Posted by Preloved
As the authors of the best-selling My Cool Campervan Jane Field-Lewis and Chris Haddon, alongside photographer Tina Hillier, explored a world of vintage vans, forgotten rarities and beautifully restored mass-produced models. Embarking on a 3500-mile trip, they met passionate owners who shared their entertaining experiences on the road. The resulting book is a visual voyage featuring over 30 individual and stylish campervans and their cultural history and place in the great outdoors. We caught up with Jane and Chris to find out why old campervans remain as cool as ever.
Jane: As a child, the parents of a friend of mine would sometimes pick us up from school in an old Bedford campervan. I had never seen anything like it and had certainly never been in one before. And from a child's perspective I loved the fact that it had seats, a table and a kitchen. It had a sense of wonder about it that I loved. I had thought little of that until I started on the caravan book, and a similar campervans came into my orbit once more, and I loved tapping into the world of forgotten design classics.
Chris: For me my appreciation stemmed from my love of classic caravans. About eight years ago I imported a '70s Airstream and then my fascination for 'cool' wheeled homes spiralled and expanded to include campervans.
Jane: I have never owned one personally. I have a vintage caravan which lives on a farm in West Sussex. But I live in the middle of the city and finding a parking place on the street for even a regular car is tricky. But any chance I have for a ride in friends' campervans then I’m off!
Chris: Unfortunately, even though I love these four-wheeled wonders I've never been in a position to buy one. However, I have just sold a vintage caravan and now have space on the driveway… so watch this space.
Jane: There is something about the independence that they give you. I loved the stories from the book of simple days out, or evenings driving to the coast to eat fish & chips – it's the fact that small events in life are elevated somehow by the campervan experience.
Chris: The ability to embark on a short or long journey with relative ease without the need for superfluous belongings - getting back to basics and revisiting the things that are most important in life.
Jane: I like cool with a small ‘c’, which is not following necessarily following the latest trends, but that has an authenticity to it, and a core stylishness. That can be the campervan having its own character, or it being a well designed but forgotten treasure, or a campervan that is simply loved by its owners. Somehow that is conveyed visually, the campervan being taken care of and that love shows in the interior and the items people fill them with.
Chris: Well, a simple definition would be a classic campervan that doesn't follow the masses and sets itself apart from the rest by the owners' individual styling.
Jane: The late '50s and '60s are definitely good eras for vehicle design in particular. Eras before global design and mass-production created more of a uniform look. But to be honest, design classics pop up every so often and even campervans like the 1978 Fiat, or the 1977 Morris Marina sun-tor that are in the book buck the trend.
Chris: As you will see from the book cool campervans are featured from the '50s through to the '80s but the most diverse era for me has to be the '70s – such eclectic interior and exterior styling and choice of materials.
Jane: I’m afraid it’s ‘Cuthbert’ the 1958 Bedford CA again that wins my heart. I love the turquoise and white colouration, the round porthole window in the back, and split screen. He has sooo much style.
Chris: A late '70s Winnebago Brave. It's a real marmite camper – you will either love or hate the slightly aggressive angular front, I'm firmly in the Love It camp.
Jane: It was a natural follow on from My Cool Caravan. Once we delved into that lovely world of vintage caravans you can’t help but expand your interest to campervans too. Also, I had long had a nagging thought that the classic VWs had been such a powerful icon of campervans it is easy to forget that there are others out there. It was about time they had a moment in the sun too.
Chris: In the beginning we noticed that the word 'cool' was starting to be used in the same breath as caravan, so with a little more research we found a sizeable under current of caravan owners, like myself, that had embarked on a restoration to turn their caravan/campervan into stylish mobile home.
From there it was a case of putting the idea over to our publishers who understood wholeheartedly the idea and green-lighted the project. Then, the logical follow on was to explore the world of campervans. And most recently the world of classic cars with my new book My Cool Classic Car - a sideways look at classic car ownership.
Jane: Researching the history of the design and how that was influenced by technological, aesthetic and economic developments was amazing. When you get the chance to talk to experts and really begin to understand why things look the way they do it is such a privilege to gain that understanding. And style-wise, I loved the opportunity to look at how people create their own worlds. For instance, our photographer Tina Hillier's parents own a 1978 VW Devon campervan that has travelled across Europe and the UK being used as a mobile art studio en route - just pull over when the view inspires you!
Chris: As well as being in the presence of some jaw-droppingly beautiful vehicles I have to say that meeting and interviewing the owners and hearing their stories was a very memorable experience. It was interesting to learn how and why they chose their particular type of campervan. It may have been a chance to relive childhood holidays in a make and model of campervan once owned by their parents or just a chance opportunity to snap up a dream vehicle and hit the road.
Jane: I would say that they all have qualities of being independent of spirit and enjoy living life, experiencing the small details and big opportunities. And, of course, the fact that you have to get out of your four walls in order to do that.
Chris: Owners come from all walks of life, and to me that's what I find so fascinating – young and old, singles, couples and families. But they all share the single vision of making the best use of their spare time in a campervan that they can stamp their styling creativity on.
(Jane) I think it makes you, if you aren’t already, more sociable. People love to chat when you have one of these type of campervans and one owner that is in the book and that I also filmed even calls them ‘people magnets’! And to be honest you need to have some patience. None of the older vans are much good for getting anywhere in a hurry. The journey demands to be enjoyed.
Jane: Amongst the vintage VW community it is pretty common, and it is a lovely gesture of the bonhomie between the owners. I haven’t seen that much outside of the VWs though.
Chris: Most of the time, I suppose it stems from the appreciation of owning a 'cool' campervan and the pleasure in seeing a fellow enthusiast on the road. Even though I don't own a campervan I find that when I'm out in my classic car a similar urge exists to raise your hand and give a quick wave when passing another classic car.
Jane: I think there are several factors at play here. Their design is extremely appealing: they have almost Disneyesque features which make them very likeable. Their design with the wide double or sliding doors makes access much easier, and makes the inside and outside spaces feel integrated, rather than awkwardly having to clamber in and out. There were so many of them made, and can, if you own a good one and look after it, be an asset. And they are admired and cherished. People always love them!
Chris: Well the VW craze is not a new phenomenon it dates back decades but the recent trend does have a lot to do with people looking to bring back what's important in life, and that's affordable relaxation. The opportunity to switch off from the day-to-day working grind of things and get back to relative basics (although phones and emails are never very far away!) But I would encourage people not to overlook other classics make of the '50s, '60s or '70s which could be reinvented and be just as cool as more popular VW counterparts.
Jane: Anywhere by the coast is tops in my book. And I love a proper trip. Say, around the seaside towns of Kent and Sussex, taking the slow road and looking at all the lovely seaside piers, fun fairs and cafes. Although Festival trips are pretty good, too. ‘Cuthbert’, a 1958 Bedford that we feature in My Cool Campervan and star of a short film I made where he had a day out in London, is a veteran of many a festival, and boy does he get some attention!
Chris: Too many to list without being specific. For many years myself, wife and children have enjoyed the facilities available when away in our caravans. However, I'm tending to lean more towards back to basics campsites – small unspoilt campsites in stunning locations and preferably on the coast.
Jane: Oooh, now that is a really hard question. I would definitely love a long journey, a bit of an adventure. I’ve had hankerings after a recent trip to Tarifa in southern Spain to re-enact the old hippie trails across Europe to Morocco, but then I wonder if I’ve just been watching too many old movies. Not that I am an old hippie, but there is something about the adventure of that type of journey of a time before the budget airlines removed some of the magic.
I’m no mechanic, so it had better be a reliable campervan, with a comfortable bed, a good fridge and somewhere I could sit and read or draw. Oh and a stack of local maps so we could meander and enjoy the small markets and towns. No motorways please!
Chris: Tough question… However, a coast-to-coast trip in Canada in a VW Split Screen Campervan would be very high on my list.
My Cool Campervan by Jane Field-Lewis and Chris Haddon, published by Pavilion. Photography by Tina Hillier.
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