VW MAN 8.136 ~ A small truck for the Sahara

Next .................Desert driving impressions............... . Last

With less than 6 weeks before I set off with a vanload of bikes to get bogged down at Tunisian Customs, we need to keep MANly mods essential, fast and simple:

  • service
  • repaint
  • back tailgate
  • increase fyel capacity
  • other jobs to make it functional








I went up on Wednesday to do some donkeywork and accustomise myself to standing by the engine with spanners. One good thing with trucks is there's no back-busting grovelling underneath as with cars; with the cab up the motor is right there like a steaming cheeseburger on a diner counter. You can imagine when they were designing it there was no great need to jam it all in like a modern hatchback. Need a compressor? Stick it on the side of the engine; spare tyre? Lash it to a winch behind the cab. Airtanks, mysterious brackets, metal boxes the size of a small fridge? Bolt them to the chassis and aerodynamics be buggered.

The motor oil looked fresh (the MAN was demobed a year ago) so that's 20 litres saved, the antifreeze looked OK too but the 4 rubber belts powering various things were all changed after which I put the LHD headlights back on after Matt fitted RHDs for the MoT. We may well have a go at the hoses too, thick with gren camo paint. Even though the mileage is low, I believe its best to replace all 1989 rubber components which age despite the kms.

One thing soon became evident: the thing was covered from all undersides in a thick greasy gloop which has done a great service against corrosion but sure makes it messy to work on or even brush against. Next job, prior to painting, off with the cab roof rack which weighs a ton (I'm getting used to it, everything does), and while up there unbolt more clamps, brackets and cabling - more scrap for the yard. Hillbilly Landrovers in Norfolk could not get it together to send us some NATO sand paint as used on my Merc, so in the end we popped down to Paint-u-Like in Matlock and got 4 litres of like-coloured hue mixed off the colour card menu. When it warms up we'll hand paint the lorry to save time and if it looks too rough do something neater when I get back from Algeria.

Now I know Denmark is a small country but the fuel tank is a paltry 140 litres, enough for 500kms; twice that would be handy. Obviously a used lorry tank would be the go and the place we bought the MAN off was going to chuck one in. But they didn't and the hassle in finding and fitting a possibly rusty and leaky right-sized giant item with only four shopping days left to Xmas made us decide on a rack of jerries. So it was off with the big metal box to remount in the gloop on the exhaust side and, shortly, on with 4 chunky MoD jerry racks from Anchor and heck, why not, 4 new jerries for the first time in years. That will give me 220L or 770 clicks, still not enough to frighten the horses so I may well just get me an oil drum locally once the bikes are out; there's plenty of room.

Attack of the Winged Ferret
Honestly, when Matt moves it can give you whiplash just watching him (but it does help if Barry the Acetylene Kid is in the vicinity and gassed up). We had been umming and ahhing about how to get bikes into the back of the shoulder-high deck without hernias or damage. With a shortage of trees to swing a pulley from, my instinctive solution was a scoffolding pipe A-frame hinging off the back corners - the way the Egyptians used to erect their obelisks and a bit like a skip lorry lifting it's skip. Another car pulling the rope and or the MAN reversing with a tied off rope (so lifting the bike) was the plan. NIce, light and simple; you wonder why all delivery vans don't do it that way.

Matt liked the idea too until various operational flaws manifested themselves - ideally the A-frame needed to be not on the back corners but inboard a bit like a skip lorry - but the tarp and frame get in the way. Then Matt had the bright idea of an ex-lorry tail lift and sure enough, after a couple of weeks surfing you-know-what he located a nice one off a 2002 Iveco, nearby, at nearly the right width and for a couple of hundred quid - probably less than it would have cost to make a regular hinged tailgate (missing off the MAN after the 'back-wall-with-door' got stripped out with the office suite).

Sure it weighs a lot but lifts 500kg and anyway weight is one thing you don't have to worry about too much with a truck. It's unlikely to have any effect on performance and in the desert the MAN will be barely loaded anyway.

I left Wednesday night and before I'd even returned home from my Xmas goodwill tour Ferret Air and the AC Kid had the tail lift all in place bar the wiring.

Ha! you're thinking, what a bunch of wallies. But actually we always knew a regular van lift would not have the range required to get from the ground to the rear deck on the MAN. But it's near enough and once some recently acquired sandplates are hooked on the back they'll make a nifty ramp for rolling bikes on. As it is none of the desert bikes weigh more than 200kg.

Another flaw with a MAN-high deck is that you can't really cook off it without looking like Leo Sayer stuck in a lift - so come dinner time the tail lift will make a very handy variable height table (VHT) and may be a good way of opening Coke bottles and breaking the bead on bike tyres.

If you ever come back you'll see the MAN wearing a rough coat of Dulux Magnolia and hopefully a rego plate.