Martin Dorey is the writer behind the best-selling book The Camper Van Cookbook and the TV show One Man and his Campervan on BBC2. He was also a judge on BBC2’s Caravan Club ‘Caravanner of the Year’ show and for the Caravan Club’s Motorhome & Caravan Design Awards. Here he tells us about his favourite camper van layouts and why he loves them so much.
When you are mooching about The Caravan & Motorhome Show in January, spare a thought for the judges of the Caravan Club’s Motorhome Design Awards. We get to scrutinise around 100 motorhomes and campervans in search of a shortlist of category winners. It’s a tough job to get around all the vehicles but it’s not without its pleasures. Personally, I love to check out what’s on offer as there are always new and innovative ways of cramming it all in.
I’m also one who has lived with a few different layouts, thanks to my friends at Marquis Leisure, who have lent me all kinds of campers and motorhomes over the years. And that, really, is the proof of the pudding. The only way to tell, really, is by going camping. So, to help you in your choice, here’s my top 5 conversions and why I love them…
The classic camper layout with ¾ bed and side units
There’s a reason why the standard camper van interior favoured by converters since the 1960s is still going strong in conversions like the VW California, the Danbury Surf and lots of others. And that’s because it works. Add a pop top and swivel front seats and you can seat and sleep a family of four in comfort. Add to that the fact that the types of vans that are being converted today, such as the VW T6 and the Transit, have the footprint of a standard car and it’s very practical. So you get everything except the bathroom. But who needs a shower anyway?
The motorhome with over cab bed
There is no denying it that the idea of falling into bed without having to make it first is extremely desirable. But for many people (me included) a fixed bed is just too much of a space waster, especially in a smaller van-derived conversion. So the over cab bed is a great solution, although it is VERY hard to roll into it, especially after a night in the pub! Also, the reality of it is that all your junk will end up there anyway, so it’s not like you aren’t going to be able to slip between the sheets that easily. But if you have kids or prefer a big living space, this will be a godsend (just remember how tall it is when approaching barriers).
The large van conversion with the rear lounge
There aren’t many of these types of conversions around and I think it’s because it’s not easy to fit it all in. But get it right and it’s a fantastic layout. The reason I love them is because I like to feel I am part of the landscape in which I am camping. I don’t want to be cut off from it like you can be sometimes in a coach built motorhome. What the rear lounge gives you is another way to enjoy the outside. Open the rear doors and breathe it all in. My daughter and I took an Auto-Sleepers Warwick Duo to Arran last year and we loved it. However the only compromise was having the slider blocked off too much by the bathroom … so something like the Autocruise Forte 4 berth is fantastic… and you get 2 lounges for the price of one.
The bunk beds for the kids conversions
Bunk beds make so much sense in motorhomes, especially if the top one can fold away and store, leaving a mini lounge areas for the smalls so they can chill out in their own space. Even if they don’t, then no bother. Kids still love them. Some coachbuilts have bunks across the rear that can be used as a garage when the kids aren’t with you. So it’s a versatile option that allows you to make the most of the space. Others, like the fantastic campervan with everything, the WildAx Solaris XL squeeze them in to the rear, along one side opposite the bathroom and galley, leaving a large dining / living area at the front.
The simple conversion with Slidepod or kitchen pod
If you are going somewhere hot and like to travel light with lots of room to sleep, then VW’s California Beach (and other similar conversions ) with a removable kitchen pod like the Slidepod, or Danbury’s Transit Connect Now! offer a really versatile way to own a van but without having a full time conversion. The Slidepod pulls out from under the rear parcel shelf and can be removed to put in an awning or in the garage during the winter, so making the van ultimately versatile, although not good for winter camping. I own a California Beach with a Slidepod, so I am biased, but I do genuinely love it because it’s so versatile. Come the weekend you’re out and about with cooking facilities, a water tank and even an outside shower! And it sleeps 4, has swivel front seats and chairs in the tailgate. What’s not to love about that?