An abandoned van left to rust by the side of the road for years is now ready to bring smiles to faces after being converted into one cool ice-cream van.
Ice-cream man Alfonso Urso used to drive past the disused Sherborn van on his daily journey for the best part of a decade through Willenhall. And one day Mr Urso decided to ask the owner if he could buy it.
What followed was a year-long labour of love to renovate the van – making it the perfect addition to the family business Alfonso & Son’s.
With the help of his 19-year-old son, Carmelo, Alfonso set about the ambitious conversion, ripping out the old petrol engine and replacing it with a diesel one, which could be used to run ice cream equipment. He built the body from scratch using aluminium sheets and installed fridges and cabinets – all the while trying to maintain a retro style.
This went as far as installing an ice-cream machine taken from a 1950s van which he had been saving for such a project.
Alfonso, who carried out the work at his Willenhall home, said creating the van was something he had always wanted to do.
He added: “You always see old fashioned cars and limousines and taxis, but I thought there was nothing which reminds me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in an ice-cream van.
“I have loved absolutely every minute of doing it. I have been getting up and from 7am I was in the garage. I would lose track of time and before I knew it would be nine at night. And that was seven days each week. I just loved doing it that much.” Alfonso, aged 43, admits he lost track of how much money he spent on the project, insisting it is ‘not about the money’.
The intention is to now use the van for events including weddings and proms – and he already has four bookings from customers who witnessed the van’s transformation and were desperate to have it for their events.
The Sherborn van is the second Alfonso, of Lincoln Avenue, County Bridge, has lovingly converted. In 2013 he spent six months and around £5,000 restoring a 1973 Bedford CF after snapping it up on eBay for a cool £3,500. On that occasion Alfonso and Carmelo stripped the interior and installed new machines, before repainting the outside to the familiar Mr Whippy colours – pink, cream and white.
But he explained that was a different project altogether, requiring the construction of a fibre glass frame, rather than an aluminium one.
His knowledge of the Sherborn van’s history is limited, with it having been re-registered in 1997. He bought it last April when it was in a bare-looking state having previously been used to advertise Wolverhampton firm PanoramaWindows. It included a driver’s seat and passenger seat and two doors at the back – but that was it.
Alfonso, added: “I was able to get stuck into it properly from the end of September when the season for us finished. It was since then I have been doing the long days and it still took until about two weeks ago. In terms of money it has been £500 here, a £1,000 there. It is really for the passion of it and the satisfaction I have got from completing it.”
The new van is now the fourth one belonging to Alfonso and Carmelo. But the pair are still lagging behind other members of their family, with his uncle boasting a total of 20 vans and his cousin owning six.
Alfonso & Son’s was first set up in 1956 by Alfonso’s grandfather who had emigrated from Sicily. On arrival in the UK he worked in the coal mines in Hanley, in Stoke, before getting a permit to sell ice cream on his bicycle.
In 1969 the enterprising Alfonso senior then bought an ice cream factory in Dudley Road East, Dudley, which he sold in 1980 and which is still in operation.
Alfonso, added: “It has always been with us. It is in our blood. It is the only thing we have ever done.
“Taking a van and turning it into a functioning ice cream van which we can use is just something I have always wanted to do.”Subscribe to our Newsletter