Bryony Symes
Staff Writer

See other Blog articles filed in ‘Me and my caravan’ written by Bryony Symes
   
Practical Caravan's Bryony Symes asks Jeremy Greenwood why he swapped from modern tourers to a 1970s folding caravan with almost no mod cons!

As a classic car enthusiast, Jeremy Greenwood wanted a caravan that would look good behind his elderly Mini Van. Clearly, a modern caravan like those he had owned previously would not fit the bill.

The Mini Van itself is quite special: Jeremy’s first car had been a Mini, and he had been interested in buying a panel van or estate version for a while.

“It was a case of 'now or never'; purchase prices were getting silly, but mine had been ‘customised’ and the gear-change needed work, so I managed to get it for sensible money,” says Jeremy.

It was a bit of a project, like so many in our Practical Caravan 'Me and my van' series. Jeremy enlisted Old Skool Minis of Birmingham to reinstate the rear van doors and fit a four-speed automatic gearbox. Once a towbar from Watling Engineers was attached, he was ready to start his Mini adventures.

Towing capabilities

Jeremy has owned or had access to caravans for 25 years, but those he used most recently were modern – dramatically different to any classic caravans that would look good with a Mini.

“I’ve towed with a variety of Land Rovers and, because of my job designing towing technologies at Land Rover, I also have access to various caravans, from a six-berth Avondale to a two-berth T@B. Perhaps the most unusual thing I’ve towed is a 12-tonne Road Train at the Eden Project in Cornwall, performing a nerve-racking hill start on a 1-in-8 slope to demonstrate the electric Land Rover’s towing capabilities.”

The Mini’s towing capabilities, though, wouldn’t stretch quite that far. Jeremy started looking for a light caravan and came across the Portafold website, where he found a caravan advertised on the forum. The uncluttered nature of the Portafold makes it suitable for spontaneous weekends away and, after years of ‘posher’ caravans, Jeremy was beginning to miss this simplicity.

The Portafold was marketed as a lightweight four- or five-berth that could be erected by one person in one minute. In reality, it is far easier to have another person around when putting up the sides. And the fifth berth is a removable board across the front where the sink is housed, so probably wouldn’t pass as a bed under today’s safety standards. The van is light enough to be towed by anything with an 800cc engine, but it is very basic.

“I like to use my classics, so the glassfibre and steel construction of the Portafold was a distinct benefit, with no wood that could rot – a problem that a lot of older caravans suffer from,” Jeremy says.

“It was in a usable condition, but I decided to spruce it up a little. I contacted the Portafold Register to find out how old it was; from the chassis number, they were able to say that the van was constructed in 1972. For a 43-year-old van, it was really in remarkably good condition. And it only cost £1000.”

There were very few things to change on the van, but Jeremy enjoys a caravan restoration project, so he added LED lighting, using the roof fins as recesses and a jack plug for power. There were also a few repairs to the glassfibre, which were easily done with a kit from Halfords. The outside was painted in British Racing Green and satin white – perfectly matched to the Mini.

The curtains and seat covers were a little tired, so Jeremy broke out his mum’s old sewing machine and bought some fabric to upgrade the caravan upholstery. His first attempt at re-covering the cushions produced a Möbius strip, which was fit for nothing. But with a little patience he produced a decent, clean set of soft furnishings. He also added headlining material in Ventrip and replaced the rear lights with earlier-spec round lights – just because he could.

It all hinges on folding

All seemed fine, until Jeremy took the van on its first run-out, when he discovered that most of the hinges that allow the caravan to fold had broken. Luckily, these special brass hinges are still available via the Portafold website. In fact, the Portafold site was an invaluable resource, he says.

“Like a lot of classic cars, the classic caravans tend to use bits from elsewhere. Some of the Portafolds used Mini hubcaps, which are readily available, but mine uses the stronger and longer Rubery Owen hubs and so needs a deeper hubcap. As with classic cars, joining the register or club is essential. On the site there are links to get all the special parts, as well as a history of the firm and plenty of advice.”

Practical Caravan's expert John Wickersham also has more advice on sourcing spare parts for caravans.

Ready for Cropredy

The organisation also holds annual gatherings. This summer, Jeremy attended Retrofestival, near Newbury, Berkshire, where there were 49 other Portafolds. Many of these were used to support a classic car, so the conversation quite naturally ranged between classic cars and classic caravans. This year, Jeremy took the van to the Fairport Convention Cropredy Festival near Banbury, Oxfordshire and to the Peak District for a walking weekend.

“I’ve used the Portafold mainly for weekends rather than longer holidays,” he says. “The best trip so far was the Cropredy Festival, where the van fitted in with the friendly, hippy feel, while leaving me significantly more comfortable than the tenting majority. I took a barrel of home-brewed beer and made a passable curry, so gaining popularity with my tenting friends.”

The layout comprises two bed boxes with a gap that can be filled with boards to make a generous double. To the rear is a sink area, which originally had a glassfibre moulding but is now made of wood, the extra berth, as well as a table and a couple of curtained-off storage spaces. The bed boxes provide the bulk of the storage when the caravan is folded for the road. It is really more comfortable as a two-berth, though.

There aren’t many modern conveniences: apart from the LED lights that Jeremy installed, there is just a Campingaz stove. If there’s snow outside, Jeremy admits that he could easily be persuaded back into the T@B or Avondale with central heating, insulation and no draughts!

Age shall not wither

This caravan came as a shock to his family members, who are used to modern tourers with all mod cons.

“It is regarded with polite amusement, as part of Dad’s midlife crisis,” Jeremy says. “But that’s fine because I have gone round the clock and am now 18 again. I’ve had some lovely boys’ weekends with my son, though.”

Jeremy is happily turning back time, and the same could be said of the caravan – it certainly isn’t showing its 43 years.

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