Full Metal Junkies is a brand new six-part series that follows the creations and the antics of the crew of Surrey based Shred & Butta. They specialise in converting old US school busses, ambulances and period Landrovers and into luxury accommodation, extreme sport getaway campers or safari-adventure homes for lucky clients. Take to the Road sat down with company boss Jim Stewart to chat about his new show and how the Pandemic has changed our lives, made us all want to build really cool campers and get out there and explore.
Welcome Jim to the world of TV and congratulations on your new show. Where did the idea for Full Metal Junkies come from?
Jim – It is quite a bizarre scenarios actually. We were involved with Jonny Vegas’ show “Carry on Glamping” and that was a random message that came though Instagram… “do you wanna be on this show?” So we were involved with that show. And the film crews were down with us and they suggested we should do something. So we filmed a pilot and the pilot was hilarious and it just went from there. We got commissioned and it was the weirdest thing, like what the hell is going on?! Ha ha! So it is still quite surreal and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that we are going to be going out on TV… the feedback we’ve got has been incredible. It’s such a nice feeling where people enjoy not only the work that we do, but who we are as people. It’s something we pride ourselves on.
The whole conversion industry has really picked up a pace in the last few years and there’s huge demand for converted buses, ex-commercial vehicles re-purposed, turning them into campers or food/beverage trucks etc. It is now the “in thing” isn’t it?
Jim – We’ve been doing this 10/11 years now. There are others out there who are similar to us but most just specialise in one type of vehicle or conversion. We do corporate/promo world type of projects, like with O’Neill, we do there promo vehicles plus their shops and offices. So we provide more of a complete package. That has kept us busy but in the last year, every sector has just switched on and people want to be back out on the road doing their thing. Every catering business wants to be mobile, ordinary people want camper vans, hairdressers and bar wants to be mobile. Everything is switched on and the amount of inquiries we are getting is incredible! My job used to be on the tools working with the boys in the yard… now I’m mainly in the office doing emails and on the phone, so my job has changed massively in the last few years.
That is always the challenge with a hands on business, having to step back and let others get stuck into the builds.
Jim – That’s it! A lot of the business is in my head and I’ve had to let go of a lot of things and had over control to my right hand man Paul. He does all the client visits now and has the initial conversation with them. I used to insist on doing it. So it is quite a challenge to have to let go. But he has the time to give to the clients and I was losing that time because we were getting so busy. At the end of the day its adapting to the way the business wants to go. But we’ve been so busy! We did 12 builds for the show but during the course of filming we probably built around 20 vehicles, which weren’t featured in the show. We have lots of clients and because we do a lot of corporate work, we had lots of other projects to keep us busy. So it really was a full on summer!
The whole saga of the pandemic and the upheaval it brought has seen a big rise in people wanting to holiday at home here in the UK. It’s made a lot of people re-evaluate their quality of life and led to many wanting to hit the road, particularly in something cool or quirky, something you can just drive somewhere and park up.
Jim – When the pandemic hit we shut for about 2 weeks and wondered if it was just going to be like a 6 week thing or something like that. And we really wondered where we were going to end up, especially my family. But a lot of businesses did stay going and it made a lot of people realise that they can work from home or from anywhere really. So why not work in a camper van on a beach? We actually had lots of inquiries from people looking for tiny homes to put on their bit of land or in the garden. It was such an amazing thing seeing people realise that they weren’t happy doing what they were doing, or wanting to make that change. We are on a farm so we work out doors so we were able to carry on basically. So we got to it! But it was hard as well… I had a lot of friends and other local businesses that were taking large bounce back loans from the Government just to get through… and my business was flying! I felt awful at times so it was a difficult one knowing that others were struggling. But yeah lots of people have adapted and are still adapting to this new reality and people are desperate to not go back to the office. And that is incredible!
Speaking of the farm you actually say in the first episode its great having all the space but then you quickly fill it. In your line of work you never throw anything away as you never know when it might come in handy.
Jim – Ha ha yeah! Every inch of the place is packed! And that’s the problem, you end up filling space… just because it is there! And then you are like “I didn’t need to do that!” But yeah it’s so true needing to hang onto stuff. I’ve got containers full of stuff and one of the guys will go “we need to buy this bit for the build” and I’ll go “but we’ve got one of them and I know where it is”. And I might have seen it 3 years ago but its gotta be there ha ha! But that’s the thing, no job is ever the same here. I had a client once ask for a cabin to go on a trailer and we had one. I didn’t scrap it as I knew we’d have use for it one day.
In episode 1 you and the boys work on converting a big American International School Bus. We’ve all seen them on tv in American shows and movies, so when you see one on the road here in the UK they are just massive and super cool. You really can’t get a more iconic slice of Americana. And when it comes to conversions, the only limit really is your own creativity and your clients budget.
Jim – You’ve said the word “iconic” there… you can’t get diesel in one of these things at the petrol station without giving 20 people a tour of one of these buses. You can’t go anywhere without getting attention. You stand out like a sore thumb! But they bring big smiles to peoples faces. Me and my wife had an old Volvo B10 bus and driving that thing down country lanes and you come across a car, you’d have people swearing at you. But come across someone when you are driving a big yellow American school bus and they will smile a smile you’ve never seen before! They’ll offer to reverse back 3 miles to a parking space so they can watch you drive past! And we’ve been to campsites where they’ve said no commercials and we’ve turned up in a American school bus and they’ve waved us in. And they are like “can we put you on our Instagram?” etc ha ha ha! And then in the evening all the staff at the camp site want to hang out at your bus… its nice to have that factor. And regarding creativity, the best thing with our clients, they can see we know what we are doing. We’ve got 20 of those buses on site. We know what our clients want and they just trust us to do what we know will be right for them. We have that total control over the look and finish and touch wood, we have not failed yet in pleasing a client with their finished bus. We actually had a client come for a viewing to the farm recently and she burst into tears when we showed her the bus for the project. She was so happy she came to the right place. We do sometimes take it for granted as we see these buses and work on them everyday… but we do know they are special. So it is nice to have reminders from people about how cool these American buses are.
I imagine you get approached by lots of clients looking really special and out there conversions, especially with older classic vehicles, making them into cool campers or promotional/advertising vehicles. What’s the coolest one you’ve worked on?
Jim – That’s a really tough question as we get through so many builds. But we have just finished an old Range Rover Sport for a client. He was going to trade it in against a new Defender and they were giving him nothing for it. So he gave it to me and said have at it! We had a budget of £20k and were allowed to go crazy with it. So we did a custom drawer system in the back with a built in bar and a cooler box. And another drawer has a pizza oven in it… nice stereo, big wheels and tyres. It was very cool! I’m actually mad about Landrover’s myself so I love working on them and have done quite a few conversions over the years. I actually did turn an old Morris Minor into a BBQ once, the client had it done for their daughters wedding. That was very cool!
Do you get many clients asking for EV conversions as well? And your business is in many ways good for the environment as you are giving a new lease of life to old vehicles.
Jim – It is happening. People are looking more into future proofing a big diesel engine. The big problem is the cost as it would be phenomenal for a big old bus. They are doing them in America. I’m treading carefully really as I don’t really know what’s going to happen. The conversations are starting. The thing is though, emission restrictions in America are more strict than here in the UK and we’ve put lots of American buses through their MOTs here and they’ve come out 0.01 on the emissions read outs. And on the new lease of life for these old vehicles, that’s so true! Here you can buy a second hand bus for £2,500! Chances are it is running and driving, and might have a bit of MOT left as well. We in the UK will run a bus until it has half a million miles on it before it is taken out of service. So they are pretty exhausted by the time to come to us. But in the US, their regulations state that a bus comes out of service after 10 years, or 100,000 miles. A lot of the buses in my yard have done 80-90-100,000 miles. That is crazy! Why are they getting decommissioned at say 9 years old? I’ve got buses here with 1.8m miles on them… still going strong! One of my buyers in the US has 300 buses in his yard, just sitting there… I mean what a waste! So it is great to be able to give something like that a new lease of life, or an extended life! So if you look at it that way, we are saving the world! Ha ha!
Jim Stewart was talking to Niall Julian
Full Metal Junkies premieres 9pm, Tuesday 22nd March on Quest and is also available on discovery+