Torsion-free subframe PART 1:

The time had come.

This step is an important one, without this system, we probably wouldn’t make it through the first country. If you missed it, there is a blog section titled: “subframe planning”, which explains the workings of the system, and why it’s important.

I compiled a list of steel suppliers around the country that would be able to supply and cut the 16mm steel needed to fabricate the subframe. We also had to find a PFTE (Teflon) supplier that would be able to machine the bushes, and had to find another company willing to machine the steel pins that would hold the system together.

I e-mailed each supplier, over 50 e-mails went out in search of the best quote. Our finances had dried up as Covid had taken it’s toll on South Africa’s economy and our business. The first quote came back, at almost R10,000 just for the 16mm steel cutting. I had no idea how we were going to get the funds, and we were dumbfounded when Charlie Scott – an American that has followed our build from the start, donated R7500 towards building Betsy! This gave us a fighting chance, and I responded to all the quotes received asking them for a discounted price of R7500 for the steel.

We simply could not contain our excitement when a company in Johannesburg – Fast Flame Profiling, responded by offering to supply and cut the 16mm steel for us for free! They had taken an interest in our venture, and some of the other material e-mails started coming back too. National Stainless Steel Centre was also interested and donated the machined pins that would act as the swivel that holds the system together. These pins are valued at R6000!

As these components where being sponsored, we decided to look for a company that would be able to supply a decent quality heat exchanger to complete our Waste Vegetable Oil conversion. I made another list of suppliers throughout the country, and started sending out the emails. I offered the R7500 as our budget, and received a surprising phone call after the third e-mail I sent out. Richard, from HGF Plate Heat Exchangers based in JHB said that he had a decent sized unit lying around. It was still brand new, and was a cancelled order from a couple of years ago. He told me that we could have it free of charge as he loved what we were doing. This meant that we could do a single trip to JHB to pick up the components from the different sponsors.

A week or two went by and Fast Flame Profiling sent us the confirmation that the steel was completed. They used Paul’s (Umdwebo Projects) DXF design file to do the cutting and bending of the components. We used some of the funds donated by Charlie Scott to drive through. The system weighed close to 200kg’s and we had to use a trailer. There was news of concern as South Africa’s former president had been sentenced to jail, and his followers were stirring up trouble in the provinces of KwaZulu Natal, and Gauteng – JHB is based here.

The country had also just gone into lockdown level 4 again, and this meant that we had to obtain special permits to drive into Gauteng. Our excitement overwhelmed our concerns, and we made the trip. We drove past two burnt out trucks, roadblocks on our way, and there was a nervousness in the car.

Unbelievably, we received another email as we were driving into Johannesburg. It read: “Hi there Robin, I tried to give you a call earlier, as we would like to possibly sponsor the PFTE bushes needed for your build. Please call me back – Henk from Plastem in Johannesburg”.

What?! We could not believe it, and pulled over to phone him immediately. Plastem is based in Germiston (an area in Johannesburg) which was where we were heading, and we agreed to meet at their premises after we did the steel pick up at Fast Flame.

Fast Flame:

We got to their premises ignoring the signs of unrest in the area. It was an awesome site, as it is probably the biggest steel facility that we’ve ever seen, and their equipment and machinery looked state of the art. We were greeted by Janine Wouters who set up the sponsorship. She was excited to be part of the journey and modest when it came to taking photos, she mentioned that they were getting ready to phone us as they received news that there was a large group of protesters on their way to the area, and they were wreaking havoc burning down companies, and looting every shop in their way before doing so.

She advised us to load up, and get on the road as quick as possible, which we did:

(Above: Fast Flame and our precision cut steel)


We drove to Plastem, and met up with Henk who offered to sponsor the PFTE machined components. He was very helpful and friendly, and offered to show me their selection of materials, and a walk though their facility. As they had just sent the email earlier that day, the components would only be completed by the next week, but we managed to grab this opportunity for a photo with him:

(above: Myself and Henk from Plastem)

(above: PFTE that will be used)

HGF Plate Heat Exchangers:

We got back onto the road towards our next sponsor. We got to HGF and met up with Richard. He explained the workings of the particular heat exchanger, and was very insightful when it came to tips on installing it. The unit weighs around 32kg’s, and was bigger than what I expected. It was perfect as Mark Sampson from Africa Clockwise advised us to get the biggest one we could find to complete the conversion. He sent us on our way after we grabbed a quick photo with him:

(Above: Richard and the unit sponsored)

Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to stop over at NSSC. We would have loved to thank Mischel Frijak – the managing director – in person for their contribution of the precision machined pins that would complete the torsion free system.

It was not yet complete, so we decided in light of the protest that were picking up steam, and becoming more violent to get out of dodge! We made it out just in time as videos were pouring in on the devastation that laid just behind us:


Back in Nelspruit:

We got to the farm and off loaded the steel. I went back the next morning and started the process of putting all the steel together in a way it makes sense, I measured out where the mountings would have to be installed so that the system works correctly, and started the process of stripping the obstructions down. Two of the tanks needed to be removed, and a bunch of pop-rivets had to be grinded off to make room for the subframe. I used magnets to mock up the components, and Vusi tack welded them together, so that I could start putting them into position to mark out the holes that needed to be drilled.

(Above: Steel sponsored by Fast Flame – Tack welded together)

(above: Diesel tank and obstructions removed)

(above: Diesel tank and obstructions removed)

Jolandie came through the next day to help me with the pop rivets, and marking out the exact positions for the holes that needed to be drilled. We were lucky as the next-door neighbour offered his magnetic based drill press, which would make it possible for us to drill through the chassis with ease and accuracy.

We used some of Charlie’s donated funds to purchase the needed drill bits, bolts, nuts, and fuel needed to continue with the install.

(above: Happy family!)

(above: Grinding down pop rivets)

Using a magnetic based drill press is definitely recommended, as it simply would not be accurate or easy at all using a normal hand drill. We bought the strongest 16mm and 12mm bolts we could find to make sure that the system would be secure, as these bolts will eventually carry our whole house, and we wanted the foundations to be sturdy.

(above: drilling holes for mounting subframe)

(above: Some good luck)

It took us a full day to clear pop rivets, rusted bolts, and drill the holes. We had four to go, when suddenly the drill fell off the side, breaking the newly bought bit in half. The magnet had released, as one of the guys working in the workshop mistakenly pulled out our power plug.

We were really bummed out, but had no other solution than to purchase a new bit the next day and drive back to finish off the holes. Once again, we made use of Charlie’s donated funds for this. We managed to get the system mounted that day, and the next step would be to do the final welding.

(above: front section in position)

(above: Rear section installed)

(above: the centre mountings in position)

A couple of days later we returned to the farm to finish up the welding. We also made a trip to our local paint supplier and picked out a colour for the subframe. Jolandie decided on one – “Crazy Daisy” yellow.

(above: front and rear bottom components welded)

After cleaning up the welds, and prepping the steel for paint, we mixed up the primer. Jolandie wanted to give it a go, and after a quick lesson she completed the primer without error.

(above: Jolandie’s first time spraying)

Our time ran out, and the day was over. Things always take longer than what’s expected, and usually ends up costing more. We were fortunate however, as Charlie Scott’s contribution towards building Betsy assisted us greatly with the purchase of the paint, fuel, bolts and nuts.

I returned the next day, as Jolandie had to keep an eye on our business and do some online work. I had the privilege of slapping on the final coat of paint on the front and rear mounted components.

(above: first coat of paint done)

In between coats I had to make use of the time, and decided to lower one of the fuel tanks. The tank stuck out about 250mm above the chassis, and would ultimately be an obstruction for the frame of the “box”. Vusi gave me a quick lesson on improving my welding, and I made up a new mounting, cut off the old one’s from the tank, welded everything together, and finally installed it.

The paint had also dried, and I could apply the second and final coating. Everything went down smoothly, and the subframe was installed.

(above: new mounting to lower tank)

(above: Rear mounting complete)

(above: front section installed)

(above: The yellow was a good choice)