When we left Mr.T – who is also known as the Man with the Van and the Plan (well … sort of) – he had already invested far too much time and expectation into his dream of owning a vintage Citroën H van. The fact it had confirmed links to the Tour de France was simply the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. In anticipation of a successful van purchase he’d even even started wearing a beret and attempting (unsuccessfully) to cultivate both a pencil moustache and an air of insouciant indifference.
Then he’d had his dreams cruelly shattered by an American who plaintively didn’t understand the basic tenants of the Anglo-US “special relationship.”
As we pick up the story, the Damn Yankee, Stretch Armstrong has just outbid our plucky Brit and the dream is in danger of dying …
That Damn Yankee, Stretch Armstrong evidently had far more money than sense and a reach that might just have exceeded his capabilities. To be fair though, he had managed to extend his long, rubber arms out across a very large Pond and snatch away an historic H van right from under our noses. A van that lay so tantalising close, it was almost taunting me and sitting virtually on our doorstep.
Perhaps I should have left it there, resigned to my plucky, loser Brit role? Still I messaged the BMX Bandit to say that should the sale fall through, for whatever reason … well, you know…
And it did!
The fleaBay ad had clearly stated collection only and for Stretch over in the US of A that seemed … well … a stretch. Now he was pestering the BMX Bandit for shipping costs.
“Uh-uh… no … no way” was my polite interpretation of Bandit’s slightly more salty retort, which, even across 2,000 miles and entirely different cultural barriers seemed a quite emphatic response and one that was decidedly not open to interpretation or negotiation.
So the van was ours?
Well no, not quite.
Even though we’d been in constant contact with the Bandit throughout this, he only went and relisted it on fleaBay!
After a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing, effing and jeffing, cajoling and coercion, he finally agreed to end the listing early.
Yes! The van was ours.
But now, after many months of the van providing both exotic garden ornamentation and weed suppression, the Bandit and his Moll wanted it shifted. Like yesterday.
Bolleaux! As the French might say.
An emergency call out to the Club Facebook group for vehicle moving solutions rejected the idea of harnessing two score or more riders to tow ropes, for a more credible response from Dragster, who had a mate, Zander, who just so happened to have a recovery truck.
Bike commute day had rolled round again but was shelved for a lunchtime appointment with the BMX Bandit which meant I’d have to take the car instead. (Just the latest in a very long line of pitiful excuses: SLJ)
Zander, replete with his girlfriend (eh?) “in tow” was already on station when I arrived and sizing up the job. Things were tight. Zander had to pull up on the drive of the neighbour opposite, close enough so he was almost touching the brickwork and his winch controls inadvertently interfered with their electrics, flipping their TV channel over and setting the washing machine off on a spin cycle.
Finally though, winch and ramps did their thing and the van was hauled inch by inch up onto his truck. Good job it wasn’t a busy street as we made a great, if slightly exotic road block.
With the van on the back of the truck and Herman vee Dub’s postcode tapped into his Sat Nav, Zander and his girl set sail. As I watched van and truck disappear out of sight I idly mused about Zander’s companion and what possible reasons she had for tagging along on a routine pick up. Perhaps she was just a van fan, or perhaps they were going to make a day of it. Maybe have a picnic en route? The weather was good and Herman’s place was suitably rural and buccolic.
Some hours later in the office and still waiting for confirmation of safe van delivery, I was beginning to put even more credence in my picnic supposition. Surely it wasn’t that far to Herman’s?
A sense of foreboding was starting to build. What if the van had come loose? Would it be on the local news? An impromptu road block in a country lane. How damaging would it be to Anglo-French détente? Would I be liable? And, just how quickly could I round up two score or more riders with tow ropes to perform an unlikely rescue mission?
And then a text came through. It was from Herman and simply said “The eagle has landed.”
Panic over. Or perhaps picnic over. One of the two. Either way, our Historic H was now in safe hands.
So, spotted, bid for, lost, foreign bidder seen off, re-listed, negotiated, bought and transported in just over a week. That was one hell of a ride.
But what now? Well MGL hadn’t yet seen the eagle that we’d landed, so a road trip to Herman’s was in order. We were off to York that weekend and Herman’s place wasn’t that big a diversion … honest.
Arriving at Herman’s lock up, the French van stood out proudly against its German cousins, seeming to curl its lip in disdain at its muscular, Teutonic company. After some introductions (all communication had been by text or phone up until that point) MGL and I inspected our van.
I think MGL was beginning to wonder what exactly it was we’d “won” – Bandit had started and then stopped a camper conversion on the van that hadn’t gone that far – just some half finished bench seats and shelving above the windows.
Other than that the van was just bits and pieces – engine cover, cab seats and petrol tank cover all detached and lying round, as if we’d bought a random pile of bits from a scrap yard and they’d thrown in an old, rusted and useless van carcass just to store the bits in.
Up until now Herman and his crew had only seen the van on fleaBay. Having inspected it in the flesh so to speak, they declared the job a “good un”. That was reassuring at least. The H van would stay in the yard until there was space in the workshop and then work could commence.
At least Bandit had made the van water tight through the ingenious use of a pint glass, the perspex front of a washing machine door and copious amounts of silicone. Even with my less than expert eye I recognised that these weren’t original features, although I don’t know what it was that gave the game away- perhaps the fact that the glass was in Imperial measures, or maybe it was the word Zanussi stencilled on the washing-machine door.
We had a quick chat with Herman and impressed on him the three golden rules he needed to understand:
- We were working on a very tight budget
- We had a tight budget, and
- The budget for the project was extremely tight.
We thought we had an understanding and the basis for a good relationship. Time would tell.
The first task was for the van to be stripped back and then for it to be bead blasted so we could see what work really needed to be done. By the time this was complete we’d need to have an idea of how we wanted to proceed with Historic H and we still only had half a plan.
After taking some more photos we bade Herman a hearty “auf wiedersehen, pet” and continued on to York. When we got back we’d need to firm up our plans and find the money to support them. Good job nothing was going to happen straight away as we had a pre-booked holiday which was looming in 3 short weeks.
So, no pressure then, what could possibly go wrong?
To be continued …
Spare 2 minutes and help Mr.T shape the future of his van by completing this short survey he’d be very grateful.