As you'll no doubt be aware, AF projects come in all shapes and sizes. We have the big ones, like our Chevy Pickup and fleet of customised Mercedes vans. We have the really, really big ones - that's our AirStream Mobile Store, obviously. And, we have the teeny tiny ones like our Triumph Bobber and Honda Metruck. Naturally, there's one or two jaw-dropping car builds knocking around at The Auto Finesse Detailing Academy, too.
The question we present today though, is what happens when we're after a new general hauler for getting out and about around Europe? Well, as it so often turns out here, we all get a little carried away on the spec…
Now, there's been a long and illustrious history of VW ownership for Auto Finesse, and in particular James, the bloke who calls the shots around these parts. So, when on the lookout for "something practical for day-to-day" to add to the fleet - and most importantly something that doesn't require taking one of the absolutely massive Swamper Sprinters everywhere - why not start looking at VW Transporters? After all, we already know Wolfsburg's finest inside out. And, with that sort of knowledge, there was no question that it was going to end up having all the bells and whistles. Besides, there's not many vans that have the potential to look as cool as our MSRT Transit Custom Crew Van, or bagged M-Sport Transit Connect Detailing Van. So, a new VW was decided on pretty quickly, and the search was soon on.
It's true that, sometimes, practicality needs to prevail, and that's why you see before you the van that James decided on - this rare, long wheelbase VW T6.1. But, some might say rather uncharacteristically for any AF project, the idea was always to keep every bit of that room in the back for moving stock, motorbikes, track wheels, tools and anything else that takes our fancy. This means no water tank, no generator or jet wash, and no seats for, you know, taking loads of people with you. But, that's not to say that this Van hasn't been packed out with quite the assortment of special equipment, in fact this one seems to have the lot!
It goes without saying that a bone stock load lugger wasn't going to cut it here. But, even better than that, through his wealth of contacts in the modifying world, James managed to source this low milage, top-of-the-range example, resplendent in VW Pure Grey and already sporting all the right bits. We're talking Bilstein coilovers, 20-inch wheels, chunky side runners, led lights, enormous Revo brakes and of course, that stunning Bentley leather interior. It's also running a powerful TD lump with a flashy DSG "box. Quite the spec then, and that's all right out of the gate!
So, you might say that all that was left was for us to fully prepare it for life on the road, a process that's right up our proverbial street. But, then again, it just wouldn't be right without adding a few of those trademark AF details, would it?
Now, it can be said that we do tend to do a bit of detailing here at the The Auto Finesse Academy, and there's a distinct process when it comes to prepping any van, let alone one that has to be up to detailer standards.
The first part of course, is the cleaning, and in many cases this will have to be a little more in depth than your average show car… and even the well-kept daily drivers out there. Work vans tend to spend a lot of time on the road, driven around far more frequently than daily commuters, and this means that the concentration of contaminants will be right up there. Sometimes they just don't see the regular cleaning you'd expect, either. Simply because they're bigger, making them more effort to wash and decontaminate than a car. Although, we know that in reality, using the correct products, that's just not the case - unless it's an absolutely huge van or a Luton lorry, they're not much more hassle than your average SUV. It is likely though, that a used van will be pretty dirty, especially underneath.
For the most part getting the wheels off for a thorough chassis wash is the first step, here we're using a 1:5 dilution of Verso All-purpose Cleaner on the inner arches and calipers, followed by Iron Out Contaminant Remover to cut out all that metal contamination from oodles of built-up brake dust and some ObliTARate Tar & Glue Remover to eliminate tar and sticky residues on arches and suspension parts (not on the brakes for the last two).
This is followed up by the usual routine of wheel cleaning, the all-important pre wash, contact wash and then a full 3-stage paint decontamination. Again, on a van you may need a little more product, or stronger dilutions of pre-cleaners like Verso or Dynamite Traffic Film Remover, and maybe chuck a little more Lather Car Shampoo in your bucket, for the really mucky stuff. This is the only way to fully prepare for polishing… and up close, ours needed plenty of that!
One other thing you'll find with most vans, is that they may not have been cleaned in the best possible way every time. This seems to go double for ex demos and those kept at a dealership - plenty of them look like they've been cleaned with a stiff broom! In fact, "brushing' is common and, because of the slab-sided profile of a van, swirling and defects are even more obvious and eye-catching than with a car, and we all know that the only way to eradicate heavy defects is by breaking out the Dual Action Polisher and Revitalise compounds.
As we said, vans get driven, a lot. And by nature, this means they'll need protection from the elements to prevent even more paint damage and the onset of corrosion. The downside of this of course, is that protecting any painted surface will lock in any defects you leave behind, and that's why it always pays to cut out these blemishes and refine paintwork to the best finish possible before adding any protection layers. The best case is using a machine polisher, but at the very least get hand polishing, it will always be beneficial.
Of course, this VW may be fully spec'd, but then, we were always going to add a little more AF flavour to proceedings to make it a real part of the fleet. That almost goes without saying.
So, while the paint correction was in full swing, we headed to Wheel Pros Europe, and came back with a set of staggered 20-inch Rotiform DTM wheels, shod in Nankang AS-2+ Tyres. A full lighting kit from Transporter specialists, Travelin-Lite, and an aggressive front splitter from Maxton Design complete the final look - all finer details for sure, but details that really set off that exterior.
Speaking of exteriors, too. Finishing up by adding a whole load of hardy ceramic protection was always going to be the only way forward. This van is designed to be used after all, and by the time you read this it will already be whizzing around the country, going to various meets and events. Our Caramics Complete Protection Kit comes highly recommended for any workhorse, especially those that are a bit on the special side. But the best news is that we've developed each part of this premium bundle - from the Paintwork Protection Kit, through to the Wheels, Glass and Interior Protection Kits to be simple and straightforward to apply for up to 12-months of Si02 Protection. Unlike traditional ceramic coatings, there's no professional training necessary to get the desired level of protection, it also makes surfaces look super-slick and shiny, and gives nothing for grime to cling to, so your van will be easier to clean the next time around. So basically, it's win, win, win all-round. But, don't just take our word for it - you can see exactly what Caramics can do for your vehicle, and how it works in our guide - What Difference Does a Ceramic Coating Actually Make?
What might be surprising to some is that a single kit is enough to protect a whole van. Generally speaking, the wheels, interior and glass will be about the same as a car of course, but there's a whole load of paintwork to coat, isn't there? But, using our Si02-impregnated Ceramic Wipes application of the coating just couldn't be simpler. The same goes for all of our kits. The Glass Protection Kit uses wipes, and the wheels and interior coating are simple spray-on affairs. It doesn't get any quicker, easier or more effective than that.
There was one final finishing touch of course, after being fully prepped for the season, the van had finally earned its AF wings, so we sent it off to Wrap Xtreme for the customary AF rear quarter logos and striping.
So, that's the story of the latest addition to Team AF and, as you can see, it turned out rather well. But, whether this is almost too good to merely load up and drive around all around Europe representing everyone's favourite detailing brand is beside the point. Anyway, who says that practicality can't come with a whole load of style, too?