Labour of love as 1930s’ van restored to glory

When Mark Stewart bid for a wreck of a 1930s van from his hospital bed he was under no illusion about the task that lay ahead.

Mark Stewart from Harworth near Doncaster has restored a 1935 Austin 7 AVH van. Picture: Scott Merrylees

His health problems would be the main obstacle in working on the 1935 Austin 7 AVH van which had been stored in a barn for over 50 years.

But despite a condition which means every time he stands up he could black out, the engineer spent two years restoring the vehicle to its former glory.

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A car accident, in which he broke his back, over a decade ago later triggered Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) - a rare condition which means Mr Stewart can suffer blackouts up to six times a day.

Mark Stewart from Harworth near Doncaster has restored a 1935 Austin 7 AVH van. Picture: Scott Merrylees

“My brain and my heart don’t speak to each other,” he said. “When I stand up my brain should tell my heart to increase my blood pressure but mine doesn’t. My blood pressure drops to my feet and I black out. It’s not every time - it’s good days and bad days. I can go some days without it happening at all and some days when it happens up to six times a day. It turned my life upside down.”

Mr Stewart, 41, was an engineer before the accident but has not been able to work since the collision with a lorry and is now registered disabled - suffering from insomnia, no energy and constant palpitations. Hospitalised as a result of the PoTS he bid for the van at auction via telephone two years ago.

“I have always wanted an Austin 7 van but there are very few about,” said Mr Stewart, of Harworth, Doncaster. “I have never been one to sit about so if I can do something I will try my best but it is very limiting. When I was doing the van I could only do an hour a day, I was absolutely exhausted. When I get exhausted that seems to bring on the blackouts. This was something to keep my brain working. Some days I could not do anything.

“The first job was to give him a name. We’d recently lost my wife’s lovely cousin John very unexpectedly. John was known by his friends as ‘Wacker’ Simpson and seeing the WS on the number plate, it all fitted and he was to be affectionately known as ‘Wacker.’”

Mark Stewart from Harworth near Doncaster has restored a 1935 Austin 7 AVH van. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Mr Stewart, who has a four year old son Harry, laboured on the project, removing the body panels, replacing the frame, rebuilding the engine and having it painted and sprayed.

Dismantling the van he found traces of sign writing, which was matched with the first owner’s name on the buff log book - George Hall, Murrayfield Garage, Edinburgh. Research revealed “George Hall” was an Austin dealer. In a nod to the van’s history, the name of the dealer was painted onto the side of the vehicle which has been filled with parts, tools and books of the era.

Mr Stewart said: “I felt relieved when it was finished because I did not think I would get it done.”

He hopes to display the van at the The Yorkshire Post Motor Show and Classic Car Rally at Harewood House on June 21. It will also be on show at Harworth Vintage and Classic Car Show on June 20 at Church of England Academy, Harworth, helping to raise money for STARS.