Van Life

Finding SAM - our 1966 Ford Falcon

Back when we decided to take this journey we had no idea what vehicle we wanted; a camper van of course, but modern or vintage? Ready made or conversion? Left or right hand drive? Ultimately the decision was based on love as all the best decisions are of course. We found our American 1966 Ford Falcon van on ebay and had to decide within 3 hours whether to bid a substantial sum of money to win. At the time Carlos was in Spain and I was in London so we made the decision over Skype. Neither of us had even heard of Ford Falcons or Ford Econolines. Neither of us has much experience with vintage vehicles and no experience with American imports and we had no idea if this one would be robust enough to withstand the journey we were planning. But it was, I have to admit, love at first sight, which is exactly how we roll. So we did some (fast) research, we bid, we won, we travelled to the UK midlands, had it checked over by a local garage and drove our new baby home. 

And the thing is you can't help but LOVE this van. The previous owner had tears in his eyes as he watched it drive away. Wherever we go people smile, give us the thumbs up and want to say hello/ask if he's for sale/take a photo/have a chat. Our relationship is now a threesome; Carlos, Simone and our van, who we've named 'Sam'. Sam has the happiest smiling face and a wonderful streamlined design which gives him a sense of urgency, the look of a van with somewhere to BE. He's fairly demanding it has to be said. Sam is an old fellow after all, he's seen a hell of a lot more life than us two whippersnappers and dog-garn-it we're just going to have to follow his lead. That said he's faithful and solid and strong as an ox with a 3.8ltr straight 6 monster of an engine. God bless America and post-war American engineering. 

  We had to put a few things right after we bought him. Let down by one mechanic and getting increasingly stressed by the endless delays to our leaving deadline we google-searched 'Classic Car Repairs' in Surrey and found a fabulous mechanic just two miles down the road who just happened to specialise in American vehicles.  Finding Al was the best thing that could have happened. We spent more than we planned on getting road-worthy but Al made sure we'd be good for our trip. A new steering wheel, electronic ignition, alternator, head gasket, sparks and repairs to gears, handbrake, removal of lots of extraneous wiring and electrics, plus a whole host of minor fixes and tunes had our van running 'sweet as a nut'. Al's garage was an awesome find too - hidden away in the countryside, and overflowing with vintage American cars and memorabilia it was a joy to snoop around. Al and his wife Jane were amazing and finished our van in under three days as promised.

In the meantime Carlos was designing our new van interior. The previous owner had made Sam really cosy but it just wasn't going to work for our needs, so sadly we decided to rip out the back and started again. We needed to maximise storage and a bed system that was simple and easy to set up. We also needed proper refrigeration, new lighting, an outdoor kitchen set up and a good solution for privacy. In the end after numerous designs we settled on an L-shaped sofa, that transforms into a bed. The pieces that make up the bed base double as a table for dining. He added a high level storage system at the rear of the van for the kitchen equipment and additional storage.

Simone took on the upholstery and designed a neat system of cushions that click together to make a monster king-size bed for sleeping. Alongside this there were new blinds to sew, lined with blackout fabric. Fabric was bought from the gorgeous Cloth Shop on Portobello Road.

We shopped online for lighting, second hand fridges, a roof rack (which had to be cut to fit in the end), an awning for longer stays, tarpaulins and then gathered all the useful bits and pieces we'd both collected over the years on camping trips and adventures. We made a trip to Ikea for plastic containers, bedding and a few miscellaneous odds and ends. In the end we bought very little as most of what we needed we already had.

There are a couple of things we missed - a battery or solar lantern for the awning, a secondary roll-up table, another camp chair. We'll find these along the way. There are some things we probably could have left behind, additional water storage not so necessary, we're in Europe not the Sahara.

We did all of this while refurbishing our London home for rental, moving out and then crashing at a very-generous mother's house, and with an obnoxious never-ending rain making everything harder - none of which is recommended. But we made it. In the little free time we had we said goodbye to friends with (a series of) parties and dinners (as one friend asked "how many leaving dos ARE you having exactly???", "As many as possible", we answered).

The day arrived to leave - Thursday 19th September. Pissing rain, a last emergency trip to London to fix something at the flat, the stupid decision to drive our van through London traffic (he HATES that), a mad dash into a caravan shop to buy a windscreen shield and two and a bit hours later we roll on to the Eurotunnel. Tears of relief and fear and every other emotion you can name. What on earth have we DONE? I guess we'll find out.