The British go on more than 15 million camping and caravanning trips each year. As part of a £2.2bn industry, sleeping under the stars is big business. For a large number of us, classic vehicles still have a significant role to play in this pastime be it through a veteran tow vehicle, retro caravan or classic camper.
Values of camper vans, in particular, have continued to rise with help from burgeoning interest, the rise of restoration specialists and scarcity of good, solid examples of vehicles decades old. Foremost though, we love a camper van in the UK.
VW bay window and split-screen vans have always commanded a premium and they continue to do so. A Samba owned by a certain celebrity chief recently sold for a 6-figure sum, albeit it highly modified with Porsche running gear to create what we’re sure was a very unwelcome ‘fast food’ association...
There are cheaper ways of getting involved though. Unveiled at Frankfurt, amongst the myriad of options available for the new Defender is a roof tent – a nod to the ‘overlanding’ and camping adaptations popular with original Defender and Series owners. Original Dormobile conversions of Series Land Rovers are available if you’re a stickler for originality, but for green oval camping enthusiasts the only constraints are imagination and budget. However, traversing a ladder to sleep on the roof of a famously utilitarian vehicle isn’t everybody’s idea of a good holiday, but there are more comfortable options.
Beyond the aircooled world of VW there is a vast array of classic campervans for every taste. From the Bedford CA to CF, various adaptations of Mk1 and 2 Transits, Commers and American ‘dayvan’ type vehicles, to name a few, a huge scene exists supported by specialists who are able to help maintain, repair or even build your dream mobile holiday home. If you’re put off by uniformly rising values and the demands of upkeep, there are also plenty of opportunities to hire them.
“I love vehicles that are from an era when things were designed to be useful and not pointlessly ostentatious,” says Stuart Cross, a classic car and camper fanatic who looks back wistfully at Bedford Bambi ownership as being a surprising high point. “It was cheap to fix so you didn’t need a mortgage to run it and its diminutive dimensions meant you could drive it to all the places that you would go to by car, but taking all the creature comforts of home with you.”
Such is the popularity of classic campers that manufacturers are still producing new models with ‘retro’ options and colour schemes, for those who like the idea of classic ownership more than the reality. Airstream, in particular, is a company that embraces its heritage. Its range of striking, aluminium caravans are very much in the classic image of the American Dream, looking, to the untrained eye, almost indistinguishable from a 40-year-old version. But what to tow it with? Whether it’s an Airstream behind your Chevy step-side or a Freedom behind a Trabant, you won’t be alone in seeking the solace provided by a classic camping experience.
If you have a classic camper tucked away, an aging tin tent or an interesting tow vehicle that’s been taking the family to Camber Sands for decades, then we’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.