October 24, 2011

Yes, I *did* buy an Iltis

The hunt is over, and I went for the Iltis which was the closest to me.

1985 Bombardier Iltis
My 1985 Bombardier Iltis
  • 1.7L Volkswagen 4 cylinder liquid cooled VW 049 YX / 75HP
  • Two alternators (24V and 12V)
  • Discrete 24V and 12V systems
  • Three 12V automotive batteries
  • Modified bush bar
  • 6,000lb Warn winch, 12V
  • Auxiliary Lights, front and back
  • Uniden Bearcat PRO 510XL CB Radio
  • Genuine Canadian Iltis "Unstucker" Kit
  • Aftermarket Tachometer
  • VW Rabbit car-key conversion
  • New seats with headrests
  • Spare tire mounted at the rear
  • CF-issue rifle mounts
  • My 1985 Bombardier Iltis
  • Original CF Manuals
  • Fire Extinguisher(not original)
  • 5 additional rims+tires, spare
  • A whole "parts" Iltis, running and has brakes, needs clutch work
  • Several handles and doohickeys.
  • Two spare clutches
  • Spare set of windshield wipers
  • Eight spare brake shoes
  • ...everything else the previous owner has collected that has the name "Bombardier Iltis" on it!

My "parts" Iltis
As the story goes, and per my previous post, the current owner of the Iltis can't get in and out of it easily anymore, and would rather use a 4-Wheeler "Rhino" than the Iltis for his back country hobbies.  His loss, my gain!  For me, this will be the Pinetree Line exploration vehicle.  It is driveable in the winter, it does have a heater, but it is a little drafty - and while *possible* to drive in the winter, I think I'll try to keep cold-weather driving to a minimum.

I'm pretty stoked, and will take possession of it Wednesday :)

If you are interested in purchasing the Thunder Bay Iltis which is for sale, look on Kijiji, or follow this link.  Let him know I sent you.

Buying an Iltis, take two

Every time I buy a vehicle I discover more about the fine art of buying vehicles.  In this case, it's not like buying a minivan that just came off lease; checking body panels for Bondo, scuffs on the leather, etc..  virtually all Iltis' have been abused by Canadian Forces jocks in training, and in theater - all have scuffs and bruises from their escapades. Skipping them across lakes and over ditches was common - but I should note, they took the abuse and usually kept on trucking.

Researching the Iltis, thousands of which were purchased between 1983-1986 by the Canadian Forces, I've seem many people in many forums scavenging for parts to repair their hobby vehicles. I think I've got a good idea what goes wrong on them, how to find the parts, and fix them.

Some of the issues I've run into are far more mundane than exotic 24V fuel pumps (which the Iltis uses...) and can be experienced with any vehicle purchase.

Cost is something everyone runs into.  But after the sale, the hidden costs start to creep up on you.  When buying a 25 year old vehicle, you can bet there are skeletons in that closet.  What do you do?  Anticipate the worst.  Inform yourself on the usual things that go wrong.  Don't believe anyone who tells you the vehicle is in mint shape and runs like a top.  Get a safety check, or at least a mechanic to look at the vehicle before purchase.  If you don't get an expert opinion before hand, be prepared to pay for the worst case scenarios that would have made you walk away from the sale.  There is also a lot of social engineering, economics, sociology and psychology involved in a sale.  Who is it that you're buying the vehicle from?  What's their social situation?  What's their financial situation?  Why are they selling?  How long has the item been for sale?  What is the market for their model like?  How many others are for sale, and what differentiates this one, from the rest?

I'm currently posed with a dilemma, which I don't mind sharing on our blog because both sellers who I'm dealing with know I'm looking at the other one's Iltis.

1986 Bombardier Iltis, Canadian Camo
There's a 1986 Iltis that underwent a restoration in 2007, and today is for sale in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  According to Google Maps, the most direct route from Thunder Bay to Carp, Ontario is ~20hrs of driving away.  That vehicle has undergone a safety check, and found a small shopping list of relatively minor issues, including issues with the wheel cylinder, suspension bushings, ball joints, etc.. It is not repaired, and as the buyer I would need to perform those repairs on my dime, or haggle the seller down.  The vehicle does have a full set of canvas/vinyl doors, camo netting, the standard issue trailer, and many accessories.
A flight there costs ~$300+4.5hrs (or a bus costs ~$250+22hrs).
Driving back would cost ~$300 in gas, and 2-3 days of leisurely driving
Perhaps more worrying, if I were to break down along the way with this new-to-me vehicle, i could be quite far from civilization and incur significant costs for hotels and repairs.  For all the problems and risks that I can list for this vehicle, it is being sold by an honest seller who drove it the same distance from southern Ontario to Thunder Bay in 2007, he knows exactly what I'm considering doing.  With these mounting secondary costs, I had to consider another vehicle closer to home.

1985 Bombardier Iltis, OPFOR Camo Pattern
I found a 1985 Bombardier Iltis less than an hour away, that seems to be in good shape - from the pictures.  The seller is an old-timer who's had his knee replaced, and doesn't want to climb into the tub anymore.  He's been collecting parts for the Iltis for as long as he's had it, and will give all the parts he's accumulated, as well as an entire 2nd Iltis in with the deal.  This made the deal much more interesting, even while there is no trailer.  The spare parts, inclusion of a winch, a separate 12V alternator and auxiliary lights make this deal very attractive.  The "problem" with this one is while it is almost the same price as the above, I am not sure it has had a safety check done recently, therefore it will certainly have some problems that require repair.    How much will those repairs cost?  No idea.

How much does the risk involved in the trip to Thunder Bay, additional time and expense of the trip there and back (4 day round trip) change the equation?  The 1985 Iltis is the devil I *don't* know, and the 1986 Iltis is what I consider the devil I *do* know.  I will see the 1985 Iltis on Tuesday... the seller in Thunder Bay knows I'm looking at one which is closer - and completely understands my reasoning.  I haven't given up on the Thunder Bay Iltis, partially because it's in such fine shape, the seats have been repaired and re-covered, and the trailer matches the Iltis perfectly - right down to the matching stenciled numbers on the sides of both the Iltis and trailer.

I'm really looking forward to Tuesday...

Here we have a perfect example of why the Bombardier Iltis rocks.

October 16, 2011

Thunder Bay to Carp - with a few stops in between

The deal for the Iltis is not sealed, yet.  But with the hope that it does come through, I've planned my return trip in the new vehicle.  For those of you not familiar with time or space, I live near Carp, Ontario - I'm driving from Thunder Bay, Ontario, via Highway 11.  That's 1,424 KM.  Time-on-the-road-wise, that's like traveling from Dallas, TX to Los Angeles, CA...
or from New York City, NY to Miami, FL.
...Minus the good roads!
Any way I cut it, I'm looking at over twenty hours of driving.

There is a major bonus to the trip back from Thunder Bay, and if you've been following along you'll see where the Hwy 11 takes me. 
Think old. 
Think military history. 
That's right - Pinetree Line stations!  Long lost military bases!
Considering the vehicle I'm going to get, it seems only fitting that I'd go see the old military outposts that made up the Pinetree Line along the way.

First Stop:
RCAF Station Pagwa ( 1953-1966 )
RCAF Station Pagwa

The USAF in 1950 started working on construction of the base, and it was operational in 1953.  In 1963 the USAF handed over operation of the early warning radar to the RCAF, who shut it down in 1966 after it became redundant.  Interestingly, the base was not in as high an elevation as many of the others, and was not as high as some surrounding areas.  It was built where it was because there was enough solid ground to build on - elsewhere at higher elevation there was simply too much muskeg to build on, or transport anything to build with.  As such, it was one of the least useful stations (radar wise) and was decommissioned as soon as neighbouring radar stations were upgraded with sufficiently high power radar to render it redundant.

Today there isn't much if anything left.  The base is quite off the beaten track.  The rail line was shut down in 1987 as part of the Progressive Conservative campaign to destroy the railroad industry.  Some reports describe the local Ministry of Transport goons digging up and destroying the base, scavenging the gravel to pave the local roads.  A damn shame.  There were two (if not three) gravel runways which were maintained in the 50's and 60's for flights in and out of the base, as well as a radio transmitter station.  I hope some of the base is still hidden in the woods and hasn't met the bulldozer yet.
USAF B-47 Stratojet

The Dull Sword incident in Northern Ontario in 1959
While looking for stories of RCAF Station Pagwa I discovered while the USAF was manning the station, in December of 1959, there was (reportedly) a "Dull Sword" incident just north east of there.  That's a nuclear incident, but unlike a "broken arrow" it would have been "minor" or "low risk" - potentially with a delivery system, not the nuke itself.  What does that mean exactly?  We don't know.  Did they "lose" the nuclear weapon in the muskeg, and it's "low risk" because no Soviets are ever going to find it, and it can't detonate - so who cares?  Maybe.  Or, maybe it was because they lost the B-47 and it was nuclear-capable, so it had to be reported as a Dull Sword.  Possible.
USAF F-102 Delta Dart
Here's what happened, as far as I can put together.  An F-102 Delta Dagger had a mid-air collision with a B-47 bomber that *MAY* have been carrying nuclear weapons.  Some exercises had the B-47s carrying nuclear bombs without the detonators, so they couldn't "go off", but they would make a mess if they impacted with the ground and broke up, or exploded - but if neither happened... well... they shouldn't contaminate anything, they're sealed.

Reportedly the crash was near 50.30N 84.18W - there's no sign of anything that I can see on Google Maps around there - but I'd love to visit the crash site if it could be found.  What really happened?  Don't know.  I haven't found any official records from that time, and in the usual places I look, the time period is oddly missing.

View Larger Map

Second Stop:
RCAF Station Lowther / CFS Lowther ( 1957-1987 )

CFS Lowther

Lowther was also constructed and operated by the USAF in the beginning, and transferred to the RCAF in July of 1963, it was the last of the Pinetree line stations to be handed over to the Canadians.

From all reports there isn't anything but foundations and roads left at the operational site of Lowther, but the comm station (East of there) may still be, at least partially, there.

Third Stop:
RCAF Station Ramore / CFS Ramore ( 1953-1974 )

CFS Ramore
The USAF built Ramore as well, and transferred ownership to the RCAF in 1962.  Ramore was quite a complex, with 3 gravel airstrips, it's own private lake, a rifle range, and a massive complex of buildings.  The operational site, where the radar was located, was on top of a mountain - an anomaly to the landscape, providing a fantastic view.
The mountain is called; Lava Mountain.

After Ramore was decommissioned it was sold to a local interest as a lodge, which failed and closed.  Today virtually all the buildings are still there, as well as most of the operational site at the top of the mountain, and completely accessible.

View Larger Map

Fouth Stop:
RCAF Station North Bay / CFB North Bay
BOMARC Site ( 1964-1972 )

I have the impression that most Canadians do not understand the extent with which Canada was involved with the cold war, the nuclear arms race, and how many nuclear arms Canada was armed with.  The CIM-10 Bomarc surface-to-air missile sites in Ontario and Quebec were nuclear tipped surface to air missiles intended to disintegrate Soviet bombers as they flew over the Canadian North.  This was essentially a nuclear missile shield - we'd knock out several bombers with one missile - or that was the idea.

A CIM-10 Bomarc surface-to-air missile
on its launcher
The Canadian SAM 446 Squadron manned the North Bay BOMARCs at a small launch site 11km North of the main CFB North Bay location along highway 11.  The location is still there today, I believe that's at least partially because of the robustness of the BOMARC launch pads - it would be incredibly difficult to remove them, as they are heavily reinforced concrete bunkers.

I believe today it is run as a self-storage facility, is fenced, and is not publicly accessible... without some sweet-talkin'.

View Larger Map

As you can see, I do enjoy planning a good road trip.  The key to success on this one will be to not break down with a new-to-me vehicle, taking the northern-most Ontario East-West highway. 
This has the makings of a horror movie - maybe a book?  We'll see.

Th sale fell through, so the trip never happened... but the good news is all these locations are still on my "MUST SEE" list, so the research and investigation I've already put toward them hasn't gone to waste.

October 15, 2011

The Bombardier Iltis - the perfect exploring vehicle

I've got my eye on buying a 1984 Bombardier Iltis; crazy?  Not really, here's why.

In the early 1980's the Canadian Forces needed a small light four wheel drive vehicle for their people to zoom around it.  The request for a suitable proposal went out, and Bombardier won the bid with a licensed Volkswagen "Model 183", the same design being used by several other militaries the world over, with some slight modifications to suit the Canadian Forces requirements.  

The Iltis had a long list of features that made it an extremely desirable military vehicle.  It could drive through solid-bottomed bodies of water up to 2 feet deep without stalling, due to its elevated air intake.  It had selectable 4WD with locking differentials.  The manual transmission had a "ground" gear, which acted as a doubler for 1st gear through an integrated transfer case - giving it a rock-crawling low gear capability for awkward driving situations.  It was built around a 1.7L Volkswagen, 4 cylinder, liquid cooled engine which put out about 75 horsepower.  To me, the Iltis was a resurrection of what made the original military "Jeep" so awesome.
Volkswagen Model 183
(predecessor to the Bombardier Iltis)

Sketch / Diagram
The Iltis, specifically in Ontario, is a tricky beast.  The Ontario Ministry of Transport no longer allows licenses to be issued to them (due to politics, not safety).  Those which are on the road can stay on the road, but no others can get licensed as road vehicles.

I have a daily driver car, and a daily driver truck right now.  The truck costs twice as much as the car in gas, because it's a Dodge 5.9L Magnum V8 which consumes gas as fast as you pour it in - but I love it, and will hate to get rid of it.  The purpose for buying the truck was utility - we live on the outskirts of town, and we're always moving something, usually something you wouldn't want in a carpeted Suburban-like.  The truck was purchased as a "hauler".  The truck does not have to be a daily driver for me - in fact, by being daily driver-able, I tend to drive it more than I should, because I love to drive it - it's my "sports car".  Selling the truck and getting an Iltis will make the vehicle less-of a daily driver.  I don't think I'll be taking the Iltis to work every day (who am I kidding, I'll be taking it to work in the summer FOR SURE).  It will be able to get a Christmas tree, it will be able to tow my welder, it will be able to move any dirty objects I need moved - trees, bushes, whatever.  The interior is military quality - functional, no frills, bare metal, no silly carpet.

Ex-Canadian Forces
Light Utility Vehicle Wheeled (LUVW)
The Bombardier Iltis
Why now?  Well, this past year I started my trek to see all of the Pinetree Line stations - they've mostly been torn down, but some ruins still remain in the bush, partially accessible by car.  I have plans to go to Casey, QC and see the abandoned runway there as well.  Having a four wheel drive vehicle, capable of driving all day, and then going off road to a location in the bush became a requirement.  Just before the last trip to the former site of RCAF Station Parent (in Parent, QC) the truck's brake line blew in downtown Ottawa - fortunate for me, as I would have been screwed if it had blown five hours from home.  I drove the front wheel drive sedan all the way to Parent QC, which was a fun 5hr drive, but the sedan was really out of it's league on the dirt roads.  I needed something with proper four wheel drive to get where I wanted to go, even if I had been driving my truck, it is only a rear wheel drive vehicle.

I've known about the Iltis for a long time, but I never thought it was a practical choice - until a member of the family showed one to me the other day, and a friend of mine sourced one for sale in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  After seeing an Iltis up close, it seemed like the right vehicle for me.  With my interest in Canadian military history, love of militaria, and use case for an occasional vehicle that was sturdy and off-road worthy - it seems to be the right choice.

VW Iltis - 1980 Paris Dakar Rally Winner
Looking more into the history of the Iltis, I found it was used as a Rally car as well - winning the 1980 Paris Dakar rally!  Granted, it was a 110HP version, but the rest of it was pretty much stock!

"Back in 1980, an almost entirely production-based Volkswagen Iltis sufficed to achieve the duo’s victory. The off-road vehicle was only complemented by underbody protection, modified dampers, a roll cage, different seats, additional instruments and a further fuel tank. The standard 1.7-litre engine delivered about 110 instead of 75 hp for the 10,000-kilometre rally distance from France via Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and (then) Upper Volta, all the way to Senegal."

I'm currently in a holding pattern regarding the purchase; waiting for a safety check by the seller's local VW dealer, and waiting for my insurance broker to come through with a price to insure it.  Wish me luck!