EXPERT Q & A: What Does the Editor of a Campervan Magazine Choose When He is buying a New Campervan?

So what van does the Editor of a Campervan magazine choose for HIS camper? Peter Rosenthal edits Campervan magazine and has seen, tried and photographed more campervans than you and I have had hot dinners so I was intrigued to find out what van he has chosen for his new campervan and why…

Q: Please tell us what first got you in to owning a campervan and the type of van(s) you have had so far.

I started off about 25 years ago with a tent and never really liked it that much, then when my son Sam was born, my wife Helen and I bought a battered Dethleffs Nomad caravan for £1000 and quite liked taking it to campsites. But the awning was always a nightmare and hitching up and levelling it just for a weekend away was a pain.

Classic Chevy G20

So we bought a brand-new Ford Transit-based Eurostyle motorhome five-berth in 2009 and liked that a lot more than the caravan. It was so much easier to use. The downside was that it was 6.3m long and too big to be used regularly. In four years I only did 15,000 miles in it, so we decided to downsize into a classic Chevy G20 campervan in July 2013. Although it had covered 144,000 miles, I really loved it: the size was perfect for us and it got used far more than the big Transit ever did. That was it: I was hooked on campervans.

Q: You bought a new campervan in 2016 which you have been converting yourself. Which vehicle did you finally choose and why?

After having the Chevy for three years I was on first name terms with my local bodyshop and was spending quite a bit of time maintaining it. The Chevy was 5.2m in length, so I didn’t want to go for anything smaller so decided to look for a newer van to convert. I’d have loved to buy one off the shelf but no one made one that was quite perfect – it had to have an SCA roof (for the comfy plastic sprung base) and a Reimo sliding seat system as I always need lots of storage space for toys.

Four-Day Test Drive

As for the base vehicle, I did a long four-day test drive of the VW T6, Ford Transit Custom and Renault Trafic for What Motorhome in the Welsh hills. Although the VW was a top-spec 200bhp California and the Renault an entry-level 90bhp model, I loved driving the Renault the best. It’s a much more modern design than the VW and it shows. The Ford was also a good drive (and better than the VW) but it has more emphasis on sportiness, while the Renault is all about refinement and comfort.

I was so impressed with the Renault, that I decided to order one the very next day from my local dealer – I haggled a 42 per cent discount and paid just over £17,000 for a 140bhp Sport LWB model with a reversing camera and towbar. To put that in context, that’s the sort of money you’ll pay for a decent spec VW that’s three years old with no warranty (the Renault has a four-year warranty) and a good few miles on the clock.

peter rosenthal new van

Hillside Leisure kindly offered to fit the SCA roof for me and also carpeted it and added the interior lights and side windows.

Check out the Auto Express Review on the Renault Trafic van

Q: Can you describe the interior for us and how you decided on that design?

Well it’s not really been started yet as we’re waiting for the Renault LWB Reimo floor rails for the sliding seat and the position of the seat determines the maximum width of the cabinets.

The plan is to have a side kitchen layout with a Reimo Variotech seat system. Having tested all sorts of different vehicles, I’ve basically cherry-picked my favourite parts and plan to shoehorn them all together in one vehicle.

Big Fan of Sliding Seat Systems

I’m a big fan of sliding seat systems as they make the campervan so versatile – with the seat slid all the way forward you can use it to pick up an engine (or fit in four bikes) and with the seat all the way back you get a vast lounge. It really is the best of all worlds.

I’m also considering a diesel hob and heater for it and – if possible – a larger than usual compressor fridge (75-litres may be doable with some cunning fabrication). It will also have at least two leisure batteries – you can never have enough 12V power – a large solar panel and a battery-to-battery charger. All of the details of the conversion will be featured in Campervan, so you won’t miss it!

Q: What is the best thing about converting your own campervan and what is the worst?

Time delays on parts are the worst issue. Had I known how long the Reimo sliding seat rails were going to take, I’d have probably bought the Renault a little bit later. But then again, it has saved me money: the Renault averages around 40mpg, while my previous Subaru daily driver did 25mpg!

The best thing about it is how exciting it is planning your own conversion. Watching Hillside fit the roof and put in the windows and carpeting in was emotional for me: I realised that in 20 years of photographing other peoples new campervans, this was the first time I’d had one of my own!

Testing vehicles is brilliant, but it’s always better to go away in your own vehicle. It’s your home away, after all. I can’t wait for mine to be finished.

Q: Have you noticed any trends in campervans designs generally and what are they?

More people seem to be using them as a daily driver so the size seems to be a critical factor. Dealers reckon that smaller vehicles are the hot sellers.

Okay – maybe not as small as this one…

Man in tiny van

People are also using them differently and there seems to be more enthusiasm for short weekend breaks more frequently rather than just one large holiday in summer.

I think the converters are recognising these trends and getting increasingly clever in the sort of vehicles they’re converting and also the layouts they offer.

Q: With your vast experience of the campervan world, what would be the most important piece of advice you would give to anyone thinking of buying a campervan?

Try to be open-minded, both in terms of the base vehicle and the layout.

Before you pay a premium for a VW, try the alternatives from Ford or Renault (you might be surprised!) and the same goes for the larger vans: don’t buy a Merc Sprinter until you’re tried a Fiat Ducato or a Ford Transit (my current large van favourite).

Equally, while the side kitchen layout works well for most people, we all have different needs, so consider other options.

Try Before You Buy

The golden bit of advice, though, is to try a similar model before you buy it. Many dealers will let you stay overnight in one of their vans and this is invaluable experience. After testing a campervan many people find that their ‘essentials’ change and that niggles they initially worried about are actually not that important at all.

At the very least make sure you test the bed thoroughly – you can live with a poorly-laid out kitchen or limited storage – but a short, or uncomfortable bed, will drive you mad.

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