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Master plan 2

Renault Master service van

Our Bobby is planning a retro coffee truck project which requires a 1990 Renault Master van. This meant me going to France, buying a Master van and driving it home to the sunny north of England, then fixing it up ready for the van's new life. Here's the story so far..

Renault Master engine bay

With Bobby's van safely home, let's have a look at it.

The original Renault Master is a true French solution to urban delivery van design. The van is roomy and tall with a flat rear floor, it is front wheel drive with the engine mounted backwards, the gearbox is forward powering the front wheels, with minimum front overhang.

The driving position is high to clear the power unit under the cab floor, access to the cab is two steps up, driving is comfortable with excellent visibility. The turning circle is good with no engine in the way of the wheels, the gear change is like stirring French onion soup with a metre long spoon.

Access to daily checks is under the small bonnet, shared with the battery, heater and heavy spare wheel. Oil check is under a flap on the interior engine cover, which can be located after you

lift up the passenger seat cushion.

Our Master is the long wheelbase model, which has an extra panel behind the sliding door, the van has the desirable for us, giant lift up tailgate. The tailgate lifts and slides with strong rails on the van's roof, the geometry must have taken some working out! The side and rear door mounting rails are metal and exposed to the weather, making them a bit rough in use, but a good wire brushing and plenty of grease smoothed them out.

Our van doesn't have power steering, the steering column takes a twisting route to work the wheels, with the large steering wheel needing many turns to make much difference. This means forward planning is needed to turn the van, but once straight again one hand on the wheel and arm out of the window is a comfortable stance. 

Renault master T35
renault master T35 tailgate

The massive rear door will make a good shelter for the rear serving counter,

the 2mtr interior height will make a comfortable inside working height, with the low floor making a good serving height for the side hatch.

renault master T35 rear

These vans have excellent brakes, with assisted four pot front calipers on large vented discs, and large drums on the rear. The handbrake acts on the rear drums.

The large wipers clear the screen well, rear vision is quite good using the external mirrors. There aren't many switches to use, but all are handy.

Bob's van has a 2.5 ltr Sofim diesel engine, no turbo on this, but a rubber belt driven overhead camshaft. The engine needs a good dose of heat to start, once the smoke has cleared it runs well, slow and steady up to a happy top speed of 100kph. This is a strong lightly stressed engine that will last many years.

Renault Master t35 cab

The cam belt is at the back of the engine, the alternator etc. too, reaching them is much easier with the front seats removed.

With no interior partition, all work can be carried out sheltered inside the van, which is nice!

The Master is an old design, with many corners for rust to take hold. I looked for a van from Southern France which was free from salted winter roads. This van had some surface rust underneath, but was structurally very sound

Renault Master t35 engine
Toyota Hilux loaded for tip

The first job was to clean out the interior.

The van seemed to have been used as a motor home, it was insulated and panelled inside, with two lift up glass sunroofs. The panelling had to go, and the plywood flooring. The van was to be converted at Wilkinsons catering, so they would cut a serving hatch in the side, and put a non slip floor and counters in.


Stripping out the van seemed a waste of good materials, but it had to go, so it was all loaded on our Hilux and recycled at the tip.  

Brakes next, surprisingly discs and pads are easily available on Ebay,

so these were ordered and the old units removed. 

Renault master brakes

 I loosened the truck size wheel nuts with a big socket and scaffold tube, there is a wheel brace in the van, but this has been twisted out of shape, probably by using a scaffold tube. The nuts were tight!

The Master is a heavy thing, with lots of weight on the

front end, I jacked up the van and made it very secure before I removed the wheels. The hubs are secured by a large nut which required borrowing Dave's geared nut remover. This large tool worked a treat, then I could remove the discs from the hubs.

It's a strong and well designed braking system, and quite easy to repair, I banged out the four pistons in each caliper

and cleaned them and the bores, and replaced the seals.

renault master t35 wheel

Truck size wheels

renault master hub remove

Dave's tool

renault master hub remove

Hub & disc split

renault master brake caliper

4 pot caliper

renault master t35 new disc

Here are the new discs in place. The whole front end of this Renault van is a strong and well designed construction. Forged suspension arms and compact springs link with the back to front engine making a

strong integrated unit.

The brakes themselves are simple to maintain and strongly constructed. The four pot calipers are powerful and with the large discs are very effective.

The back drums are a different matter! They were very difficult to remove with a groove worn by the brake shoes, I couldn't find new shoes so I cleaned it all up and put them back. The handbrake holds the van well. 

There was no working speedo, no speedo needle, and the water temp and fuel gauges didn't work.

The speedo is driven by a little knob on the nose of the gearbox, this had broken off and can only be accessed from inside the 'box, so we'll pass on that at present. I was told that the sun had melted the speedo needle!

I bought a digital speedo for now, so let's have a look at the fuel gauge....

renault master dials
renault master dash

Here's the dash, I repaired the 'melted' speedo needle with a slivver of Tesco plastic fruit packaging, but it was a bigger problem. So a cheap digital gps item was purchased,

which worked well.

renault master dashboard out

Back of the dash instruments,

floppy printed circuit

I needlessly removed the dashboard to access

the instruments, the dials panel actually pops

out of the binnacle easily

The fuel gauge wasn't functioning, so I bought a cheap round ebay item and wired it in. It worked in a way that Youtubers said meant the fuel tank sender had failed. So I climbed under the van and dropped the tank.

This wasn't too difficult, although the filler pipe and breather passed through holes in the chassis. All bolts came undone without difficulty, I left the fuel lines to the engine connected so bleeding wouldn't be needed, and lowered the tank down with the jack and a piece of plywood  Due to keeping the tank topped up 'cos of no fuel gauge, it was pretty full!

With the tank down I could see the sender, a replacement was sourced on Ebay, this new Marrelli unit was sent from Greece, although the

seller's address was in the UK.

renault master fuel tank
renault master fuel gauge
renault master tank sender

The tank was covered in many years' worth of 

Southern France rural mud, this scraped off

revealing no rust at all.

Here's the new gauge installed, not quite the deco French styling!

You'll notice the digital speedo has gone, a minor, if that's possible!, gearbox rebuild meant access to the speedo drive knob

and it could be replaced.

The Tippexed Tesco box edge speedo needle now swings around the dial,

well half way around.

The warning lights work, the alternator will need attention, the hazard light switch was rebuilt on our kitchen table, it was a complicated little thing, with internal roller contacts.


The switches to the right are for the led interior lights and the extractor fan.

renault master speedo
renault master alternator

The alternator light was slow to go out, and lit up now and then, the alternator was quite easily removed and taken for a rebuild.

We have a great auto electrical workshop nearby, who's father and son back garden depot repair any vehicle electrical unit. You must take it off first though!

I flatted down and repainted the engine cover too while I was in there.

After a visit to Fuel Injection Services in Burscough for an injector clean and fuel system service, it was time to get the business side sorted out, with a list to Wilkinsons catering van fitters in industrial Lancashire.

To Wilkinsons!

I hooked the van up to our Hilux with our A frame,

it's a big lump to tow, but we made it to Bacup safely. Our Master entered the high stakes world of converting French vans to coffee trucks! 

renault master engine cover
renault master t35
renault master conversion

As mentioned before, Bobby's plan is to create a replica cycle racing team van, to use as a coffee & snack truck and a cycling  support workshop.The catering and workshop area will be separated by a partition, the rear being catering with a rear and side hatch serving.

The workshop area with workbench and bike stand being accessed through the side loading door.

Wilkinsons are the professionals in catering truck building, Bobby had discussed his plans with Wilko's, and between them they designed the outfit. I left the van with them, it looked quite proud to be mixing it with the older French vans, our van looked positively modern!

renault master conversion 2

We'll leave it here as the van gets worked on in Bacup, we'll return in the next episode with

the van interior completed and the exterior's turn to be worked on.

Click here to visit next report

integralingham t shirt.jpg
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