25th May 2022

The 'other' campervan heroes

When it comes to classic campervans Volkswagen seems to dominate proceedings. The Wolfsburg colossus has produced many hits and near the top of the chart must be their long-running and iconic Type 2 campervan which collected quite a few names both from Volkswagen (Transporter, Microbus, Kombi) and the vehicle’s numerous fans. The Brits opted for VW Camper, in Germany they prefer Bulli and America the more prosaic Bus. 

Proof of Volkswagen’s enduring success is not so hard to spot. From the Cornish to Californian coastlines, you’ll see classic VW Campers back out in force this summer with a wide variety of enthusiasts spanning the generations behind the wheel; all proud and passionate about owning an icon. 

But this is not a ‘Kombi Fest’. What about all the other brands on the road during this period and do they represent an enjoyable experience or engaging restoration project? 

Campervan production from the mid-1950s onwards was a busy industry. There were other manufacturers with their own very loyal customers who were eager to explore the UK or take a wander around Europe. Bedford, Commer, Ford, Germany’s Hymer, Leyland and later-on Toyota with their rather bijou Hiace campervan were all in the marketplace.  

And it made sound business sense for Commer, Bedford or Ford to repurpose a commercial vehicle platform into a recreational offering. Partnering-up with a specialist coachbuilder who could design and equip the interior and add extra features was a successful, proven option. 

Britain’s Dormobile – which traces its heritage back to the horse and carriage era and is still working with vehicles today – was often the partner of choice for the likes of Bedford, Commer, Ford, Land Rover, Volkswagen and Fiat.  

Bedford and Commer Dormobiles have some very distinctive looks and we particularly like those with the ‘Dormatic’ side-elevating roof feature; a real example of British design innovation. And whilst a Leyland campervan based on the workhorse Sherpa might not have the kudos of a VW Camper there seem to be plenty still going strong, as are some early Ford Transits. 

What’s interesting to note is how many classic campervans have been extremely well looked after, having been adored by owners and successfully withstood British beach holidays and tours of France. A good few online advertisements begin with the campervan’s family name - ‘Hyacinth’ a 1975 Leyland Sherpa being a bit of a favourite - and offer some extensive lists of the features (original and new) and what might need work.  

So, if a VW Camper is a bit of a stretch or you simply desire something different, there are classic choices aplenty and some happy miles to be travelled.