The business of campervan conversions is a fierce one – Britain loves its campers like arguably no other nation and the UK is home to dozens of conversion companies, big and small. One such company is Autohaus Van Conversions, based on the North Somerset coast, in Minehead.
Originally founded in 1994, the company really began in 2007 when the current owner, Tony Payne, bought the firm. “I’d worked in HGVs most of my life, but wanted a change of direction.” Says Tony. “I bought the firm, which gave me what I thought was a pretty good name for the business and a few templates for ‘van furniture, but that was pretty much it.” Tony began by servicing caravans and motorhomes, but when the winter came and work died off he decided to diversify. “I’d been sorting other peoples vans and thought why not build my own? The name worked well, I thought, so we built our first VW van.”
Fast forward to 2014 and Autohaus finds itself busier than ever. “Volkswagen is our biggest seller, but we’ve started to expand into other segments – we built a Ducato as a one-off for a customer in 2008 and that really planted the seed to think about expanding to do other vans.” Later that year, Autohaus sought to gain type approval for their conversion work, meaning the team found themselves with some free time. “With the type approval process going on, we weren’t doing any conversions, so I decided we’d get the boys to build a custom van for the Malvern show” says Tony. Though they had plenty of experience with the likes of Volkswagen’s T5, the Citroën they chose provided a new challenge for them. “We’re used to smaller vans, but that means we’ve got really good at using space efficiently”. That first prototype is the van we’re looking at today. It’s based on a 2009 Citroën Relay. Tony notes “The Boxer, Ducato and Relay range are a well-recognised family of vans and a very strong base for a larger camper.”
Autohaus’ team comprises of everyone needed to complete a conversion. “We do a two-week build on each van” says Tony. “We have a team of eight here, including furniture makers and electricians. We can offer completely bespoke trim, furniture and upholstery” he adds. Christened the ‘Kingston’, it’s Autohaus’ prototype for a new four-berth van that is available to order now.
The Kingston’s interior is light and airy, thanks in part to the huge skylights that let daylight flood in. It also boasts a shower and toilet, something that Tony says is key for families – “A lot of customers like to take their grandchildren away with them, so we find having the toilet and shower on-board is really important.” Twin bench seats at the rear form one double bed, and a rock and roll bed behind the driver’s seat forms another. The driver’s and passenger seats both swivel through 180 degrees, meaning that the Kingston effectively has two lounge areas at the front and the rear of the van. This is great if someone’s asleep in the back, for example, or if you want to sit up front while the rear table is being used. The usual creature comforts are included, so expect an oven and grill, refrigerator and a combination sink and hob. There’s also a 35-litre inline water tank. Cleverly, the Kingston can be specified with a pair of TV/DVD units, meaning that the kids can watch TV without disturbing sleeping parents, should they rise early.
As a prototype, it’s not perfect, something Tony is honest about. “The overhead lockers at the back don’t really give enough space, so we’re going to make them a little deeper and make sure that they’re a bit more practical.”
The Kingston has been well received though, and by the time you read this, will have been sold, with its time as Autohaus’ development camper well served. “The response to the Kingston has been really good. We think it’ll be a really interesting new product for us”. Like their VW vans, Tony is also intending to seek Type Approval for the larger camper. “We’ll do full type approval on it,” he says. “If we’re going to build, we’re going to make sure it’s right”.
There’s a lot to like about the Kingston – the large roof lights are a particular strong point and the whole van has a very high-end feel to it. It will be interesting to see how the revisions Autohaus have planned for it improve an already commendable camper.
The Autohaus Kingston is available to order now with an estimated price range of £40,000 to £45,000, dependant on specification. Diesel Car will be testing one in the New Year.