As soon as it was launched, the Nissan Cabstar established itself as a more than willing general workhorse. The model was always very special for John Waring when he was a youngster, so it was something of a labour of love when he fully restored his 1984 model. Bob Tuck joins the pair for a breeze round in the North Yorkshire sun.
It’s sometimes worth hanging on to your earliest dreams and aspirations. Yes, we all grow up and things we hoped for when we were youngsters might seem of little consequence when we reach adulthood. But there are times when things come full circle and the pleasure in fulfilling those first visions can be all the more sweet.
In the late 1980s, when John Waring was just approaching his teens, his parents — Dave and Susan — were running the North Yorkshire based D&S Waring Solid Fuel concern from a yard at Brompton near
Northallerton. At the time, the Warings relied on a mix of Bedford TK/TL and Leyland FGs.
These were the standard coal-round vehicles of choice at the time, but there was to be a new kid on the block. “The Co-op at Northallerton was our big competition,» recalls John, “and they were also running a Nissan Cabstar. It could only carry a couple of tons but as it was so skinny and narrow it got into tight places far easier than say the alternative Transit or Bedford CF. I can remember my dad bringing home a Nissan brochure and I begged him to get one. But in the end. the word soon got round that, after a few years, the Cabstar suffered from tin worm and wasn’t worth buying, so he didn’t bother.”
In fairness, young John had a vested interest in getting one for the Waring business. Whenever he was in the yard after school, he’d help out any way he could: “My main job was washing the wagons and filling them up with diesel,” he says. «I found it hard work to drive the TKs around but I knew I’d be able to handle a Cabstar as they were lot smaller. And gazing at the brochure meant that was all I could dream about.»
Time moved on with John’s life and while that should have been the end of the Cabstar dream, it never faded totally.
ON THE SPANNERS
It was perhaps no surprise that when John left school, he signed up for an apprenticeship as a car mechanic. Transport in one form or another goes well back into his family’s genes. “My grandparents on my mother’s side ran buses and were solid fuel merchants as far back as the horse and cart,” he says.
The business was split up in the early 1970s when John’s parents took on the solid fuel side, so the name was changed (to Waring) so as not to create confusion with the buses which still traded under the name of S&R (Sidney and Roland) Walker.
The D&S Waring business still trades but John isn’t involved as his life was to change following a number of significant happenings. Perhaps the most significant occurred in his younger days as John recalls an older friend, Dave Winters, taking him round various farm sales. As well as taking in all the action, John of course noticed that all the farmers and dealers around generally used a Cabstar. “It seemed to be the pick-up of choice of many people back then.» he says.
John was to work for a number of local firms and did a stint with the commercial dealer of Londonderry Garages: “I loved the challenge of going out to breakdowns and doing repairs on the road,» he says. He even went on his own as a self employed mechanic for a while but it wasn’t until he went on holiday to Perth In Australia and saw a friend, Graham King, that he decided what to do with his life.
«Graham was a neighbour at Brompton,* says John, “and actually» bought one of our old TL Bedford. When he emigrated to Australia in the mid 1990s, he shipped the Bedford out there and used it for his Job.”
John actually drove the old Waring TL while he was there but it was seeing what Graham was doing which made him think: “I saw how Graham had built up a self-employed business of buying stuff that folk generally didn’t want — before selling it on, to someone who did. And I thought why don’t I do that back in the UK?»
John recalls the decision back in 2001 that was to give him a purpose in life. He enjoyed those days as a youngster going round the farm sales with Dave Winters and his knowledge as a mechanic meant he could easily fix, repair or restore anything mechanical to breathe new life into it.
To start things off — no surprise — he bought a Nissan Cabstar: “It belonged to a guy who had a unit close by.» he says. “He just wanted shot of it so I took it off his hands, tidied it up and it got me going.» Progressing up to a 7.5 toner. He later put himself through his H G V test and also obtained an Operator’s Licence. And over the years has progressed to running a Volvo FL6 — a Hiab equipped crane wagon — that can handle all sorts.
One of the most significant projects (as far as this story is concerned) which John got involved with was buying and selling used Japanese light commercials.
“Over the last six or seven years, he says, all must have handled dozens of them. They may have reached a point where they are no good for life in the UK but there’s a ready market for them abroad — if you know where to look. Strangely, the petrol engined ones are In bigger demand In places like Nigeria, as that fuel is a lot cheaper than diesel. It might sound a bit strange as it’s the other way round in the UK as most folk prefer diesel.»
If you make your money as a dealer then you cant afford to get too attached to what you buy — as you’ll never make anything if you don’t move the metal on. It’s a golden rule that you should buy at a good price and as long as you can sell with a slight mark up, then let it go. However, when B231 CHL came into his yard in 2010, John knew it was a rule that he was going to break.
The Nissan Cabstar name has been around since about 1981. It’s a global model in that it’s been sold on all sorts of markets under all sorts of names and guises. M’s still sold now and if you want a brand new Cabstar today — fitted with a drop side like John’s — you can drive away In one for £19,360. Strange the only thing which doesn’t seem to be offered now for the UK market is the option of having a petrol engine.
Back on August 1.1984. B231 CHL took to the road. With a four-cylinder, 1.952 liter petrol engine, the 3.28 tones gross pick-up was bought by Harold Sewell of Sheffield. Harold has a laugh when he tells us how he managed to buy this vehicle which gave him excellent service. He’d just bought a brand new Ford Transit but during its first six weeks, he had horrendous problems with it so he took it back to the supplying dealer where he demanded his money back.
You’ll have to get Harold to tell you the full graphic story of this altercation and it was almost on the rebound (he was just walking past the Cabstar dealer) that he bought the Nissan.
However, that didn’t start its working life too well either: “It broke down after three days,» says Harold, «and the starter motor had to be changed. But since then, it did me really well.
In all the years, it only tailed to pass its annual MoT test once and that was just because the tester was trying to be a bit clever. The only time I think it failed on the road was when the points broke so I rang my wife up and she brought a set out to me which I had at home.» Harold was a self employed welder and the Cabstar had a hard life carrying all his gear our round. It came to grief about four years ago: “I was on site arid the brakes on a digger failed.» he says, «and it crashed into the cab but luckily no one was inside.» The vehicle was badly damaged but Harold got a new cab (one from a diesel Cabstar) and changed it over. He has also changed the engine and the current speedometer shows how many miles (23.000+) this particular engine has done. He thinks in total, the Cabstar has done at least 88.000 miles.
John Waring bought the vehicle — over the phone — through an intermediary who knew John bought and sold Cabstars. «I don’t think it was taxed or tested when it came into my Brampton yard.» says John, «but the thing that threw me was how good a condition the cab was in. The drop sides on the body were rusting away but the cab was great.»
In fact the vehicle reminded John of the vehicle featured in a brochure he’d kept from being a youngster — but he wasn’t sure what to do. Normally, any vehicle he buys is sorted and then shipped down (three at a time) to Lancaster where a contact puts them into a container en route to work in Africa — or the like. But instead, this one just stayed at Brampton: “Guys were coming up to me in the yard and starting to offer me money to sell it straight on and this threw me a bit as the price they offered kept going up.»
Of course, the dealer streak in him suggested he should take the money but his heart said something different: «The only way I could keep people quiet was to tell them I was going to keep it for restoration. They thought I was crazy — who wants to restore an 84 Cabstar? It’s not that old — or even that rare — but I did.»
One of the good things about doing a Cabstar restoration is that they are an easy motor to take to bits. John first took the body off and then found there were only four bolts holding the cab in position on the chassis. Although of course, the steering mechanism and electric links (there are two of these) also had to be released: “I just dropped the windows, put a long length of timber through the cab and used a fork-lift to take it off.»
The rolling chassis was sent to Millblast at South Bank on Teesside for shot blasting and primer coating. The cab itself was in excellent condition but John gave it some attention
(including the use of the protective Dinitrol) before Ben Stapley painted it.
Mechanically the vehicle seemed fine but with the engine out, John took the time to freshen things up and fitted new piston rings, skimmed the head and fitted a new clutch before putting things together.
With so many Cabstars being made over the years, parts are still around and John found that eBay came up trumps time and again. “People might have had Cabstars in the past,» he says, “and were just selling off spares and parts which they’d accumulated.» There were some great finds — including a brand new exhaust system, while John also used the site to source a different pair of drop-sides for the body. These required some work, which was done by Henry Baeir, who also fabricated a new pair of rear mudguards. While John himself did work on the vehicle’s suspension ball joints and also fitted a new floor to the body.
For the cab Interior, John had to take parts from certain donor vehicles he’d bought. These included a fire engine version of the Cabstar and this vehicle provided the driver’s seat, door card, steering wheel, steering column and glove box lid.
WHAT A STUNNER
Supplying the finishing touches was sign-writer Frank Hindmarsh and what a great job he did. It’s no surprise that John asked Frank to name the vehicle after his daughter Scarlet Susanna. John’s partner is Sophie Owen and there’s room for three in the front of the Cabstar — with a booster seat of course.
Two days after Frank had finished the livery. Heritage Commercials was invited to give the Cabstar the once over “I’ve still got one or two things to finish off,” says John, but to us, in the summer sunshine, it looks an absolute stunner.
To warm things up, John first takes us down the road but soon it’s our chance to get behind the wheel. One of the main reasons the Cabstar has won a lot of friends, is that its cab is easy to get in and out of. The driving position (sat in front of the front axle) is excellent arid from the first movement, you realize Vitiat a superb steering lock it has.
The two-liter petrol engine has lots of go in it and the five-speed gearbox allows easy shifts up into top gear. The motor is a joy to handle and even though he’s sitting in the passenger seat, there’s a huge grin on John’s face as we wander round the North Yorkshire lanes. I ask him If he’s pleased with it and of course, that’s a stupid question: «I’m over the moon with it, he says as no surprise.
John intends to show the vehicle but also — as and when the type of load allows — he’ll also work it a bit during the better weather it a bit of advertising for the business.” he says.
Of course it is just that but it’s also a reminder (to us all perhaps) that you should never give up on your dreams.