Going Home to Africa
The Van ... unicorn or donkey
Finding the right vehicle has been a true challenge. My earlier specifications were quite specific but getting all of those to fit into my within my budget meant that instead of a sparkling unicorn I probably settled for a very solid donkey, not too pretty but should do the job just as well.
I've come to realise that not having paid any attention to vehicles, but for the basics, has been a disadvantage, however, I've done a lot of work to understand and learn more, hence I came up with the list that I published earlier. I'm really grateful to the men and occasional women who have labouriously listened to my questions and answered them. This has meant that I've adapted and changed my ideas as the information led me to new conclusions.
I've also spent time thinking about what I want to do and achieve while I'm travelling and one of the things I realised was that I am not planning, on my own, to drive into the desert or the bush but I'm mostly planning to experience every day Africa, and every day Africans drive ordinary vehicles and not overlanding vehicles. I also don't really want to be attracting a lot of the wrong kind of attention, so I made the decision that I couldn't find a suitable van that would allow me to live and drive and anything that may have been suitable would be 4x my budget. I looked at Land Rovers and similar vehicles and these are great if you are OK with camping on top or outside and I am neither of those so that put these out of the frame.
While I know how to change a tyre and put oil and water in the engine as well as check the batter, one thing still worries me and that is breaking down in the middle of nowhere. So I investigated engines, knowing that I would need to have a purely mechanical engine which did not have electronics, the local village mechanic is highly unlikely to have high tech checking gear. As spares could be an issue a mechanical engine will mean that parts can be made if necessary, and in Africa parts are still made and engines fixed, rather than just throwing things away and buying a new one.
So taking this into consideration I discovered the Ford banana engine ... the name is derived from the shape of the aluminium inlet manifold over the top of the engine which resembles a bunch of bananas. It has a reputation of being 'indestructible', which sounds incredible but of course isn't true, but a number of mechanics as well as research and blogs all agree that this is a sound engine and of course it fits the bill being mechanical. The one thing is that this engine was made in the late 1990s and so it was a matter of finding one in good condition which most people were skeptical was possible, with one mechanic telling me that what I was looking for was 1 in a million.
After determining the engine it was onto the body, this engine is only found in a Ford Transit 2.5 and to find a 20 year old van in good condition that isn't totally rusted through is tough. In the UK (and most of Europe) vehicles are prone to rusting because of the damper weather and the fact that they put salt on the roads in winter to prevent icing. Salt and water of course being a dangerous combination to vehicles undersides.
Then there was the matter of milage, a transit would be likely to do around 10k miles per year at least so over 20 years that would amount to 200000 at minimum and probably more. As you can see the liklihood of finding a van in good condition that hadn't been driven to death was becoming more and more unlikely. But there is no beating me when I'm on a case! I scoured internet sites, contacted dealers, and looked daily.
What I found was my one in a million, BlueBelle. She is a Ford Transit 2.5, high top, long-wheel base (although I think she's more mid-wheel compared to other vans), sound base with very little rust, some rust and dents on the body work, 55,000 miles (yes indeed) and a banana engine in a 1998. She ticks pretty much all the boxes and even the mechanic I've been dealing with was impressed!
So more information about her and a tour later when I give you more details.
Below is a video of my nervousness and excitement before picking her up.