The roller coaster continues!

After the epic failure, and massive disappointment of not being able to have our dream holiday in the campervan back in May due to mechanical issues, the agony has been prolonged by restrictions on using the van over any distance until the gearbox has been replaced.  A lengthy lead time of two months on getting my gearbox into the specialist left me feeling slightly frustrated, but mid July arrived and the box was delivered in person.

A month or so later and the refurbishment of my original gearbox seemed to be taking a lot longer than expected. Not exactly sure why but I’ve decided to take a friend up on the offer of loan gearbox to tide me over. I originally considered this option a couple of months previously to keep my van mobile in the interim but decided to wait. However, as my September holiday looms I have had to fall back on this as my only real possibility of getting my van roadworthy in time.

Pulling a gearbox out and replacing with another would normally be something I would leave to the experts, but the tight schedule means no availability in the  only garage I really trust to do the job properly. So needs must. I rolled my sleeves up and got stuck in. All be it a little reluctantly.

Leaking Gearbox Out

The loan gearbox was petrol, so there was always going to have to be changes made before fitting to my diesel van. The bell / clutch housing needed to be swapped over along with the input shaft. After draining the oil from both boxes I split the clutch housing from the gearbox.

Then I proceeded to change the shaft. However, on close inspection I found the diesel input shaft to be pretty badly worn where it sits in the clutch spigott bearing.

Clearly I wouldn’t want to jeopardize the next holiday by turning a blind eye to something I could rectify prior to fitting the gearbox. So I posted on social media to see if anybody had a replacement I could use. Within an hour or so I had a bite, and by the end of the day I had images as proof of the condition of a good replacement part.

The wonders of Paypal meant that my part was on its way the following day. The clutch housing has also fitted with a new input shaft seal, and 4.5l of gearbox oil purchased in readiness of gearbox rebuild completion. Hopefully, the van should be back on the road in a matter of days 🙂

heritage wood

Heritage Woods is a Caravan club campsite in the grounds of a wooded area suitable for a maximum of 5 vehicles. This was just a short one night getaway in the van. We wanted to remain local to Derby so this was perfect.


The trees in the wood are sponsored by people who want to commemorate a loved one. We were the only people camped the night we stayed over.

The weather was amazing, and although Mandy had reservations about camping in a place with such spiritual meaning, she soon put this to the back of her mind and we both had a much needed, relaxing couple of days in the van

Big Mirror refurb

The Atlantic was one of the few vans that came with big mirrors as standard. These were always colour coded from factory in one of three available colours. White, calypso green or red. My van on the other hand came with mat black mirrors.

black mirrors

This didn’t particularly bother me as I always knew I would get round to painting them at some point. It’s just never really been a priority, what with the van getting plenty of use during both winter and summer. However, my current situation means Wolfgang is off the road for the time being, so this became an opportunity….(always need a positive spin with these vans 🌝)

Unfortunately, its not quite as simple as just unscrewing them via the visible screws on the door bracket. They are heated and servo adjustable from a switch module on the left hand, drivers door. This means that the door cards have to come out on both sides. The fallowing video is a guide to removing the door cards for anybody that may need to perform this process: (courtesy of Van-Again on YouTube)

Below is my door after card removal:

Door card stripped

Then  electrical ‘block’ connector needs disconnecting and stripping….

Electrical block connector (needs striping)

after which the wires can then be passed through the small cable aperture to mirror.

Cable entry / exit hole in door

Its not massively difficult, but a little more involved than one would first imagine.

Then the mirrors need stripping into their basic components before paint.  Separating the bracket from the mirror was done using a pair of long nosed pliers . There is large slotted nut (1 in below image) that winds up against a perspex bush (2 in below image) and spring. Again, not the easiest thing to do especially if the nut hasn’t been removed for a number of years.

Mirror brackets removed

The mirror glass also needs to be removed. If you look closely in between the glass and the outer casing you can just see the two tabs sticking out on either side. Not particularly clear under instruction exactly how these hold the mirror in, but with a couple of knives carefully slotted down the side, and an up movement on one side, and down on the other, the mirror pulls free of the servo unit.

Wires connected to mirror are for heated / defrost function during cold weather

From the picture above I was slightly surprised to see the original colour inside the casing. I did strip one of the mirrors down even further in the hope that I could just send the plastics and bracket away for spraying, but realized the connectors on the end of the loom wouldn’t go through the hole in the bottom of the mirror. This meant they must have been crimped on after they were thread out of the aperture during construction at the factory. I wasn’t willing to cut them off and re connect after paint, so I left the whole servo assembly in the mirror. You can see more clearly the original paint in the photo below.

Original paint in mirror.

I can only assume that the original external paint must have gotten scratched, chipped or dis-couloured to the point where a previous owner decided to take matters into his own hands with a DIY spray-job using a can of mat black paint.

So this was just about as far as I could take it. I was considering getting a few rattle cans made up and having a go at painting them myself. However, these wouldn’t have been cheap, and these on top of the extra wet-n-dry emery paper and primer, would have meant that I probably wouldn’t be saving a great deal against the cost of a professional paint shop. So the paint was purchased and both mirrors and paint were taken to a body shop I had used previously to have my Fiamma Box painted.

Two Days later I collected and I must admit I am pretty happy with the results . I just need to build them up and pop them back on the van 🙂

Start at the start…where it ended!

Leading on from the last BLOG entry the replacement gearbox was fitted and we focused our attention on contacting campsites and making sure everything was checked and packed. We would need to run the van with the storage box on the back to give us extra capacity for the outdoor equipment. This has become known as the ‘bum bag’ and is extremely useful on long trips. Its been colour coded and recently had additional graphics applied so I really didn’t want to do anything to damage it.

However, the regulations in some countries stipulate that a reflective white and red square needs to be applied to any vehicle that has anything hanging over the rear by half a meter. In Italy they require that this be made of aluminum sheet. So for me this became a real headache as box is curved and attaching it would almost certain cause damage somewhere along the line. So I scratched my head for a few days, then after a visit to the local B&Q to buy some materials set to concocting a bracket.

As you can see, I did have to drill a hole in the box itself for a stainless fixing, and a corresponding hole in the reflective square. This along with a foam strip on the back of the square meant that it  would ensure the square itself would not rub on the box or damage it in any way. Attaching the square was done by three wing nuts, and could be done 30 seconds. We would only attach when driving so anticipated fitting it around ten times throughout our month long euro trip

This was completed on the Friday, which left Saturday free for some last minute checks and a bit of spit and polish on the van. Our plan for the Sunday was to drive down to Canterbury Park and Ride. We anticipated getting there around lunch time and go into Canterbury for the afternoon. We would stop overnight in the park and ride car park and leave around 5am on the Monday morning for the Dover to Calais crossing to France. Well that was the plan anyway…

The morning was just about as good as we could have expected. Brilliantly sunny,  and the forecast both in the UK and Europe was looking good for the forthcoming week. We were both in high spirits as we moved from Derby onto the M1 and later the M25.  Traffic wasn’t a problem and we made good time as we passed Dagenham and towards the Darford tunnel. We decided with only 50 miles left to travel that we would pull in to Thurock Services, have a coffee and re-fuel. This is where it all went pear shaped.

We  pulled onto the slip road and onto the M25, A13 intersection. I shifted down from 5th to 4th gear. Something didn’t seem quite right as i slowed to stop for a set of lights on the junction. My doubts were re affirmed when i couldn’t get the van out of 4th gear. The lights stayed red for a short time during which i continued to struggle to get the van out of gear. The lights turned green, my hazard turned on and my heart sunk. I wasn’t in a good place geographically or mentally. I eventually managed to get the van out of 4th by the time the lights had turned green the second time, but the lever was all over the place. I couldn’t get 1st so had to settle for second but with a little clutch slip I pulled off.  I knew I couldn’t risk trying to do any distance so park my van on a concrete verge just before the next set of lights.

I continued to wrestle with the lever, but I knew that unless this turned out to be a simple, obvious issue with the gear linkage, our holiday was pretty much over before it had even started.  There were no tears, but I was crying  inside. Next step recovery to a place of safety…

Thurrock services. We we had intended to go to the services anyway, but under our own steam would have been the preferred method!

While the AA recovery chap settled my van back on terra firma, Mandy and I went for a coffee and tried to gather our composure. We made our way back to the van after ten minutes. I was thinking about how the gear lever felt in my hand, and hoped that I could source the root of the problem quickly. Possibly a bolt had dropped out of the gear linkage between the lever at the front and the box at the back? A second AA vehicle would be along in the hour to try and get my van back on the road which was reassuring. However, I wasn’t going to wait till then. I got the jack out, elevated the front and dropped the spare wheel so I could gain access to as much of the lever and linkage mechanism as possible to try and find that loose or missing nut or bolt.

Nothing as obvious unfortunately.  The AA mechanic turned up and after a little  poking and prodding came to the conclusion that there was a problem with something linkage related above the fuel tank. This turned out to be a miss diagnosis! We were told that it was up to us what we did next. If we needed recovery home or to a garage it was we just had to let them know as it was included in our policy.

I had posted on a Facebook group specifically for this type of van about my predicament in the hope that I could get a remote diagnosis from people that have been in the same situation. Lots of suggestions which was really helpful. A friend also saw the post and called me to see if I needed any help. Long story short he arrived and spent the best part of the afternoon under the van as we both scratched our head to try and resolve.

Mark and I trying to fix…

We had to throw in the towel and accept that this was not going to be a quick fix. Late afternoon I lowered the van, and all three of us popped to the service station for another Costa Coffee. Marks time and help was very much appreciated, but we had to accept the fact we were going to be spending the night there. We bid Mark goodbye, and I drowned my sorrows with a bottle of white wine from Marks and Spencers. Mandy had a shot of toffee vodka. Sleep at the motorway service station was in short supply. This was largely due to the noisy generators on HGV refrigeration trucks continually working to keep the goods cool. With the pop top roof elevated there was little protection from the noise.

Monday morning I messaged the garage that fitted the gearbox a couple of weeks previously. He was reasonably local to our home in Derby so that would have been one possible option. No immediate response from him unfortunately. However,T3 specialist Brickwerks heard we were having difficulties and offered to assist if we could get the van to them that day. It was touch and go  as to whether or not we could make the 208 mile distance at the 56 mph the recovery trucks were limited to. But our options were limited, and if anybody could get us back on the road, it was these guys.

We contacted the AA and within minutes we were on the back of a flatbed en route for Northampton Service station for another relay vehicle to take us on to Honley in Yorkshire.  We certainly weren’t sad to see the back of Thurrock Motorway Services!

En route to Brickwerks

After leaving Thurrock at 10am we finally arrived at Brickwerks at 3pm. Both Mandy and I were feeling light headed due to lack of food. Brickwerks owner Simon swiftly pulled the van into the workshop and he and mechanic Angus frantically started trying to identify the problem.

We left them to get some food to try and raise our blood sugar levels. We were both emotionally drained and It was turning out to be a long day. But we didn’t loose hope. We wandered back to the workshop after an hour or so. The diagnosis was a fault inside the gearbox.

A second bite at the cherry was offered in the form of a second hand gearbox they had in the workshop. They worked to get the van back on the road and two hours after we arrived we were on our way again. Fantastic! We decided to head back home to Derby and re-assess the situation. There was a possibility we were going to continue to Canterbury after a shower and freshen up, but after the 36 hour breakdown saga, everything needed to be perfect if were were going to consider going ahead with the trip again. Sadly, we felt this wasn’t the case and decided to cancel the holiday.

Our first choice of holiday will always be in the van. We just love it! That said it has been a real disappointment that our holiday came to such an abrupt end. To try and salvage something we have booked a cottage in Kingswear, Dartmouth for a weeks holiday. Wolfgang is now waiting patiently to have his original gearbox reconditioned by specialist Aidan Talbot. Unfortunately he can’t even look at my gearbox until 17th July, and with a one month turn around, it doesn’t look like he is going to be back on the road until the end of August.

So there you have it. The start of an epic holiday… turned out to be the end 🙁

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