Mr Whippy and campervan capers - Blackbourn 433

By: Rob Blackbourn

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campervan 2 campervan 2

Rob's musings this month sound very much like one of those it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time tales

A while back I described an episode about repowering an Aussie mate’s Ford Transit campervan while I was working in the UK. Hopefully I can get away with one more campervan yarn, the final one I promise.

For young Aussie tourists (as well as families like mine with kids), campervans really worked well for exploring UK and Europe in the seventies. Their uninspiring on-road performance wasn’t an issue with short distances between interesting places compared with what we’re used to; as well they were a perfect fit with the excellent camping grounds you would generally find close to most of the important tourist destinations. So I joined the campervan tribe, with a PB Commer that I bought as a minibus before converting it. The Commers were okay, with a reliable Hillman-based engine and driveline. But they looked odd given their knock-kneed appearance – the front track was way too narrow for the body. But one had turned up in good nick with modest mileage at the right price. While it did everything we asked of it without faltering I had no quarms about letting it go when it was time to return home from the UK.


Then a funny thing happened as we were settling in back in Oz. One of the things we missed was the regular campervan trips at weekends or longer with the kids. So I started checking out vans in the old Trading Post. Surprisingly an ideal prospect popped up – a CF Bedford Dormobile camper, a personal import from the UK. I had always preferred the looks of CF Bedfords over Transits, Kombis and certainly Commers. And this one was in nice overall condition except its little Vauxhall-sourced four-cylinder motor was pretty weary. That gave me the perfect excuse to build up a sweet, warmish Holden red motor to repower it, promising the addition of a bit of pizzazz to the driving experience.

A nice 186 turned up, freshly overbored, fully reco-ed and balanced. A set of X2 cast-headers and matching twin-Strombergs from my shed would soon be bolted on. A mild Wade cam was on the list and I started sniffing around for an Aussie four-speed and a rear axle with gearing better suited to the six. A front disc set-up would be worth considering too. Game on!


Then late one night, out of the blue – more precisely out of a sidestreet, through a stop sign, with his lights off – came a setback. Coming from the left he T-boned me amidships. It was a hard hit that pushed the van up on two wheels. Fortunately with no oncoming traffic I was able to grab enough right-hand lock momentarily to get all wheels back on the deck before pulling up with the crew intact, despite elevated adrenaline levels all round.

With the caved-in side, the creased roof and the badly damaged interior fittings it was unsurprising that the CF was a write-off, putting our plans in deep strife. While we were waiting for the insurance payout and the cash from the sale of the van to a man with an appetite for a serious project, another funny thing happened. We decided that the campervan thing was best treated as an interesting part of our little family’s history rather than part of its future. My days of being mistaken for a Mr Whippy man were behind me, as were my plans to re-engineer the van’s driveline – I think my nice 186 went on to power its new owner’s ski boat.

I replaced the CF with an as-new, low-mileage G60 Nissan Patrol – an entirely different vehicle that provided entirely different camping trips to places entirely different from those we explored in the UK and Europe.


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