Ultra VW - BM(ESSE)X BOY
Posted on June 16 2016
Not only is Mike Downham a hardcore VW fanatic, he is also a serious BMX collector and consequently, the official Cool Flo Vintage BMX logistics and transportation guy… not to mention one of the family too!
Many thanks to our friends over at Ultra VW for permission to reproduce their article, originally published in April 2014.
Words & Photos: Paul Knight
Mike Downham is one of those guys who takes his hobbies seriously. Yes, VWs have been a huge part of his life since he was a teenager, but his love of vintage BMX bikes began a few years before that, hence it will come as little surprise to learn that he has found a way to combine those two passions in the shape of this, his latest ride.
Mike told us, ‘Having sold my last Bug, I decided to take a short break from VWs to spend some time restoring a few of the bikes I’d accumulated over the past few years’. He continued, ‘And, having hooked up with the Carter Bros at Cool Flo Vintage (also serious old-school BMX enthusiasts!), I found myself struggling to transport more than a couple of bikes to display at VW events etc’.
Having spent a season helping to organise retro-BMX displays with the Cool Flo boys, Mike suddenly realised that a fresh VW project might just be the answer to his BMXtransportation problems.
He commented, ‘I used a Bay window pick-up to move the bikes for a while, but I just couldn’t relax or dare to leave it unattended with such a precious load on show...’ He continued, ‘Hence, I decided that the enclosed security of a panel van would at least allow me the opportunity to stop at a service station for a break!’ (Read: ‘to answer the call of nature’ PK.)
Whilst browsing the pages of classified ads on theSamba.com, Mike stumbled across a freshly-listed Bay window panel van, which immediately caught his attention. It was a rust-free, RHD ’71 crossover-model (ie retaining the desirable ‘early-Bay’ body/bumpers etc, yet equipped with the all-new disc/drum brake system) and was white, which just happened to be the colour he wanted. The only problem was the location... this van was in Durban, South Africa!
And so the search began for a suitable basis for Mike’s planned BMX-hauler. Mike chuckled as he explained, ‘I had a clear picture of exactly what I wanted, but I never expected to find a van that ticked practically every box quite as easily as I did!’
Fortunately, the seller was happy to work with Mike, and a deal was soon struck and the Bay shipped to the UK.
In case you weren’t aware, back in ’71, this was what is known as a CKD (complete knock down) car. This means that it was sent from Germany to South Africa in what you could probably describe as a flat-pack kit, to be assembled on site. They were supplied in a greenish primer finish, hence were painted at the assembly plant prior to shipping out to the dealer network.
And, when it arrived, Mike was impressed to find that it was in very good shape. Yes, it had been treated to a little paintwork at some point in the past, but the only body repairs were a small patch on one sill and repair to one door. That’s far better than practically any UK-supplied RHD panel van we’ve ever seen!
However, the mechanical side of things were quite different. Mike commented, ‘You could practically turn the steering wheel through 180-degree before it did anything and everything was shot to pieces’. Mike took the van to his good friends Paul and Dave at PR Services (a Porsche specialist workshop), where they literally stripped everything away and started over. Out came a worn 1.7-litre Type 4 motor, the entire transmission and rear suspension followed by the entire front end, too.
Mike dropped a Red 9 Design independent front suspension kit (a complete double A-arm/coilover-equipped front clip that replaces the original beam system) at PR Services and Paul spent some time fitting it up and dialling it to sit just where Mike wanted it (ie in the weeds!), whilst also handling and riding like a sports car (well, as sporty as a Bay window can be, anyway!)
New brakes, hoses and hardware were fitted throughout, and the rear end was reassembled with a pair of Red 9 4-in dropped spring plates, which were set a spline lower than stock for a serious drop. The bump stops were removed and everything was powdercoated and refitted with new seals, rubber and hardware. Mated to the original transmission is a 1641cc motor (also assembled by Paul at PR Services), which purrs along nicely thanks to a pair of baby Dell’Orto twin carbs, a Bosch 009 distributor and a 4-into-1 header system.
While the mechanicals were being overhauled, Mike sourced a set of Porsche teledial wheels (7x15 all round), which he had overhauled and fitted with 165/50 front and 165/65 rear tyres. They’re an unusual choice, and that’s what makes them work so well on this van!
Moving inside, Mike had a friend install some plywood panelling, while he added the laminate flooring and a rock and roll bed. Note also the skimboard table (removable) and a pair of Porsche 914 seats (supplied by PR Services).
There’s a full sound system in the van to keep Mike entertained, and he opted for a Nardi steering wheel and a swan-neck shifter extension to improve the feel.
You may have also noticed those door cards. Mike laughed, ‘I’ve had a set of Sewfine door cards from my first ever Beetle sat in my garage for years so I decided to remove the coloured panels and add them to the van for a bit of an old-skool feel!’
As you can see, Mike can now fit six of his favourite bikes in (and he’s forever changing the ‘stock’ to keep his displays fresh!). And boy, does this guy ever have a cool collection of bikes! Having worked his way through more than 40 classic BMX bikes, his current collection include some of his childhood favourites, not to mention some of the rarest and most collectable bikes ever made.
All that was left to do was fit some decals, which were supplied by the Cool Flo guys, and help to break up the slab sides with some retro-chic.
BMX fans will know exactly what we’re talking about here, but for the uninitiated, here’s a brief rundown (left to right) of the bikes shown on these pages.
Then there’s the white ’82 Torker, which he purchased via the Rad BMX forums, and also a red ’81 Torker, which he boughtlocally. Mike commented, ‘I was wearing a BMX T-shirt in a local pub and a guy asked me if I might be interested in buying an old bike – I wasblown away when I learned it was this original Torker!’, a very lucky find!
The orange bike is a 1985 Skyway Street Beat, which is in perfect condition and is 100% correct (yes, they’re original Skyway Tuff wheels, not reissues!) It’s one of Mike’s favourites, hence is often included in his line-up!
The black bike is a 1983 generation 1 Haro Freestyler, which has been restored from a frame, which was found in a skip! This one is fitted with the super-desirable Skyway Graphite wheels and a set of smooth Tioga Comp Pool tyres.
Next to that is a 1982 Torker, which was originally chromed, but Mike had it stripped and powdercoated blue during restoration. This bike is fitted with a wild set of wheels – they’re original Skyway Tuffs, which have had the spokes and centres machined away to leave just the plastic rims. They have then been expertly drilled and laced with 36-spokes, making them a truly unique set of rims.
The last bike here is a 1984 DP Firebird Freestyler, which Mike has recently sold. He laughed, ‘I’ve already built a lovely generation 2 Haro Master to replace it with, and I’ve also been working on a rare Peugeot Blackline, which was my first ever bike’. Then there’s the baresteel Gen 1 Anniversary Haro... the list goes on and on!
As you can see, this guy is serious about his bikes! So, next time you’re at a VW event and see the classic BMX display, pop by and say ‘Hi’ to Mike (and be sure to check out his BMX collection).
Thanks again to our friends over at Ultra VW for their permission to reproduce this article.