Paul Eames; A Life in Transit

Restorations are a commitment not undertaken lightly, many never finish and a few don’t actually make it past the thought stage. A sense of achievement when completed; but at times the ‘why did I ever start this’ question crosses a tired mind, usually on cold dark nights when nothing wants to work, including you. To tell this story correctly its best to say at the beginning, this young man was diagnosed with cancer in October 2010 well into the build; it would take more than that to stop him and in September 2013 I was fortunate to get the full story and photographs of the finished Mark 1 Transit.

As the story will show, Paul’s illness was not the only issue he had to overcome. The van, an Ebay purchase in March 2009, consisted of a rust ridden cab hopefully on a great chassis with a mountain of parts some new some not. My first question had to be why? It seems this was not a rushed or poorly thought decision, Paul worked out that a £750 bid did in fact include most of the major components to finish the job.

Originally the 1972 Mark 1 was a camper van, although the body that Paul from Chichester did not require had long since been removed.  Unfortunately the camper van had not had an easy life but thankfully and most importantly the chassis was rust free, as the Zeebart applied when new had kept out the dreaded corrosion. The rest of the cab had not been so lucky and was in a poor state, thus on arrival home with van in tow Paul was met with a barrage of friendly derision and comments like ‘best weigh that lot in’. The first job was to strip it and see what the damage really was. As predicted the chassis was good but it took many hours to remove the old protection and get it back to primer. Although the purchase included many parts Paul knew his Ebay account would be busy as many necessary extra items would be a nightmare to source.

The worse stage was when the cab was cleaned and laid bare for all to see, tin worm had enjoyed free reign and as the images show the angle grinder would go through some discs over the coming weeks. It took a month of head scratching to decide where to start. The parts package included new steps, so with old metal cut out and the passenger side also needing a floor pan arch, the build really started. The Front cross-member centre section was cut out and replaced; Paul was assisted by Ben Mathews of local company B & M Fabrications (race car roll cage makers) who must be good because on close inspection there is no evidence that such a huge welding task had been undertaken, not a buckle or weld mark in sight.

Being a camper van it would not have required a bulkhead but at some stage a Mk2 bulkhead was fitted to the cab with a bigger window and this would not do.  However, a chance find of a Mk1 cab in a field in Cranleigh, Surrey held the Holy Grail. Farmer’s permission gained and pal Tim Millis in tow the boys dragged a generator to the remains of a transit long forgotten.  Cutting out the bulkhead, the rescued panel was added to the parts included in the original Ebay purchase - a new driver side wing, a passenger side base and a good used top section, everything was then prepared for fitting later.  Every project needs a Tim, you may not want him in your tool kit but without his help everything takes longer and you always have someone around with a smile on their face.

To ensure the rot has no chance of returning a German product called Fertan was recommended and applied at every opportunity; seams were sealed and welds protected. Filler as required but not as much as you would think was needed.  Sanding and prep for primer was a long and tiring job but everything looks so much better with a coat of primer and the van saw its first coat in July 2011.  A special mention must go to Kenny Butler who aided and advised on the cab rebuild and fitment. Paul was having treatment during this time and although he was slowed it didn’t take long to get back up to speed, his passion for the van is inspiring. His dad Peter was always on hand, as dads are, rightly proud and impressed by the build that was happening in front of his eyes. Engine bay coloured in Pauls chosen green, along with the cab interior. The original 35000 mile engine was prepared by Paul himself; the mechanical stuff is his domain. With the axles, the engine and gearbox re fitted along with the prop shaft, new UJs, Kingpins and steering joints, all wearable items were replaced with new.

October 2011 saw a rolling chassis with perfect running gear and the V4 motor purring.  The light at the end of the tunnel grew brighter. Mirrors were sourced by a helpful lady at original manufactures Tex; she hunted through old and new stock to find the correct ones. The camper had the wrong passenger seating set up for the pick up so Ebay was again called into action to find an original double seat to go with the brown driver’s seat; specialists Richmond & James in Waterlooville repaired and re-covered them to the highest quality.

 On went the wings and out came the spray gun in winter 2011 and by Feb 2012 Steve Davis of Smart Rimz Littlehampton had a flat and polish job to complete.  The paint finish is excellent but it was time for Paul to look after himself for a while. It was nearly a year before he would enjoy the final stage of the build as treatment had to take priority.

Nearly four years after the first mouse click a journey was finishing.  With the   white grill fitted along with new tyres the cab and chassis passed its MOT in April 2013. Word of mouth brought the pick-up to my attention.  A classic car enthusiast told of a brand new Mark 1 Transit van running around without a body! The finishing touch was already underway; by chance a load of White American Oak had found its way into Paul’s hands. It would not have been his choice, being far too expensive, but luck was on his side and Paul had NW Furniture of East Dean, a local specialist, prepare the wood perfectly. The frame and sides are all finished with the attention to detail that runs through the whole project and the oak is secured to the deck with brass wood screws that all face in the same direction.

Whilst admiring his achievement as the Transit sits ready for its photo session, Paul is the first to admit that he has had some great help and support from family and friends; also a fair amount of good fortune.  The jobs he has had to out-source have been finished to the same high standard that the rest of the restoration received. I defy anyone to find fault with this Mark 1 and I hope my photo skills do it justice.  As for its creator I look forward to his next restoration project.

The next show season will begin in the spring and Paul wants to give people ‘down south’ the chance to see what can be resurrected from a rusty pile of parts. If you are lucky enough to catch up with the Transit Mark 1 Pick-up stop Paul for a chat, he really is a great guy and would love to tell you all about it. For me, I am full of admiration for lots of reasons, thanks to Paul, his family and friends for their time and I wish them the very best for the future.    Paul Eames 3rd April 1978 - 16th November 2013 he will be sorely missed by all that knew him.