Words by Ned Faux

How on earth did I end up with this job? It must have been a good seven or eight years ago now when I read a news paper article with a paparazzi shot of Ewan McGregor picking up a Christmas Tree in his rock stock OG-paint single cab. I remember thinking how refreshing it was, to see an A-lister sat in the drivers seat of a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of Hayburner Magazine or even my own workshop. I think it was Vic who suggested “why don’t you send him a mag! I bet he’d be in to it.”

So I did. After some time I noticed a subscription come through in his name. Then, I received a very kind handwritten letter, this letter turned in to emails, emails turned in to us flying over to do a feature on a few of his air-cooled cars (in Spring 2015 – Issue 13 if you want to hunt out the feature) and then over the next few years we’d keep in touch and drop in whenever we’re in California, to the point I’d call him a friend.

So like most of my mates, at one point or another I get the text ‘I’m on the look out for a certain vehicle, give me a shout if you know of anything.’ This is a challenge I always rise to – matchmaking vehicles with people is a great feeling. On this occasion Ewan had put the feelers out to his VW mates for an OG paint Split Panel van, preferably with original sign writing. I had a look around and found a few, all interesting buses but nothing that ticked all his boxes. This is when I remembered my friend, Lew Savage, had told me he was putting up his Canadian ’58 L31 Dove Blue panel van with original sign writing for sale. It was a decent size project but the bus ticked all the boxes and was going for a very reasonable price. I can’t remember who suggested it but we decided to snap it up and I was given the job to work alongside Ewan and get it back on the road.

I have to add that when I told Vic the plan we’d hatched she replied with “So what happened to, ’That’s it, I’m done, Shuvarda is the last Split I’m ever building’ I thought you were done with the stress?” She was right, I did say that, but we say a lot of things when we’re building VW’s don’t we. Vic left it there with “Just saying…”.

At the time, I was intending to do this build under the radar. I think it was Lew who suggested to Ewan to make this project a feature. I’m now really glad we have, it’s an exciting opportunity being able to project manage this. It gives me the chance to pick the best man for every job and put real thought in to every part that goes in to it. I really do intend for this to be the best bus it can possibly be.

After the project had been purchased, I went over to Lew’s workshop to take a look. If I’m honest, the bus was exactly what I expected to see from a Canadian field-find. It was rotten in all the normal places. It had been picked for parts, body cuts and had suffered a front end shunt at some time in its life, probably the reason for its retirement but we’ll never really know. Still it was definitely a bus worth saving, original paint logo’d buses don’t grow on trees these days especially pre-’58 pressed bumper models. Even though an early bus wasn’t one of Ewan’s preferences, he’s never bought in to the ‘has to be early’ thing and it’s quite obvious when looking at the variety of classic VW’s he’s owned since he was a teenager, this was just the right bus that came across at the right time for everyone.

The rough plan was to build a bus with all the looks of an original stock survivor retaining as much originality as possible but restored on the inside for a bit of comfort with all its mechanical components upgraded for speed, reliability and safety.

The next step was to compile a parts list and find someone to tackle the welding. I had a short list of welders – I picked these people to contact for a few reasons. I had to know them and their work personally, preferably a friend because I knew we’d be all working closely together on the project, they needed to specialise in early buses, I had to be able to trust them implicitly, I also wanted to use someone who’s always supported the magazine and also important they needed to have space in their diary. It turns out there’s a number of people I know who are more than capable of this job but after a lot of thought I made 5 phone calls – Evil Ben, Mark Spicer, Chris Hill, Steve Holmes and Lloyd Jackson. With various factors taken in to consideration, Lloyd from Deluxe Metal Works ended up with the welding job.

We set up a meeting to have a look at the bus and hatch a plan. Lloyd didn’t seem fazed by the work ahead and the business meeting soon turned into a Chinese at Nick Gatt’s and a night on the piss. Well, not so much on the piss for me these days but those two were having a good go. Lew had got the bus as far as a rolling shell out of kindness so it would be easier to move around and transport, that was how it would arrive with Lloyd. This is when we decided the best way to do this would be to set up a Whatsapp group between Ewan, Lloyd and myself. This would be a chance for everyone to put their input in to every decision – it turned out to be a great idea. Ewan and Lloyd hit it off instantly and with Lloyds daily update videos, messages, group calls, and a bit of banter its become really entertaining. 

I like Lloyd’s ethos. In the pub he said to me “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you drive everyone pays the same rate and I only do one standard of work. It doesn’t leave until it’s perfect” I didn’t have any idea just how far Lloyd was willing to go in the name of perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my fair share of projects but the skills that started to flow on this metal work took my breathe away. Lloyd is well known for his show-winning restorations but his work with a patina vehicle ‘big resto’ was something I was yet to see. To watch it take shape day to day was nothing but amazing. It all started with a cargo door, now in the past I would have bashed it back back in to shape over a block of wood and welded a door bottom to it.

Not Lloyd! The door was removed, then a load of horrible black paint was taken off without disturbing the original paint underneath which was then polished to see what we would be left with. The outer skin was then panel beaten as flat as possible to take the same shape it would have left the factory with but leaving some small dents, scratches and sunburn to retain some of its battle scars without looking haggard. The inside was the completely stripped of paint and the handles, locks, mechanisms were all removed, oiled, reworked, polished ready to be refitted. Every door on the bus required work but this particular door just needed the standard lower inner door bottom. This panel was re-worked prior to fitting, smoothing out pressing marks, cutting to shape and copper priming before seamlessly welding in to place and finishing requiring no lead or filler. The back of the door was then epoxy primed in grey and test-fitted ready to paint.

In my humble opinion, the work on this cargo door is as good as his word and was as perfect as a panel could be when restoring an original paint vehicle. This also raised the bar as to how far I was expecting to go with the restoration but that was the beauty of the Whatsapp group, day to day decisions as to how far to go with these things – of course Ewan gets the final say and we don’t all agree every time but it definitely works and has moved the project to another level.

After the initial work had taken place, it was time to put in a sizeable panel order. I left the choice of supplier to Lloyd as it was he who has to use them but requested we used one of the magazines sponsors. Lloyd went with Schofields, that was a decision I was happy with as I find Rick great to deal with and the company has helped us with various projects in the past. 

Whilst the panel order was being processed Lloyd gave the other cargo door the same treatment and removed a cab-door from the bus that at some point had been poorly painted in white. At the time we didn’t think the door was salvageable, but once he stripped the white paint it revealed too much original Dove Blue to give up on it. Gone are the days of being able to pop down to your local VW breaker and buy the right door in the right colour and if you’re lucky enough to find a solid OG paint sunburnt cab door you’re sure as hell going to pay for it. With this in mind the choice was made to preserve what we had. When removing the rest of the paint it turned out that the door was a replacement from another bus and at some point had been in a fire. There was a patch of paint that had been stripped down to bare metal so Lloyd came up with the idea to blend it in it he would just extend the burnt area. It made me chuckle when Ewan posted the video shouting “Burn the door Lloyd! Burn the door.” Just like that the patch of the door was set on fire and it really did have the desired effect, you genuinely can’t tell that the door came from a different bus.

The next stage was to cut out bad metal and blasting. I’m not going to lie, I was kind of shocked when Lloyd posted the photo of the cargo and cab floor gone, every I-Beam and conduit plus more were missing. Again previously I would have just done localised repairs but that’s really not how this bus is to be. The many conversations we’ve all had about this over the last few months, one point has been paramount, this bus has to be built for longevity. Ewan has decided it has to outlive all of us, and that means zero rust. Well that’s what he’s getting. The vehicle is currently at the shot blasters being sympathetically blasted inside and underneath, it seems to be going really well and most of the buses exterior panels seem to be salvageable. 

We are hoping for the end of August for the welding to be completed and I’ve been busy collecting parts to build the body back up. Just last week Graham Clark from FBI VW was kind enough to deliver my order of very hard to come by original VW parts some from his own personal stash, including the straightest set of genuine ribbed bumpers I’ve ever seen!

I think this pretty much brings us up to date. I’m very excited to see this project progress and will keep the updates coming and keep an eye out for the video series about the build very soon!

Ewan McGregors Project '58 - Part 1 Full Gallery