Five and half hours after leaving East London, we are bumping down a single lane farm track with low dense hedges either side, towards a closed five bar gate wondering where Sally SatNav had led us this time. We are about two miles from Newquay in Cornwall, but we might as well be in the middle of nowhere. We decide to stop and call our contact…
We arrived at the outbuildings and Dave & his partner greeted us enthusiastically. We were dying to see the Splitty that we’d driven half a day to look at and hopefully do a deal on. Dave scuttled off to look for some padlock keys. We smiled to each other. The door we were looking at in front of us was ridden with dry rot and word worm, what was the point in a giant padlock, we thought. He returned shortly looking pleased with himself, all the time he was gone his partner Pat told us about the delights of living in Cornwall and especially the Honesty Box they had on the side of a busy B Road where they sold their own eggs! It sounded lovely to be fair and a far cry from East London. Open the ruddy door Dave and let us have a look!
And there it was. Pretty much as Pat had lovingly described it on the phone to us when we first spoke to her a few days before. As the story of the van unfolded, we felt pretty sad. Pat told us her late ex-husband had owned the Splitty for many years. And while they’d both gone their separate ways they remained in touch and on good terms. He’d spend endless hours fiddling and faffing with the mechanicals of the Splitty meticulously recording every nut, bolt and split pin replaced. He knew he wasn’t up to doing the body repair element of the restoration, but planned to out source that once he had finished his work. Then one day Pat received a call out of the blue to say her ex-husband had died, suddenly.
The Splitty and a number of other possessions were left to her. Once the initial shock had subsided, she took stock and decided to keep the Splitty for, in her words, “a while” hence the parking up of it in remote out building. That was 18 months ago and now it was time. Time for a new home.
The door was ajar, jamming on the uneven surface and frankly about to drop off of its hinges which had long since seen better times but we could see tantalising glimpses of the front. Then Dave appeared seemingly from nowhere announcing a small snag; the van didn’t drive at the moment but with a bit of coaxing he could get it started and get it to go backwards & forwards in all gears. It’s a start, we thought. Off he popped again to re-appear with a handful of tools, one of which was far too close to one of the battery posts on the new(ish) battery he was lugging.
Soon enough, clutter, clutter; clutter, the familiar sound of an air-cooled Splitty being turned over but not firing. Dave stuck his head fully in the engine bay and we could hear muffled effing and jeffing. He tried again. Clutter, clutter, clutter. And then boom, it burst into life. Dave grinned at us with a look that said, didn’t I tell you. He jumped in the van and drove it out of its temporary home into the now bright Cornish sunlight and we started to inspect it.
Superficially the little Splitty looked a bit sorry for itself. But in all the critical and semi-critical places it was still remarkably sound. Even more surprising the body panels all looked original if a little worse for wear in the Cornish air. Underneath it was strong and Pat’s ex-husband had indeed renewed all the front end mechanicals. A quick conflab and it was time to strike a deal. Dave popped off yet again as we were chatting over a deal with Pat. In all honesty, there wasn’t much to discuss. She wanted what we thought was a very fair price for a cracking German built, UK registered RHD Splitty that need obvious work.
There wasn’t much more to say and we agreed the asking price on the spot. She paused. Looked at us. Looked at the van. Looked at Dave. Then, with a look that betrayed a mixture of relief and a little sadness she stuck out her hand and we all shook. Up popped Dave with a barrow load of parts, “you can have all these too for that price” he chirped. Deal done. Let’s get the Splitty back to London!