On the hunt for our new wheels

We’re eager to be back on the road and therefore rather than sit feeling sorry for ourselves that we’ve parted ways with Bluebell the motorhome we’ve thrown ourselves into the big hunt for our new set of wheels, and boy, is there a lot to consider!

A lot of people have taken the time to write to us to offer advice- thanks very much- its always good to get some outside advise, and many of you telling us about your own downsizing to T5 or similar journeys has given us the confidence that we are not completely out of our mind!

Between us we’ve discovered the difference between a Rock n Roll bed and a Rib bed, how high the standard height barrier is (its 2.1m if you’re interested!) how many MPG a Japanese car with its engine NOT in the bonnet does and that Pop up’s on camper vans can be in a vast selections of colours!

6.5 years of motor homing – my face after a weekend of learning about camper vans!


We had an interesting afternoon having a look around a Vauxhall Vivaro in Thetford. It is currently being lovingly converted by Simon at http://www.buildacamper.com into an immaculate and surprisingly spacious campervan- a very similar interior style to a VW T5 although the Vivaro is slightly bigger in dimensions to the T5.

Vauxhall Vivaro Campervan Conversion

First impressions were good- although I was fairly sure this wasn’t the same dimension as the VWT5- it felt much larger, almost builder’s van like and I was worried about how easy to drive day to day it would be, bearing in mind most of the week we are crammed into school car parks!

Budget wise, at top end £12,000 it was coming in well under and would be built to our spec- inclusive of bike rack etc. Having had a good chat with Simon about our requirements we left feeling excited. Was this our next van?

That evening further investigation showed the dimensions were slightly bigger. It was still lower than the standard height barrier but to me it felt too big.

Vauxhall Vivace 

Pros: Plenty of storage, no need for a pop up as the living area was more than high enough for Keith to relax in, customised to our exact requirements, well under budget so some dosh left in the bank afterwards

Cons: A bit big for day to day use (in our opinion based upon our daily usage), Perhaps wouldn’t hold it’s value as much as a VW T5


We were up bright and early and off to Norwich- this time heading for Andy’s Imports – a specialist Bongo importer and converter. Andy had around 30 different vans all in our budget so we were quietly optimistic. Having never sat in a Bongo before all the pics we had seen online implied that the layout was T5 based. Our friend Annie warned us they were small. She wasn’t lying! It didn’t put us off- we are going into this process with the realisation we have got to make compromises.

The Bongo’s at Andy’s Imports had two layouts – an end kitchen with bench style seating as above or side kitchen as below. The engine in a Bongo is not under the bonnet, its half way down the vehicle, preventing you from accessing the living area from the cab seats and also means you can’t have a swivel captain chair. This meant we would only have two liveable seats and it was a bit narrow for us two!

Mazda Bongo

Pros: Definitely small enough for use as a day vehicle, Japanese engine – reliable and hassle free, Beautiful Conversion 

Cons: Petrol – Japan stopped making diesels years ago, not ideal for our only car. Very small- would have to have Pop up top, which Keith would prefer to avoid. Limited Storage on board- really only suitable for one night away. No fridge – 12v coolbox installed instead.

We were then showed a Toyota Reigus, also imported from Japan and another beaut of a conversion.


The main difference was the swivel passenger captain’s seat which opened up the living area no end- it made it feel much more spacious despite being no wider a base vehicle. There was a small fridge which I was happy about, and also it’s also a higher ceiling meaning we didn’t have to have a pop up (Keith became a little obsessed that he didn’t want a pop up- not really based on anything may I add…) One thing it did have was a huge sunroof which was fabulous, my goodness the light was wonderful.

Keith fell head over heels in love with it, although I was a little more cautious. Whilst he was admiring the sun light through the roof I was frantically trying to find some form of storage. There was minimal. I mean, I’m a creative thinker and I could not even begin to think where our duvet would go let alone our walking boots.

The only storage in the Toyota Reigus

At this point we randomly bumped into Sue, one of Keith’s piano students! She was talking to them about getting a bongo specially converted! We decided to take the Toyota out for a test drive and Sue came along for the ride too!


The ride was certainly comfortable, the Japanese really do know how to do luxurious, even in this older vehicle. But, it was petrol and that still gave me some concern.


Very dinky Toyota next to our car.

Toyota Reigus

Pros: Excellent use of a sunroof, felt amazingly roomy for a small vehicle, definitely able to use day to day, Swivel captains chair, fridge.

Cons: Petrol, Minimal Storage, Possibly wouldn’t hold its value.

Keith at this point was discussing trade in prices for our car, and we were negotiating bike rack prices. Thankfully, Keith had forgotten his wallet – so we were unable to put a deposit down there and then – I don’t think we would have, but it was getting dangerously close. We told Andy we’d go and have a think about it and call him with a decision later.

On the way home we dropped into see one of my flute student’s Jackie and her husband Richard’s lovely VW T5. I knew immediately, it was more suitable having MUCH more room for storage. I expressed my opinions re the storage to Keith and we had a little discussion about whether we could cope or not with next to no storage. He had clearly left his heart on top of the Toyota roof when I closed the sunroof as he was adamant we could manage. Ahem. Wasn’t this process meant to be fun!


Having spent a large part of last night discussing the pros and cons and me harping on about the storage – Keith woke up having possibly had a change of heart. He was concerned about having to have a bike ride as a tow bar because of the hatchback/spoiler combo. We agreed to go and have another look in the fresh (and rather hungover state!) We agreed to look at hiring a VW T5 camper van for the end of Feb half term and quickly found a local company near to Andy’s Imports so arranged to go up and have a quick look at their T6. From the minute we stepped in side, I knew Keith had been won over. The pop up top he could see was tick rather than a cross, and the layout and storage combination was just inspired.

Inspired storage solutions – particularly LOVED the front of the fridge storage

We fell in love with that van and at that point knew we didn’t need to hire one as we would make this new style of being on the road work for us -( if you need to hire one though I couldn’t recommend Capricorn Campers enough, the van was stunning and at this time of year only £49 per day!) There was one problem though- Keith’s vision was blocked in driving position and we could not work out why. We put it down to the fact that perhaps the cab design was slightly different in the T6. We have now solved this mystery which will be explained in due course I promise..

On route back to Andy’s Imports and Keith admitted that he hadn’t looked at Jackie’s T5 seriously as he wanted the Toyota – naughty!! We went back for a second look at the Toyota and I’ll be blowed, the first thing Keith said was ‘Oh, it doesn’t feel as roomy today”. Give me strength. I fired a quick Hallelujah text off to Annie and thanked my lucky stars he’d seen sense!

A quick check of the Mazda’s with pop up and they were still just too narrow. It was becoming obvious that the VW was a good solution or the Vivaro if we could get around the size.

Our next step is viewing some T5’s and possibly another Vivaro, seeing if we can find “our van” – we feel confident that we are making the right decision having viewed a selection of other vans- but realistically, even if we have made a mistake we know the VW’s hold their price.




Stay tuned for part 2 which will hopefully come in a week or so….;-)  We don’t want to jinx anything so are keeping our lips sealed for a few days………

Until Next Time



2 thoughts on “On the hunt for our new wheels

  1. You didn’t take long did you? FWIW I would think that a pop top is a must – it MASSIVELY improves the experience when you’re parked up – our son sleeps in ours but we always put it up when we are out on our own – it transforms the space. Having looked around I’d definitely get a RIB bed – more money but the quality is amazing and they are much more comfortable – we use Duvalays too. The other thing with the RIB is it gives you loads of space underneath but it also gives you a massive rear shelf for bedding etc or to use as an everyday transport. Another thing re the back seats is make sure they are crash tested a- some aren’t.

    Storage was a key concern for us so we maximised it at every opportunity. Storage under swivelling double front seat, full height wardrobe towards the rear of the interior on the drivers side, Tin and mug cupboards above sink / hob.

    We have a Vango Kela driveaway awning for longer trips too. Goes up in 10 mins (no poles!!) and attaches to the van with a tunnel (where we put a toilet). On that sort of trip we take more stuff which travels in plastic crates on the floor of the van and then we decant them into the awning. Then you can just drive off in an empty van for exploring. (and parking in normal car parks – mostly)

    We rented a van before we took the plunge too. We love our T5 but they aren’t cheap. You may want to look at some of the new Transit conversions or even Hyundais – http://wellhouseleisure.com/ have lots to look at. Definitely take a trip to the NEC show where you can see vans side by side – really good for ideas and narrowing down what you want.

    1. Ha – no we don’t, totally our style to go straight out on the hunt!
      Even more so in this case as after 6.5 years of regular trips in the motorhome every single school holiday and a lot of weekends in between, the thought of not being able to do this for a while was just awful!
      Thanks for the useful comments- all taken on board.
      Will hopefully have an update in next couple of days 😉

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