Starting with zero knowledge,        we came good

IF you think buying a house is difficult, try buying a camper. There are so many variables. Do you want one of those massive electrical appliances on wheels? You know, those big, fat, white things that are always surrounded by other gin palaces at camp sites. Or a more modest one with a quiff, perhaps? Do you throw money at it and buy yourself a double bed, air con and every other mod con, or do you want to relive your hippie days and grow pot on the roof? Jojy and I were faced with buying a camper to live in full time and we knew not a thing. Zilch. We’d never been inside a ‘real’ one. So we went through the lot. And we argued. Bitterly. 

Good for a holiday

The first camper we looked at was a mid-90s Hymer B-something-or-other in lovely condition and with 145,000km on the clock. Actually we both quite liked it. At 11,000 euros the price seemed reasonable. It had a drop-down bed over the front seats, sitting space, kitchen, shower etc, solar panels, bike rack, and you could lounge back and watch the countryside drift by.    Our next experience was a 6,500 euro camper with one of those quiff-like things over the cab. It looked great in the photos, but it turned out to be a shed on wheels. As it lurched round the roundabout coming to the meeting point, we could tell that the suspension had gone. There were badly-filled pockets of rust. The heater didn’t work. It was filthy. It was apparently being sold by the owner’s brother. Err, no. 

This presented us with a quandary. Do we spend a shed load of cash on something new or nearly-new, with low mileage, fully kitted out with every luxury, or do we go for a decent, second-hand one, but much cheaper?

Mirrored boudoirs

We started listing everything we might want: reliability, solar panels, storage space (garage), shower and loo, kitchen, bed, air con, low mileage, every comfort money could buy. That led us to a camper sales centre in Béziers (South of France), where there were splendid fridges on wheels, with gleaming white, mirrored boudoirs at the rear, swivel seats, fancy kitchen and LED strip lighting. And around 50,000 euros expensive.

By this time I was so fed up with looking that I would have gone for one. With my house sale I could afford it. It was going to be our home. It fitted our every need: new, or virtually brand new, hopefully utterly reliable, 130kph fast. Perfect, apart from the ghastly idea that we would be parked up next to a dozen other fridges-on-wheels at some manicured camp site. It didn’t take much for Jojy to win that argument. 

I won the next round. This time she was looking at super-expensive, superbly kitted-out vans. Great for weekends and holidays, but too small to live in. I didn’t want to live in a claustrophobic box. This time I said NO (in a very manly way, of course). We then discussed Mercedes Sprinters and couldn’t agree. We even came to blows over the hippie option (although the pot on the roof seemed like a good idea).

"By this time I was so fed up with looking that I would have gone for a fridge on wheels."

Getting this far had taken four months of pretty intense searching. As newbies we had to start from scratch but, even when we opted for the 507D, the research had to go on. Were they mechanically sound? What was the fuel consumption? What sort of speed did they cruise at? Would we find anyone to help us convert it? Then the contacts had to be made through mobile.de, thankfully a properly well-organised site.

With the help of Google Translate, we honed our search down to a Red Cross ambulance in Wiehl, near Cologne. It looked the part, was rust-free, apparently mechanically sound and had a paltry 44,000kms on the clock. It had been decommissioned by the government in 2016, having done 27 years of service, and was now used by the Red Cross.   But buying it was another matter…

Olly Duke (March 2018)

What camper to buy - A magic bus
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