Think you can’t afford a VW camper? It could be time to revisit that thought, because the past two years and more has seen a flourishing of a distinct sector – specialists getting hold of pre-owned Transporter T5 vans and giving them a whole new lease of life with a brand new campervan conversion.
There are plenty of such companies dotted around the country, and their work is certainly catching the public imagination.
When you consider a brand new California – the only camper that’s made by Volkswagen itself – will set you back as much as £50,000, you can start to see the attraction of something offering nearly as much, for an awful lot less.
This is a great example. Plenty of folk will have heard of the Stowford Farm Meadows in North Devon. It celebrates its 50th anniversary as a campsite this year. But, it’s also in the business of selling caravan and motorhomes and – like a number of specialist leisure vehicle dealers –it has recognised the T5 camper gap in the market, and it’s done something about it.
The Stowford answer has been to set up its own manufacturing centre on-site – not only can you come and see the conversion process and talk to the folk who make the campers, you’ll also be able to view a selection of finished products. It’s a perfect opportunity to compare and contrast.
At £38,495, the model here is a slightly more expensive example, but it’s based on a one-year-old, one owner T5 in Highline trim, which accounts for the cab air conditioning, leather steering wheel and gear lever trim, front fog lights and more. It’s also had those distinctive 18in alloy wheels added by Stowford.
It’s very low mileage, but it’s only the 102PS engine, with manual five-speed gearbox. And there’s no mistaking that Salsa Red paintwork, completed by Stowford with colour-matched bumpers and door mirrors. Note also aspects like the barn doors at the back, rather than a top-hinged tailgate.
The key to campers like this is indeed sourcing late, low mileage (although arguably a proper service history is more critical than actual miles covered) T5s that haven’t had a particularly heavy life. Remember, these start off as commercial vehicles – bumps and scrapes are almost inevitable, but should be easily sorted as part of the conversion process.
Thereafter, much of it is going to be down to you and your own budget and your preferences for style and colour of interior finishes, as well as equipment levels.
But, look at the key fittings on any such camper. Here, the RIB rear seat is widely recognised for its quality and safety (especially considering the fitting process, which does vary from converter to converter), even if converting it into a bed takes a bit of getting used to.
Overhead, it’s an Austop elevating roof that won’t match more expensive, German-produced units for quality (but note it does come with a five-year warranty). In the cab, that double passenger seat is a swivelling unit from Kiravans.
Sure enough, it’s a standard VW camper format of furniture along one side and a rear seat-cum-double bed. Aspects such as interior lighting can be tailored to suit your requirements, as indeed can so much of the conversion itself, beyond basics such as the two-ring hob and sink, compressor fridge and storage provision. That’s why it all pays to really do your research on vehicles like this.
Also, the facility to view a selection of such campers in one go (Stowford also has a retail outlet in South Wales), is not to be under-estimated.
There’s also a rather unique handover here, where you first trip out can be measured in yards rather than miles – with a complimentary stay on site at Stowford, which gives the ideal opportunity to make sure you’re happy with your purchase. Then there’s a 12-month warranty for both the conversion and the base vehicle.
There’s more information on the Stowford range on the Stowford Campervans website www.stowfordcampervans.co.uk.
Click the link to find out more about our motorhome insurance discounts.
Verdict: Affordable campers are here
Plus: Unique selling points right through to handover
Minus: Lacks refinement in places
In-a-nutshell: Cost-conscious camper
Alternatives: Autohaus Ashton (VW Kamper Centre), Camper King (Don Amott), Vanworx Slipper (VW Kamper Centre)
Stowford Campervan factfile
|Base vehicle||Volkswagen Transporter T5, 2-litre, 100bhp Euro V|
|Dimensions||4.89m L, 1.91m W, 2.01m H|
|RRP||From £25,000 on-the-road|
|Safety & security||ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), cab airbags, remote control central locking, independent all-round suspension, EBD (electronic brake force distribution), ESP (electronic stability program)|