Graham has written several books about education and is a freelance consultant. Recently, he began renovating an Autoquest 270 motorhome.
Renovating A Talbot Express Autoquest 270
When I bought my Autoquest 270 motorhome I never quite realised how much work, time, thought, expense, frustration and immense pleasure I was letting myself in for, so, having done a considerable amount in the past three months, I have decided to write it all down in the form of a blog.
I'm doing this for two reasons, really:
Firstly, to make sure I don't forget everything we have done on our motorhome, because I have no doubt that a year from now, my recall of much of what we have done will have faded and become forgotten.
And secondly, once I have finished my blog I am going to publish it, not just because I like writing and publishing blogs, but in order to give something back.
You see, during the course of my motorhome project I have relied on other people's blogs, answers and articles that can be found in the specialist caravanning and motorhome forums, so much so that I believe I never would have completed the project without them.
So, I am going to add to what is already out there in the hope that I may just add some piece of information that helps someone, somewhere, to overcome a problem.
Both of those sites are absolutely packed full of great articles, posts, advice, expertise, knowledge and information and they have, between them, provided me with every last bit of information and advice I have needed during the three months I have spent working on renovating my motorhome.
Without the many wonderful and informative, expert articles on those sites, I would have been stranded before I even started.
In the past I have owned one other motorhome which was a very old Bedford with a body shape exactly the same as an ice cream van! and in many ways, it was quite similar in its internal configuration to my Autoquest.
After a couple of years we decided to try a caravan and so we bought an Ace Jubilee Rallyman, which was a wonderful caravan. It was quite roomy inside and was of quite a high quality in terms of its fittings and upholstery and I have to say that my wife and me really loved it.
We travelled in it quite a bit and for a while we had it permanently on site in Padstow, a most beautiful place that we love to visit whenever we can.
Then, one day, as I was packing away the awning and winching up the stays I felt what I thought was a pulled muscle in my chest and thought nothing of it but over the course of the weeks that followed the pains became more frequent and severe and as you have probably guessed, they weren't as a result of a pulled muscle; they were the first signs of a heart problem which was finally sorted out six months later when I had a stent fitted, in order to deal with a blocked artery.
During those six months when I was very unsure about the future, someone made me an offer for my Rallyman, which I accepted.
That was 11 years ago.
Then, a few months ago, as I had decided to take early retirement and set up an educational consultancy, my wife and me decided it would be nice to have a caravan or a motorhome again so we could take spontaneous breaks away, whenever we wanted and so we started to 'browse'.
Eventually we settled on the Talbot Express that we now have.
When we bought it we knew it needed quite a bit doing to it but that was part of the fun of it; buying a motorhome with loads of potential that we could enjoy renovating and 'doing up' so that it became OUR motorhome and one that, whenever we went away in it, would be exactly as WE wanted it and would very definitely be OURS.
So we started off by taking stock of everything.
First on the list was the engine, which didn't run well at all and for anyone reading this who is under 40, I should point out that, as a 1989 motorhome, it had a 1980s engine and gearbox that were originally designed in the 1960s, in fact, which means a manual choke and a gearbox and clutch system that feels very different from the flashy, modern thing you are driving around in.
For someone who is over 40-45, the way it drives will be exactly like whatever it was you learned to drive in and exactly the same as whatever your first car was.
So for me, it was like stepping into a time machine that brought back all sorts of fond memories of Morris Minors and Minis; of Austin 1100s and Montegos.
Trouble was, my new Autoquest didn't run well at all. The journey back with it was 50 miles and I need the choke whenever I stopped at a roundabout or traffic lights. It backfired, spluttered and stuttered and drove the way things used to drive when, as youngsters, we use to tinker and fit new parts, incorrectly, or try to tune the engine and make it ten times worse.
So our starting point was a quick call to the mechanic who looks after my cars and I then gave it over to him to see what he could do about the engine, as well as the wipers, washers, heater motor and the rust on the bonnet.
Two weeks and £600 later and he had replaced the ignition system (plugs, points, coil, distributor, leads) sorted out the timing, carried out a full service, checked the brakes and the clutch, rewired the windscreen washers and the heater fan and then treated the rust to the bonnet and the strip beneath the windscreen and resprayed the bonnet.
And although the van still had a valid MOT, he also did all the MOT checks to make sure there was nothing amiss.
When I finally got it back, my Autoquest 270 was running like a dream.
It started first time, pulled and accelerated well,especially as it is a 1.8L engine with only 79000 miles on the clock, ticked over beautifully and was suddenly purring like a tiger and a joy to drive.
The age of the clutch and gearbox design means you have to be patient and deliberate when changing gears but that is just the way God intended vehicles of this age to be driven, along with Peugeot who designed the J5 engine.
Thats's one of the weird and wonderful things about these old motorhomes; the naming and descriptions. Mine is a Talbot Express J5 Autoquest 270 Elddis motorhome!
And, I have now discovered or worked out, that there are three components to an older motorhome:
1 The name of the base manufacturer, in this case Talbot
2 The name of the engine supplier, which for my van is Peugeot who supplied the J5 engine for it
3 The name of the body manufacturer, which is Elddis
So, in essence, what I have is an Elddis caravan mounted onto a Talbot commercial van base, powered by a 1.8L leaded Peugeot J5 engine.
All of which helps immensely when you are searching for parts; it helps to know that if you are looking for an engine part, you are looking for a Peugeot J5 part, not a Talbot Express part and if it is an interior fitting, then searching Elddis caravan parts suppliers makes a big difference!
You wouldn't believe how many hours and days I wasted searching for Talbot parts when I should have been searching for Peugeot or Elddis parts and once I realised that the body was actually a caravan body, my searches became even more efficient.
I think that is a big thing I have taken out of this project; when searching, think carefully about the search terms you use.
Anyway, now I had a classic motorhome which was running beautifully, so it was time to start on the exterior appearance. The rust had been dealt with and the respray work had been done so it was time to do something about the graphics and decals.
As you will see from the pictures, below, they were very worn and faded and just made the outside of the van look old, worn and tatty.
With The Old Faded Graphics
The new graphics & decals
This part of the job was one of many that required many hours of internet searching in order to find a company that could provide the stripes and the graphics that would match the originals, exactly.
As well, we had to think hard about the colour scheme; did we want to stay with the original colours or did we want to go for something more funky like greens or oranges or yellows?
In the end we decided that, in all aspects of the work, we wanted to stay true to the original design as much as possible, so it would be brown and beige.
At this point I have to do my first link and my first plug for a company who have been utterly brilliant and if ever you should find yourself looking for decals, stripes or graphics, get in touch with caravangraphics.com and deal with an exceptionally efficient and helpful lady called Michelle.
They provided all our decals, graphics, stripes and would make them to whatever sizing I needed and whatever colours I wanted, all at a reasonable price and all done with amazing speed.
Only today I decided I wanted a few additional graphics to brighten up some large empty spaces but I wanted them in the brown/beige theme rather than the published colours.
No problem. Placed the order this morning and within a few hours received an email back telling me it had been done, in the colours I wanted.
Of all the people I have dealt with (and I have dealt with some great people) caravangraphics.com and Michelle are simply the best. So if you find yourself needing that sort of thing, just send them an email and then be prepared to be amazed at how quickly and efficiently they respond.
And from these pictures, below, you can see the effect their graphics have made.
Much smarter now
More to come
Once the additional graphics have arrived and my clever wife has applied them I will update this blog to show you what they look like also.
So, we now have an engine that runs beautifully and an exterior that will not embarrass anyone on site.
The time had arrived to start work on the interior.
To begin with, the seats had to have something done about them, because they looked awful.
The original seats looking pretty sad
And after renovating them . . .
That was quite easily rectified by purchasing specialist seat covers that were designed for this particular van.
I am not, however, going to name the company or promote them because, although we have now fitted the covers and they look great (as you will see in a moment) their service was lousy and when we experienced some problems, their response was non existent. The end result, however, after a lot of work by Tricia (my wife) can be seen below.
The new seats look wonderful and they are also extremely comfortable and they have enhanced the appearance of the vehicle considerably.
Same seats - new look
Time to deal with the flooring
Now for the flooring.
The carpet was old and very worn and the cab matting was in a pretty bad state.
The cab matting was, after a lot of research, very easily dealt with in the end and for only £25!
There is a company out there called motorhomeessentials.com who supply a complete full width mat for all sorts of vehicles and they do one for the 1989 Talbot Express, which goes full width, back between the seats and has a moulded plastic section for by the pedals.
Then there was the carpet in the main floor area
The old worn, frayed carpet
And with the new floor fitted
It wasn't as bad as the cab area or the old exterior graphics, but it was worn and threadbare in places and just looked a bit like me; old, tired and trodden on too many times!
In the end we went for a vinyl floor which cost £120 plus £40 fitting
We figured that as we planned to be near to beaches a lot and with our grandchildren, there may well be a fair bit of sand making its way inside and so a nice, smart vinyl would be much easier to keep clean, simply by brushing.
Next it was time to really get down to business!
The fire worked fine but the casing was looking very tired and shabby so we bought a special heat resistant, flame retardant paint and repainted it
The New Look
The Electrolux RM 212 Fridge
Much better and a massive improvement
But now for the more challenging bits, starting with the fridge.
like most older motorhomes and caravans, our Talbot express had an Electrolux RM212 three way model which means it runs on mains electric, 12v and gas and I needed to know if it worked properly and safely.
You will read a lot about fridges, especially these older three way models and I hope that I might be able to enlighten you a little if you are new to all of this, like I was.
Firstly, the fridge will only run on 12v when the engine is running, due to the fact that the engine has a little electrical gizmo called a relay fitted and once the engine is running, the relay sends 12v power to your fridge. So, when you are driving to Devon or Cornwall or Wales or Scotland or wherever, if you switch your electrical control unit over to 12v or car battery, your fridge will be cooling as you drive.
If, however, you sit the motorhome or caravan on the drive and select 12v as your power source, nothing will happen. It won't just run off battery power alone.
When you are on the drive or on site, to power your fridge by electricity you need to use mains.
This is what you should do before you set off. A day before you leave, put your fridge onto mains electric and let it get really cool before you go. Then you can put your milk in and, as long as you select 12v for your journey, your fridge will continue to stay cool.
Then, when you get on site, just switch over to mains.
Alternatively, on the drive or on site, you could use gas. BUT NEVER WHILE YOU ARE DRIVING.
Unless you are on a non electric pitch, I fail to see the point of gas. If you are on an electric pitch then make use of the electricity that comes with your pitch fee. What's the point of paying to have electricity and then burning up your own gas?
Save the gas for when you really need it.
Next we come to an issue that an enormous amount has been written about.
I have read a mass of information about whether or not fridges need to be level in order to work properly and I hope to give you a sensible answer/solution.
My drive is on a slope of about 10 degrees; so, a reasonable slope.
I found that my fridge (new one, not the original that came with the van - more in a while) will cool to a certain extent when on mains or gas but not that well. However, when the van is level, it cools really well.
The best explanation goes like this:
The coolant is powered by gravity alone. There is no motor in a three way caravan fridge and so the coolant has to move around the fridge cabinet purely by gravity after being encouraged to do so by heat (either electric heat or gas heat) and just like water, the fridge coolant finds going uphill very difficult without the assistance of a pump.
On level ground, the coolant moves around with ease and so, the fridge cools a lot more efficiently.
In a nutshell; on a slope your three way caravan fridge may work a little bit but on the level it will work properly and efficiently.
Which brings me to something which shows me to be a complete fool!
I spent weeks wondering why the kitchen sink took about half an hour to drain. I checked the waste pipework from the sink to the outlet at the back of the van but could find nothing.
Then one night, as I was going to sleep (why do flashes of inspiration so often happen when we are drifting off to sleep?) it suddenly dawned on me; the sink is in the middle of the van and the waste outlet is at the rear of the van, so the waste outlet is at the top of the slope, meaning the water has to travel uphill in order to drain!
Once the van was level the water drained without any difficulty!
Now, back to my fridge.
It looked dirty, even after a thorough clean, worked, after a fashion, on 12v and mains but the gas burner wouldn't even light and one of the knobs was missing, which caused me a dilemma. Repair or replace?
Many more hours spent on internet research. Probably several days in total.
I found many people selling Electrolux RM212 fridges but sometimes they were collect only, in places that were about 200 miles away and other times, the sellers were unsure about what was working.
Eventually, though, I found a guy through eBay who bench tests and provides a 14 day return and at £120, the price was reasonable, so I bought it.
Two days later it arrived, by courier, and I set about removing the old one and fitting the new.
In a previous life I have worked for both British Gas and South Western Electricity so I know my way around the gas and electric connections involved. I also found an excellent You Tube video on removing and refitting a three way fridge which gave me a good guide.
I suppose that the whole process took about an hour, single handed and the result is a nice looking, clean fridge that works perfectly on all three power sources. £120 well spent!
The new, clean Electrolux RM 212
Removing and refitting a three way fridge
The final finishing touches
I also used the carbon monoxide tester to make absolutely sure that the fridge, as well as the fire, was sound, as well as getting Gary, the motorhome servicer (later) to check it also.
At this point I have spent £600 on the engine and paintwork, £150 on seat covers, about £150 on graphics, £185 on flooring and matting and £120 on the fridge, £1200 in total and still more to be done.
So far, the vehicle is now mechanically excellent, the exterior is looking great, the interior is well on the way to being done and the appliances work properly.
Now for sleeping.
There is a bed above the cab area which is 180cm x 104cm (6' x 3' 5") and the main seating area also converts into a double bed of 180cm x 107cm (6' x 3' 6").
The wooden base above the cab was made up of three pieces of wood which didn't look particularly good so I decided on 2 pieces of 28mm furniture board, each 180cm x 50cm to provide a bed base. Cost £130.
Now on to the mattresses.
The dining seats convert into mattresses but they looked as though they might be a bit lumpy, due to their shaped design, so I started another search.
After a while I found a company who do made to measure mattresses for caravans, boats and motorhomes: They are an excellent company, rather like caravan graphics.com, called customsizedbeds.co.uk and they were extremely helpful and efficient and I very quickly ordered two made to measure mattresses, medium density foam topped with memory foam and with zip covers.
The person I dealt with, Myles, responded really quickly and my order was dealt with in an impressive way and only two days later, my mattresses arrived.
Having just spent two nights sleeping on them I can say that they represented a total of £320 well spent! Absolutely brilliant mattresses. Firm, supportive and extremely comfortable. the bed in the dining area is now very sumptuous as it is a 4" mattress on top of a 4" cushion base which makes a very substantial 8" mattress, topped with memory foam!
So, if you are on the lookout for made to measure mattresses at a reasonable price I hope you will click the link, above.
Next was a set of ladders. 20 years ago I would have just clambered up but not these days! so, for another £50 I bought an excellent set of motorhome bunk ladders.
That brings the spend up to £1700 now!
Then I discovered that the leisure battery was no good. Charged up but wouldn't hold it's charge which meant another £60 on a 110a battery.
My next discovery was that the toilet, which is a thetford cassette toilet with electric powered flush, wasn't working; the pump was faulty which was a further £15 for a new pump.
On top of all that, when I bought the van, there was no gas bottle or regulator so that was another purchase which, together with a new hook up cable meant spending a further £60.
So, by now I was close to ready to try the van out. Trouble is, try as I might, I just couldn't bring myself to fit the toilet pump; I was worried about cutting off the old power supply and replacing it in an environment where it would be submerged in water.
That's when I found Gary, a mobile caravan and motorhome servicing engineer. He has a company called Top 2 Bottom and is based in Solihull which is in the West Midlands.
Gary was wonderful and really helped me a lot.
He fitted the new pump to the toilet, fixed a problem with the waste pipes where they join together from the kitchen and shower room areas and then tested all my appliances.
That was when we discovered a remarkable problem.
When he put his tester on the gas system, the pressure dropped which indicates a leak. So, he spent the next half hour isolating and checking each appliance in turn. We both suspected that, as it is an older motorhome, there was the possibility of corrosion to a pipe somewhere.
However, no matter how many times he tested them, all the appliances and their pipework were sound.
So, he said "Let's check the bottle then" it was a brand new bottle and should be fine. Which it was. no leak from the bottle.
Then, as a final check he did a test on the brand new regulator which I had only unpacked a couple of days earlier and sure enough, the seal all the way around on the top, which seals the top and bottom sections of the regulator provided enough bubbles for a bubble bath!
He then checked the whole system once more with one of his own regulators and it was fine; as sound as a bell! So, after a trip to the caravan shop where I bought the original to exchange the faulty regulator for another new one, it was back home, connect it up, test it and then bingo, sound as a bell!
So now we really were almost ready to go.
Just one more essential to be taken care of; the television!
This would prove to be my dost traumatic experience!
After all the work we had done and all the new skills I had learned, I was petrified of fitting a TV aerial!
We decided on an omni directional aerial which sounded great; brilliant, except for one small thing.
I would have drill a hole through the roof in order to fit it!
I did NOT want to drill a hole through the roof.
What if I made an error in calculating where to drill the hole and then had to drill a second one? I didn't want a motorhome with a redundant hole in the roof!
After all the work I had done, the simplest of tasks; fitting a TV aerial, would prove to be the most nerve wracking!
In the end I am happy to say that the hole ended up exactly where I wanted it and my new 32" JVC TV with built in DVD player works beautifully!
Our first trip and beyond
And so, off we went, down to Weston Super mare just for two nights, to a beautiful site alongside a lake at Uphill Marina. We chose it because it is only a couple of hours drive from home and everything went to plan and everything worked beautifully
The van drove absolutely great. We plodded along at 60mph and achieved 23 mpg, which I was very pleased with.
Everything I had read said that the Talbot Express should do somewhere in-between 21 and 25 mpg, so at 23 mpg it was smack bang in the middle of the normal range. It also meant that the engine is running as efficiently as it should.
However, once we were on site I discovered another problem. There is a leak of the water pump, which is causing the pump to 'cycle' every 15 minutes or so and causes the water to 'spit' out of the taps instead of flowing smoothly, meaning air is getting into the system via the leak.
So, I have ordered a new pump and filter which should arrive in a couple of days and then it is time to drain down the whole system, fit the new pump and filter and then recommission the water system.
I will update once I have done that!
Also, the AA are coming out tomorrow to fit 5 new tyres.
I figured that although the tyres look ok, having renovated the entire van, I might as well finish the job off properly by putting brand new tyres on, too.
So, thats the story of my 1989 Talbot Express Elddis Autoquest 270 motorhome and I hope it has either entertained you or, if you are a novice as I was, I hope it has given you some information that is useful to you.
Of course, that isn't the whole story of what we have done. There have been new curtains fitted throughout, new high quality blinds fitted, I also converted the shower attachment in the shower room into a fixed tap because it was more practical. If I want a shower I will use the showers on site as they are invariably better than one fitted in the back of our van and when I want to brush my teeth, I would rather have a proper tap instead of a shower head!
I've fitted additional electric sockets which incorporate USB chargers in them, put shelves into the cupboards to give more versatile storage, fitted a range of hooks for coats and towels, replaced the folding sink cover with another (secondhand but an improvement on the old one), replaced most of the old hinges as well as a couple of door handles, bought new roll along waste water tank and a water roll and replaced the old clock with a nice shiny new one!
Now that it's finished
And finally . . . . . . .
And all in all, I have a beautiful classic motorhome that I am proud to be seen on site with and which my wife and I are looking forward to taking our four year old granddaughter away in, next week!
And for a last word, until I update you on fitting the water pump and filter and dealing with the air in the system, if you have made it this far, thanks for reading and come back soon and if you want to get in touch for any reason, either post something to the site or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have now successfully replaced the water pump and filter. You can read how I did it, together with step by step pictures and instructions in my Water Pump Hub.
When I originally wrote my Talbot Express hub I said that I was waiting for some new graphics, from caravangraphics.com and that once they had arrived and were on I would update the pictures.
The graphics arrived, with impressive speed,as usual and in only a short time they were in place, as you can see from the pictures, below.
They have brightened our Talbot up nicely and so I think that is it - for now!
Also, today, I have fitted a lap seatbelt in the rear seating area.
It was a bit of a tricky issue, to be honest.
We are taking my four year old granddaughter away on Wednesday, just for two nights, so her car seat has been fitted into the front passenger seat, next to me, very securely and in line with all the guidelines and instructions.
That means my wife will travel in the back, using the bench seats in the dining area.
I had a look at the regulations and they are clear in that, as our vehicle was manufactured prior to 2001 and because it didn't have seat belts fitted to the rear seating in the dining area as part of its manufacturer, up to four passengers can travel on this seats, without seat belts.
People travel on buses and trains in this way every day.
But, one has to always think not of the minimum regulations but of safety and common sense and whilst my wife was quite happy to travel in the back without a seat belt, I am not particularly happy with that.
A passenger wouldn't travel in the back of my car without a seat belt, so why should the back of my motorhome be any different?
They say that a passenger who is thrown forward from the rear of a vehicle, in the event of a collision, moves with the same force and mass as a baby elephant and I do not want one of those hitting me or my precious granddaughter in the back of the head!
So, whilst it is only a two point lap belt, it is now fitted.
It only cost me £15 online and took an hour or so to fit and seems to be very secure; at least secure enough that, in the event of a collision or simply an emergency stop, my wife will be safer than she would have been without it!
So, that's me updated.
Thank you once again for reading
And if you want to keep track of our adventures, please follow my new hub which tells the story of where we have been and our Motorhome Travels & Adventures