The big 3-0-0
VWt Magazine|Issue 89
Not too many people start with a horsepower figure when they begin a Van conversion, but James Sharp wanted something different out of his Transporter
Mark Walker
When we ask a feature Van owner what got them into VWs, we’re not often given an answer we’ve not heard before, but I’ll freely admit James’ reply took me back a little.

“I kitted out four T5 Vans for rental a few years ago, did eight rentals in total and then decided it wasn’t for me.”

Pushing him further for an explanation of that statement, it turns out not everyone cares about either their own belongings, or those of other people, as much as you might think – or at least hope. The Vans were returning with damage and excessive wear and tear, making James think twice about his chosen business.

What followed, though, was an even bigger surprise.

“A mate owed me money, and offered me an old T4 in payment of the debt. He suggested I break it for parts and, when I did, the ’phone literally rang off the hook.” That gave James another Camper-based idea, and this time it has worked out a treat.

1,500 Vans later, and two whole yards bought out, New Milton, Hampshire-based Cali Campers is the premier used T4 Transporter parts supplier in the country, undertaking regular buying trips to Germany to keep up stock levels and supply the demand. You’ll find some T5 parts there too, but T4s are Cali Campers bread and butter.

The company doesn’t just break Transporters and sell parts, it has a fully equipped workshop and undertakes servicing, maintenance and modification work on customer Vans, too.

So much so that, after a while, James made the decision to take someone on. You know, just to do a bit of work here and there and help out, and the work just seemed to keep coming in – largely by word of mouth he says.

In between all that, he occasionally gets the opportunity to use the workshop to do some of his own work, and the most recent results of that are the truck you see here.

Call me a cab

The base vehicle was a left-hand drive T4 Double Cab (Doka) sourced from Germany. But, as James is quick to point out, the T4 / ’5 / ’6 cab trucks don’t exactly look great straight out of the factory. Functional would be a better word, as they’re basically a chassis with a cab and a flat load bed bolted on. Having access to a load of parts on the warehouse shelves, James hatched a solid plan, and it started with converting the truck to right-hand drive. After that, he welded two Van sides onto the rear section of the chassis to make the truck look a bit more like he thinks they should have come from the factory. He’s obviously not alone, as he says he’s lost track of the number of people who have asked whether this truck is a factory-built commercial. And if it is, where do they get one?

With the heavy lifting done, the Doka was stripped in preparation for hitting the paint booth, where the body was worked and eventually painted in VW Candy White.

Mechanical focus

However, this one wasn’t to be all about the looks, James had other ideas that focussed primarily beneath the bonnet. Having decided he wanted to see 300bhp out of the engine, James started with one of the low mileage, AXG-code, 150bhp engines he has a source for in Germany. That’s the 2.5-litre, singleoverhead cam (SOHC) TDi lump, as used between 1998 and 2003.

This was given to Brett Sims Autos for a rebuild, including a Piper Cams cam, at a cost of £5k. The matching gearbox was also rebuilt, so it could better handle the hoped-for power output.

To say James was disappointed when it went on the rollers and only put out 180bhp is an understatement. But he wasn’t about to give up, so it was back to the drawing board and time to dig deeper still and invest a further £7.5k in the engine alone!

Under the ’arches

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before the Doka could be terrorising the streets, it was given a revamp underneath, with the addition of Bilstein B6 dampers and matching springs and some grey torsion bars up front.

These were followed by a set of 20in 3DSM wheels with 235/35-20 tyres all round.

James decided he didn’t want ply in the truck bed, as it always rots out, so found some lightweight plastic to line it with that you can stand on without it

The company doesn’t just break Transporters and sell parts, it has a fully equipped workshop and undertakes servicing, maintenance and modification work on customer Vans, too.

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