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Caravanning History

My ( David's) caravanning started in the late 1960's with my parents in a Thompson Fairholme Bambino towed by an Austin Cambridge, and was mostly tours of Scotland. I don’t have size or weight details but do recall it had an unusual design feature in a double bed that folded up into the wall when out of use. It needed to be conventionally made with sheets and blankets and when I later got to take it away myself, my wife and I thought it more trouble than it was worth.

Fairholme Bambino

 It had no electricity either 12 or 240 Volt and the rudimentary water system didn’t work. Lighting was gas and the fire attached to a rubber hose with push on connections was not only very dangerous by today's standards but burning gas without external flues or inlet produced plenty of condensation to run down the plain glass windows.

 









After a time out of caravanning and now with a young family, we saw a different kind of camping whilst on a package holiday to Spain. On beachside sites in Salou we saw campers lighting BBQs, reaching for a cold beer from the fridge while we were heading back to our 2* hotel for set time meals. They had all their toys, boats, loungers, and surfboards and of course cars and we had what could fit in a suitcase. 

The first priority was a bigger car; in those days it was more a matter of does it look big enough for the job than any 85% ratios or Maximum Gross Weight.  I chose a 1600cc Datsun and bought a 12ft Lunar privately for £700. As the sellers were giving up caravanning it came with quite a lot of extras, an awning gas bottles, water carriers etc and we were more or less equipped to go on our first outing.

12 ft Lunar 

 
 
 


This van dated from the early 1970's and was very basic but we did have a foot operated water pump that worked. I later added 12volt lights to supplement the single gaslight and after our first year installed a fridge (working on gas only).

We spent the first year holidaying in the UK but in 1979 we took it to the South of France on a 3-week trip.

The first day did not go well; after a stressful first experience of the "wrong side" we found our planned site closed however we found another site and the following day retreated to the toll roads and used the "Aires" overnight. It got easier and eventually we got there. We found it to be busy, crowded and expensive even in early June. The experience put us the Cote D'Azure permanently but not France.

The following year we took it to the Costa Brava.

 

In 1981 we were fortunate to be able to change the caravan for a new 15ft Monza Supreme that was positively luxurious in comparison.  It cost around £3000 (around £12500 today) and had a Gross Laden Weight of 837 Kg (a similar sized van today would be at least 1200 Kg). I installed a Carver water heater and designed a plumbing system that used separate pumps for hot and cold.

Monza Supreme 15/4



 
 
 

 
   

Using this van, we each year took a continental trip of around 3 weeks and as many as possible UK outings, often using CL's. Our tours took us as far as Italy and Spain and with much time also spent in France.

I towed it with a number of cars beginning with a 1700cc Morris Ital then a 2-litre Mazda 626. Diesel cars were only just starting to become popular and not every filling station had the fuel but I took the plunge replaced the Mazda with a Citroen BX 1900cc. The different power characteristics of diesel took a little getting used to but I was soon a committed fan and have not owned another petrol car since.

I owned a number of Citroens culminating with a Xantia, the unique suspension made them ideal tow cars and the ability to raise and lower the car hydraulically was useful when hitching and navigating sharp changes in incline, the severe exit from our drive at that time would otherwise have required ramps to avoid grounding both front and rear of the van. 

Abbey Caprice

   
 

In 1997 the Monza was replaced with a dealer special edition Abbey Caprice, a 2-berth with an end washroom layout. It was light well designed and after its 15 yr old predecessor, the height of luxury. This was a super van in all respects except for build quality, suffering extensive damp and floor delamination in the first 2 years, fortunately Swifts customer service was better than its quality control and the expensive repairs were done free even out of warranty. Caravan movers where just  becoming available and after the first years use and much pushing on campsites I bought and fitted a Carver Mover.

No longer working we were now able to take extended tours and in the next 4 years took 7 European trips, mostly exploring France but also including 3 visits to Italy, did 15500 miles and spent 40 weeks in it.

 

 

Hymer Nova

 In 2002 we replaced it with a Hymer Nova 470, primarily for it's the unique (at that time) 6 year water ingress guarantee.

 
   

The Hymer was heavy at 1500Kg, this and the less aerodynamic shape increased fuel consumption by 5 MPG. Build quality was first class but aspects of the design was somewhat crude, particularly in the layout of electrical services that still confused us to the end.This van was still of the continental style with only minor alterations the UK market. About 2004 a version was introduced for the UK market with the door on the left, much of the  "Germanic" practicality seemed to have been exchanged for frills and there have since also been quality issues. The strengthening Euro removed the brand from the UK market shortly afterwards.

 During the following 7 years it was our base for 14 European trips mainly to France and Spain, towed 40,000 miles and lived in for over 2 years. There was no repeat of the damp problems and only the only failures were of generic items like pumps and taps.  A tyre developed serious cracks (picked up during a service) and I only discovered after replacing it myself that the problem was widespread and due to a faulty batch of tyres.

During ownership of this, we towed with a Mercedes C220, a Kia Sorento and finally a Mercedes E280, all diesel automatics and all well able to control it.

 In 2008 having decided to change to a fixed bed layout and still wanting to buy German we visited the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon for ideas. We came away impressed by Hobby and Fendt and to avoid complications of cross border purchase obtained a Fendt Platin 510 TG from the only UK dealer.


Fendt Platin 510TG

 
   

We owned it for 3 years, made 6 trips mostly France Spain and Portugal, towed it 17000 miles and lived in it for 1 year.  The van towed very well probably due to the long drawbar even though fitted with a rear mounted bike rack. Structural quality was fine but it did have the problems with generic items again and most serious the fridge but that was replaced under warranty.

 We had never quite come to terms with losing the rear washroom and when our dealer, the sole UK agent left the touring van market the lack of backup caused us to look for a replacement.


 Lunar Clubman SB

We have looked again at German offerings but not found a layout to suit and have instead opted for a 2012 Lunar Clubman SB. It’s a little longer than we would have liked and the rear is not a suitable mount for a bike rack but we now have a rear washroom, more comfort in the dining area and the Alde heating system is first class. We had our Bradcot awning enlarged, Tyron bands fitted and after other minor alterations we have used it for five seasons and its been to Portugal, the Languedoc and three times to Croatia. The insulation is not up to German standards and in 35+ degrees it becomes very warm inside. We now have a portable air conditioning unit known as  "Cool My Camper" which proved its worth in Portugal when the afternoon tempratures aproached 40 degrees and the noise level seemed tolerable to our our neighbours who expressed an interest in buying one themselves. It is rather heavy but carrying it in the car leaves the caravan payload unaffected.

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