My first car was a 1984 Ford Laser which barely fit me in let alone mates, wetties, skateboards and the rest, she had some dodgy racks that held boards down and that was enough to get me off public transport and into the world of surf travel. After that was a bit of a dud 96 EL Ford Wagon, bench seat across the front, major room in the back but a massive guzzler, the bench seat was most likely the highlight. Move along to the 3rd car which was a white 1998 Ford EL wagon again, this time the car was a little more roadworthy with a few hundred less k's than the 96 environmental terrorist. After the wagon vibe I set my sights on comfort, I had always wanted a van but was never in the right place at the right time. I have had some close encounters of purchase but the usual negatives popped up, priced too high or too far gone in terms of life left so I never explored #vanlife until one sunny day in 2012 when the most unexpected happened.
I was on the pushy to the pub (day drinking, what's wrong with that?) when I rode past a nice looking van with a bloke writing something on the back window. I did a slow loop and saw the magic numbers of $5000 ono. I introduced myself as a potential suitor, the seller turned out to be a back packer who had brought the van close to the Big Banana, driven up to the classic warm water points, turned around and followed the signs to Melbourne. He was crashing on his mates floor and needed to off load the van asap as he was running out of cash and needed to get to NZ to follow the love of his life before returning to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, poor bloke.
About the van. 1995 Ford LWB Econovan, manual, 4cl, 1.8L petrol, 368,000 kms, shitty sound system, does include a sub though, boarded up side windows, black carpet throughout cargo area, fairy lights, camping shit, small gas BBQ and a fairly clean looking paint job. Everything was looking great until we spoke about the actual sale of the vehicle. As mentioned before, old mate was desperate to get to NZ as cashed up as possible but little did he know about the roadworthy part of selling a car in Vic. We went back and forth over what was fair and what wasn't in terms of negotiating a sale with or without a roadworthy. We parted ways and I was dead serious when I said "this van is mine" but he needed to figure the RWC out as the van was clearly not going to pass a test in Vic (the car was purchased and license to NSW pre-sale)
A few days later I get a call and its old mate letting me know that he has found someone to do the roadworthy and that we could finally agree on a price that was fair for the both of us. Within the week, a fairly suspicious RWC was produced, a bank transfer was done, handshakes a plenty, a little bit of time spent at Vic Roads and bam, what do you know, I'm know the proud owner of a 1995 Ford Econovan.
First thing I did was chuck the misso and the dog in the van and went for a cruise on the freeway to feel the machine out. She drove well, handled the pace of the freeway and most of all didn't blow too much black smoke. The only issue was the lack of bed in the back….
This is the part where I would show photos of me picking up materials, decking the van out in the sun with my dog, drinking cups of home brew coffee as I leisurely build the Taj Mahal of vans, but that would be lying to you and would require a photographer. What I actually built was crude, not thought out and completely rushed, but that's how I get things done! I picked up the cheapest 90 x 35 pine I could find for the legs and frame of the bed and used some chipboard that I had out the back of the shed that was slowly rotting away. The only objective I had for the bed was it had to be high enough for me to slide my big esky under. A few beers, cutting twice/measuring barely and some creative joinery and I was up and running, A bed frame and base that gave the esky enough clearance, storage under the bed for the solar power shower bladder, wettie bucket, towels, blankets, shitty BBQ. I used tie down straps to strap boards to the ceiling, cable ties to keep the driver’s side window winder up, good gaff to keep the glove box closed and occy straps to keep the esky from sliding around.
(on a mission)
As weird as it sounds, this van gave me, my wife, my dog and friends so much freedom. If a certain swell with a certain wind would light up a certain spot, all I had to do was clear the diary, get some beers and basic food, hit the road a hope no one else had the same idea! Some solo missions I would rock up to a spot the night before, get the best night's sleep, roll out of the van, throw the wettie on and have the line-up to myself as first light started to appear. East coast missions, family holidays, festivals, you name it, the van could do it.. In fact, one cold winter dawny run was where the business of Staple Season was created, I even claim that my first daughter was conceived in the back of the van on a sunny afternoon, but my wife doesn't like me telling that story.
I won't go into the reason why I no longer have the best surf vehicle in the world, but let's just say a rego lapse, an upcoming childbirth and some repair work that nearly cost more than the van itself forced my hand. I was devastated to see her go but I always have the great memories to live on with. I guess this is why I am writing this column now, some form of therapy, a closure for my loss.
I now have a new van that does not have a bed yet but does have enough space to fit the groms, boards, wife, dog, wettie buckets, esky, you know, the necessities! There is no real wrong way to create the ultimate surf vehicle, as long as you are getting waves, exploring, taking time out of the grind and making the most of the short amount of life you have, you are doing it right! To me, that is the real essence of #vanlife
(the only way to travel)