Ask anyone who owns an old VW campervan what is the worst aspect of DIY maintenance and repair and they will tell you it is the electrics. And what is so bad about the electrics? It is the inch long sliver of ceramic and foil that VW used for fuses which lies at the heart of the electrical system.
In the Sick Bay there are ten of these fuses, slotted into a primitive spring loaded holder which in turn is located high under the dashboard behind the steering wheel. Most of them are white but some are blue and some are red – it depends on the amperage of the circuit they are designed to protect. If ever I am seen with my knees on the ground and my body contorted under the dash that means I am trying to do something that involves checking or replacing a fuse.
In January I went skiing in the French Alps. Half way there my sat nav packed up. I suspected that fuse number seven, the one on the cigar lighter circuit, had blown. My heart sank as it always does when I am called upon to touch any fuse. I simply do not have the dexterity to extract a fuse without knocking out its neighbour, or to replace it without breaking the very fragile tin foil element. Up in the snowy mountains, at minus ten degrees, my fingers were so cold that I knew such a delicate operation was out of the question and I resolved to carry on without the sat nav.
Had I not known that it was fuse number seven, say it had been my indicators or my horn that had failed, I would have had to check all the fuses until I found the blown one – assuming that the fault was indeed a blown fuse. Some fuses you can check visually. If you could get your head in the position where my camera was in the above picture you would be able to see that the eight fuses on left are all intact – but what about the two on the right? They are facing the wrong way so you would have to extract them to check them – and then hope you can put them back without inflicting major damage. Most people would agree that the VW designers of yesteryear achieved near perfection in their work but the fusebox was undoubtedly an aberration.
About a year ago I came to the conclusion that the Sick Bay had just about everything I wanted in a campervan. It has a nice new Vanwurks interior, a relatively new Subaru engine with extended gearbox, disc brakes, suspension that gets you over speed bumps without recourse to first gear and a heating system that allows winter driving provided you remember your woolly hat and scarf. I have put in bright new H4 headlight bulbs, a great improvement on the original candle power, and even the windscreen wipers are finally doing a decent job. But still I hated the fuse box. I really wanted a modern fuse box in an accessible position with modern fuses that even my crooked fingers could manipulate with ease. (I used to play rugby and most of my fingers were broken at some point.)
I tried a couple of highly recommended auto electricians and both looked at the job and then went off the radar. When I arranged for Fellows Speedshop to extend my gearbox they also agreed to upgrade the wiring and fusebox. Unfortunately their in-house sparky had suffered a heart attack few months previously and when he looked at the bird’s nest under my dash he understandably felt that he was not up to a challenge of that magnitude.
Step forward Iain from Aircooled Auto Elec NW. Iain was the guy responsible for the electrics when I had the Subaru installation and I gave him a call, (I have his details on a sticker on the back of the Sick Bay). I should have called him first because he understood exactly what I wanted, gave me a quote and then offered to come and do the job over two days last week. In fact he was an hour or so earlier than I was expecting – since I retired last year my days have tended to start later and later. He quickly sized up the job and, thankfully, there was no sharp intake of breath, no shock and horror at the sight of the spaghetti wires. Just a confident confirmation that it would take the two days as planned and that I would end up with a blade fuse box relocated in an accessible place with a new dash loom. And two days later that was exactly what I had.
OK it was two two very long days, Iain started early and finished well after dark. He believes in getting the job done and when I mentioned that it had been a long shift he regaled me with stories involving much greater feats of endurance. In fact Iain has many stories from a colourful and varied past and our various coffee breaks were interesting and entertaining, to say the least. Apart from old VWs, Iain’s great passion is for music and I have now been introduced into a couple of new artists – Frank Zappa and Nick Drake. Can’t believe I have never listened to these two before! That said, I still can’t imagine I will ever acquire a taste for the Smiths.