Free wheel wash at Geddington Ford. 27th August 2013 14.00
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An article from Mike Good, giving us a light hearted look at owning a H.
Do the French search Britain for old Sherpa vans? Of course not, so why does the reverse happen? Why is the H van so desirable?
For me there are several reasons (most of which apply equally to the 2CV); the H van is technically and historically interesting, ingeniously practical and visually very attractive, they are sculpture on wheels. The H van seems more than just a machine in the response it inspires, they make people smile. If Wallace and Grommit were French they would drive an H van, in fact they would probably have invented it.
Visually the H is odd. From the front it looks huge but its footprint is no bigger than many cars. The wheels are so close to the corners that it appears to be missing some bodywork from the back, while the bonnet seems to have been added as an afterthought. Somehow though, it looks just right. It has great charm and character. It also has integrity because its appearance derives from practical design solutions, not superficial styling. Despite being created entirely for purpose with little regard to aesthetics, it nevertheless has a kind of beauty. In fact the H van is similar to that other French icon, Brigitte Bardot, in that it’s a triumph of form through function!
What is it like to live with? Visually satisfying and stimulating though your new love may be, you soon realise, possibly as you would with Brigitte, that you are living with an ageing, over-weight, high maintenance, noisy, demanding, heavy drinker and occasional smoker, one that can be cold and reluctant to stir into life, but which when fired up doesn’t always know when to stop.
It’s noisy and cold. It’s also left hand drive and unhelpfully steel is not as transparent as glass, so some junctions necessitate you leaving your seat to go to the opposite window to see if the road is clear before dashing back and quickly (relative term) pulling out. Having arrived, you may then find that it’s too tall to fit under the car park barrier. Never mind, at least you can use it as a camper and save the bother of a tent, but go by 2CV and you’ll save enough on fuel to pay for a hotel room.
So is an H van really any fun? YES IT IS!!! It’s a van so obviously it’s useful for moving things and you can use it as a temporary overflow shed. Having wheels at the corners makes it very manoeuvrable, especially when reversing. The roof is flat(ish) and gets very hot in the sun which makes it popular with sunbathing cats, so saving your 2CV roof. The H has enjoyably quirky features; a bonnet that’s held open by a length of wire and a hook, a huge metal drawer in the dash and a rheostat so you don’t get dazzled by the dash’s single light bulb. Although built in 1981, mine still has suicide doors and a starting handle. Ventilation is provided by opening some flaps, not that you’re likely to need more air, there are draughty gaps everywhere. The cab has a removable floor and you can work on the engine without leaving your seat. Climb inside using the built in step and handle and from the elevated driving position you can see over the top of other traffic and into places that are normally hidden from view. Just looking at it makes you feel cheerful and when you park nice people come and talk to you.
From reading 2CVGB News it would be easy to form the impression that a 2CV journey will often involve an engine overhaul, major structural work to the body and a chassis change! No criticism is intended, these articles are usually more informative and entertaining than trips where everything goes smoothly. The same is true of H van stories. Don’t be deterred, things happen but it’s like beer drinking, occasionally you suffer but mostly it’s pure pleasure. Even if your H does eventually become terminally unroadworthy it can still have a second career as a really well-made shed!
Is it expensive? Yes and no. I’m not advising you do this, but you can spend your children’s inheritance without feeling too guilty. This is because thanks to zero depreciation they could eventually get it all back again with interest. It may cost you £10,000 for a decent one but taking the long view your H van is sort of free! They have a real advantage over other classic vehicles in that they are still widely used for commercial catering so there are serious business buyers as well as enthusiasts to keep prices buoyant and create a demand for spare parts.
Once you have your H you may want to make it more habitable. I’ve tried to keep mine looking like the vineyard van it was for 29 years so I’ve not lined it or re-painted it but here are some things I’ve done and approximate costs:
See out of it - Unless you always have a passenger, for safety’s sake it’s worth fitting a window in the sliding side door. Ok it’s not original, but so many vans have them it just looks normal. Luckily it’s an easy job so not too expensive to get done (£120). The fitter who installed mine had just replaced all the windows in a routemaster bus so to him it was a trivial job. You don’t even need to find a window, they just make one to size from safety glass. Don’t forget to keep the window sized piece of corrugated metal as it could be useful for future body repairs. It’s still difficult to see on motorway slip roads so fitting a rear view camera (£40) is also worthwhile.
Secure the passengers in it - It’s easy to fit lap belts in the back for occasional use, just make sure you put some reinforcing plates under the bodywork mountings. Not ideal but better than nothing.
Cosset it - They’re too tall for normal garages, and anyway the 2CV will be in there, so a cover is handy for the winter. Otherwise you will get icicles on the inside! An H van cover costs about £300, but a caravan cover that fits really well is only £80.
Quieten it - The money saved on the cover will pay for some soundproofing for the floor. Around £100 buys enough to cover the cab area and makes a worthwhile difference. Proper van proofing is also fire resistant and hardly noticeable under the rubber mats. If you haven’t got the mats, the soundproofing is black with a tough surface so looks ok anyway.
Carve it - If you’re making seat/bed squabs and have foam to cut the ideal tool is an electric carving knife! They cut foam really easily and precisely leaving no ragged edges.
Power it - Later H vans have 12 volt power sockets, the plug in hole is the wrong size but you can easily use the existing wiring to fit your own for satnavs, chargers, fridge etc.
Fund it - They get through a lot of fuel but normally you’re not using it for everyday transport and insurance can be unexpectedly cheap. I paid £98 for a year’s fully comprehensive cover, probably because there are so few on the roads they don’t have much history of accidents. Tax is free on older models. Very old ones will soon be MOT exempt.
Recover it – If the worst happens, H vans are no longer or heavier than many cars so they can be recovered by the normal AA/RAC services.
Fix it - The 2CVGB archive has an H van manual. It’s in French but has lots of photographs. I’ve made an electronic copy and added a glossary of translated technical words so contact me if you need information. There are a surprising number of garages with H van expertise and those I’ve had experience of have been very friendly and helpful. If there’s a historic commercial vehicle show in your area take your H to it. The people at these events appreciate them and are very knowledgeable and you’ll probably make some useful contacts. At the first one I went to I met a local mechanic who fixes H vans.
Finally, (and firstly)
FIND IT - It’s never been easier to find an H van in Britain. The pool of vans is constantly growing and there are good websites offering a choice of vans in various condition and sizes.
One last tip, if you’re thinking of buying one that’s been used to sell food from make sure you look under the bonnet – some of them don’t have engines!
Carandclassic.co.uk – Sales, good source of cheaper project vans to import (& lots of 2CVs) links to suppliers
HYspares.com - Jeff Winterman Parts/sales
H van UK - R. Kerby 07909226208 – spares (West Sussex - agent for Jeff Winterman)
H-van.co.uk – Sales (high quality)/rebuilds/repairs/customisation (Somerset)
Hvanworld.co.uk Sales (differing quality available)/commercial & camper conversions/some specially made modern design replacement parts/van hire (Surrey)
2cvcity.co.uk - Sales (high quality)/rebuilds/repairs (Yorks)
Forge Motor Co. Cookham, Berks 01628 522984 - Maintenance/Repairs
Citroenclassics.co.uk – Maintenance/repairs/rebuilds (Staines Middlesex)
John and Jill, from the CCC avent at Wicksteed Park. With their 1977 HY, bought from Alan Lloyd.
Greetings H Vanners Registers Day 2013 Winner and Runner up
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If you have a H Van please use the H Van Register and send me your details so that I can update the register. If you want to share any details of repairs that you have done, I'd love to hear about it. Send them to .