1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration



Number of posts : 60
Location : Edinburgh, Scotland
Registration date : 2010-12-09

1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by kevbarlas on Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:04 pm

I posted my project up on the forum and someone linked me to this forum, been good reading other peoples projects and stuff so i thought id post mine.

I wasnt really looking for another classic to have but it kind of found me. A guy I know from the scottish pre67 ford club had been having trouble with his Ford thames, namely the roof gutter and he was looking for another camper to strip out for parts. He posted these pics up of it lying in a field.

The specs are as follows: 1959 Ford Thames Dormobile, 1.7 engine (same as the Consul engine and running gear) 3 speed colomn shift, Grill, cupboards, sleeps 4 (allegedly), Fold down side step, heater, vacum operated wipers. Free bird and wasp nest.

After a little bit of thought he realised that this van was a lot worse than his so he never bothered taking it. Foolishly, I felt sorry for it, thinking its a shame to see it rusting and rotten away back to the earth in some farmers field. I managed to get a hold of the owner to see how much she wanted for it. She said someone told her it was worth 400 - 450 and that I was welcome to go take a look. So a few weeks ago me and my brother took the 44 mile trip in my Consul , from Edinburgh to Ancrum to have a look. Straight away I thought it was never in a hundred years worth 450. I managed to persuade the farmer to pull it out using his tractor. The first time it had moved in 3 years, so I could get a better look at everything. Thankfully the seperate chassis and out-riggers are still solid. The main area of concern is around the roof. The gutter is practically oxide and the edges of the roof have disappeared. The pop up roof also has a bit plastic missing so the rain has gotten in over the years, luckily its just a wooden floor so that shouldnt be too hard to replace. Everything needs stripped out and cleaned/ repaired. Enough blabbing, more pictures.

Thats my brother

The bottom hinge has came away from the door.

Apparently the brochure says it can sleep 4, I think they lied.

Whilst we were there we had a look at the other cars lying in the field

Some old morris 8 which I think has been lying there even longer. I hate seeing crap like this, not even a tarp thrown over it or anything.

There was a Land rover there too but I cant find the pic of that.

When I got home I wasnt too sure about buying it. One half of me said that I have enough crap to be getting on with, with the Consul but the other half was telling me how awesome it would be to go traveling in it once its all done. I decided to set my price at 200 and let fate decide. I phoned the woman up and told her what was wrong with it and how it wasnt worth 450 at all and I offered her 150, she declined so I upped it to 200 and she agreed, bonus! I think she was more glad that it was going to someone to restore than as a parts van.

The next major hurdle was how do I get it from Ancrum 44 miles up to my garage in Edinburgh. The plan was for my brother to get his 2.4 Toyota estima/previa taxed MOTd and insured for this weekend and hire a trailer. Unfortunatly that went tits up on thursday as he found out the cost of insuring the Toyota just wasnt worth it. That left me in a bit of a pickle as to what to do next. I tried searching for a company to pick it up on a flat bed and drop it off but that was going to cost 240 at the cheapest. My next idea was to find a trailer to borrow and a car to hire, my dads friend came up with the trailer but to hire anything with a towbar was going to be 75, then I had to get my own insurance sorted. I tried phoning the only other person I know with a towbar on his VW golf estate buit I couldnt get a hold of him at all. I just about gave up on saturday when I looked at the full raging 1.2 litres of my 120,000 mile Fiat Punto and thought "Would it be stupid to try and tow a ton and a half of camper and trailer with this" so off I popped to the scrapyard and found a Towbar for the pricely sum of 15 and went to town installing it. It fitted pretty well and buoyed with confidence I got my dad to arrange the trailer for Sunday.

Sunday morning, its peeing down with rain and as we set off the engine is running on 3 cylinders, not the best of starts to the day. I pulled over at a garage and fiddled about with the HT leads and the problem dissapered. We went to my dads friends house to pick up the big ass trailer.

Its longer and wider than the car. I probably should have checked out the weight limit of the car but it was too late now. It was also the first time I had ever driven with a trailer so no better way to get used to it than with a proper man size trailer.

After another 44 miles of 'fun' driving we reached our destination, Thankfully Mr farmer was around to pull the Thames out of the soft muddy grass and onto a slightly less wet and muddy patch of grass for us to load up.

Seeing it again after 2 weeks made me kind of think did I make the right choice, too late now. It all paid for.

Loaded up and ready to go, dash you 4x4s and dash you torque! I have 75BHP and 78 lb-ft of raging FWD power.


This was about as far as we got before we got stuck, all 15ft of it. I had to get the farmer to get his manatou and get us unstuck. I think he was a bit intoxicated off by this time as he draged us literally out of the hole 5ft and that was it "yeah, you will be fine from here", cheers mate......

Back on the main road the first hill we pull up I have to change down to 1st gear to get it up there. ME and my dad looked at each other, not muttering a word but both praying to the automotive gods that this blasted thing better get up these bastarding hills! Of course we had mental cross winds and no trailering experiance would be complete without the fluttering heartbeat you get that only a fish tailing trailer can provide at 50MPH. At one point the rain got so heavy it was like driving on a small lake and you still couldnt see crap with the wipers going at max. What a stressfull blasted drive.

We stopped off for a coffee in Peterhead, about 15 miles out of Edinburgh.

We managed to get the Thames into the garage, I forgot to take more pictures. Then back another 10 miles to drop the trailer off. I must say, i'l never underestimate the Punto again, it is a cheap shity run around but it was a champ today, I think I may need to service the poor child born out of wedlock now.

I now need to come up with a restoration plan. I'm also toying with the idea of a V6 of somesort, either cologne, cosworth or Omega, etc... I want to keep the coloum change and have it as a cruiser so an automatic gearbox too

Ive decided that this needs work done a lot sooner than the Consul, I guess the Consul has a few more years for the road without needing too much attention to keep it road legal. Once the camper is done i'll get started, but in a way I like the slightly ratty look.

August update ----------------------------------------------------------------

Ive made a start stripping it out and assessing all the crap I have to do to get it back to life.

I figured out how the 'dining table' was set up

and how the seats fold out into 'beds'

This is the first weekend we went to the garage and the magic started.
My girlfriend has taken an unusual interest in helping me to restore the van. I think its great as if I was in the garage myself it could get a bit boring but its a good laugh having her around and helping me out. Its ok right now at the stripping down stage but I think she may get bored when I'm welding and cutting crap up. I was thinking I could buy her a sewing machine and she could re-upholster the seats and curtains etc..

Yeah, check out those comfy ugly slacks I'm rocking.

I got Jana started on removing the light lenses and units etc.. she even managed to get the rear bumpers off herself. I don't mean to sound patronizing but when someone calls a ratchet the "clicky-thing" its quite a big step for her.

I even bought her a special tool kit for the job, shes since bought herself a proper tool bag and pliers set.

First door removed. It was a bitch as the hinge bolts were rusted solid, lucky for me there is a huge tool store opposite the garage (machine mart) so I managed to get an impact screwdriver.

All the seats and interior came out easy, the gas cooker was a bit of a joke really, The cage that held the gas bottle underneath the floor was about 8 inches from the ground and about an inch from the propshaft, then the gas pipe went to the cooker where someone had used a T-piece for some reason, with one pipe going to the hob and the other pipe was bent round a few times to stop gas leaking.... I don't know why the never just used a single pipe. There was a lot of cork insulation which I think had been stuck on with tar. Oh what fun I had with a scraper. Jana 'helped', but well, she got bored of it a lot quicker than I did.

Handsome eh,

Then I got stuck into the wiring loom, there was a lot of house-hold wire in one colour for switches and lights all over the place. I know I'm going to be re-doing the interior lighting differently so those got binned and I kept the standard loom. Note the intensity of my concentration.

The next weekend we started on taking the pop-up roof off. The fabric of the roof its self isn't too bad. There is a rip in it but its along the seam so once stitched up it will be ok. It was held down with aluminium strips and brackets.



Starting to get quite bare now, in total we found 3 dead birds in the van, 2 of which were skeletons and the other was quite fresh looking underneath the radiator intake, perhaps from the drive home on the trailer, oops.

We got the other door off and then I set about the lower panels, there pretty easy to come off as there all bolt on panels, something Ford promoted as a key selling point apparently.

The right lower panel its self was not bad, just a bit of surface rust and a few dings. Even behind the panel it was not bad. You can see the battery tray is pretty much gone but thats not really a problem at all, its just a welded up box. Although a lot of rust came flaking off as you can see.

The back of the wheel well is the worst, good thing is a lot of the panels to replace are just flat sheet with bends in it.

The other side was a bit harder to take off as it had spot welds along the side door opening but it came off none the less.

During all this a few bolts were completely seized and I had to grind them off, sending sparks flying. I finally thought id be a lot safer doing all this crap with the petrol tank out. Only problem was the bolts underneath had seized and the only access was to rip the floor out and take them off from the top.

So out the floor it went. The guy that rents the other side of the garage popped down and gave me a hand. The floor was inch thick plywood and all the coachscrews holding it down were, as you could guess, seized. We came up with a plan of him using a big lever and me drilling lots of holes around the coachscrews. You can see the petrol tank is quite small for something to go travelling with, may need to find something bigger. Once I disconnected the tank I poured the petrol away and it was pure orange, like irn-bru. Must have been laying in the tank for years.

The weekend after my brother came along instead of Jana as I wanted to get the engine/gearbox and the rest of the glass out. We even managed to get the rest of the doors off.

Glass out

Checking out how to remove the engine. We disconnected the gearbox first and tied rope around the engine to lift it straight up.

My garage buddys engine crane came in handy.


A full 53bhp or so of pure antique metal

This is the hole that has been left from taking the motor out, The plan is to replace it with a 3 litre Cologne/Essex V6, I know it fits as ive seen the set up before in a Thames van. I'm going to go for an automatic box too as I just want it as a cruiser and I hope to keep the column change and rig it up to the autobox.

Thats as far as ive gotten with the van. I'm pretty much at the stage where I need to take the suspension, steering and rear axle off but before I do that I need to make up a way of supporting the van off the ground. I was looking at building a rotisserie but I came up with a slightly different idea. I'm going to build 2 huge dodecagons that split into 2 pieces. That way I can roll it on its side and sandblast/repair underneath then roll it back, unbolt the top half of the dodecagons and work on the roof etc..

Only thing is its going to cost about 180 in material so I need to do a few homers to make up the money for that. I also just put down a deposit to rent a new house with Jana so money is quite tight. Next update will probably be in a few more weeks.

September update -----------------------------------------------------------

Well its been a few weeks since I have made an update. To be honest I had no money to make the dodecagon chassis tilter so everything came to a standstill until I had more money. I managed to get 2 homers fabricating gates, each one took about 2 weeks to make and fit, only because I have a full time job 8-5 and I can really only fabricate my own stuff after work and on Saturdays. The first one I made was for some retro shop on cockburn street in Edinburgh. I'm not sure if anyones familiar really with Edinburgh but cockburn street is just of the royal mile so its good to be getting my work in a classy area (i.e., more money).

After that one his neighbor wanted me to fabricate a couple of gates for the front of his shop too, so, more money is better than no money and I done that too.

Finally I could start on my own stuff for the van. I bought 4 lengths of 50x50x3 box section for the frame and struts, 2 lengths of 25x25x3 for bracing the inside of the van, a 8x4 sheet of 1.2mm for the body and some 1.6mm for the underside and any other areas I want to protect a bit more. Last time I got as far as drawing the idea of the dodecagon.

I know that there is other ways for me to work on the underside of the van, from rolling it over onto old mattresses/tyres to make a proper rotisserie. The reason I decided on the dodecagon was its simplicity, I don't have to jack it up crap loads to rotate it and I can mount it straight onto the chassis using the suspension mounting points.

I decided before I go cutting anything to check over all my measurements and see if I can adjust the sizes. I went to the garage and made a cardboard template of the outline of the front of the van, after messing around with the sizes I realized I could make the bottom and top rail 37" the side rails 32" and the corners 20", meaning instead of the overall height and width being 104" its now only 87" (if my memory serves me right). I then got 2 sheets of 3mm plate from my work and laid them flat on the ground and tacked them together to make a 8ftx8ft working area. I traced around the cardboard template (you can vaguely see that) and then made a full size drawing of how the dodecagons should look in chalk. Once that was done and I was happy with it I cut 24 bits of 50x50 at 50 long angle and tacked them around the perimeter of the dodecagon. That way once everything was cut I could clamp the box to the angle and know its not going to move and warp.

I then started to cut the 50x50 box to the sizes I need with a 7inch grinder, Its not my chop saw so to save the blade a bit I cut them with the grinder square, so when it comes to cutting the 15 degree angle I'm only cutting 3 faces, therefore using less of the blade.

This photo is a bit crap but you get the idea, with everything cut I could place the metal on the sheet and using a crap load of clamps, clamp everything in place and start tacking. Once it was all tacked I kept the clamps in place and welded the top face.

I then stood it up so I could weld the inside and outside.

After that I then laid it back down with the other non welded face pointing up onto the jig to make sure it never warped and I laid the other bits of metal on top and tacked them to the complete dodecagon, that way I know both will be the exact same (or close enough anyway).

I then broke the tacks holding the dodecagons together and welded everything up completely.

The next again weekend I went back to finish them off but I forgot my camera so I'll need to show what I done later. I wanted to add strength to the corners so I cut some 25x10 flat bar and welded them in place like gussets. The other thing I done was to cut them in half and sleeved an insert inside both cuts. Unfortunately once I cut them in half they bowed in, so I had to cut 4 corners and pull them out a few degrees and weld them back up. Easy enough to do but time consuming.

The weekend after that I decided to fabricate trolley dollies so can move the whole thing around a lot easier. I bought 8x125mm castor/brake wheels, and 2 x 65x130 U channel @ 40" long. Using some left over 50 box I joined the whole lot together and I'm quite happy with how they turned out. I left a 60mm gap from the floor to the channel. I'm hoping that when I go to roll the dodecagons I can roll them into the channel, I'll just need to see how it goes. The wheels should be strong for the job, they hold 160Kg each, so altogether thats 1280kg in total and I'm guessing the van isn't even going to be 700Kg fully stripped.

I got them down to my garage and with the help of my beautiful although slightly unenthusiastic assistant got to see how they would look in place. It was exciting to see all the hard work starting to make sense and feeling worthwhile. You can see the gussets I welded in place here.

My brother and I went to the garage last Wednesday after work and started to strip the front suspension out. We got the whole front end out but by that time it was getting quite late and I had an operation the next day so thats as far as we got. I'm hoping next week to get back along and bolt the plates I have cut to the mounting points and weld more box to join the chassis to the dodecagons and fingers crossed it should go to plan. I also have to brace the inside of the van extensively as I plan to chop the roof of first. Thats why I have 3 sheets of MD, I'm going to join my 2 benches together and make a huge 12ft x8ft table, screw the roof down and repair it.
Hopefully I'll have another update next week and a video of it in action.

October update -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Just to recap - The suspension at the front will remain standard, the layout will anyway. Its got double wishbones at the front with quite a bit of adjustment considering its a 50 year old van. I will change all the bushes ofcourse and depending on the weight of the engine and other stuff I'll need to fit tougher springs and shocks. It would be good to have a balance between comfort and handling. The brakes will get changed to discs. At the rear I'm going for a Ford Capri rear axle as its the exact same width and I know it can handle the power.
The steering could be changed to powersteering but id need to find a car that has a power steering steering box as its old school and isn't a rack and pinion . I know some Mercedes used them so I'll need to have a rake around the scrap yard. The Scorpio V6 does have a power steering pump though.
I want to try and find a Ford Granada Scorpio, the first model, because that has the same 5 stud bolt pattern (5x112). That way id have everything, the 24V V6, the gearbox, the discs brakes and hubs, the ECU etc....
As far as entertainment I'm happy with a cd/MP3 changer and a few decent speakers, I also have the idea of getting a TV which would mount flush to the headlining then flip down to watch. A cheap car PC or laptop to go with it would be good. I'm not going to go 'pimp my ride' style mental though and have a candy floss machine inside a candyfloss machine or some stupid crap like that.
For cooking I'll just have a basic double hob with a grill underneath. It does kind of scare me a bit that I'll have a flame less than foot from curtains or other flammable material so I'm going to plump in a racing car style fire extinguisher with pipes above the cooker and along the inside. That way if it catches on fire I can press a button and the whole inside of the van will be extinguished.

I managed to fix the works spare plasma cutter so my boss has let me borrow that and a guy I know form another forum has let me borrow his sandblaster so that is a huge help!

I've been a bit busy again but managed to get the tilter pretty much finished.

First thing I had to do was Clean up the chassis where I want to bolt the plates onto

I measured and cut up the plates, then drilled the holes out.

Then I bolted the plates to chassis and tacked them together, that way I knew it was going to be a good tight fit.

Unbolted the plates and welded them up. Before I welded them I tacked a few bracers between the angle so it wouldn't distort with the heat.

Whilst the plates were cooling down I took out the first bottom of the dodecagon and positioned it to where I needed. It took a while because your working with 3 different axis of movement and the only thing I had to hold it was a black and decker workmate. I first made sure the van its self was level then I leveled the dodecagon, trying to keep it centre to the van and then level it the other way. Awkward.

With that done I measured up for the supports, first the horizontal one was cut and tacked in.

Then the vertical.

Once all tacked I jacked the van up and let the frame drop. I tacked in a few more braces and welded it all up, gave it a quick dress up and bolted it back on the van. That was the first test over, if it would actually hold it and not bend or warp, which it did, success!

It looks like I'm advertising a can of GT85 but I'm really putting in the bolts so the top half doesn't come off when it gets rolled over.

The next again weekend my brother came along to give me a hand with the rear. He done a god job of stripping the axle out and disconnecting various bits. Then he cleaned up the chassis for me,.

just chilling out on the floor

Whilst he did one side I was measuring, cutting, marking and drilling the plates for the brackets. Same story as the front, bolted them up and tacked them.

Here you can see the bracers I tacked on so it wouldn't warp when welding up.

That was that for that day. My brother had to go home for his dinner (family man) so I took the brackets to my work and welded them up there. Last weekend I went with my girlfriend for a wee cheeky long weekend away up north for our 4 year anniversary and she was kind enough to not be intoxicated off with me by letting me to go to the garage on the Sunday afternoon. I forgot to take photos as I was going along though, I think it was because I got intoxicated off after spending an hour trying to level up the rear dodecagon and cutting the horizontal supports when I suddenly realized that, yes I had everything level but the rear ring wasn't level with the front. Luckily I noticed just in time as it was off by about 40mm. Once I got it packed up it went pretty much the same as the front did.

It was good to see my creation starting to actually be complete. Next step was figuring out how to slide the trolley wheel frames underneath. For the rear I managed to just lift the van up myself and kind of kick and shuffle the frames under. The front is a bit heavier so I jacked that up , as I did the whole back off the van started to veer towards the wall. Once I put the brakes on the wheels I jacked it up again and slid the front wheels underneath.



I tested the van to see if it would actually tilt and I got it onto its first step. I want to brace the inside of the van properly before I go any further but atleast I know it works so far. I recorded it on my mobile so the quality isn't the best.

I also made a video of it being rolled about on the trolley wheels. I have a bit of a cold and sore throat so I pretty much cough all the time.

Next up I need to brace the van and make struts so that when its tipped over it will stay there and not roll back. Then finally , finally I can actually do something to the van , woohoo!

November update -
Not too much of a huge update but a bit of a milestone for me.
The dodecagon and bracing is now complete so i can roll the van around and not worry about distortion (thats the theory anyway).

Here its on the second step,

And on its side, I thought i took more photos of it on its side but apparently not. I will make some braces to attach to the side to stop it rolling back, it was steady enough to take photos but i wouldnt feel safe working on it like that.

I couldnt get a full shot of the underneath so this is a photomerge of 3 photos if your wondering why it doesnt look right.

It was a bit weird to see the underside at a decent viewing angle, not really something you see.

I also made another video of it being rolled on to its side.

It is possible for one man to roll it on its side but i think any further over i would need some help.

Now that that is done i can on with actually fixing the bodywork. My plan is to shotblast the van body next. Im going to build a 6 metre x 5 metre shelter using clear tarpaulin in the corner of the garage. Ive never done shot-blasting before so it will be a bit of an experiment until i get the hang of it. I think it will be similar to painting the whole van with an artist paintbrush, joy....

December update : -

I havent been able to do much recently as im now working overtime and Saturdays at work to try and make some extra pennies for christmas.

Last weekend i started to strip the rest of the van. Being able to put it on its side meant taking the steering system, brake lines, fuel lines, master cylinders etc.. off a lot easier.

The next thing i have to do before i can repair the bodywork is to see exactly where i need to repair it. For that i need to strip all the paint and i decided to shot-blast the whole thing myself. I dont want to make a mess and create dust everywhere so i bought 3 heavy-duty polythene sheets to create a smaller space to shot-blast in. I was able to staple the sheets to the rafters on the roof.

The guy i share the space with gave me an old zip cable tidy he never needed anymore so i cut it in half and attached it at the corner so i could seperate the front and side of the sheets.

I also attached a weight to the bottom and rope so i can pull the sheets up and have a bit more room for the other people that have to gain access to the back of the garage.

Before i went home i was able to get a quick shot of shot-blasting for the first time. I was able to get the hang of it pretty quickly, but i guess with practise il be able to do it better and i'll have alot of practise with this van.

This weekend i went shopping with the girlfriend in the morning to keep her happy and after that i buggered off to the garage. I wanted to do a little more of the blasting. I bought one bag of fine glass bead from a local media blaster for 10. I think that was a good price, much better than machine mart prices anyway. I continued on from where i left last weekend with the front corner.

Shot-blasting seems the way to go for me. The finish you get is great and i like how it gets the paint and dead metal away so easily. The only other alternative for the DIY person would be using paint stripper and a wire cup brush/paint removing pad. For the bigger flat panels i do intend to use paint stripper as i dont want to distort them. for example, you can see in this photo of the A-post the rust and pinholes going all the way up. Before i blasted it it looked like it was just surface rust but giving it the once over i was surprised to see how bad it was. The repair of it wont be hard but it all adds up.

I was able re-use the glass bead. At first i just brushed it up and put it back in but i clogged it up when i started blasting again. I went to morrisons and bought a kitchen sieve and sieved the glass bead. I never realised just how much other crap i had swept up.

For a comparison shot heres a before.

And an after.

I never done too much as by the time i got to the garage it was 3pm and havign to set everything up etc.. took a bit of time. Plus Edinburgh is having its worst snow fall in years, this is the worst i've ever seen it anyway, and in the garage i only have a halogen flood light for heat so i went home for my dinner.

Van Halen

Number of posts : 1781
Location : charlotte
Age : 43
Registration date : 2010-04-30

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by Van Halen on Thu Dec 09, 2010 2:01 pm

Wow welcome kevbarlas!!! That has to be the coolest most informative intro I have ever seen. Super cool ride can't wait to see the up in coming progress. Oh and by the way your steering wheel is on the wrong side!! lol!

Number of posts : 30745
Location : Fowlerville, MI
Age : 56
Registration date : 2008-05-06

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by G-Man on Thu Dec 09, 2010 3:56 pm

Wow!!! Great pictures and nice work!!!! Welcome to the site!!!! Finally we have a Thames member, I love those things
67a 100 pickup

Number of posts : 1319
Location : ann arbor, mi
Registration date : 2009-01-29

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by 67a 100 pickup on Thu Dec 09, 2010 6:22 pm

That is a cool design for rolling the van over to work on it.

Number of posts : 575
Location : austin
Registration date : 2010-07-30

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by austinmodhouse on Thu Dec 09, 2010 6:26 pm

LOVE IT! anxiously awaiting the next update.

similar van was just listed on ebay, and not too far from me.....
Moderator 1st Class
Moderator 1st Class

Number of posts : 7989
Location : pittsburgh pa
Age : 60
Registration date : 2008-05-29

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by dix on Fri Dec 10, 2010 3:21 pm

Van Halen

Number of posts : 1781
Location : charlotte
Age : 43
Registration date : 2010-04-30

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by Van Halen on Fri Dec 10, 2010 4:07 pm

austinmodhouse wrote:LOVE IT! anxiously awaiting the next update.

similar van was just listed on ebay, and not too far from me.....

DO IT!!!
Sy Hollinshead

Number of posts : 466
Location : Cambridgeshire, UK
Age : 42
Registration date : 2008-10-11

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by Sy Hollinshead on Fri Dec 10, 2010 4:11 pm

Welcome to the site, you certainly know how to make an entrance....

We thought about getting one of those before i bought the Econoline, but we just couldn't find anything suitable, apart from one in South Africa....!!!

Looks like you know what you are doing anyway. Keep up the progress reports...


bugeye bob

Number of posts : 376
Location : atlanta georgia
Age : 61
Registration date : 2009-02-02

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by bugeye bob on Tue Dec 14, 2010 7:47 pm

very cool, and i'm jealous of that garage looks like plenty of room to work.


Number of posts : 60
Location : Edinburgh, Scotland
Registration date : 2010-12-09

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by kevbarlas on Sat Jan 22, 2011 2:32 pm

January update

I haven't put up any pictures recently as , well, it doesn't look like a lot has been done. Just before christmas I got a bit more the blasting done.

You can really see just how well it highlights the bad Areas to be cut out

During the christmas holidays I got a phone call at 8:30 in the morning to tell me the garage had a burst pipe and it was flooding the whole place. Within 10 minutes of waking up I was doing 70mph..... (or there abouts Razz) down the motorway to get to my van. As I was driving I was thinking the worst. Maybe a pipe above the van had burst and my nice shiney un-protected paint work that I had blasted was being ruined, or my welder and plasma cutter were now submerged under 2 feet of water. When I arrived I was so relieved, turns out the spot where I placed the van seems to be on a little incline and it was bone dry. What was damaged were 2 bags of grit for the media blaster, they were lying in a little puddle and the moisture had managed to get through and make the grit damp. I wasn't about to let 20 worth of grit go to waste so I went about drying it. I took it home and placed it in the airing cupboard for a couple of days. That never really worked, so I took the grit back to the garage and laid it out in a thin layer on 2 large sheets of wood and left it to dry. In the mean time I tried to get some more but the guy I get the grit of was closed for the holidays and I didn't want to pay 3 times the price at machine mart. I didn't want the day to go to waste though so I got the wirebrush on the grinder and attacked a few spots on the lower half of the van.

That night I was thinking that I might actually be better to prepare the underside of the van before I blast the rest. On the reasoning that all the sticky underseal could land on the bare-metal. Its funny how you can say in one quick simple sentence "prepare the underside" , its straight to the point and sounds so simple, "prepare the underside". Even thinking about the task it sounds easy, which it is. What it doesn't capture is the monotony and dull-ness of the task. Its one of those things where you put a lot of effort and time into it but visually its not impressive at all.

My first attempt with the underseal was to use a wire-cup brush in the grinder and go at it, Wrong! All that does is cause friction which heats up the underseal into a nice swirly pattern. I then moved on to the 'kill it with fire' approach and bought a nice fancy self-starting blowtorch with paint striper attachment and also 3 different sized scrapers. This method does work but my god its boring. Step one, point heat at a 2 inch square, let it bubble. Step 2, Scrape it , then scrape it again, and again. Then you can use a flat wire-brush attachment in the grinder to clean the thin layer of remaining underseal off. This method only really works on the flat areas, i.e , floor pan, wheel arches, chassis rails. When it comes to corners and inaccessible areas ive been using the blow-torch/scraper then going over it with the media-blaster.

I know I wont get 100% of the rust away, even using the blaster and wire brush there's still some areas that have heavy pitting. So I think that once I have as much done as I can im going to buy a rust converter and spray it on the whole underside. Ive been looking at rustbusters fe-123 and it seems to have good reviews. I think I will also use their epoxy mastic 121 as the paint for the chassis and underside. The original was designed for off shore oil rigs and its been adapted for automotive use so should be good enough to protect it for a long time.

On another note, my Ford Consul had been losing water for a while. At first I thought that maybe the radiator cap wasn't working right as I always had a lot of pressure in the cooling system. At first it wasn't bad , id maybe only have to top it up once a week but leading up to christmas it got to the point where I was having to put at least 2 litres back in just after driving to and back from work. During the cold temperatures it started to become obvious that water was getting in somehow, when I stopped at the traffic lights I would be surrounded in a cloud of white smoke. I then thought that maybe the cylinder head gasket had blown, what threw me off though was that the oil was still nice and dark, not creamy as you would expect. I spoke to my dad about it and he suggested it could be a cracked cylinder head (there goes 2 days worth of lapping the valves last summer). I had thought about buying a new gasket and using the cylinderhead off the van engine when my dad came up with the idea that I should just swap the engine that came out the van with the consuls. Another one of those short and simple sentences.....

So basically it was swap this:

For this:

I had taken photos as I was doing this but they are on a different camera that I don't have access to right now. So I will upload them here later.

On the Saturday I got to the garage about 11am, I started by striping the whole front end away, the grill, trim, bonnet, radiator, battery etc.. Then I removed all the electric cables (yes, all 3 of them) , engine fan, alternator etc.. I guess the last person who changed this engine made life easier for themselves by cutting the front panel away so I done the same. Now, came the pain in the arse bit, removing the gearbox from the engine, you can get to the 9 bolts underneath easily enough but there's 3 which are sandwiched between the engine and firewall, (if you have done this to a mk2 you will know what im talking about) I had to sort of straddle the engine and bend over at a degree men find very uncomfortable, find the bolt and using an open ended 9/16 spanner, get a grip at an angle and get maybe 1/16 of a turn then take it off and struggle to do the same, ofcourse the bolts are about an inch and a half long so to remove one bolt ends up taking half an hour. Anyway, with the engine off I could get some rope around it and put some tension on the engine crane and then remove the engine mounts.

With the engine out I moved on to striping it of everything and putting it on to the van engine. I forgot to mention to those that don't know but the Consul and Thames used the exact same engine block. I thought it was the exact same engine but there a few differences that I never knew about until doing this swap. The van engine has a single down-draught carb where as the Consul has a twin, so that had to be swapped, I swapped it along with the intake manifold as well as the exhaust as they also differ in length slightly. The oil filter is also shorter in length. Luckily I had bought a new filter for a 400e as apposed to the consul when I was looking on Ebay as I thought they were the same. I swapped over the distributor as I eh well, managed to break the van one when taking it out the van.... And also the plugs, coil , ht leads. The water pump pulley is also smaller, I was hoping to use that as that would turn the water pump over quicker but after checking id need to find a smaller belt to go with it. The van also has a 4 blade fan so I used that instead of the consuls 2 blade. By this point it was 9pm and I was starting to feel really tired. I phoned my brother for sympathy and it must have worked as he said he would come and pick me up then drop me back off again in the morning, legend!.

On Sunday I arrived about 11am again. With the engine ready to go in I tied a rope around it and hoisted it up with the crane. I pulled it over then somehow, I managed to line it up with the gearbox shaft, twist it to line up and lower it. It did take quite a few attempts and about half an hour of swearing but I managed, I even done that thing where you take your anger out on an inanimate object, for some reason I threw the crane jack handle at the ground and swore at it (poor thing). Eventually I got it to line up, I bolted the engine mounts on, set the timing and put the alternator and belt back on. I got the engine to a state where I could test it (I forgot to mention that I had no idea if this engine block was OK. I never heard it run before so I was quite apprehensive as to if I was wasting my time).

Before I started welding the brace back and putting the radiator together I crossed my fingers and prayed ( no im not religious at all so I don't know why) with a flick of the key the engine turned over , almost instantly it fired up and a great feeling went through my head, Im sure a lot of you will know it, that feeling of getting an engine to run that hasn't ran for a while, or it was broke, but now, it is fixed and its all OK again. After that I was so happy to know it atleast ran so I welded up the front and put the radiator back on so I could start it up and let it idle properly.

Once started I did have a little problem but at the time it was huge, a huge puddle of brand new expensive oil was streaming onto the floor. At first I thought that the engine block was maybe cracked but upon further investigation it turned out I just never put the oil filter on the o-ring properly , oops. Anyway, after all that I put it all back together and its been fine since. Its still just as slow but I haven't fixed the exhaust yet so its a bit noisy and ropey/lumpy sounding which I quite like. I don't know if its just me but at some points it has a nice echoey splattery lazy V8 pitch to it (yeah its probably just me).

Number of posts : 30745
Location : Fowlerville, MI
Age : 56
Registration date : 2008-05-06

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by G-Man on Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:42 pm

Thanks for the update


Number of posts : 60
Location : Edinburgh, Scotland
Registration date : 2010-12-09

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by kevbarlas on Mon Feb 21, 2011 2:09 pm

February update

I'm afraid this update is pretty much the same as the last, stripping Finally the chassis and floorpan is pretty much done. There is still a few remaining patches to clean up but im going to do them when i start welding the underneath. No point cleaning rust that im going to be cutting out.

This was with the sandblaster.

You can see that because the blaster isn't under a really high pressure and the grit has been used a few times that it leaves the pits with rust in them, granted it is just surface rust.

A bit more of a close up of that panel. The panel is still strong, its just heavily pitted and as its the underside and to keep originality im going to keep it like that. I'll use a good quality rust-converter (fe-123 ) on the panel first then use that same companys epoxy-mastic chassis paint. The company always seem to get really good reviews in magazines.

When i had finished cleaning underneath i rolled the van back the right way round and stared at it for a while, trying to build some enthusiasm back to get on with the laborious task of blasting. After 10 mins of doing that i put the kettle on and rolled a smoke and sat back down again. I suddenly remembered that when i was at my mates garage looking at his Thames he was telling me about these poly-abrasive discs he had which were meant to strip the paint without damaging the metal-work at all. I looked in the catalogue and they are 7 for a 115mm disc so i thought i may aswell try it, so i bought 2. Heres what a part worn one looks like.

I decided to try it on a small area just underneath where the passenger seat would be. It has a flat area , a curve and some folds so i thought that would be a good enough test for what it would encounter on the outside.

Wow!, i was impressed. I would like to shake the mans hand that came up with these. Its like the perfect balance of enough abrasive to remove the paint and not harm the metal. It leaves the panel lightly scored but probably to the same effect of about 120 grit wet and dry. Best of all, that panel took maybe 4-6 mins to do completely. Compared to about twenty minutes of the blaster probably. Plus i don't have to then sieve the grit etc.. Well worth money. The first bit of the outside i done was a small area just behind the passenger door.

I then moved onto the rear

When the discs are new they are about half an inch thick. I found out that if i use them new on the swage lines around the windows i could get the disc right in and clean the detail bits up first then when they get part-worn i would move on to the flat surface areas.
So, ive now came up with another new plan regarding stripping the paint. The idea now is to do as much as i can with these poly-abrasive discs then use the blaster to get into the hard to reach areas like the door openings, under the dash, hard corners etc.. for some reason, I was a bit annoyed with myself that i never stuck to blasting the whole entire van, like i felt i was taking the easy route out and being lazy. Im trying to see it as more of a positive approach, I guess its all a learning curve. At first i was adamant that i would sandblast the whole van but these discs cut the time dramatically, id say it takes atleast a fifth or a quarter of the time it would take to sandblast these areas. plus the compressor doesn't need to be on so its much more quieter.

The next weekend i went to my mates house again and he gave me a fuel/vacuum pump for the Consul. He also gave me a bigger 7 inch (180mm) polyabrasive disc as he said he wouldn't be needing it, bonus!. Only problem is i don't have a 7 inch grinder so i done what any stupid person with no regard for there safety would do. I put it on my 4 and a half inch grinder and, with welding gauntlets on, I held it very very very carefully. It acted like a huge gyroscope but done the job.

I finished off the panel i started the week before. Once i get the metal bare i give it a quick rub down with a scotchbrite pad to remove the dust and give it a duller finish.

I then moved onto the front. You can see the difference here between the sandblast finish and the poly-abrasive disc.

The front took maybe 35-40 mins to get to that stage, Its great to actually go to the garage and see some instant results for a change. After a sandwich, coffee and some cookies i started on the side.

The way it leaves the panels in a sort of brush effect can make the light hitting it give the impression of dents and dings but this side panel is amazingly straight apart from one little dent on the lower half.

This side is also the worst around the swage line for rust, heres a close up from the outside.

And the same area inside

It doesn't look too bad outside but the inside is all completely rotten. Heres a crappy mspaint cross section to show you how they look.

By the afternoon i had stripped pretty much every outside panel on the van.

I even had enough time to make a start on the inside.

Im so much happier to see progress happening. I think next weekend i could get the bigger panels on the inside done and then il be onto blasting the hard to reach areas. Hopefully within the next 3-4 weeks i could have it completely stripped of paint ready to get welding.

I have a question now though, once its all stripped i need to protect it from surface rust as im working on it. Whats the done deal here? I was thinking that i would go over the van with a sander to make sure any surface rust that may have formed since i started would be completely gone. Then spray a coat of etch primer to protect the body. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

On a completely different note, The engine idea has changed. As i said before i was going with the Ford Cologne 2.8 V6 but i think ive found something better. Ive been measuring the engine bay area and i think with some slight modification i could shoehorn a 1UZ-FE in there, in other words, a 4 litre, 24 valve V8 from a Lexus LS400. Ive seen complete cars for 450 so i can scavenge the V8, radiator, auto-box, complete wiring loom etc.. for just about the same price id pay for the V6.
250 BHP and 260 ftlbf of torque, yes please!
Econoline Guru

Number of posts : 1741
Location : Jackson TN
Registration date : 2010-04-18

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by econopoor on Mon Feb 21, 2011 3:05 pm

Looks like you are making good progress. Those paint striping wheels make quick work of it. I found a tool that I love for metal prep. The one I have is sold through Matco tools but most any tool vendor sells a similiar version. It takes a 3 M brand striper wheel with a quick mount. It has a little threaded nub on it that just twist onto the tool pad. It also takes different grit disc, Scotchbrite pads, even flap wheels. All change with just a twist so you can quickly go from one to another.

They even sell these little two inch wheels to get into tight places. I've found it invaluable for cleaning up metal. It also works great cleaning up welds after you start putting your new metal in.

Good luck on your engine swap. There's no substitution for cubic inches. LOL.

Duane in Tennessee.

Number of posts : 310
Location : San Diego, California
Registration date : 2010-05-26

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by SDEconoTruck on Mon Feb 21, 2011 6:10 pm

Hi Kevbarlas,

Lots of good progress here. I've done a lot of different methods for paint stripping, and I did the same progression as you: sandblast to abraisive disk. My biggest problem was the abraisive dics wear fairly quickly.
What I eventually found was a specialty tool that was very fast and relatively quiet. I am amazed how fast and effective the stripping tool is,
and I have yet to wear out the "rotor brushes."
The only problem was the cost of the tool system, which I've seen for over a grand from some dealers!!! (I got mine new but owned for just over 300 bucks) But, if you plan on doing more bodywork in the future (I've done 5 cars/trucks) then it is a good value.

Here it is (not affiliated)
I use a combination of this stripping tool, and chemical stripper (Aircraft Stripper) and as Duane mentioned a mini-die air-grinder with a
2-inch 3M abraisive wheel. I should mention that the MBX tool gets all these tasks done, even tight seams and corners. I also have used a
hand-held Sandblaster Gun which has a spot-blasting fitting that captures its media and debris in a bag. Again, the MBX tool also strips
the heads of rivets and other odd, hard-to-strip areas.

I found the best primer on bare metal is two-part epoxy primer. The concept of an etch primer is becoming obsolete as most two-part epoxies have the chemistry to make really good bonds to the metal. Etching primers can come back to haunt you, so be careful!!!
Once primed, you can do your bodywork (panel beating and welding) then spot prime the worked areas and you're ready for filler or surfacer primer (spray-on filler/thick stuff.) Then the blocking begins... ohhhh yeah...

Keep on it!
Best Regards,
Econoline Guru

Number of posts : 1741
Location : Jackson TN
Registration date : 2010-04-18

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by econopoor on Mon Feb 21, 2011 6:38 pm

I've been looking at one of those. I wasn't sure how it would do on the sheet metal. Also those bristles look deadly. LOL. I can just see them sticking out of my arm. I may need to pick up one. I haven't worried much about the cost of the 3M disc as I have a great source for them. They do get expensive though. I have a vacuum sand blaster that recovers the blast medium but it's heavy, awkward, and it's really hard to see where you are shooting. I'm always looking for a better way to clean metal.

Duane in Tennessee.

Number of posts : 310
Location : San Diego, California
Registration date : 2010-05-26

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by SDEconoTruck on Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:39 pm

Hi Duane,

Yeah, it's not a regular ol' wirebrush, it's definitely a professional grade tool as it could easily hurt someone. I have to wear a face shield, safety glasses are not enough. It's the fastest and easiest thing for stripping down to metal that I've found yet.

If I could get those discs cheaper in price I'd use them a lot more, as they are pretty good. On large areas I use Aircraft Stripper 1 which is the strong stuff. I forgot to say that I D/A sand all the bare metal with 80 grit then go right to primer before any flash rust occurs.

I have a portable hand-held Spot Blaster that works really well for single pits or stubborn corners and I don't get covered in sand:


It's got several different rubber tips to fit inside corners, rain gutters and small circles. You PRESS the barrel of the gun up against
the work piece and form a seal, then pull the trigger a few times.

Pretty cheap and works surprisingly well.


Number of posts : 6186
Location : spokane ,Wa.
Registration date : 2009-09-28

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by Twinpilot001 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 7:27 am

so-?where do we get this tool shown?? Harbor , eastwood??, Many years back ="safetyclean" corp- the parts washer rental bunch - had a sand blaster incorporated with a vaccumn- was a sweet setup to use & sucked back all the sand when blasting . I worked with it for some years and wiah I could find one today. Let us know.Thanx
Econoline Guru

Number of posts : 1741
Location : Jackson TN
Registration date : 2010-04-18

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by econopoor on Tue Feb 22, 2011 3:10 pm

I started to buy one like that several years ago but didn't because I thougt the small holding chamber would limit it. I bought this big monster instead. LOL. It works great but it's a pain. I can't use it for long as it's too clumsy. It gets real old wrestling with it. I wish I'd bought a small one like yours. I'll have to look into buying one of those stripers.

I didn't mean to get this thread off the subject with all this tool talk. Your making great progress with your Thames. I admire your work. can't wait to see more.

Duane in Tennessee.

Number of posts : 310
Location : San Diego, California
Registration date : 2010-05-26

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by SDEconoTruck on Wed Feb 23, 2011 12:32 am

Hi Matt, Hi Duane,
Wow, yeah Duane that's quite a contraption, but it is for larger surfaces. The spot gun is for smaller single spots or like 2 ft of
seam done an inch at a time.

This link won't last long, I don't know how to make it permanent for future members. Maybe go to E-Bay and hit "Air
hand held sandblaster gun":

Don't mean to make a hijack but this seems relevant. Metal stripping is a hard undertaking and poor choice in tools can
discourage many to give up or do a not-so-good job, or use the last resort "rust converter" and some kind of "paint over
rust" solution...

...which means that rust will probably make a return visit one day.

Econoline Guru

Number of posts : 1741
Location : Jackson TN
Registration date : 2010-04-18

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by econopoor on Wed Feb 23, 2011 4:36 am

From the size one would think it's for larger surfaces. It only shoots about a one inch pattern of sand. Because of the size of the vacuum cup it makes it hard to see where you are shooting. It's real slow going and it's heavy. The hoses make it clumsy. It has both inside and outside wisks that fit on the cup as well as the flat wisk that's on it now. It does a wonderful job but just slow and clumsy. It's pretty noisey too. That big vacuum is loud and it has to be real close to the operator because of the hose. Sandblasting is not the final answer to rust. It does well for the rust on top of the metal but won't touch the rust that's deep in the pores. That's where the converters come into play.

Duane in Tennessee.

Number of posts : 92
Location : St. Pete Beach FL
Registration date : 2011-02-18

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by Oldsmobubble on Wed Feb 23, 2011 5:13 am

I used a 4" grinder and a wire wheel on my Olds frame. It took me about 24 hours, working about 3 hours at a time grinding, then immediately priming with this brush on self etching stuff, I got at a swap meet. It's used on metal bridges in NY, called "anti-graffiti" primer because the city can use solvents to take the graffiti off and not hurt the primer. Then I used a 2 part epoxy paint, 2 coats, on the whole frame and all the control arms, spindles ect... I took all the stuff I could carry to my sand/walnut/baking soda blaster guy. He charges me like $30 for as much **** as I can carry.

Number of posts : 355
Location : ohio
Registration date : 2010-05-30

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by toad on Wed Mar 30, 2011 11:31 pm

How about an update?

Number of posts : 285
Location : So Cal
Age : 48
Registration date : 2011-02-28


Post by Vantastic on Thu Mar 31, 2011 7:24 am

Very Nice! Please keep us up on the retoration! I can't wait until it's done


Number of posts : 60
Location : Edinburgh, Scotland
Registration date : 2010-12-09

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by kevbarlas on Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:51 pm

If anyone is wondering about the progress then, well, nothing has happened unfortunately. I had to work 3 weekends in a row for my job then i took 3 days holiday and a weekend to make a set of railings for my girlfriends boss.

Driving back from work last weekend, the Consul decided that it didn't like its engine working and conked out in rush hour traffic. I managed to coast it to the side of the road and popped the bonnet. At first i didn't know what it was so i checked the vitals first, fuel and spark. Stupidly i also done it in that order, to check for petrol i disconnected the fuel pipe and pressed the starter solenoid which sprayed fuel all over the engine and still hot exhaust, oops. So the fuel was ok but now i realized that i need to check the spark... with petrol everywhere. I was about to pull a plug out and be brave and find a spot that wasn't covered in petrol to test it when i thought id check if the distributor was functioning. I took the cap off and pressed the solenoid again and the rotor arm wasn't turning. I thought that maybe the bracket had came loose and it popped out. I tried to slacking the bracket off a bit more but the distributor wouldn't come out. The body of it rotates but its totally jammed inside the engine somehow. The only other way to access it is to take the sump off and the oil pump off and see if can identify why its stuck in there. Another thing that will take a day of my weekend up.

I was also getting fed up with sitting in my car at traffic jams doing the daily commute and decided that seeing as the weather is picking up and theres more daylight, now would be the best time to get my motorbike project back on the road. I've had my Honda VFR400 for about 6 years now and 3 of those years its been off the road. I had a crash on it and i wanted to rebuild it to a better spec so i bought a set of Yamaha R1 forks and calipers and came up with a way to put them on the bike. I also used an Aprilla RS250 rear shock to tighten up the rear.

These are all really old photos. I never had much money then so i had to stop for a while. Then i bought the Consul and it took up most of my time. Last weekend i decided to start the engine (first time in over a year) and it gave me a boost to get it finished. I had to re-cap myself as to how far i had gotten and was really surprised by how far i got before i stopped. I repaired all the fairings except the front, i just needed to bleed the brakes properly (i spent days and days on them before, always spongy) buy mirrors, indicators, S/S brake lines and then put it all back together again. I got most of that done over one weekend and all i have to do now is repair the front fairing and make sure everything is ok. I'm hoping to get it finished this Saturday and leave me with Sunday (girlfriend permitting) to get back to the van. I feel really guilty that i haven't done anything to it for 5 weeks already. In a way its been good to have a break because it had been on my mind every day since i bought it about 8 months ago. So i can get back to it with a clear mind and enthusiasm.

Number of posts : 2067
Location : Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Registration date : 2008-05-20

Re: 1959 Ford Thames camper van restoration

Post by sasktrini on Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:33 pm

I've never seen this before... I love it!!! I love it enough to miss my bus going home after work! lol

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