After testing out a new Camper, Adam Sloman investigates the opposite end of the market. With dreams of budget holidays and easy family getaways, how cheaply can he build a cost effective camper van?
After our weekend with the Volkswagen Maxi Caddy, we decided that a Campervan was something we definitely wanted as a family.
The idea of almost instant holidays whenever we had a day or two available appealed enormously. We certainly have the time, but one thing we don’t have is money. We could never afford to spend in excess of £20,000 on a camper. Instead we began to wonder how cheaply we could do it.
Setting a budget of just £2,000, we began to look at our options. Immediately, iconic campers like Volkswagen’s Type 2 were crossed off our list. Not only were they way beyond our budget, but they’re also slow, noisy and rather too keen on filling up with petrol.
Whatever van we considered, it had to be a diesel. Also, at our budget, we’d likely be looking at home-built conversions – fine by us – provided it met the most important criteria, space. With two adults, two children and Ralf, the family pooch, there needed to be at least four berths or have space to be converted into such a layout.
Initially we considered British Leyland’s venerable Sherpa van. Its Perkins diesel engine might not be the fastest thing on four wheels, but they’re generally pretty bullet-proof and well within our budget. My wife, Sarah, then decided she didn’t want a pop-top or hammock beds for the kids.
Time for a bit of rethink, then. Another long-term contender was the Bedford CF, but again, diesel CFs seemed to be almost non-existent. Then, inspiration struck. The answer to our camper quest was, after all, a Volkswagen.
VW campervans have something of a history in our family, my wife’s grandfather was there right at the birth of the VW Camper, working for Devon Conversions, the legendary Sidmouth-based company that became synonymous with campervans. Only, we wanted something a little more modern than the Type 2, but a lot more affordable than the T4 or T5: the humble, and often forgotten VW LT series.
The LT sits right in our £2,000 budget, which though too small for one of the ultra-desirable coachbuilt examples, should still be good enough to buy us either a Devon conversion or a home-built effort.
Looking to learn a little more about these particular vans, we sought out an owners’ forum. Being a little bit forgotten, it’s not all that well catered for, unlike other VW Campers. We eventually found www.brick-yard.co.uk/forum and began reading up on the vans before starting our search online. Soon enough, we found an LT and nearby, too.
Travelling to Langport in Somerset, we were presented with a 1995 LT35. It had been stripped of its interior, but the price was right – just £500 which left plenty of money in the budget for a new, bespoke interior. A quick test drive confirmed the van was as described, but after a chat with the owner it became apparent it wasn’t the van for us.
The exhaust needed replacing and the turbo was weeping oil, plus with no interior, it was more of a project than we really wanted to take on. Something usable, with scope for improvement was what we really needed. Next!
The initial search was limited purely to diesels, but then an LPG-converted van appeared online, again in Somerset. The owner, it seemed, was reluctant to part with the ’van though, since despite several emails and phone calls, he was unwilling to let me view. Onto the next one then.
Patience seemed set to pay off when a freshly-MoT’d four-berth LT was listed for sale. It was in Stoke-on-Trent, so a road trip would be in order, but the ’van looked top notch in the pictures.
Clearly we weren’t the only family to rate it since no sooner did we call to arrange a viewing than we were told it had been sold. It looked as if these VW LTs were more popular than we had thought.
Time to cast the net a little wider then…