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Nov 21, 2017

1971 panel van restoration YRY483J

From scrapper to dapper

2960 words (Approximately a 16 minute read)

What follows is a copy of my blog post on I have moved it to my own website to make it available for public viewing.

The situation

Sat Sep 13, 2014

OK guys I’m about to start work on my bus, I bought it with the pop-top removed and a LOT of rust all hidden by white-painted gaffa tape…

I finally have time to focus on this now, and I already have a genuine roof cut waiting to go on. Initially I had hoped to simply remove the old roof, repair the gutters and spotweld the new roof skin in place, but the gutters are totally destroyed so I am going to have to cut into the pillars.

Additionally, both rear quarter panels are shot to bits, so I will replace these before doing anything else at all.

I can only work on the bus at weekends as it is not stored indoors, but I will try to upload progress pics each time I work on it.

Today, I spent some time crying, and the rest of it inspecting the condition of the rear.

The roof, photo taken a year ago (2013) after temporary cover fitted.
The rear quarters today, after a good screwdriver session. Rust continues throughout...
Front panel has rust around the headlamp bowls and seams

Day 1

February 15 2016

Right I finally have the time to do the roof, here’s what I’ve been up to today!

The positives:

I quit my job to work as a freelancer which basically means Ill be doing this full time for a while! No money but loads of smiles…

Video clip here if you’re interested (though you have to turn your head to the side…):

Day 2

February 16 2016

Today I managed to get the brand new second hand roof out of storage and began work separating it from the frame. First I used a light flap disc to highlight where the spot welds were, then drilled a pilot hole in the centre of each to help my spot weld drill bit to locate properly. Unfortunately today I have man flu so not a lot of progress was made, here are some photos though:

Found some mushrooms growing in the back of the bus.
Sunburnt Texan donor roof in a workable position.
Gutter skimmed with flap disc and centre of spot welds marked.
Starting to drill out the spot welds.



Day 3

February 18 2016

Today I managed to drill out the remaining spot welds and figured out how the roof panel actually attaches to the front. From this image you can see that the panel has been brazed to the top of the front pillar where the bronze coloured line is, just where the gutter meets the roof. I will cut through this tomorrow and drill out the remaining spot welds along the windscreen seam so I can finally separate it from the frame!

Day 4

February 19 2016

Cheers guys, bit of an up and down day today. Finally got the roof skin separated from the frame, triple check all the spot welds are out and it will come off easy, don’t force it! The front crossmember is glued particularly strongly, so I slid a flat plastering trowel down in between the gap to separate it without damaging the skin. I didn’t really know what to do with the front edge, so I cut through the pillars in order to keep the windscreen seam intact, time will tell if this was a mistake…

I then spent a few hours cutting away the rust from the bus gutters. My plan was to use the new frame to repair the frame on my bus, then weld the skin back on. I have decided to use the upper box section and cross members of the new frame, cutting off the lower box section and pillar remnants. I’ll repair the bus lower box section to be sure it is solid and can be welded to. I’ll upload some more pictures tomorrow during daylight hours.

If you look at this image elsewhere on the forum ( viewtopic.php?f=4&t=38489 ) that I modified:

The upper box section is the green and blue lines, this will come from the new frame. The lower box section is the yellow and pink lines, this will be repaired on my bus, then the two will be seam welded together.

The benefits of this method are that I do not have to cut into the pillars, meaning a lot less measuring and nervousness. Also, I can keep the frame as a single unit, rather than chopping bits off to repair the current sections jigsaw fashion. If I can get the lower box section perfectly flat and level and strong, I’m confident this will work out well! Then of course, I will simply be refitting the skin back to the original frame, so I can line up the spotwelds to ensure it’s in the right position. Any thoughts welcome…

Day 5

February 22 2016

OK, my plans have changed. The bus gutters were simply too rusty, so I have decided to fit the new frame whole. Since it is from a LHD camper, and I have a RHD panel van, I have had to chop out the box section where my sliding door is. I have cut into the pillars behind the front doors and cut the new frame so it can slot into place. The same goes for the middle pillars, and the rear will just mount flush for now (the rear will be a temporary fix until I get hold of a new rear end).

Campervan roof frames seem to have a lot more strength than panel van roof frames. Mine had very little support, with only a single box section, so it will be a lot stronger once I get this roof on. The frame is now ready for it’s first trial fit, hopefully in the morning!

I have left the original window surrounds in place, luckily there is only one tiny corner of rust to deal with. These will sit as a “skin” on the outside of the new frame so I can be sure to get the windows back in to the correct position. I cut the rubbers which made it really easy to remove the glass.

The only bit of rust on any of the 3 windows surrounds!
Cut the new frame so it fits over my sliding door
Green area will be chopped to jigsaw in new frame.
New frame chopped in the same way to fit onto old pillar.
Bus cut ready for trial fitment!

Day 6

February 24 2016

Progresss today! I have lifted the frame on and spent the day fettling to try and get as good a fit as possible. There is still a lot of lining up and adjusting to do, but hopefully with a full day on it tomorrow I can get it to where it needs to be! Happy days.

I am in the process of transferring my photos to Flickr, please bare with me.

Lining the frame up in situ

Day 7

February 25 2016

Finished getting the frame lined up today, ready to start welding tomorrow! Very happy. A lot of welding to be done but things are going in the right direction.

Video link:

45mm is the answer!
Outside passenger side pillar join.
Inside passenger side pillar join.
Front passenger side butt join to windscreen pillar
Drivers' side window pillar join needs work as it was quite rusty
Middle pillar sits flush on top with additional support beam behind.

Day 8

February 26 2016

Spent the day welding yesterday - obviously I ran out of welding wire when I needed it the most. Really enjoying myself tho! The welding is a bit of a mess but ground back with a flap disc (so much better than using a grinding disc) the integrity is good. A few pictures!

Rough welding around the passenger side door pillar
Cleans up really well!
This was horrendous. The back is really rotten. Good job it's temporary!
Cleans up quite well, bit more work to do but I'm happy with the alignment and curvature.

Days 9 & 10

March 10th & 11th 2016

After a week or so off thanks to some cretin stamping on my ankle in a football match - and then my Dad insisting on building a fence - I managed to get back on the bus! Lots and lots of welding to get the frame properly secure, some had to be done without a mask due to poor visibility leading to this:

This is definitely the last time I weld without a mask, ever! I managed to get the roof in place this afternoon and it just needs some slight cutting to the front and it will fit nicely, I’m stoked!

Roof skin etch primed along gutters and red-oxided where it will be impossible to reach once it's on. In the background you can see the polycarb temporary roof it used to have, and my classic mini that is FOR SALE!
Frame given plenty of red oxide where it will be hidden
Roof in position!
Will butt weld to the front panel that remains. I did consider taking the screen out and using the frame that came with the roof, but I will have to replace the entire front end anyway so this is the option I chose. Nearly got it lined up first time!

Day 11

March 12th 2016

A nice easy day today as my face is still on fire. I purchased Weathermate from toolstation to bond the roof back onto the crossmembers. I chose this because it bonds bitumen and steel - the two surfaces I had to join, and it acts as a gap filler. It does say on the tube “for outdoor use only” but I ignored that. Looking back I should have put more on, if the roof is drumming when it’s finished I’ll have to try and pack the gap with silicone or something similar.

Time will tell if this was the right choice...

I started welding the roof on, and the importance of clamps cannot be understated! I managed to tack down four separate sections, two at the back and one on each side. Having the spot weld holes really helps to get it lined up easily.

Clamp it down and pull it in. I clamped each hole I was going to weld, this is going to take a long time...
View from underneath the gutter. Have to get this join bang on, if you have enough clamps it's not too much trouble.
Now just plug weld the holes back up! There is going to be a lot of grinding...

Day 12

March 14th 2016

Good progress today! Welded up about 20% of the spot welds on the roof, and welded the front edge to the existing front lip…

First I trimmed the skin to fit in line with the front panel
I left just a tiny gap all the way along to fill with weld
This is where I made an error. I tack welded it in a few places, and noticed the off-side was bending up slightly (this photo exaggerates it somewhat). I SHOULD have removed the tack welds and re-tacked it after pulling it over to the nearside slightly, if I had marked the centre of the skin and the centre of the frame I would have been able to improve the accuracy. Having said that, it's not really noticeable and won't be at all noticeable once I have worked the corners some more with weld and then some filler. It's important to keep the end goal in sight here - I'm turning a scrapper into a solid bus! Onwards...
My solution was to trim the skin to give me more flexibility and allow me to flatten it
First round of welding completed
Weld ground back with a 40 grit flap disc
Etch primer applied to protect it. I will weld where any discrepancies have occured, and will grind and re-shape the raised corner on the offside until it's is smooth again :)

So a very good day, one silly mistake has annoyed me but it could be a combination of factors - I don’t have the privilege of a perfectly flat drive (mine slopes down and slightly sideways) and the skin could have bent slightly during storage. I’m not going to be too hard on myself, I nearly have a DRY bus!

Day 13

March 15th 2016

288 spot welds.

Welded. Along with the clamp.
Ground down.
Welded again.
Ground down again.

Shoot me now.

Day 14

March 16th 2016

Today I made the decision to replace the rear side windows with metal, returning this part of the bus back into a panelvan at least. I had a long hard think about it and came up with the phro’s and con’s:

Keep the windows:

Return to metal:

Window frame top clamped on while I decide. Here you can see the difference between a factory built campervan and an aftermarket conversion, there is a lot more strength in actual campervans as the windows are inset slightly and have a box section frame.

In the end the pro’s far outweighed the con’s, I will be happier sleeping in the bus with a bit extra privacy and insulation, and I have the middle side windows which I will keep anyway. So I made a start!

Always start with a cardboard template! Measure twice, cut once!
Panel made! The sides and bottom are joggled and holepunched, but the top edge will be butt-welded to the box section.
I used a gas bottle to curve the panel, note the ring of weld running around the center of the bottle. I did not. This has created a number of high points where it deformed the panel! Nothing too bad that filler won't sort it out, but annoying. I will be using a smooth gas bottle for the other side!
Curved panel held in place with some seriously strong and useful magnets!
Began tacking the panel into place, very slowly and moving around the perimeter to avoid the panel heating up too much and distorting.

Tomorrow I should have the welding done and ground back, and the other side up to the same standard!

Days 15-18

March 20-24th 2016

Right, after running out of welding gas (another £80 bites the dust) I have been working flat out again, I have finished welding in the side panels on both sides, and am now attacking the rear end.

Eventually I want to replace the rear quarters wholesale but with money fast running out, I am making panels myself to repair the internal frame and the outer skin.

What a mess! Couldn't really avoid repairing this...
Feels better now I've cut the rust out!
Making shapes...
Therapeutic. Messy, but therapeutic.
Making complex shapes...
Use cardboard templates religiously!
Don't let the panel get too hot or it will warp and ding :(
No need for expensive fireproof clothing, your skin extinguishes 47% of all small fires*. *Not a fact and not recommended.
Happy days though!

Days 19 - 22

March 30th - April 5th 2016

Lot’s of half days here and there with interruptions, but I have managed to finish making the panels for the rear - including some compound curves which was an interesting first time exercise!

I have got to the point now where I have nearly finished all the welding and have red-oxided everything in preparation for filler and painting. I did want to fill directly onto the metal but spots of surface rust was creeping through already so I cleaned everything down and gave it some protection.

I also repaired the outer skins of my front arches and built new inner sections for the front bumper to bolt onto, that was quite good fun!

Compound curve made where centre profile meets the bootlid
Repairing the N/S inner rear frame
N/S rear panels made
Rear welding finished
Replacement front step made
O/S front arch repaired
N/S front arch repaired. Slightly too wide but better than the previous!
Gutters cleaned and red-oxided all round

Days 23 - 25

May 14th - May 16th 2016

OK been slightly sidetracked by having to MOT both of my parents’ cars, but I have managed to finish the roof! (Gutters upwards…). Target for MOT was end of May but along with the interruptions I have just removed the engine and will be sorting the wiring and steering box so I will try to finish it in June!

The roof has been sprayed with a couple of coats of clear matt lacquer to preserve the patina and retain the dull finish. One waterproof bus, hooray!!!

First I painted the gutters with white to try and blend into the roof patina, but I wasn't happy with the colour.
I tried again with some Ford Nordic Blue (used a pantone swatch book to match up with the nearest rattle can lid in Halfords) and that's good enough for me!
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