Bryony SymesSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Me and my caravan’ written by Bryony Symes
Serial retro and vintage caravan collectors Chris Beresford and Cameron Burns have quite a selection of vans to choose from when they head out touring. On a special occasion such as a Retro Caravan Club rally, you might expect them to bring out the big guns.
The Sprite was always a very basic, low-budget caravan, so most people who bought them added home comforts and made numerous improvements.
However, this caravan managed to make it through over half a century with no alterations, and Chris and Cam weren’t about to ruin it now; they were determined to do a true restoration.
A special survivor
The caravan was bought new by Mr and Mrs Mills from Fleet Caravans in Aldershot back in 1963 for £284 (around £5500 in today’s money), and it stayed in the family until Sylvia needed to downsize and listed it on eBay.
“Sylvia thought we wanted it for spares,” says Chris, “so she was absolutely delighted when I said I wanted it to restore to tow behind my 1969 Rover P6. It’s amazing that this particular example has survived exactly as it was supplied from the factory.
“When we collected it from Essex, we serviced the chassis, fitted new tyres and attached a trailer light board. We were then ready to set off home. The Sprite towed beautifully, despite not having moved since 1979.”
Even after sitting in a garden for 52 years, the van was in surprisingly good condition, as Cam explains: “Amazingly, the only water ingress was around the skylight, which was duly fixed and the new wallboard was painted to match the rest of the original ones.
“It hadn’t always been in such good condition, though. The original owners towed it with a Jaguar Mk2, but had to go back to Sprite in 1966, just three years after it was purchased, to report that the A-frame had begun to crack. The company’s response? They said ‘We’re sorry, sir, but we don’t expect our usual clientele to tow our caravans with such a powerful car’. However, some simple strengthening of the A-frame meant they were soon on the road again.”
Cam continues: “They travelled all over the country with the Alpine – as far south as Cornwall and as far north as Glasgow – until 1979. That’s when their children left home and the Sprite was relegated to the back garden. We’re actually still in touch with Sylvia, and she’s really pleased that the family’s old caravan has been restored.”
The hard work
Once the boys had collected the van from Essex and it was safely ensconced at their storage yard near Derby, the hard graft started.
“We totally stripped down the exterior because the original paint was very thin,” says Chris.
“We resealed all the trims and added an awning rail; these weren’t fitted as standard by Sprite until 1965, so our Alpine never had one. We’ve repaired and restored everything – we even salvaged the old road lights, fitting new innards but keeping the original lenses.”
Trying to keep to the factory spec as much as possible, the only new addition was curtains after the originals disintegrated in the wash. A 1960s curtain remains on the window in the door.
“We managed to keep the original sprung interior cushions, and we re-lacquered the factory linoleum and re-varnished the woodwork,” Cam says.
The caravan’s layout is quite unusual, but really practical. This four-berth van appears on first inspection to have just one make-up double.
The second double bed is disguised against the front wall, with a magazine rack that doubles as the corner leg once it is folded down. It is a great way to have a bed that is ready for you to fall into at the end of a long day without sacrificing precious floor space. There are straps to hold your bedding in place and, for safety reasons, it is lowered in transit.
Basic but brilliant
Other clever design hacks that were available when ordering these caravans include the option to have a stable-style door, a curtain that you can pull across the middle of the van to provide privacy, and interchangeable tables between the two seating areas.
The kitchen is basic, but there was the option to fit an oven, and there is running water supplied by a foot pump.
“Our maiden voyage after the restoration was an ambitious 600-mile round trip to Cornwall, for the rally of the Retro Caravan Club, which we set up just over a year ago,” says Chris.
“We had a really comfortable week away, with just a vintage gas heater for warmth, the original two-burner hob and grill to cook on and the two factory gas lamps for light.”
Even though the classic Sprite weighs in at just 750kg, Chris and Cam were towing with a classic car so they weren’t sure how the first journey would go. Luckily, the Rover pulled superbly.
This is an iconic outfit, and understandably one of the favourites in their collection of tourers.
It is sure to turn heads, despite the humble roots of this now vintage caravan.