new. The stumbling block for a while was the fact that I have put so much time, energy and money into my caravan and really don’t want to lose my kitchen and door, etc. Once I had changed my mindset, I was able to look at things differently. Now, I can look at my caravan and see it as ‘practice’. If I can create something out of donated scrap timber, etc., whilst still living in the caravan, imagine what I could achieve with decent materials in a space that I am not living in.

To start with, I thought about a new caravan; perhaps a Roma or something like one of those German Tabbart’s. I thought about the towing vehicle; should I get something old? Maybe an old Bedford J series or Ford A series? I tentatively watched the various sales sites, etc. I looked at all sorts of combinations, including articulated vehicles. Eventually, I thought about all my tools, etc. that I no longer need. I have no use for half the tools I have. My health means that I am unlikely to have any use for them; I’m not likely to use them for work again. So, get rid of them and reduce my clobber. Downsize. Then, as I soon realised that I no longer need the storage, I began looking at large vans, horseboxes and the like. That soon in turn, led me to a coach or bus. A bus is not the greatest vehicle as, although much lower, no storage.

I looked at a lot of coaches, old and new. I thought hard about parameters; Too long and I won’t be able to get along many of the country lanes. Too high and I am limited with bridges. The older the vehicle, the smaller. However, also, the heavier the foot pedals and no power assisted steering. Anything older than the ‘60s, would mean a guzzling petrol engine. ‘60s vehicles are much more aesthetically pleasing, with flowing curves and more opening windows. ‘70s vehicles are taller, but also have loads more space for storage. ‘80s vehicles are too tall, though easier to drive. ‘90s vehicles are also too computerised and ugly. Generally speaking, most vehicles were produced in three basic lengths, 8m, 10m and 12m. I very quickly built a picture of what I needed. On balance, An 8m 1970s Bedford or Leyland would be ideal. 8m means that country lanes would not be a problem. Likewise with height. Heavy pedals and steering are not too difficult to lighten. Many were converted in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s when that technology was introduced.

Two things became very apparent. To start with, 8m coaches are like rocking horse shit. What there is, like many in that age range across all versions, are either too good (i.e. fully restored) or too far gone (i.e. In need of some serious dedication to put back on the road). Fortunately, not being in a rush to buy anything, I had time to wait for the right thing to come along at the right price. Perusing the ads was primarily to get an idea of what is available. Little did I know that the ideal candidate would appear at the right price, sooner, rather than later.

I spotted an old Leyland Bristol LH. It was already stripped out and up for £6,000. I discussed it with friends and family. Obviously, I didn’t have the money for it, but it was certainly worth enquiring about, I might be able to come to an arrangement. I messaged the contact and got a message back stating that somebody had arranged to view it. I was assured that should it not be sold, I would be contacted. That was the last I heard.

A few weeks later, as I was scrolling through the latest ads, I spotted the same coach, still up for sale, except that now, it had had a double price drop. It was now being advertised at £3825. I contacted the advertiser again. This time I was able to chat to some-one about it and even tentatively arranged to view it. I again discussed everything with friends and family, weighed up the options, which in all truth was helped by the fact that between us, the asking price could be raised. The seller, a bloke named Nigel, said that he didn’t know whether the coach was roadworthy, having had it transported by a low-loader when he had bought it. I then contacted a haulier that has the correct equipment to transport the coach. He wanted an astronomical amount. Having not got anywhere with any other hauliers, and after another round of conversation, we decided that viewing would be the first step. We could then assess the roadworthiness. If all good, we could potentially drive home. If not, we could then look into the viability of doing the necessary repairs, and if so, whether it could be done where it was located near Ipswich.

I found an insurance broker who specialises in vintage, historic and classic vehicles. The cost of insurance was very reasonable. As an historic vehicle, it is exempt from M.o.T. testing and the road tax is free. We, Michael and I, loaded the car with the tools we were likely to need. Then, with Froggy onboard, we headed out on a Sunday morning. The journey there was easy and free of traffic congestion. We headed to the north of Ipswich, to a place called Rushmore St.Andrew. I think I only looked at the map once and that was to locate exactly where the road to the village is in relation to the main road. As it happens, it leaves the main ring road just past a large cemetery. It couldn’t have been easier. As we pulled up, Nigel appeared. The first thing anyone said was, “Same beard!”

It didn’t take long to ascertain the roadworthiness of the coach. The brake linings were practically new. There was next to no wear at all. Everything else checked out and the fuel tank read quarter tank. Plenty enough to get home. Nigel backed the coach out of his barn, Michael took a few photos, I had a go around the yard while Froggy filmed the whole thing. (Unfortunately, the video is too long to publish here.) It has been a very long time since I drove a large vehicle that has no power assisted steering! It didn’t take me long to get the feel of it, though. I had a good look around the coach, noting some little jobs that needed doing; general body maintenance, particularly a missing panel. After a little chat, we agreed a price and I paid the man. He was surprised when I said that I would take it right away. He thought that I would return for it. “What for?” I said, “It’s insured, taxed and ready to go. I can’t afford to come all the way back for something that I can take now.”

Nigel‘s wife, Amanda, if I remember correctly, said to him, “You’re the same. If you’ve made your mind up, you don’t hang about.”

“True.” he agreed.

To be fair, we actually spent more time chatting than I had intended to. My original plan was to get home before dark. As soon as we were ready, though, Froggy sat in with me in the coach so that he could keep comms open with Michael, who followed in the car. Turning out of the lane after leaving was a bit of a struggle. I had approached the end of the lane as I would normally, only to realise that I had to then heave the steering wheel round to make the turn. That was hard work. Thereafter, I anticipated junctions differently, making manoeuvring a lot easier. Soon, we were on the A12 heading for the Dartford Crossing. It was incredibly loud in the coach, made so primarily due to the emptiness; no seats, etc. Loads of people slowed down as they passed, some taking photographs and filming the old girl as we trundled our way home. We stopped for a break before we joined the M25. I ended up handing out a few of my leaflets.

Surprisingly, there were no hold-ups all the way home. However, as we neared Hastings, I noticed that the speed would fluctuate, then, as we hit the hills, fuel starvation. We stopped at the only service station on the A21, at Blueboys. We checked the fuel gauge, which is on the tank, not in the cab! It was still reading quarter tank. We dipped the tank. We still had enough fuel, but it was obvious that the fuel gauge doesn’t work. There is probably also bits of rust in the tank, which is being picked up and blocking the fuel line. A problem I would not have known about had I not driven home. Eventually, we made it home for a well-earned cup of tea.

It didn’t take long before the coach-spotters were appearing. I found out a few things about the coach. It has had a number of keepers and the seats were removed some years ago by the first keeper to use it as a home. It has had three different liveries and was involved in a shunt, hence why it has an ‘80s front. There are plenty of photographs of it, before and after the shunt, on the internet. I am in two minds as to whether or not to try to return it to its original look or leave as is. It is unique. I have been offered a few bits for it. A bloke called Steve, who is the owner of Empress Coaches said that he had some of the trim. I have also found a bloke in Rochester who can source many parts. All very positive.

However, what I need now is a barn. I need to get the coach under cover so that I can strip off the panels, remove the windows, clean the whole thing up, deal with mechanical issues, repaint and replace the panels and tint and replace the windows, before I start on the actual build. I also want to rearrange the storage compartments, especially the boot, which is far too deep to use efficiently.

If you have, know of or know anyone who might be able to help, please let me know. I’m sure you can vouch for me. As you know, I am self-sufficient, quiet and tidy. I will of course, pay rent. For which, I will soon have enough to pay 6 months at a time in advance.

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3 comentarios

Just wondering Steve ... did any of your various sources of spare parts happen to have a panel that matched the one that was missing?

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That won’t be a problem. It’s just a sheet of ali

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Happy New Home Steve! :) And I'm pleased to note - in answer to an earlier question - that not only is she a girl! ... she's also quite a peach! 🍑

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