Bryony Symes
Staff Writer

See other Blog articles filed in ‘Me and my caravan’ written by Bryony Symes
   
Vintage caravans have been a lifelong passion for John Shelton – Bryony Symes meets him and the charming 1973 Carlight Continental he's currently restoring

The history of Carlight caravans is impressive: this British manufacturer has long been known for its build quality and innovation, not to mention the curves seen on the rooflines of its caravans.

As such they are very sought-after vintage caravans, treasured by any classic-van enthusiast – and that certainly includes John Shelton. Having started caravanning at the age of 22, he's owned a fair few units over the years and could well be termed a professional.

He has been hugely successful at car-and-caravan rallying, and built up a collection of classic vehicles. Recently, though, he's had to sell off the bulk of them, including two Carlights (a Cassetta and a Commander).

"I'm no longer able to do all the restoration work needed," says John. "I kept the most recent Carlight that I bought, because I can't imagine life without a caravan."

John purchased his 1973 Carlight Continental in December, and it's still something of a work-in-progress. It's in good condition, though, and has a homely feel.

The floral upholstery and carpet were added by a previous owner (some would say mistakenly), although the lampshades are original, and the pink curtains would have been seen in the original Carlight fleet.

John has tried to stick to an accurate refurbishment, but added all the mod cons that make for comfortable touring.

"I wanted a cassette toilet, but didn't want to ruin the outside of the van with a modern locker door. The simple solution was to mirror the look of the LPF locker on the other side of the van, and make a copy to use for the cassette access. The van also needed a new framework around the exterior cabinets, so it was a good opportunity to do the work.

"We go on a lot of rallies, often without hook-up," he continued, "so it was important to restore the electrics. The original 240V lights were replaced with 12V LEDs to save energy. While we were at it, I fitted a solar-panel point. I have a portable solar panel that I used to switch between whichever caravan I was going away in; it's also handy to be able to detach it whenever we are on show as a vintage caravan."

John's restoration included fixing the road lighting and adding thermal blackout roller blinds. The kitchen didn't need any work, and still has all its original fittings. However, the shower was taken out.

"My preference was to remove it to eliminate that potential cause of damp," he explains. The original water heater is still up to the job, and any modern additions are hidden or kept in period.

One interesting feature of this van is that it has two entrance doors: one on either side. That on the UK nearside opens into the lounge area, with sofas that make up into a pair of double beds (one at the front, one further back), and a cabinet that has been commandeered as a bottle store. At the rear of the caravan is the kitchenette, separated from the living area by a sliding door, and the washroom into which the Continental-side door opens.

"We tend to use the 'British' door," says John. "Stepping into the washroom isn't a very pleasant way to enter! It suits us to have a sliding door that separates the washroom and kitchenette from the rest of the van, because it keeps cooking smells to a minimum – we open the side door for ventilation."

This van has another surprise up its sleeve, though, in the form of a dividing door between the two lounge areas. There's even a smaller door cut into it for anyone who needs to access the facilities at night. It's this careful planning and craftsmanship that made the brand so popular – the vans really were built to be as domestic in feel as possible. The lights have half-chandelier shades, and there is a glazed cabinet for drinking glasses, too.

John has also set up an impressive board showing his collection of Caravan Club rally badges. He is a serial rallier, and used to organise events while on the committee for the Caravan Club's Leicestershire Centre. Over the years he has amassed more than 100 badges.

Plus he has a shiny collection of silver spoons and shields, a few of which are proudly displayed on the wall beneath the glasses cabinet. These include items from Carlight Owners' Club rallies, and even a commemoration badge for the christening of his daughter during a Caravan Club rally at Launde Abbey.

That's not including the pennant flags, which flap in the wind at the front of the caravan. For the weekend of the Retro Caravan Club rally, when we met, John had the Carlight Owners' Club, Cornish and Retro Caravan Club pennants flying, but as a member of both The Caravan Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club, he switches these to suit.

It's a far cry from his car-and-caravan rallying days, and John may have downsized his fleet, but the passion and know-how that he's built up over the decades should help him continue caravanning for years to come.

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