A New Carawagon
An ambitious and expensive Carawagon rebuild.
My long term enthusiasm for Carawagon's was given reassurance this month when a call from my son Matt, saw me hot footing it up to Matlock to take a look at a real beauty he is building. His customer had bought a bitza from chap who had lavished thousands on a garage full of new parts and had almost reached the rolling chassis stage, when personnel circumstances dictated that he would have to sell the Land Rover. Matt’s customer had been on the look out for a Carawagon for some time and weighed up the collection of bits against a complete and original one also on offer. It was a difficult choice. On the one hand there was a ready to use Series 2a Carawagon. On the other a potentially more modern variant, with a 200 Tdi engine and many thousands of pounds worth of new parts. The great unknown was how much it would cost to build and if, as promised, all the parts really were there.
When Matt told me the approximate total cost I had to question why someone would spend so much on such a vehicle and what rewards he expects from his investment. Our hero is recently retired and intends to use the Carawagon for camping trips in the U.K. with a possible trip to North Africa in the near future with his wife, who shares his travel bug. He had conducted detailed research into exactly what he wanted, and why. For similar money he could have bought a pretty decent VW Camper with all the whistles and bells, or perhaps a leggy Motorhome on some kind of Euro chassis/engine combination. If it was off road adventure at the top of his list, why not consider a well equipped Defender and a tent, either mounted on the roof, or simply pitched on the ground?
Lets start by ruling out the competition. The Motorhome, whilst spacious inside, is also pretty spacious outside. Tricky to use as your only vehicle, which this one will be, although it would hold masses of shopping on the Sainsbury’s run! Usually underpowered and a curse to be stuck behind on a winding road, these are fine for driving from one flat camp site to another, but obviously hopeless off the road when adventure beckons. Then there’s the VW, for so long the coolest kid on the block and to be spotted anywhere there’s a chance of surf. They are great, reasonably swift and economical, probably tax exempt and with compact overall dimensions. With good ground clearance and the engine mounted over the driven wheels their off road ability is not to be sniffed at, though at its best when pushed across beaches by lean young surfers high on cider.
This brings us the the Land Rover options. A 110 Defender with myriad expedition gear could be found for similar money, maybe with a roof tent already up there. It may well have completed a trip or two already, but would still have plenty of life left in it for UK holidays and that trip to Africa. But, in retirement, do you really want to be climbing that lightweight aluminium ladder up into a tent that has no heating and can keep you awake with the noise of flapping canvas on a windy night? An alternative would be a top quality tent, with standing room to pitch next to the Land Rover. Not fun in the rain and probably 10 - 15 minutes to pitch and a good half hour before supper’s ready.
Martin Walkers made a Dormobile version of the Series Land Rover alongside similar conversions for the VW, Bedford and others, offering most of the attributes of the Carawagon. A ‘Pop Top’ gave standing room, sleeping for four at a squeeze, a cooker, cupboards etc. There was even a attempt to resurrect the company and offer new ones based on the 110, but somehow they lack that je ne sais quoi of the Carawagon.
Comparing these two, side by side, it’s not difficult to see why the Carawagon was considerably more expensive in it’s day. R.J. Searle were quality boat builders and carried these skills over to the Carawagon. The lift up roof is a masterpiece of originality, patented by the company and never copied. The cupboards are made of marine ply with nylon runners. The ergonomics are designed by craftsmen used to having to make the most efficient use of space and is uncompromising in its efficiency. This is why so many were ordered by wealthy and discerning people who used them on some very ambitious trips across the globe when they were new. It is marvellous that this one is to be given a new lease of life and will give the owners many years of adventure and fun.
Toby 01.jpeg. The big advantage of any Land Rover camping is the ability to venture deep into the undergrowth and be hidden from prying eyes.
Toby 02.jpeg. A barn full of brand new parts was the deal. Enough to build ‘new’ Carawagon. The resprayed body panels had been loosely attached to the galvanised chassis.
Toby 03.jpeg. Although it appears nearly finished all the body panels are held on with cable ties and will have to be removed again to assemble the brakes, steering and suspension.