The Man with the Van

The Man with the Van

As threatened, my work colleague Mr. T has kindly agreed to chronicle his pursuit of something estimable, novel and worthwhile – the restoration of Citroën H van back from a wreck to full working glory.

The ultimate plan is to not only enjoy this unique piece of motoring and cycling history, but  to have it grace cycling events, or serve as a support vehicle for riders and racers.  In this role it will bring a note of the exotic – unique and redolent with associations to the Tour de France of the 1970’s and legends such as Eddy Merckx, Bernard Thévenet, Freddy Maertens and Bernard Hinault.


tousfoudelacaravane.xooit.fr
Photo from: tousfoudelacaravane.xooit.fr

Seemingly inspired by the inane ramblings of Sur La Jante, or possibly just to show how easy good blogging actually is, Mr. T has agreed to file episodic, irregular reports outlining the pursuit of his dreams and his experiences wrestling with his own inner demons, dwindling bank balance, better judgement and the vicissitudes of dealing with the Great British Craftsman™.

So, without further adieu (as an old boss of mine is fond of misquoting) here is his tale.

[PS: I can’t decide yet if this is a salutary warning to those with grand ambitions, or a tale of heroic fortitude, perseverance and inspiration. Perhaps, once we know the (still unwritten) ending, it will all become much clearer.] SLJ 09/04/2017.


The Man with the Van and the Plan (well … sort of)

A Guest Blog presented by Mr. T

My ride: (according to my fallible memory and rather poorly kept diary)

Total distance:        Not sure, but I know we’re not there yet

Ride time:                 1 year, 9 months, 4 days and 8 hours and counting

Average Speed:       0 km/h. Unless you count how quick my bank balance has shrunk

Group size:               7

Temperature:         Temperate. So far.

Weather in a word or two:      Turbulent – but with a bright outlook?


The Ride:

It started as most stories do on this sorry excuse for a blog, on a random morning one weekend. It wasn’t planned. It was completely spontaneous. You know, David Hockney once suggested you have to plan to be spontaneous. Well, sorry David, but your wrong … and you’ve never been more wrong.

So anyway, there I was, a Saturday or Sunday morning, relaxed, sipping a fine coffee and fully enrapt in Cycling Weekly and only very occasionally wondering where my club run was heading today and what I might be missing.

MGL (My Glorious Leader or My Good Lady – she who must be obeyed, or Mrs. T if you like) was quietly passing the time in companionable silence, flicking through fleaBay, apparently just for want of something better to do.

“There’s a van here, the type you like. It’s in Newcastle.”

Fully engrossed in an article about the rolling resistance associated with different tyre widths, I gave a Mr Delaney-type, distracted response, “Huh?”

MGL continued: “It says here it was used in the Tour de France”.

And that’s how this ride started…

fleaBay did indeed show a Citroën H van dating from 1973 and the copy did claim links to the Tour de France. After discussion with MGL about the benefits (I know … seriously?) owning such a van might bestow and what we might do with it, I was given permission to contact the vendor and organise a viewing.


fleabay (1)


The vendor, the BMX Bandit, gave the all clear and so I arranged to pop round one day after work. It was a cycle commute day, so it not only added a few welcome miles to my (paltry, by all accounts: SLJ) Strava totals, but seemed appropriate too.

Somewhat fittingly, given its poor overall state of health, the van was parked up in the BMX Bandits front garden within sight of the local hospital. It looked strangely alien and out of place next to the neighbours fine collection of eclectic garden ornaments, but the BMX Bandit had an almost identical H van that showed what could be achieved.

Look, I say the vans were almost identical, but only in the same way those before and after pictures in women’s magazines claim to show the same person. One was beautifully and painstakingly restored, taxed and tested, white and gleaming and in full working order.

The other … well, the other, the van I’d come to see, looked like it needed a heart op or maybe even a full transplant. So, noting the need for what I euphemistically deemed some “engine work” I had a look around, not that I knew what I was looking for, but I took plenty of photos anyway to share with MGL on my return to base.


20150621_191303


This van definitely need some TLC and I’m useless at mechanicals as anyone in the bike club will tell you. So if we were going to take this on then it wouldn’t be me. Aha! What about Enzo? Our friend Enzo had rebuilt an historic Italian small car for us. He might fancy a challenge.

Before any excitement with fleaBay, a quick call to Enzo was required. The response was a little disappointing, “Merde!”said Enzo, “I don’t do French …”

“But … I know a man who might.”

It transpired that Enzo, the man who did Italian, but didn’t do French, knew a man, Herman Vee-Dubs, who did German and might do French. This maybe has to be one of the great unwritten benefits of closer European integration!

I left it with Enzo to put a call into Herman, who “normally did German but might do French” – if only for the novelty of attempting something different. Enzo knew we had a time limit and the clock was ticking.

Good news came through while I was out for an evening leg spin with Toposan. Herman, it seemed was was up for the challenge.

But, later that week we were outbid on fleaBay.

By an American.

Damn Yankees!

To be continued...

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