Gone with the Wynns

screengrab of gone with the wynns

Nikki and Jason Wynn sold it all, packed up their 2 cats, bought an RV, and hit the road!

Another inspirational travel blog by a young couple who are now full-time RVers. Although their first campervan was a humble T25/T3/Vanagon, these days they are travelling in something much bigger!

I enjoy reading about how they are turning the lifestyle into a business, and make some income on the road by producing videos, doing reviews etc. – food for thought!

They have produced some great videos – if you are looking for some ideas where to go on an RV roadtrip in the U.S., go and check out Gone with the Wynns

Anywhere Working Bristol

Rick Hurst talking about working on the road

Last night I gave a short talk at the Anywhere working Bristol event at The Birdcage. I spoke about my experiences of working on the road throughout our summer 2010 trip touring France in the beetle, while keeping my freelance business running from a tent, cafe’s and bars using a laptop, smartphone and various other gadgets. This was before we bought the campervan – hoping to do more of the same later this year in Rocky, but with the luxury of having my own “mobile office”, including such luxuries as leisure battery and fridge amongst other things.

There were also several other interesting talks, covering experiences and the culture of flexible working.

Upgrading a VW T25 1.6 diesel CS to a 1.9 1Y engine

vw T25 with 1.9 diesel 1Y engine fitted

I’ve mentioned a few times before how I find the frugal little 1.6 CS non-turbo diesel engine that Rocky came with a bit underpowered. Before we bought the van I did a bit of research on the forums, looking at threads with people asking “is a non-turbo 1.6 diesel VW T25 it really as slow as people say it is?”. No-one challenged this assumption! Several people mentioned that they had been driving one for years and were happy with them, despite the slowness. They are also the most economical factory-fitted engine option. So on this basis that we wanted a diesel, and there were plenty of 1.6’s around we went ahead and bought one.

With the 1.6, on the flat Rocky will happily cruise along at 60mph, which is fine as it means we can keep up with the trucks. But the hills, oh my. Even on a slight motorway incline we often find ourselves having to drop down to 3rd, which puts us at about 40mph tops. Sometimes this happens mid-way through overtaking a truck, which can be particularly embarrassing. On steep A-road hills, it’s often necessary to drop down into 2nd gear, revving the life out of the engine at 25mph, worrying that either the engine, or I, will blow a gasket before we reach the top!

So a few months into owning Rocky, I started to find myself avoiding doing certain trips, or changing my route to avoid steep inclines, and coming to the conclusion that I was compromising too much, and would enjoy the van more if it had just a bit more power. As the 1.6 was starting to reach the stage where it will need some work anyway, I thought I should start looking into alternatives.

There is a wealth of information on club 80-90 and Brickwerks about alternative VW/ Audi/ Seat/ Skoda diesel engines, and doing further research, people have also fitted non-vw engines. The price and amount of bespoke work needed varies greatly – we would be looking at spending more than the van is worth if we decided to upgrade to an Audi Tdi + gearbox, which would require custom mounts and wiring loom. I’d also want to upgrade the brakes if I went down that route.

At the other end of the scale is the non-turbo 1.9 “1Y” from a mk3 vw golf or similar. This is almost identical to the 1.6 CS so is a relatively straightforward swap, reusing the sump, alternator, waterpump and exhaust and keeps the van simple (and I do love simple!), without the need to add an ECU, as you generally would with a turbo diesel. The 1Y doesn’t provide a dramatic power increase like a TD or TDi, so I canvassed opinion on the forums – is the upgrade actually worth it? Everyone who had upgraded to a 1Y said yes, it’s definitely worth it, is better on hills and in particular solves the “slowing down on motorway inclines” issue that bugs me most.

Several T25 owners have done the 1.6 CS to 1.9 1Y engine conversion themselves, but with lack of off-road workspace, tools and knowledge I thought it was too much to take on without help, so I tracked down Phil Miller on club 80-90 forum, who not only had an engine to sell, but was willing and able (as a professional mechanic by trade) to fit it at an attractive price, and give me a 3 month guarantee on the replacement engine and work.

As i’m keeping the original 4-speed gearbox, I can’t expect to increase the top-speed, or cruising speed – the engine will rev just as much as the old one. The plan is to drive it around as-is for a while and if I think there is surplus power, I can look into a higher-ratio set-up, the cheapest option being simply fitting larger diameter tyres.

While the engine was being fitted, I phoned the insurance company to get the policy amended. The company I use calculate the premium for a non-standard engine based on the vehicle the engine came from, so having established that the 1Y came from a “bog standard” Mk3 golf, the increase in the premium wasn’t too bad – I suspect the conversation may have gone differently if the engine came from a high performance car.

Today, I went to pick up the van – Phil had done a fantastic job, despite working in sub-zero temperatures in the dark some evenings to make sure my van wasn’t kept off the road for too long. He kept me informed on how the job was progressing throughout and made sure that I understood the reasons why things were done in a particular way. Phil has also done a TDi conversion oh his own T25, and, even though it is a more powerful engine, he was really pleased with the 1Y conversion on mine because it went so smoothly and the resulting engine looks like it is factory fitted, with little or no bespoke parts. In fact the the only modifications needed were to fabricate a bracket for the throttle cable, and move a small amount of insulation from the underside of the engine cover to provide clearance for the fuel pump. The only thing that needed ordering that couldn’t be taken from either engine was a spigot bearing for the gearbox input shaft.

So how did it perform? Basically exactly as I had hoped, and probably a bit better! The steep hills on A-roads that I would have needed to drop into 2nd gear, I could do in 3rd, and most places where I would previously have had to drop into 3rd I could stay in 4th. Pulling off in in 1st gear feels much better, it feels safer pulling onto the motorway and once on there I sat happily at 60mph+. On the steepest stretch of M5 (heading north approaching junction 19, where it was steep enough that there is a crawler lane) it did drop from 65 to 60mph, but was such an improvement from last time I did that stretch with the 1.6, that I had a massive grin on my face by the time we left the motorway!

Obviously only time will tell how the engine will last – it wasn’t exactly a spring chicken to start with, but has had a tidy up including new timing belt, and there’s no reason why the engine shouldn’t last for many years to come. I can’t say the same thing for the old 1.6 engine – Phil noticed a hairline crack on the cylinder around one of the injectors, and lots of end float on the crankshaft, so it was coming to the end of its useful life. Phil also confirmed my suspicion that the dipstick is too short, and therefore that I had been overfilling the oil, which might explain a few things!

Dreaming of road trips

Dreaming of Jupiter book

So Rocky is currently having an engine transplant down in Devon (expect a blog post about that very soon), and meanwhile i’m fuelling my dreams of summer roadtrips by reading Dreaming of Jupiter, by Ted Simon. This, book about a round the world motorcycle trip is actually a follow-up to Jupiters Travels about his original round the world trip in 1973 at the age of 42. This time he does it again at the age of 70!

Both books are addictive if you enjoy reading about travel, and I also like how it helps me keep things in perspective – the most challenging thing that’s happened to me on my various campervan travels is breaking down at roundabouts, garage forecourts and peoples’ driveways. In the chapter of Dreaming of Jupiter, Ted describes falling off and breaking his leg on a remote road in Africa. After a bit of panic, he simply accepts his fate and lies in the mud at the side of the road, waiting for either help to arrive, or to die (spoiler: help arrived. Of course you already knew that, or he wouldn’t have been able to complete the book!).

If you are interested, definitely read the first book first – it’s not essential, but the second book refers back to the first as he revisits certain people and places.

Painting the spare steelies

painting steel T25 wheels

One day we might buy some badass alloy wheels for Rocky, but that really is at the bottom of the list. In the meantime steelies will be just fine – I was given these spares (along with old tyres of varying quality) by someone who was going to take them to the tip. In a week or two i’ll take them down to the local tyre place and get them to fit my summer tyres. I’m just giving them a coat of black hammerite – I reckon with some new shiny hubcaps they’ll look passable. From a distance 😉

Is it worth putting winter tyres on a T25?

summer and winter tyres

Before we set off on our cross-country trip just before christmas, I started looking into winter tyres for Rocky. Unlike other Northern European countries, winter tyres are not compulsory in the UK, and many people don’t think they are worth the expense and hassle, as we don’t get much snow here. Instead, we dump tonnes of salt on the roads at the slightest hint of frost, which explains why old UK vehicles suffer from so much rust compared to other countries!

Winter tyres aren’t just for snow – the main difference to summer tyres is that they have a softer rubber compound which helps them grip in cold temperatures, when summer tyres harden up and become next to useless. They also have a more complex tread pattern. I can’t help feeling that UK drivers are a laughing stock across Northern Europe, with our entire road network grinding to a halt at the slightest hint of snow and ice!

With the possibility of snow in Derbyshire I thought it was worth looking into, and I was lucky enough to find a set the right size on gumtree at a fraction of the cost of buying a new set. Funnily enough when I went to pick them up, the couple who I bought them from told me their son had taken them off a T3 he had bought in Austria – he had them fitted just for the one trip, as they were compulsory for the Austrian leg of the journey.

After picking up the tyres, I got a local tyre place to fit them to my existing wheels, and thanks to a very generous person on the club 80 – 90 forum, I now also have a spare set of wheels sitting in my shed ready for my summer tyres to be fitted to. I can then swap them over myself in the spring when (please!) the temperature rises. Winter tyres work fine in the summer, but being softer rubber will wear faster, are noisier (not that you’ll hear them above the engine in Rocky), and decrease fuel consumption, so it’s worth swapping back when they aren’t required.

Predictably I haven’t actually needed to drive in the snow yet, and I also haven’t driven Rocky in the snow with summer tyres, so i’m not qualified to comment on the difference, but i’ve heard from many people that the difference is massive. I’ve been told many a time that a two wheel drive vehicle with winter tyres is better in the snow than a four wheel drive with summer (or the compromise “all season” tyres), but this is just anecdotal.

If you have any doubt though, take a look at this video, showing the difference. If you can’t watch the video, or haven’t got time, it shows that the winter tyres are drastically better in the snow, and also better in general at temperatures below 7 degrees celcius.