From The Mountains To The Sea If you follow them on Instagram, you may think you know Oli and Tor from Stitches + Steel well, I too thought I had a good understanding of what they are all about, but it turns out there is much more to this VW loving, surf couple from the east coast...
First of all, if you haven't heard of Stitches + Steel I suggest you head over to Instagram and have a scroll through their photos. Whether you’re up to date with what Oli and Tor have created or not, let's look at where it all began... Oli starts us off, "I've been into Volkswagens from a very, very early age. My dad used to own a few Volkswagen and Audi dealerships when I was younger, consequently that meant I was lucky enough to be carted around in all things German, from as early as I can remember. I recall very clearly when Dad collected my brother and I from school once in what was then, a brand-new Mulberry paint, on Mulberry leather Corrado VR6 demonstrator vehicle. He then proceeded to take us to a certain local hump back bridge so we could do 'airs' in it, as it was quick enough to deal with the short, but windy 'run in' to the jump... So, very much a fan of the Volkswagen brand, the entire VAG group and the community that goes with it. Being obsessed with Volkswagens from an early age I've had more than my fair share. As much as I love the vans I also like the really early water-cooled cars, more specifically, MK1 Golfs. I've had five of them over a ten-year span, each one older than the previous one. There was a point last year when I had the two oldest MK1s in the UK. I found one in Norway, then not long after that, an even earlier one in France. I've got a minor obsession for what's known as the MK1 Golf 'Swallowtail'. Only the very earliest cars got the Swallowtail rear panel, from 74-76 and consequently there are only a handful left in the UK. It's hunting for the really old rare stuff that excites me. Getting off of eBay and other UK based websites and hunting foreign ones is good fun, when you eventually find that über rare slice of German metal and finally get it home, ownership is that much sweeter. I just wish I could keep them all!" The Stitches + Steel story already steeped in more VW history than I had originally anticipated. Oli again, "Vans are the best though. Once you've owned one it's damn hard to not have one in your life. The Transporters are amazing. They look good, are economical, reliable, cheap to run, fun to drive, easy to mess about with, which makes them a great base for camper as well as an ideal work horse. I couldn't imagine owning anything else as a daily – such a versatile thing. We needed a demo van and also a measuring buck for all the S+S products we were about to produce. It had to be a 1.9 and not in white. We got it from the auctions on a whim, as it was black and had armrests. It was horrible. It used to be an old Rockstar Energy Drinks van, who knows what they got up to in the back, but it was savage! When we bought it from the auction house, it stank and there was lots of hay and beer in the back… Now though, this van is the very essence of bespoke, being the test bed for all our products. Especially the setup in the back. We are trying to use the word 'conversion' less, as we see our take on it as more of a contemporary moving space, loosing anything that’s not crucial. Less being more. We've worked with structural engineers, furniture designers, interior designers, CAD technicians and boat builders to realise our idea of the ultimate use of the space for the back of a van. The brief, and the most important thing for us was the van had to be adaptable. It had to haul boxes to the postman, or tools to work and be filled with surfboards etc. Then be able to turn into a campervan in a heartbeat, to go chase after a storm that would be producing waves at the weekend. A universal, yet well thought out solution, that actually worked. Valuing the experiences that life on the road delivers in spades, rather than the things that got us there. Simple living being the ethos. If it wasn’t imperative it had to go”.
So how does this “Contemporary moving space” work? Like all good designs it is deceptively simple. There is a raised floor throughout most of the rear. A space has been left by the sliding door for better access and to allow some extra seating space. Beneath the raised floor are two cavernous draws accessed from the rear and a selection of doors some with pull up storage (see pictures). Suspended above the floor is a fullwidth bed, this can be raised, for extra load space, or lowered, for sleeping purposes. The neat trick is easily performed with the use of all manner of high tech kit mixed with old school know how. I’ll let Oli explain, “We utilise a lot of Carbon Fibre. Our blend is more commonly associated with the aviation industry, the entire bed frame is 100% pre-preg carbon. The canvas is Dacron sailcloth with brass rivets. The ropes and rope rigging for the bed is our own, a classic hemp cover on a Dyneema core, the same as climbing life lines, classic style yet technical and strong. The cleats and blocks for the rigging are Kohlross Loop and Harken. Known throughout the world as the best sailing hardware in the industry. All the hardware and fittings are A6 marine grade stainless. The drawer runners are load rated to 250kg fully extended and are identical to ones the fire service use on their appliancesfor their cutting gear and hoses. The carcass for the false floor will be offered in two materials this version is a material we import from Switzerland. It’s light weight, eco-friendly, strong and most importantly waterproof. We use the term 'Marine Grade' regularly when describing our products. Where the land meets the sea can be a gruelling place, we figured if we built our products for a life at sea, they should be able to sustain the everyday rigors of a life on land." I was surprised with the wheel choice on the van for the photoshoot and asked Oli about them, "We usually have a set of our Stitches + Steel 18x7.5 steel wheels on for daily use, these are amazing and suit the trade spec van perfectly. However, being a bit of a wheel weirdo, these centre locks had to go on for this shoot! Being a MK1 fan usually comes with being a bit of a wheel whore. The truth is, I'm a self-confessed wheel
nerd. I have a collection of rare magnesium period race car split rims and was always on the hunt for something race inspired and special that would work on a T5. After narrowing my hunt down to BMW searches (due to that illusive 5x120 stud pattern) The old BMW race cars being the same as the T5 I figured it would eventually yield something interesting. It was a drop everything and go affair when I finally found this set of six Image, face mounted, three-piece centre lock wheels originally from an old E30 M3 touring car. Two wheels were 17x7 the other four being 17x8. I did my math and figured out the offsets, then worked out how to make them fit. It wasn't a walk in the park, but I now have a van with race car wheels on. Just what you always needed right? The only
van in the world with centre lock wheels probably? I was keen to avoid anything too stretched, but also had the issue of filling a lot of arch as 17s are fairly small in the T5 arches. Not wanting something too balloon like I thought the idea of race tyres would be cool and suit the racey' wheel, whilst also helping to fill the gaps. Some maths and some hunting ended with a set of Renault Clio Cup Dunlop wet race tyres." This is typical of the pair; no stone is left unturned in the pursuit of excellence. Immediately after the shoot Oli and Tor were heading to France for the Quick Pro surf event. The weather was still great and the waves started to do their thing, apparently “the town fills up with great people and has a good vibe”. Look out for a shop tour of Stiches + Steel in a forthcoming issue