Car Mechanics (UK)

Carry on camp­ing

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There’s an old Ara­bic say­ing that the soul trav­els at the pace of a camel. You could well add that if you go any faster, you lose your soul. Which brings me to BCA Pad­dock Wood’s dealer part-ex auction that took place on a sunny Wed­nes­day in July. Amid the sea of soul­less cars was a ve­hi­cle that lit­er­ally stood head and shoul­ders above even the most nou­veau SUV. It was an LDV Pi­lot, née Austin-morris Sherpa, née Freightro­ver 200 series. It’s a ve­hi­cle that can trace its lin­eage back to when Carry On films were both risqué and cur­rent. This one was lumped in with the cars, as it had been a fac­tory cam­per con­ver­sion, so it had tech­ni­cally never hit the road as a common or gar­den com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle.

Con­verted by Devon with the full co-op­er­a­tion of LDV, these ve­hi­cles were both handy-sized and hardy little sell­ers. They were fac­tory-backed too – even the brochures were pro­duced by LDV. The Pi­lot was called Kala­hari, while the big­ger Con­voy was the Sa­hara, and they sold through the DAF dealer net­work.

Devon re­lo­cated to Durham many decades ago and is still there to this day. LDV, not VW, were the main­stay of its pro­duc­tion up here, although it con­verts pretty much any­thing now. Ex­cept the LDV Maxus, as I once found out.

Any­way, Devon hit upon the idea of pric­ing LDVS within com­pany car brack­ets, mean­ing the ad­ven­tur­ous could get their em­ployer to pay for a four-berth Sa­hara in­stead of, say, a Rover 820Si. This was ac­tu­ally a savvy move, in that de­pre­ci­a­tion for a com­pany car fleet with a sense of hu­mour was min­i­mal – these campers hold their value as­ton­ish­ingly well.

As a for­mer LDV Con­voy Sa­hara owner – the range-top­ping ex­tra-long-wheel­base vari­ant with the fac­tory high roof (at one point, it was Eu­rope’s big­gest panel van) fit­ted with the Ford 2.4 TDCI en­gine – I have ro­manced around the coun­try in it.

Parts and ser­vice back-up is still out there. Mine was main­tained by an ex-royal Mail fit­ter and a DAF dealer. It drove sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than my Land Rover Dis­cov­ery Td5 back then. You just have to adapt your at­ti­tude and try not to pine too much for a slid­ing driver’s door.

The only prob­lem with the Pi­lot is its lack of per­for­mance com­pared to the hec­tic pace of mod­ern life. This one was fit­ted with the later ver­sion of the ven­er­a­ble Peu­geot/citroën 1.9 en­gine bolted to the Land Rover Dis­cov­ery ’box. Fast they aren’t. The brave could quite eas­ily bolt a turbo to it, but that would lose the charm of the thing. Far bet­ter to travel than to ar­rive.

This ex­am­ple was an MOT fail­ure for var­i­ous bits of body­work. The tough sep­a­rate chas­sis was still in one piece, how­ever, and there was no play in the king­pins. It had cov­ered a gen­uine 70,000 miles – just run in, re­ally.

After a flurry of bids, it sold for £2150 + the out. That’s nothing and there’s real profit there. Only last year the cur­rent Mrs Ward wanted one for her 40th birth­day and found two, nei­ther for less than £12,000!

Paint fin­ish on the Pi­lots is ex­cel­lent, as are the in­te­rior bits. The pro­pri­etors of Devon still quite openly miss the Pi­lot when they’ve cropped up in con­ver­sa­tion (we used to walk our dogs to­gether). They are fondly re­mem­bered and I’m sure are al­ways happy to help out. So for­get those go­daw­ful arse-en­gined Vee­dubs and fly the flag. Re­mem­ber: Sherpa driv­ers don’t quit.

‘You could eas­ily bolt a turbo to it, but that would lose the charm of the thing’

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