Thursday, 12 November 2020

Project Erica: Part 16 - Grand Tour

I posted a new video on YouTube last weekend, giving a full tour of Erica now that she's as good as finished (really must buy some flooring...). You'll find it here:

By way of a reminder, at the beginning of August we took delivery of Erica, nearly two weeks after we bought her, and having never seen her before. At the time she looked like this:

A few days later and we had her stripped back to this state:

Then the real work began, and continued on until October, when she came to look like this:

Not exactly like that because until a few minutes before I took this snap this afternoon she had three matching sets of curtains and one odd-one-out set. Today I took the odd set apart and remade it, using up every last scrap of the cream fabric and almost all of my black-out material off-cuts. 

There are still a few things that we will do to Erica in due course, aside from fitting some flooring, such as tinting her windows (or having them tinted, or most likely tinting her windows badly, ripping it back off then having them redone professionally), fitting some rain deflectors to her front windows, and re-upholstering the sofa and the head-bumpers, but they're all nice-to-haves, rather than necessities, so I'm in no great rush.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Erica's Maiden Voyage - How Did She Perform?

What was our assessment of Erica after her first outing? Excellent! She’s very comfortable and surprisingly spacious for such a small vehicle, with that swivelling single passenger seat making a big difference to both space and utility. We can also pat ourselves on the back for how quiet she is when driving, with the combination of the sound-deadening and insulation killing the road noise that was intrusive when she was stripped bare, and with no creaks or rattles coming from anything that we built.

Even with the cold night, we didn’t feel the need to turn the heating on until about 7.30pm (and again first thing the next morning), and it did its job admirably … but with a lot of noise. I’ve since dismounted the fuel pump, wrapped it in closed cell foam and suspended it (taking care to maintain the correct angle) via some cable ties; it’s now much quieter, but I reckon I can probably improve it a little further yet by removing the pipe clips I used to mount the rigid fuel pipe upstream of the pump and replace them with some foam-cushioned mounts.

We also could do with moving the heater controller that we realised, before we even left home, we’d put in the wrong place. It’s fine during the day when the sofa/bed is in sofa mode, but having the controller under the bed isn’t ideal if you want to turn the heating on or off when you’re in bed.

We also need to think more about where we store stuff. Carelessly, I put the kettle, mugs and tea-making gubbins in a cupboard that’s not accessible when the bed’s out. I’ll not make that mistake again!

Then there was the issue of the cool box. We’d decided early on in planning Erica that she wasn’t going to have a fridge, yet somehow we didn’t think about the practicality of where we would keep the cool-box. It was as I was trying to find somewhere secure to stow it that Mick pointed at the shelf behind the toilet and asked if it would fit there. Genius! You’d think we’d designed the area for that purpose, it fits so well.


A securing harness would be good, but in the meantime, a blanket in front and a jumper wedging it in place from the side did the job. A good use of otherwise wasted space. Note that the rest of the curtains are not the same as this set. I don’t mind the chintzy look of the gingham, but the colour doesn’t go at all. I will, in due course, make them all match.

Erica’s small size also proved its value throughout the first day, when she proceeded along miles upon miles of tiny lanes. Whilst legally Bertie could have taken us along all of those roads, there’s no way we would have chosen to have him do that. Some of them (mainly those with grass growing down the middle) were tight enough for the foliage to be brushing slim Erica’s sides and even on those that were a clear 2m wide, the passing of oncoming vehicles often involved some manoeuvring, followed by both vehicles hugging the hedges and inching slowly; Bertie would have caused both difficulty and consternation. Then there was the unofficial 2m height restriction on one of the roads due to a fallen tree. I certainly could have bagged those hills using Bertie,  but it would have been a completely different trip, requiring an extra day and a bicycle. 

So, a promising start to her life as a camper and we look forward to using her more. (For the avoidance of doubt, we're also looking forward to using Bertie more; poor chap has only had two nights away since March. Having his engine started and being moved forward or backwards half a tyre-turn every fortnight is not  how he foresaw his year panning out!)








Thursday, 5 November 2020

Erica's Maiden Voyage

Tuesday and Wednesday 3-4 November
Where was Erica? She spent the night in a small parking area in Herefordshire, just a few hundred metres away from the Gloustershire border.
Weather: Lovely! Chilly overnight.

It felt like I spent most of last week making curtains for Erica (a process hugely more time consuming than making the sofa covers), however, I did also find the time to plan Erica’s first overnight trip (the reason for hastening on with the curtains). At that point, because I pay so little notice to the news, I was unaware that England was teetering on the brink of another national lockdown.

With Boris’s announcement on Saturday I contemplated whether it was still reasonable to go away. We would be back before the lockdown came into effect and would be completely self-contained and socially distant whilst away, so ‘go’ was the decision reached. This did, however, make us bad tourists from the point of view that the isolated nature of the trip was going to prevent us from spending money in any local businesses (a shame, as a breakfast out wouldn’t have gone amiss).

Monday morning was a flurry of activity as we packed Erica, with the impediment of not yet knowing in which cupboards things sensibly belong. Monday afternoon was a flurry of the final bits of curtain making (did I mention how long they took?! Such a lot of effort and at some point they’ll likely be completely redone in different fabric).

On Tuesday morning, under fine skies, we set out. Herefordshire was our immediate destination, with a list of seven hills that we were to visit before returning home. The plan, if all went well, was that we were going to do five on them on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.

All did not start entirely well; a small incident of programming the wrong destination into the SatNav (wrong hill; wrong co-ordinates even for that hill), but fortunately I spotted the ‘wrong hill’ error just in the nick of time (I didn’t spot the ‘wrong co-ordinates’ issue until it had inconvenienced us later in the day).

Wearing pyjamas to prepare lunch whilst sitting outside of a village hall – the starting point for our next hill

Aside from those issues, the rest of the day went smoothly and before we knew it the sun was sinking and with it the heat was leaching out of the day. I’d had in mind to spend the night in the vicinity of Wednesday’s first hill, but when we found the parking area by Tuesday’s final hill to be wholly suited to the purpose we decided to work on the basis of ‘better the devil you know’. The fast food wrapping and drinks cans that looked to be freshly deposited in the originally intended car park when we arrived there the next morning suggested our choice had been good and that we wouldn’t have had such a peaceful night there.

It was a chilly night for Erica’s first test, and we woke to a ground frost. Being on higher ground played to our advantage on this occasion, as a temperature inversion not only gave us a fine view over the cloud-filled valley, but it also meant that it was slightly warmer. We watched the thermometer drop as we drove down towards Cheltenham at rush hour on Wednesday morning (the downside of not having proceeded to Wednesday’s first hill at the end of Tuesday).

Wednesday morning’s view from our kipping spot

By early afternoon all of our hills had been visited, we’d enjoyed some lovely views in incredible weather and we were on our way home.

Seven summit selfies 

So, how did Erica perform? I’ll answer that question in my next post.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Project Erica: Part 15 - Ta Dah! (Kinda)

Three videos in the space of a week: that's how quickly things progressed towards the end. Hot on the heels of completing the electrical installation, attention was turned back to the sofa/bed, which had sat almost untouched since we first made the frame back in August. 

Finishing the bed required some upholstery fabric and I had been tardy in ordering samples, so we needed something as a stop-gap (we ordered the foam with a stockinette cover which snags easily, so we couldn't just throw the uncovered foam in, even temporarily). That led us to make a trip into town (second time this year that I've ventured into town and last time was only to one specific shop) to do a trawl of the charity shops, which netted us a pair of curtains for £6. I can't say that either of us was wild about the design, but aesthetics weren't important for our immediate purposes; however, a week down the line and I have to say that the look is growing on me. We do now have the fabric samples I ordered (bar one that didn't arrive)...


I *really* don't like the one on the left. All of the others are in contention.

...the question is whether we go ahead and buy our choice of fabric, or whether, for now, we stick with what I've already made?

It probably didn't make sense to go as far as covering the head bumpers with the temporary fabric, but I wasn't going to reinstall them in their nasty yellow vinylness, and without them we had holes in Erica's header liner. I reckoned I had just enough fabric left to do them (golly, it was tight! Had to join two pieces together for the one above the tailgate and one of them only has about 5mm wrapped around to the rear of it) so I did a quick job with some double-sided tape.

The few scraps then remaining were allocated to making buttoned straps to hold the cushions in place when we're driving, after which this is the entirety of what was left from that pair of charity shop curtains:

I think we can say we got our money's worth from our £6 curtains!

Lots of other bits and pieces have been finished too. The toilet mount was built, and various bits of wood cut and secured to make various unfinished bits look prettier. We even put up a bit of wallpaper, in the shape of an OS map on the visible section of the back of the kitchen cabinet. 

Where does all that leave us? With a campervan that's fit and ready for use, albeit currently lacking in flooring and curtains. 

How chuffed are we with how she's looking? Mightily!

You can see the almost-final bit of her transformation from patient transfer vehicle to campervan by clicking on the thumbnail below:


Don't know if it's the same for every browser, but I only see part of the full YouTube thumbnail here, which rather ruins the before/after view that took me so long to assemble into a YouTube-suitable thumbnail!

(By way of a small aside: these videos have, until now, taken between 2 and 3 hours to upload to YouTube and we had to refrain from doing anything else on the internet whilst they were in progress. Yesterday we changed our internet provider and upgraded to fibre. This video took less than 10 minutes to upload. What timing, now that I'm all but finished with this video-making malarkey!)

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Project Erica: Part 14 - We Have The Power!

For most of Project Erica I've been publishing one video a week, but here we are with the second installment in the space of 4 days. There are two reasons for this:

1) The build has accelerated over the last couple of weeks with lots of tasks getting finished, so I've already got the footage recorded for the next two videos;

2) My month-by-month subscription to the video editing software is up for renewal in a few days' time, so it seems sensible to get the antepenultimate and penultimate videos edited now so that I can cancel it (the final video* may be a while away yet) - and if I'm making the videos, I may as well publish them**.

The subject of this video is Erica's electrical system, which involved three days of me kneeling on her floor surrounding myself with tools and wires. My pleasure at things actually working once I'd connected them was arguably a little disproportionate and perhaps reflects an inbuilt pessimism that I seldom expect things to go to plan.

It's another quite long one at 23 minutes (including a couple of bonus snippets at the end), but unlike the heater installation installment, I'm happy with how this video has turned out. 

(*Now I think about it there may be two more videos: the final bits of the build combined with the grand tour, and a 'what it cost' review.

**YouTube would probably advise me to stick with a regular schedule, however, I've no interest in building a YouTube channel. I may well create more videos in the future if we do another significant project of some description, but for now the vlogging will finish with the completion of Erica.)

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Project Erica: Part 13 - Portable Warmth for Nesh People

As if we haven't abused Erica enough over the last two months (I'm not sure she's yet forgiven us for wielding an angle grinder at her ramp), a couple of weeks ago we decided the time had come to cut another hole in her - quite a big one this time at 127mm across (or 5" if you prefer old money). 

The purpose of this hole was for the fitting of the diesel-powered air heater, which is the subject of this week's video:

Whilst almost everything on this project has been a learning experience to some extent, much of the work has been somehow comparable to things we've done in the past. The fitting of the diesel heater, in common with carpeting the walls and changing the passenger seat, felt like far more of a novel task.

Fortunately, I joined a couple of diesel heater groups on Facebook at the end of last year and over the months I've picked up many tips (mainly from other people's mistakes). Even so, it was a daunting task that I had in mind would take two days to complete. I wasn't wrong on the timescale, although if some of my tools hadn't gone into hiding, and if the weather been more amenable such that I'd been able to have a good run at the job (rather than snatching five minutes here and there when the rain wasn't so heavy), I would have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly and (relatively!) smoothly the fit went. As for complexity, it was easier than I'd expected, even if a couple of aspects were tricky (drilling the hole was as bad as I expected; routing the exhaust was significantly harder than anticipated).

I know that none of my videos in any way approach a professional standard, but I've managed to make this one worse than usual, with shaky pictures (filmed entirely phone-in-hand, rather than using the mount) and with wind across the mic right from the beginning. It's also rather long (23 minutes); I would have liked to have cut it down further, but given that I started out with over an hour's footage, I congratulated myself on getting it down that far!

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Project Erica - Part 12: Switching Seats

When we bought Erica one of the compromises we had to make against our ideal vehicle specification was that she had a double front passenger seat, whereas we wanted a single. We knew it was something we could change, although we had also come to realise that single Peugeot Expert passenger seats don’t get advertised for sale too often* (because the vast majority of Experts come with doubles), and when they do they can be silly money (as in £600 for a second-hand one). Thus we thought our best bet may be to buy a driver’s seat in France when we’re over there some time. Given the current state of travel, we acknowledged that may be a couple of years down the line.

Then a week last Sunday we were watching a YouTube video where someone made a passing reference to a seat swivel, which reminded Mick that we hadn’t searched Ebay for a while. A couple of moments later he pointed me towards an auction and to cut the story a little shorter than what I tell in this week’s video, three days later we found ourselves in possession of a single passenger seat for £40.

A single passenger seat in itself has a huge benefit over the double: you can get from the cab into the living area without going outside (arguably it has a negative too: we can no longer give anyone a lift anywhere). A swivelling passenger seat is a bigger bonus as it not only gives an extra living-space seat, but it also creates more room (plus easy access to chuck things like daypacks in the front at night).

As the swivel plate was going to be four times the price we’d paid for the seat (I could have got one cheaper, but I went for a model with safety certificates), I didn’t want to commit to that purchase until we’d fitted the seat and knew that everything was okay with it. Again, I expected there may be quite a delay between the seat fitting and the swivel fitting. As it turned out, they happened two days apart.

Both activities were really simple … save for a couple or three time-consuming stumbling blocks (one of which involved the electrical connection to a seat that no longer exists which triggered a fault on an air bag that has never existed).

Anyways, enough wittering, if you want to see the video of all this coming to pass, you’ll find it here:

(*There was one on Ebay for about 3 weeks before we took delivery of Erica but to buy the seat before we had the vehicle seemed like tempting fate and by the time Erica arrived it was no longer available. I can’t remember whether it was £125 plus £25 delivery or £100 plus £25 delivery, but it was one or the other. That's the only other seat I've seen at what I would consider a reasonable price.)