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Great British escape old-style with the aid of a 15-year-old Topaz campervan

Maurice and Annette Hardy on how to get away in 2021

Geraldine Gardner

Geraldine Gardner


01635 886684

Great British escape old-style with the aid of a 15-year-old Topaz campervan

Thoughts of a champagne lifestyle have never had us bubbling with enthusiasm. However, lifestyle is important, particularly when you have been shielding since March and not really going anywhere because a long journey needs a pit stop and we lack the courage to “go” anywhere public, so to speak.

Like many people not only across the UK, but also Europe, our thoughts turned to once again owning a motorcaravan, prompted by fond memories of wonderful trips to many places.

You don’t even need to go abroad to sample the wonders of travel – avoiding those airport queues.

The search was hampered by having so many competing buyers, so finding something within a reasonable distance of home was never going to be easy, even though we started the hunt in May.

Every time something remotely suitable popped up it was either too far away or we were too late.

The essential was that the drive to get there must not be more than an hour, the time looking at it roughly the same, and then there was an hour to get home, when the person in the passenger seat could make a dash for the downstairs bathroom while the other parked. The perils of an ageing body made all too apparent!

After many missed opportunities, including a deposit placed on a van and then recovered when its import history with HMRC looked a bit dubious, a flick through Autotrader’s app revealed an Autosleepers Topaz, almost the holy grail of VW campervans, on site at Webbs Motorcaravans in Padworth.

By then it was 3.30pm and a quick call revealed that someone else was coming to look at it the next day at 10am. Salesman Steve said he would stay open if we could get there before his 5.30pm hometime so we made the dash.

The result was deposit paid after Steve agreed some extra work rather than a discount on a champagne gold (unimaginative beige in the DVLA description) Topaz and the Hardys were at last into the champagne lifestyle.

As the van is 15 years old that actually means we’ve invested in vintage bubbly!

The Topaz is a rare beast because there’s a full bathroom at the back, so much better and more dignified than dragging a Porta-Potti from a cupboard. It has a twin burner hob and grill underneath and an interior that gives chaise-longue lounging for one and more than ample relaxation space for the other. This is our sixth campervan or motorhome (we once went bigtime with a coachbuilt) and all of them have been built by Autosleepers.

It’s a firm with a 60-year pedigree and its products are much in demand.

Prices for used motorhomes are stronger than ever thanks to the pandemic. If Covid doesn’t get you coughing, dealer forecourts will when you see the prices.

But all that could change now that Auto-Trail, the other really big name in UK motorcaravans, is bringing out its Expedition range which, even with everything on it – there are few options apart from an auto gearbox and alloy wheels – costs less than £42,000 on the road.

It could punch a big hole in values for used vans, but hopefully not for those like ours, built on the iconic VW Transporter base.

Before you rush out on your own expedition, it’s worth bearing in mind that the price has been shaved by not fitting any sort of radio or even power-adjusted mirrors. And first reports indicated that tall drivers might find things a bit squeezed on the version with only a rear lounge because the wardrobe is right behind the driver’s seat and restricts adjustment.

There is a model with a shorter rear lounge and upfront dinette that brings two extra travel seats (the grandparent van) – the downside is that bed space is more cramped.

But the big thing is to be able to get out and about and these compact vans make the perfect day van as well as something for a night away – or even a fortnight if you choose a van with plenty of space.

Demand is unlikely to dip as 2021 progresses, but the winter might see a drop in sales, giving buyers a chance to make a saving.

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