Bryony SymesSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Me and my caravan’ written by Bryony Symes
Helen Leefe is a veteran of two modern caravans, so she’s familiar with the perks of touring: relaxing breaks in England and Wales, the comfort of a home from home, and being able to come and go as she pleases. For her next van, though, she had another idea – one that could be used to expand her online gift business, as well as for holidays.
Instead of selecting one of the latest tourers or looking at used caravans, Helen searched online for a vintage caravan for sale. She started by scouring the web for pictures of restored caravans to get a clearer idea of what she and her husband, Martin, wanted.
The couple hadn’t necessarily planned to do a restoration project, but it was looking likely. They finally secured a very cute 1969 Fisher Holivan prototype with quilted sides.
"My husband and I drove 200 miles to collect her from Southampton," says Helen. "I remember seeing the Holivan and thinking, 'Wow, she is so cute.' She measures only 8ft by 5ft."
A tourer that appealing had to have a name, and the couple discussed several before choosing 'Holly'.
"Holly bobbed along with excitement all the way to her new home," Helen recalls. "We had to tow very slowly because she is very light, but we liked it when people who overtook us gave us a smile and a wave."
Holly is towed by a Land Rover Discovery, but she was designed to be towed by classic Minis or Morris Minors.
These are very rare caravans and this one was hand-built in 1969, so Helen and Martin had to take great care of it. The van had already been looked after by previous owners, who had started the restoration by working on the A-frame; the undercarriage was immaculate.
A lot was left to do on the rest of the Holivan. Still, the Leefes took only about two weeks to complete their work. Martin painted and wallpapered the interior, while Helen renewed the soft furnishings.
The van was then sent to a bodyshop where filing, sanding, smoothing and base painting were done on the exterior – another two weeks. Small dings were remedied before the final respraying was done.
The original beige quilted panels were repainted light green to match the interior. When the couple arrived to tow her home, Holly had undergone quite a makeover.
During the restoration, Helen and Martin saved what they could of the original features. A cupboard had been added above the galley, and was removed. The lounge can be arranged as twin beds or as a double, assembled by sliding the singles together and extending the wooden base.
Martin painted the overhead lockers and seat bases ivory, and papered two walls. This was meant to match the kitchen’s original light blue work surface.
The cushions and seating were treated to pink-and-white fabrics, but the cupboards, table and wardrobe were left as they were found. The Fisher also has its original parquet-style flooring, to which hand-fitted carpeting was added for comfort.
"Now that the hard work has been done, we can enjoy Holly even more," says Helen. "I’ve just started using her as a travelling vintage, retro and modern-vintage gifts and accessories shop. She is a real attraction and steals the limelight anywhere she goes, encouraging people to peek inside and ask questions, which we love.
There have been other suggestions for ways to use Holly, including as a proposal booth, a romantic getaway, a serving post at weddings and birthday parties – the list is endless. Having had such a busy year taking the caravan to fairs and shows has stopped Helen and Martin from enjoying any trips away in her. Nevertheless, they intend to turn over a new leaf and go glamping in the future.
"We can’t wait to take her away," says Helen. "Holly doesn’t stay still for long, so if you see us out and about, give us a wave!"