This is part 1 of a 3-series story of the second overhaul on the Land Cruiser and how we remodeled it with a water tank, sink, and a whole lot of other stuff. Links to the other stories: part 2 and part 3.
I think we became aware of cracks at the base of the rear doors back in Ecuador, mid-2014. Just tiny cracks, but cracks all the same. We knew they needed to be addressed sooner or later.
Meeting the FJ Company in Colombia
In Colombia we looked around for a suitable place for the job. I had a wonderful meeting including a lunch with the guys from FJ Company to see if they could help us out. Apart from our budget not being on a par with what they asked, they also had a fully booked agenda.
To do the job we’d need, apart from a good welder, a place to sleep and store all the stuff from the Land Cruiser, which had to be empty in order to weld on the body. The insulation and woodwork on the inside are prone to catch fire. We weighed our options and kept an eye out for that perfect spot. It didn’t happen and we figured that in Venezuela an occasion would arise.
Meeting TotalCruiser in Venezuela
In Venezuela, we continued inquiring about a good welder. We met several excellent workplaces where the job wouldn’t cost us a fortune due to the absurd devaluation and black market exchange. While most of them were happy to help us, none of them could commit to our stringent timeframe.
We always have a timeframe, called a visa, and working within a timeframe is not Venezuelans’ forte. Apart from that, on December 7 they would have elections for the Parliament / Senate, and Karin-Marijke did not want to be in the country around that time, afraid for political (and subsequent military) unrest.
One of the guys we met was Alberto of TotalCruiser, in Valencia. Restoring Land Cruisers is a passion of his (rather than his main source of income). His work equals that of the FJ Company in Colombia. The moment we parked the Land Cruiser in his workshop and we got out, I saw an LWB frame carelessly leaning against the wall.
Was this a sign?
“Is that what I think it is?” I asked Alberto.
“That frame fits your Land Cruiser perfectly, except for the engine mounts.”
“Will you sell it?”
“Sure, but not to you.”
“Uh… Come again…?”
“You know how the police and all other Misters Important are checking all the frames…”
“Yeah, we noticed that at every checkpoint the first thing they do is ducking at the front right wheel to check the frame numbers. Why is that?”
“Well there is a lot of stealing going on and they are cracking down on hot and illegal cars.”
“What has that to do with us?”
“Well, if they check my inventory or your car, even if we sand out the numbers and replace them, they can eventually track it down to me and I’m not taking any risks right now.”
I had another look at that beautiful frame and couldn’t help myself from touching it. Boy, this would solve a lot of troubles. But as things go, this one was not destined to be ours.
Friends and Land Cruiser fanatics flooded the workshop as soon as they heard we were in town, and an invitation followed for a weekend get-together. Later, just before we left, I asked Alberto if he could help me out with the rear-door sill, but he said his schedule wouldn’t allow for it.
What he did do, however, was finding us a reinforced doorsill that only needed to be welded in. He gave it to us as a present when we met over the weekend. I was speechless when I held this beautiful piece of heavy metal in my hands. Alberto, thank you, man. You are one hell of a guy!
Fast forward to Guyana. As you may know, we wanted to cross Venezuelan border to the northern tip of Colombia to explore that region and ultimately find a workshop on the coast to do the welding. But politics messed up our plans as President Maduro (Venezuela) closed all borders between Colombia and Venezuela for the remainder of our time in this country. We had to rush to Brazil, the only border left open. We changed our plans, and opted to re-visit Guyana and Suriname, and ship out of the continent from there.
Searching for the Right Guy in Guyana
In Georgetown, Guyana, we asked around. We met with what looked like a suitable guy, even though his name was Crazy. I explained him in details what we wanted to have done in terms of welding and rust prevention. He responded that his welder would be available on Monday.
Great, that left us with the weekend to strip the car completely of its contents. Sonia, our hashing friend (read about the HASH here) had offered us a place to stay with ample storage space. We dismantled the Land Cruiser the following day.
On Monday, however, we were told by a painter at the workshop that the welder had fallen off a scaffolding and lay in the hospital. Crazy was nowhere to be found and he didn’t answer his phone. Us vs. Murphy 0-1.
Welder #2 and #3
I was directed to a neighbor workshop of a guy called Kevin. Kevin couldn’t help me but took me around the block of Industry, as the neighborhood is called, which consists of only car repair shops. Here I met up with a tall young man who called himself Bat. He said he could do all that I asked and, as the car was empty anyway, he could start right away. The job would take two days. We agreed upon a fee.
He and a helper started cutting up the Land Cruiser with a torch. Slowly things started to go astray. I wasn’t happy with the details of his welding and how much he was in a rush as he worked. The result was shabby.
He then refused to reinforce the insides of the floor in the rear corners, as we had agreed upon. And, even though I said we might have more work if he did well [the idea was to get the sides of the panels welded as well], he continued doing a sloppy job. Well, in my eyes, obviously.
In the end the door sill was crooked and the doors didn’t close properly anymore. He whacked the doors with a heavy hammer to get them in place. Unsurprisingly, I paid and left unsatisfied and looked for another person who could finish the job.
The next day I found my man on another corner of that same block. Mr. Bauki, an older person with much more patience. A lovely wife and kids helped him. He didn’t have much time but he could weld a couple of small things for me, which suited me fine as this gave me the opportunity to gauge his work.
It took us two slow weeks. Other jobs, as well as heavy rains, slowed us from cleaning the body from all its major rust spots. But we managed and finally, a few little things remained to be taken care off and we would be set to go. I came to enjoy working with Mr. Bauki and was looking forward to the last week. But then he said he couldn’t finish it and he directed me to yet another person.
The fifth workshop was that of young Andy and his helpers. As most workshops in the region, the work is done in the yard of the house. Progress was slow and that week dragged out into two. Appointments were not met, and people didn’t show up, either drunk from the evening before or called in sick. When it started to pour, everybody stopped working and cooked over a wood fire. It seemed the normal way of handling a day of work. One day they even took me out to the seawall to try and pull their family’s fishing boat our of the water.
I took it all in and tried to relax about it. I bought a newspaper and went for some walks, but I was annoyed, not in the least because by now I had been working six weeks on a job that shouldn’t have taken more than two.
A week later, when, at last, the paint was on, I couldn’t be happier. The car looked so good, and finally we could get out of there!
Always being dependent on others (when it comes to welding) and adapting to their work-ethos goes a long way, but there are limits and for me, they were crossed here. Next time I will learn how to weld myself.