The conversion

Nobody likes talking about their weight but sometimes it pays to face the issue and the benefits can be huge. In this case the large 3 litre engine fitted with automatic transmission and air-conditioning in a LWB Fiat Ducato Murvi Morello panel van conversion meant that utilisation of the available payload would be almost impossible to achieve without overloading the front axle.

Research of and recommendations on solutions to this issue lead to VB Airsuspension UK Ltd and a decision to have a VB FullAir 4C system with auto-levelling installed by the Tiverton based Courtside Conversions Ltd. Over two days all the existing suspension components were removed and replaced by the VB system. Afterwards a simple paperwork exercise through STech had the front axle limits increased and then through the DVLA had as a secondary benefit the vehicle re-rated to increase the payload.

Peace of mind restored.

Initial impressions

The 3 hour 180 mile return trip home was a true revelation. Not only had the weight issue been eliminated but there was a significant improvement in ride comfort. Gone was the abbreviated suspension movement from the rear as the axle transitioned onto the rubber cone spring assisters and the general jolting of a commercial grade suspension system based on steel springs. Without doubt there had been a true transformation in the ride comfort experienced when travelling in the van – this was going to be an ongoing benefit of tackling the weight issue. Furthermore on returning home the auto-levelling option meant that the considerable locker space occupied by levelling ramps could be liberated for other essentials.

First trip

Well after a comfortable journey the ‘van had never been sited so quickly and easily. The pitch had a modest slope but instead of having to extract and through a series of ‘trial and error’ attempts position levelling ramps under the necessary wheel(s) a simple button push was all that was needed to get the van level in just a minute or so. On departure there were no wet and muddy levelling ramps to be retrieved, cleaned off and stowed with a further feature of the VB FullAir 4C system enabling the ‘van to be tilted over to ensure the grey water tank emptied speedily and fully when over the service point.

Exploring Scottish Islands

Tours of the Scottish Islands have been made more enjoyable when travelling on ferries of all sizes, negotiating miles of small winding single track roads/tracks and plenty of wild camping.

The potential difficulties which could have occurred with grounding when boarding ferries with a LWB van and a tow-bar mounted overhanging bike rack were alleviated through the ability of the VB FullAir 4C system to increase the ground clearance or raise either the front or rear of the van. The benefits of the system where very amply demonstrated when using the small ferry to Jura when having raised the rear of the van on its air suspension the load-master overseeing the boarding announced that clearance between the bike rack and ferry ramp had only been a millimetre or so. Without the air suspension the bike rack would have had to be removed causing considerable inconvenience.

The ride comfort initially experienced after conversion continued no matter what state the island roads were in and the convenience of being able to immediately level the van when parking up made wild camping much more relaxing.

Beyond Expectations?

A lunch time stop on the remote west coast of Scotland provided an illustration of an expected benefit of the air suspension system. An unfortunate set of circumstances had lead to the ‘van being trapped by a rock in front of the rear axle and a ditch immediately behind. Argh … no problem just increase the ride height and then the realisation that increasing ride height does not increase the ground clearance under the beam axle … oh no. To compound the problem, there was no phone signal and it was just beginning to rain. Time for lunch and consider options. Refreshed and after some rational thought examination of the rock revealed that the additional ground clearance from raising the suspension had just yielded enough space for it to be dragged clear of the axle. Much relief all round!!

The big one

Having travelled ever more northwards within the British Isles there came a point where the next stops on this northward path were the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Sadly recent changes in ferry routes meant having to travel via Calais, Hirtshals in Denmark and a 2.5 day ‘cruise’ to reach Iceland. The journey through Europe was smoothly completed, but day 2 in Iceland bought the first experience of the gravel roads there were to become a prominent feature of our quest to visit some of the more remote areas. Sadly for the other ‘vans travelling with us this was not a comfortable experience and with the significantly reduced speeds became tedious to the point that if available detours were taken to avoid their suffering. For us though comfort and reasonable speed could be maintained with only corrugations proving to be the most challenging surface to travel on.

To have travelled to Iceland and not ventured away from the main roads would have been be a great disappointment as there was so much more to see particularly in the Westfjords region which can only be reached via gravel roads. The absence of air suspension would not have prevented a visit to this area but as the experience of our travel companions showed it could make it much more pleasant.

The future

Within a very short time of the conversion it had become clear that full air suspension was not just a ‘nice to have’ but had become essential for our enjoyment of travelling in our ‘van. Six years, 35,000 miles and over 2 years worth of nights in the ‘van later nothing has dislodged that conclusion. So much so that the first item on our list of requirements for a new ‘van is a VB FullAir 4C system.

To this end, an order for a new ‘van with a VB FullAir 4C system has been placed.

(For more details of the system follow this link and this link for details of the installer)

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