Classic vintage caravans: Step back in caravanning time
Fancy taking a step back in caravanning time with classic vintage caravans? We tell you how with help from the Historic & Classic Caravanning Club.
Written by Andy Jenkinson
Classic caravans are becoming increasingly popular, especially in classic car circles, with old tourers being purchased to renovate and use as accommodation on meets.
One organisation, the Historic Caravan Club, or HCC, has several hundred members actively involved in restoring historic caravans back to their former glory. The aim is to preserve the heritage of this very British pastime and inform the public just how the caravanning movement began as a hobby.
In the beginning of classic vintage caravans
The HCC began in the late 60s when several enthusiasts formed the Historic Caravan Register.
The aim was to save old caravans, mainly dated from the 1920s and 30s, from being scrapped, because so many were at that time. The Historic Caravan register slowly gained momentum, but the movement remained niche. It wouldn't be until the early 80s that a group formed a new club named the Period and Classic Caravan Club.
However, a splinter group formed the Historic Caravan Club te10n years later at the beginning of 1993.
The aim of the Club was to restore and preserve classic vintage caravans, to pool together knowledge and archive material and to promote caravanning heritage.
The group used steam fair events and other historical meets as a way to display members’ caravans and to also encourage new members to join and take on new projects.
The HCC has grown over the years and publishes a newsletter (Wanderer), which informs members of rallies, events, items/caravans for sale and useful contacts for restoration.
Rallies for classic vintage caravans
The HCC also has an annual national rally held at different locations each year, where classic outfits from all over the UK make the journey and members display their caravans.
If you attend the National Caravan Club Rally (Sandringham Estate, Norfolk 26-31 May), the HCC has been allocated a section for its members to display their classic vintage caravans. The HCC also helps genuine enquiries for potential buyers of classic caravans.
The HCC is a club that certainly promotes caravanning's heritage. We checked out two classics from the club with HCC members Roger Williams and Mike Wye, both keen classic car and caravan enthusiasts.
1954 Paladin Mercury
Mike Wye is a fan of classic vintage caravans and through the HCC has met new friends, and he attends rallies with Sue.
Mike has restored several classics, and one of his latest is a Paladin Mercury from the mid-50s. Mike had seen the Paladin buried in undergrowth in a garden not far from where he lived in Wiltshire. Mike arranged a sale with the owner who wanted it shifting.
Using a little digger, he managed to get the Paladin out with hard work and back to his workshop. Poor Sue hardly saw Mike as he worked on that project!
Mike had to replace rotten framework, and find more info on the Paladin to get it back to its original condition. He skilfully and painstakingly rebuilt this classic, built in Amersham. Sue had her input with the soft furnishings keeping it to a 50s theme.
After months of hard graft, the Paladin was ready, and Mike uses it for many of the rallies they attend. Paladin was at one time a grand UK maker building tourers and mobile homes some of which still survive in 2017. Mike has, as we write, ‘a few more projects on the go’. We’re sure Sue won’t mind too much!
1960 Stirling Twelve
Roger bought it restored from a fellow HCC member
Roger and his partner Barbara are keen HCC members. They use a classic Rover to tow their beloved Stirling 12/2 from caravan maker, Stirling Caravans, now long gone.
The Stirling was aimed at the luxury market and in 1960 cost £585. It matches the Rover well and makes a typical outfit of the time.
The Stirling is finished in real wood veneers and is typical of the time when this market sector demanded the best in craftsmanship. You won't find plastic imitation chrome handles in the Stirling - it's the real thing, solid, chrome-plated catches which have withstood 55 years of use! Its roof design stands out, too. To the layman, it's a lantern roof, but those in the know call it a molly croft roof!
Roger and Barbara find the Stirling ideal for their HCC meets and, with a period awning, they can also entertain.
The Stirling’s traditional two-berth layout consists of front lounge and a rear kitchen with corner washroom.
They have had to do little to the Stirling because the previous owners restored it. If you have the time and skills restoration can be part of the enjoyment of using the finished classic project, so how hard is it to restore and find a potential classic?
You want a classic tourer, but how do you go about it?
How do you go about buying a classic and making sure it's fully serviceable. Wanderer magazine features a for-sale section of caravans and accessories. The Club’s Historian has a sound knowledge of caravans and may also have details of caravans that are in need of rescuing and therefore for sale or free to a good home.
The Club in most cases has a record of classic caravans that members have owned and sold on. At times these caravans are ‘lost’ to club records if sold out of the HCC. The Club can also help a prospective buyer by giving information on a van’s background and advice on repairs or restoration. They won't, however, discuss a price, that's left to the seller and buyer. One thing for sure is that pre-WW2 caravans are increasingly rare and, fully restored, useable examples may command a high price. There aren’t any guides to values on classic caravans, so it's a case of striking a fair deal for both sides.
You want to restore classic vintage caravans?
If you’re keen, have the skills and a place to carry out the work then a restoration can be a great way of getting a classic on the road. However, before you go leaping over a farmer's gate to a rotting caravan in a field – Stop! Think long and hard! It is quite easy to restore many vintage caravans,. But, unless you have a range of practical skills, a major renovation project can be overwhelming.
Do your homework first.
Contact the HCC to see if any caravans are available for restoration work.
Check on-line auctions, but beware. Many owners advertise the caravans as being older than they are. The HCC can help verify the age of a caravan and support you to locate any parts required.
With caravans of this generation parts are increasingly hard to obtain, so check before committing to a specific van. The Club has an extensive archive, and for those wanting to restore, it has various brochures and magazines for reference. You’ll need a building or carport to work in, as keeping you restoration dry is essential.
The HCC is a mine of information with members who have several restorations under their belt, so know a thing or two regarding problem-solving. With the old coachbuilding construction used for caravans pre-1981, it's easier to repair damp problems and replace rotten framing than with a new tourer.
Several HCC members have carried out great restoration projects, virtually rebuilding classics ready for scrap. You need to be dedicated and have the time to do a rebuild, which can take from several months to several years!
Most classic tourer owners will make several alterations to the original, such as adding mains electricity to the van but keeping it discreetly hidden. Most owners endeavour to maintain their vans original features.
For any gas/electrical installations, its best to get a qualified caravan service engineer to check it over, either at a dealership or use a mobile one.
Once you have a classic van, you will want to show it off. The HCC is ideal for this. Rallies take place throughout the summer months at some relevant events. Expect plenty of interest from the public. Most members keep printed matter with information on the caravan, some with images of before and after a restoration and original adverts.
The other interest of owning a classic is the collection of various items to go with the period age of the van. Radios, plates, cups and other memorabilia add to the authenticity of the display. It can be great fun scouring antique/junk shops, as well as charity shops, all good sources of items to go with your classic tourer.
Being part of the HCC also means you’re going to make plenty of friends of like-minded folk, who will be only too happy to help you set up a display if it's your first time. So owning a classic tourer and joining the HCC is a great experience and takes you back to a time when caravanning was far simpler with gas lamps and a two burner cooker - happy days!
Tips on buying potential Classic Vintage Caravans
- Make sure it's what the seller says, especially make, year and condition.
- Check on-line for sellers of classic caravans.
- Check weights – though, believe it or not, older tourers were lighter than modern ones of today!
- Don't buy blind, go and check the caravan over before parting with cash
- Ask about the vans history, owners, etc.
- Check for external damage - can it be repaired easily, if so how much?
- Look for damp. Pre-bonded-construction-built caravans are easier to work on as they’re coach built.
- Check chassis for rust, pre-1981 caravans still had painted chassis.
- Check road lights, coupling damper for wear, brakes, and tyres
- The manufacturer may be defunct, but makes such as Cheltenham, Royale and Safari all have good owners clubs.