New versus vintage Dilemma

T25 gearbox

I’ve recently started to wonder whether I might be better off aiming to get a more modern van and do a self-build camper conversion. I’ve even joined the Self build Motor Caravanners Club. The dilemma comes from exploring the idea as having a camper van as daily-driver vehicle, and having spent lots of time and money recently keeping a vintage camper on the road.

Pros of a modern vehicle

  • More reliable (at least in theory)
  • More economical (again theory)
  • Easier to insure as a daily driver (though reclassifying a commercial vehicle as a motorcaravan can be tricky)
  • Better for long motorway journeys
  • More safety features (ABS/ Airbags etc.)

Cons

  • more complex technology – more difficult to take on maintenance as an amateur
  • Repairs may be more expensive, as generally new, original parts will be sourced
  • less character – there’s no denying that a T25 puts a grin on my face in a way that the modern vw transporters/mercedes vito/ford transit/vauxhall vivaro etc. don’t. That’s not to say I won’t consider them.
  • higher price – though not always. Well restored vintage VW campers can be extremely expensive

The other thing to consider is that to suit potential budgets, my definition of “modern” includes vehicles that are getting on for a decade and a half old now, with 100 – 150 thousand miles on the clock, so may be prone to exactly the same kind of maintenance issues that an old T25 is prone to – although the older vehicles are more likely to have already had all these items replaced (maybe more than once).

The “repair it, might as well keep it” cycle

This is a cycle that most people with an old campervan probably fall into (I know I do!) – you experience a reliability issue, such as a gearbox problem, and while skinning your knuckles trying to fix it, or while waiting for the recovery service to tow you off the hard shoulder you decide that it’s time to sell it and move onto something more modern. But of course you don’t want to be selling a camper with a mechanical fault, so you go ahead and fix it. Once fixed you decide that you might aswell keep it! And repeat….

Surviving a rainy campervan trip

rainy day in the campervan

I’m sat writing this in deepest Norfolk, using the passenger swivel seat as my office chair, while on the other side of the curtain (seperating the cab of the van from the back), my wife and son watch a film on a laptop. Outside it’s persistent drizzle mixed with howling wind. Our bright orange sun canopy lays miserablly on the grass outside the van alongside the wet bag of charcoal and soggy camping chairs. Despite setting it up in “ridge tent” mode to cope with rain, the wind unravelled the granny-knots I used to attach the guy ropes and by morning it was hanging pathetically from the van.

We also made the mistake on this trip of not bringing any kind of tent/ standalone awning, so later on when we go for a drive, we have no choice other than to either take the soggy stuff with us in the van, or leave it on site to get soggier.

We don’t like the idea of a proper driveaway awning hitched right up to the van, we like to be able to sit in the doorway of the van and look out at the view rather than into a tent. We usually bring a Quechua seconds base pop-up shelter, which gets used as a kind of shed, and in this case even a small pop-up tent would be handy, but i’ve heard good things about the Coleman event shelter, and i’m now wondering if this could be the solution for a standalone rainproof canopy. I’ve heard good things about them and they are apparently very sturdy and hopefully won’t collapse in bad weather.

So we haven’t got it right with the canopy/awning/gazebo this time, but the things we have got right:-

  • We have electric hook-up on this site, so the electric fan heater is keeping us toasty. An oil filled radiator would be a less noisy solution. Without the hookup we could fall back on the propex heater. The fan heater can also be used to demist the front window before we go for a drive.
  • We have a full gas bottle, and the kettle is being used to it’s full potential.
  • Loads of films and tv-series on the laptop, there is no wifi and zero mobile reception here, so we couldn’t rely on streaming services or being able to download anything new.
  • As i’m doing a bit of work on this holiday, I made sure I had all I needed on my laptop to do the work without an internet connection – no point relying on cloud-based services. As rainy days are ideal times for fitting in a bit of work, we brought along a second laptop, so that work time for me can also be film-time for my family.
  • Board games! For when the films have run out.

Before we got Rocky, we did a lot of camping in tents, and I have to say after a couple of days of rain like this, we’d probably pack the soggy tents into the car and call it a day, but in a campervan, especially a warm leak-free campervan with a supply of food, tea and entertainment, we can still have an enjoyable trip.