One year ago, on a Sunday afternoon in December 2018, the sun was blazing hot that day and we had an appointment with a secondhand dealer to view a Toyota Hiace 2.5 Diesel panel van. Rene had seen an ad in Facebook and enquired about it so we got our partner Blueprint Garage Joe to come along with buddies Azuar, Fuad and Eza. We had heard that there were other types of vans also for sale there, old Land Rovers, Ford Maxis and more.
We arrived outside this yard that was located all the way in Kajang, tall metal gates opened to reveal what was inside.
IN MALAYSIA, panel vans have to be registered under a company and used for a business. If you want a panel van registered under your personal name then you have to convert the van to have windows. I know, strange rules but that’s how it is here in Malaysia.
We entered the yard and in the far corner was this Rentokil Toyota Hiace. She was a little battered on the outside purely because the boys working in the yard had carelessly forklifted her here and there whenever they had to make space for additional vehicles arriving. What a shame, she was in really good condition when she first arrived, as the picture shows above left.
Joe of Blueprint Garage checked her engine and gave Rene the go ahead to purchase her gesture. We brought along a battery to start her engine and to our surprise, we could not start her. Not because her engine was crap – but because she had an immobiliser installed. This was our first encounter with a SPY VAN and so the learning began.
We bought her and before bringing her back to our garage, we had to go through the process of converting a panel van into a window passenger van. Little did we know that this was our next stumbling block that would take four months to complete. The dealer we had bought her from did everything for us. The windows were a problem as he could not find secondhand ones to fit – we had to in the end get brand new windows that were really poorly installed.
Four months later – upon arriving at Blueprint Garage, Joe and Rene began work on her. I wanted to cry at this point because I think I didn’t realise just how much work lay ahead. Good thing my partner is a soldier boy and he just charges ahead full force with never a doubt.
STEP 1 – GUTTING THE VAN
Filled with spy equipment, Rene began gutting our new old van which we named Mama Bear Grizzly by this time. So surreal to go through all these items and wonder just what sort of undercover missions she had been on. What sort of conversations had she been listening to in her lifetime? If only walls could talk. This took a couple of weeks to complete because of her heavy wiring and sound proof insulation.
Rene would get daily visits from neighbouring garage boys coming to see what he was up to. They all thought he was a mad man. He would be hacking, sawing, digging, working away and it seemed like an endless mountain of polyurethane spray foam and cables.
Polyurethane (PUR and PU) is a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate (urethane) links. While most polyurethanes are thermosetting polymers that do not melt when heated, thermoplasticpolyurethanes are also available.
STEP 2 – ENGINE MAINTENANCE
Next, we needed to get our engine in working order. Mama Bear’s mileage read 9000km on her clock and her engine was practically unused. She had been deployed to spy on people so I suppose driving long distances was not part of her previous life. Good for us because we did not have to do much at all to get her working. Under the supervision of Joe, we were able to get Mama Bear in good working order. Minor fixes and no major injuries to our pockets. Phew!
It was a priority for us to find a van that had its engine up front and not under our seats. The main reason being that it’s a lot easier to service, Rene learned this the hard way. When we first got Vanhalen our Toyota Liteace – we didn’t think about stuff like that. Part of our life now is that we service our own vehicles so you start to learn that position of engine is important. If you can’t work on your engine because of space constraints then imagine the mechanic you hire – what’s he going to charge you to do the work?
We serviced her fuel pump and removed an immobilizer. You can watch the video about that here –
STEP 3 – BODY WORK, EXTERIOR METAL RACKS
It took us so many months to get here. Not all of these months were spent working in Mama Bear because we had to take on some freelance projects for a while. We learned about Sailing – more about that later.
Some would say the makeover is the best part about a van conversion but for Mama Bear – it was quite a load of work!! Remember the windows that got shoddily installed? Yeah well – check out how bad they were here in these photos! This is something beyond our knowledge and skill set so we took it to the professionals in RMS Multi Trading & Services. They do all sorts of metal work there. Speak to Nash and Raja.
This process took us around two months to complete with the boys of RMS Multi Trading & Services. We’re really glad they took on our project with so much passion and got Mama Bear the Tender Loving Care she so deserved. Thank you Nash and Raja.
STEP 4 – INTERIOR CARPENTRY
Here we are – originally intended to collaborate with a carpenter but we have decided to take on this task ourselves. Learn some DIY wood work. Ordered our Black and Decker jig saw and power drills from Shopee which have arrived today. Some secondhand crate wood and a mixture of pine wood and plywood ordered. Bunch of other stuff we need to make our interior livable. We are extremely happy to have reached this point and we’re not in a hurry (as before) to get to our destination UK. We have learned to enjoy the process and we will continue to plod on one step at a time towards completing our Overland Rig and planning for that long road trip ahead.
One of the most important achievements is our Ombak Hijau solar battery system which is portable power on the go. Although we are in the infancy stage of this creation – with our partner Gangesh – we look forward to developing a reliable Solar Battery System for our campervan adventures and for others who wish to have affordable power on the go.