Car Mechanics (UK)
Carry on camping
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’