Nigel DonnellySee other Blog articles filed in ‘Our 'vans: Project Wilma’ written by Nigel Donnelly
This meant Wilma had to drive to Rugby to pick up a guest for the weekend, head down to the festival, then back to Rugby post-festival, and then drop down through the Cotswolds en route to Charmouth.
All this sounds pretty doable, but to this point, we had not managed to complete a journey that lasted much more than an hour without a visit from the AA.
We were working on the interior to make the ’van more comfortable, but despite having had an engine rebuild at the start of the year, she still wasn’t running as well as we’d like.
Getting the experts in
As a result, we booked her in for a service at a local garage which is familiar with air-cooled Volkswagens. We asked the team there to give her a service – good practice after an engine rebuild anyway – and to pay particular attention to engine timing and fuel lines.
The reason for the concerns were pretty simple. Since the engine had been rebuilt, I’d noticed that when labouring up hills (with 50bhp, that’s the only way you get up a hill), we got a certain amount of popping back through the exhaust.
Once you get to the top of the hill, celebrations are typically short-lived as when heading down the other side, you get a very similar sensation – rough running and popping.
Air-cooled engines are notoriously fussy about fuelling and timing settings, and getting them wrong is bad. Incorrect timing and lean fuelling add up to localised overheating of the engine. With no coolant to leach away the heat, cylinder head damage quickly follows.
Given that Dorset and the Cotswolds are both pretty hilly, I didn’t fancy taking any chances. The fuel lines (or petrol pipes) are always worth checking, because rear-engined Volkswagens have a nasty habit of catching fire when the fuel lines fail. It’s another chance not worth taking.
The service took a morning and the camper van was returned and undoubtedly drove better. The service had improved the cold starting and Wilma definitely felt a little more sprightly on the road, with less hesitancy.
In addition, the gear change had been tweaked to remove some of the slop which had characterised the driving experience to date.
Full of hope
So it was with genuine hope that we pointed Wilma at the M40, and began a steady ascent of the Buckinghamshire hills en route to the Cropredy festival. We felt confident.
There was still a hint of lean running when on long hills, but this was definitely the healthiest we had known the VW camper van in the year that we had owned it.
In fact, when we convened with Practical Motorhome’s Gentleman Jack just before heading onto the festival ground, he commented on how well the little lump was chattering away.
We had three entertaining days in the field at Cropredy. Wilma, sporting a new inflatable awning, was doing what she was designed for: keeping the beer reasonably cold, and providing a means of making coffee and bacon sandwiches to ease aching heads in the morning.
Once we struck camp on the final day, Gentleman Jack’s cautious offer of the jump-starting battery pack was politely declined as Wilma chirruped into life of her own accord when the key was turned.
We felt quite smug as we crept off the camping field past several more modern ’vans with flat batteries and flatter moods. We headed to Rugby to drop off one of our party, and do some washing ahead of the trip to Dorset the following morning.
Is it all going too well?!
Wilma’s remarkable run of form continued the following morning, too. With no drama at all, she started with just a hint of choke and she fairly galloped down the A429 and A350 en route to the seaside. Frankly, the family were a little shocked that we arrived ahead of time.
By the time they had wandered around to our pitch, we already had the kettle on. We had a few days in the sunshine, with everything working as it should. Life was good.
As with all good things though, they had to come to an end, and so after a few days, we packed up Wilma and we hit the road back towards west London. We turned right out of Charmouth heading towards Weymouth and this confronted us with some pretty serious hills.
Ascending one of two of these, we got a few more pops and bangs from Wilma’s tailpipe, but we took it easy and gradually crept towards the A31.
All was going pretty well, but we needed to make a stop at Winchester services on the M3 for some fuel. Our VW camper van's non-working fuel gauge means we stop based on mileage rather than anything else.
By now we were less than an hour from home and feeling pretty confident. Needing a rest, though, we pulled into the car park and grabbed an ice cream before filling up.
Then it happened. I turned the key, she fired, spluttered and cut out.
"Maybe I stalled?" I thought and tried the key again. And again. And again. Until we realised that she wasn’t going to start. Wilma had, once again, broken down.
Given how well things had gone, this was the most galling of all her many breakdowns. She had been given an engine rebuild, two oil changes, a new exhaust, the timing had been checked, the plugs and points were all new and correctly adjusted, and the smell suggested there was fuel.
We tried the key again several times over the next half hour but in the end, there was nothing for it.
"I’ll call the breakdown people," I sighed as yet another excursion in our camper van ended with a visit from the spanner man.