Nigel Donnelly

See other Advice articles filed in ‘Used motorhome buying guides’ written by Nigel Donnelly
   
Get expert advice from Practical Motorhome's Nigel Donnelly on the Fiat Ducato Mk1 and Talbot Express so you know what to look for when buying

The Talbot Express and Fiat Ducato Mk1 models are generally pretty tough vehicles with few serious vices or weaknesses. That is not to say, however, that you should not be careful when buying one. Some parts are scarce and repairs can be expensive so follow our guide to buying the best.

Bodywork

Even the most recent models of these vehicles are now 20 years old and that is more than enough time for rust to take hold. Pay particular attention to the windscreen surround and structural mountings underneath. As with many vans, the door step area is prone to corrosion and on van conversions, the sills behind the door step are vulnerable too. Front wheel arch and wing corrosion is usually cosmetic but can be an MOT failure. Rear and cab doors all rust happily so be vigilant and budget for repairs. Panel availability is not desperately good either, so unless you are talented with a welder or rich enough to fund uneconomic repairs, avoid very rusty examples.

Engines

Despite the relative lack of urge, the petrol engine is generally preferable to the diesels. It is a simple pushrod, overhead valve design with a carburettor and despite a few foibles, has relatively few problems to watch out for.

The main issue to look out for is rough running. Check the normal service items first, but if all of that is in order, the fuel pump could be the culprit. It is a strange design, similar to that used in diesel models, and it pumps fuel to and from the fuel tank. Many owners have cured the rough running by severing the return pipe to the tank and plugging both ends of the cut pipe. This means that all the pump effort goes into feeding the carb with fuel, rather than needlessly pushing fuel back to the tank.

Diesel engines suffer if not well maintained. They are of a crude design by modern standards but that simplicity does not equate to cheap or simple fixes. Difficult starting can indicate injector or mechanical diesel pump issues, but glow plugs are a cheaper first thing to check. Head gasket failures are fairly common, symbolised by overheating and loss of water as well. That overheating can warp a head too and replacement parts are expensive if they are available. Don’t be put off by the engine looking a bit oily – they all do. 

Failure of exhaust manifolds on both petrol and diesel models is very common and the cause is likely to be a failed rear engine mount. Parts to fix the problem are cheap, but the fiddly job means labour charges can be high.

Gearbox and clutch

You are unlikely to find anything other than a five-speed manual gearbox in any UK-sourced vehicle. The gearbox itself is generally quite well behaved, but it is sensitive to having the oil level maintained. If the level drops, lubrication of the fifth gear suffers and fifth gear failure is fairly common. There is a dipstick on the top of the gearbox and the level can be topped up though that hole.

The main complaint is the inability to select gears. This has a few causes but one that is easily overlooked is the failure or softening of the engine mounts. The rear mount in particular has its work cut out supporting the entire weight of the back end of the engine and gearbox. As a result, it can wear and fail. This allows the engine to shift on its remaining mountings and alters the geometry of the gear change. New mounts are available for around £40 each.

For right-hand drive models, the other culprit is the complex gear linkage, which wears and goes badly out of adjustment. An improvement can be achieved by replacing the bush that fits around the gear selector shaft as it enters the gearbox. If the selector shaft rattles about, that will translate to slop in the gear lever. The bushes can be hard to track down, but a friendly parts counter at your local main dealer may yield the part. Alternatively, the bush is essentially a housing for an 'o’ ring so some parts bin rummaging may yield a cheap fix. Let us know if it does!

Symptoms of this are an inability to select a gear (usually reverse) and the gear lever hitting the dashboard when selecting first and third gears. Mechanically minded types can adjust the linkage themselves but due to wear, the adjustment required differs on a case by case basis. A good workshop with patient staff will be able to get a tune out of it but few of these vehicles have a positive gear change. There used to be a company based in Dorset called Delfin Designs which offered a rebuilt linkage but it stopped trading in 2011. For updating components to improve the gearchange these days, the JKTowers website has a lot of remanufactured and upgraded components available.

If the clutch pedal is excessively heavy, check that the cable is not snagged under the bonnet. If it is accompanied by a wobbly speedo needle, ensure that the two cables have not been tied together to neaten the underbonnet. Both symptoms are caused by cables that have been kinked. A clutch pedal which is out of alignment with the brake pedal can be adjusted back into line, and this makes the whole driving experience far more pleasurable.

Brakes, suspension and running gear

The basic underpinnings are pretty rudimentary and hold few fears for the home mechanic. The tie bars, rubbers and track rod ends are all easily available and failure of any will lead to MOT failure, accompanied by clonks from the front end and interesting handling. New rear springs are difficult to find but if you find your van is looking a little saggy at the back end, the best bet is to have the leaf springs retempered by a spring specialist. Alternatively, you could invest in some Grayston Spring Assistors if the back of the van sags but is not badly worn.

The brakes on all models are discs at the front and drums at the back. All are man enough for the job, with MAXI versions (3500kg) having bigger discs and wheels than lighter chassis. If the rear brakes keep locking up, it could be a failed brake compensator valve. Replacements are available from No1Gear. Availability of brake discs, pads and shoes is good.

Other problems

A common MOT failure point on these vehicles is the headlights. The reflectors degrade and peel away inside the sealed unit, leading to poor operation and a lack of brightness. Replacements were once scarce but are now available.

Another common issue is side window winder mechanism failures. The caddy which holds the drop glass corrodes and the window can drop and not rise, or simply fail to operate at all. The caddy is available as a remanufactured part.

Useful contacts

Service items are still available from high street motor factors and parts suppliers but some more specialist parts can be a struggle to track down. Here are some handy contacts:

  • No1 Gear is based in Devon and stocks a range of very difficult to source items including headlamps and some remanufactured items.
  • Dorset-based Charles & Son has a massive stock of new old stock items for motorhomes built on the Mk1 Ducato and Talbot but are especially well stocked with items for Autohomes models.
  • For gearchange problems with the Ducato and Talbot Express, JK Towers is best served to solve issues for owners.
  • For owners seeking technical expertise, the Talbot Express Owners Club forum is a must visit for the sheer breadth of knowledge and experience.
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