Thursday, January 14, 2010

I found it!

I first spotted this camper van on and it is exactly what I am looking for. The best part is that the vehicle is registered as having a caravan body, which means it is totally road legal. The previous owner use it as a mobile base for motorcycle racing at the race track. When I first inspected the camper it was in a paint shop, ready to be painted. The interior has clearly seen better days, but everything is largely intact. I did not have much opportunity to inspect and test everything. After the previous lesson, I was prepared to walk away from a deal if I had to. The negotiation took quite a while, over many days in fact, before the deal was sealed.

Inspection as Puspakom for ownership transfer caused a minor stirr. The workers in the inspection center have never seen anything like this before. They were also surprised to find that there's category in their computer for caravan.

The picture shown here was taken right after I have taken delivery of the camper. It looks like the paint shop just mixed all the leftover paint from other jobs to paint the camper. The gray shade made it looks like a RMAF vehicle. The engine was difficult to start and runs terribly once started and the brake barely works. The parking brake cable is broken so I have to stop using bricks as wheel chocks. There's lots to be done before I can take it on a road trip. Having said all this, I was very happy with the camper, this is the beginning of realizing my life long dream.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A truly rare beast

Searching for a campervan in Malaysia is no easy task. They are just so rare here. However my search lead to an example of the most iconic of campervans, the VW Westfalia campers or simply known as Westies.

When I first saw the VW advertised I thought it was just another Kombi van, but I visited the owner and saw it in flesh I soon realised that it is genuine Westfalia built camper with an unsual forward hinged pop up top. It is left-hand drive so it must have been a fully imported unit.

I was told by the owner that when he found this van, it was in a dilapidated state and he has spent considerable sum of money to get it to it's current condition. Mechanically, the van is beautifully restored, the engine is not the original unit, but a remanufactured unit from Brazil. The steering and gear linkages work well and the brake is good . However, the original campervan interior fittings has long since rotted away. The owner has no choice but to remove what remains of the original bed, table, cabinets, sink and cook top and installed two bench seats. Only a few of the original panels was still kept. The original pop top shroud was gone as well and so was the original bunk bed. To get the van back fully to its original spec is going to be an expensive affair. A VW van enthusiast may consider this to be minor issue in the light of its rarity in Malaysia. This Westy is interesting, it is probably one of the very few units in Malaysia if not the only one, because of that it commands a high asking price. But all I want is a campervan which I can accomodate my family of five and to go on a road trip with it. I have to look elsewhere again.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

In search of my dream campervan

It is suprising what you can find when you go trawling around! This was a totally unexpected find. The camper is based on a Isuzu van, the body seems to be made of fiberglass and it has a roof top water tank, a bathroom, and a foldable table. When I inspected the camper, it was in running condition but the interior was half finished and the bathroom wall was covered with black mold. On top of that, being a newbie, I was unsure of its on-road legal status. The car owner grant stated that it is a window van under private ownership but it is clear that the camper body was grafted onto a standard Isuzu van by cutting off the original van body.

Despite all these apparent problems, I wanted the camper badly. Lesson number one, never get yourself into an emotional state where you badly wanted something even if you knew there are problems. The owner says that he himself was unclear of the legal aspect of the van's road worthiness for he bought it as it is without ever taking it to the road.

Being a foolish newbie, I agreed to pay a non returnable deposit for a lower price and hoping that I can somehow renew the roadtax as it is. The Puspskom (vehicle inpsection center) guy turned up onsite to inpect the van, this was the last hurdle for me. The Puspakom inspector took one look at the van and declared that it can never be road legal because on the owner's grant, the body type is recorded as windows van and the actual body is caravan. To change the body type record would required submission of engineering plan to JPJ for apporval. Undaunted, I seek out a commercial vehicle body builder and asked if they can "reverse engineer" an engineering plan for me for JPJ approval purpose. Sadly, typical of most Malaysian business people, they would not touch anything that is out of the ordinary or even slightly beyond what they are familiar with. This van is clearly a lost cause.

At this point, I knew how captain Ahab felt on his quest to find the white whale. Besides the loss of the deposit money and the dissapointment, it was a bitter lesson for me for not doing my homework on finding out all the legal requirement for such vehicles. However the dream remained undiminished. My quest continued.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The dream began

I have been fascinated by caravan, campervan or motorhome. I love the freedom of stopping and staying anywhere I fancy without having to worry about room booking, check-in and check-out time. Unfortunately such things are rather hard to find in Malaysia, a quick search on the net shows that there are a galaxy of information on this subject in countries like UK, US, Australia and New Zealand but practically nothing in Malaysia. Curiously, the road transport authority (JPJ) and vehicle inspection centers (Puspakom) has category for caravan.

There were a company called Malaysian Motorhome in the 90's that provided rental units, but the company has since became defunct. There are some privately imported units , usually at high cost by well heeled individuals. My budget simply do not allow me to take such route, so I have to look for cheaper alternative.

I started to look at DIY conversion using vans. At around that same time, the local classified website started to gain popularity. To me this is truly a treasure trove for my purpose. I started to look for suitable high roofed vans for conversion. The only models that met my requirements are the Renault Traffic (known as Inokom Permas locally), Ford Transit, Toyota High Ace.

Here are some of units I found on sale.

Among the locally available make and models, the Renault Traffic van mostly closely fit into my criteria for DIY campervan conversion. It has sufficient head room for adults of average heights to stand up and the low flat floor provide walk through access between the front seats and the back. The split tail gate makes great rear access. What stops me from getting it? Being an european design, its FWD mechanical layout in a van is foreign to most mechanics who are mostly familiar with Japanese mid engined vans. The availability of parts is another concern.

Then I found this gem advertised for sale. It was a decommissioned ambulance based on a high roof Ford Transit. Most of the interior fitting are intact. It has rear air suspension and a 2 litre DOHC petrol engine (local spec Ford Transit are all diesel engined and with medium or low roof only). The ambulance spec made an ideal vehicle for conversion to campervan, I was very excited at the potential. Unfortunately,there's a legal complication of converting it from commercial use to private ownership. Sadly I have to let this one pass as well.