What Motorhome Next?

Self Build Woody Motorhome
OK, maybe we’ve not had our Hymer quite this long…

We’ve had our motorhome for a good few years now and been very happy with it, that’s why we’ve kept it so long. It’s nothing revolutionary though, just a Fiat Ducato chassis-cab with a 2.5 turbo-diesel motor and 5 berth bodywork by Hymer of Germany. Simple, good quality, (mostly) solid and reliable, and a vehicle I have no hesitation recommending to any couple wishing to tour in comfort and convenience anywhere in UK or Europe with a single child (or indeed to anybody looking for a motorsport support & tow vehicle, another role our motorhome has performed brilliantly for very many long and extremely enjoyable weekends).

The problem of course is that as time has passed, so our needs have changed. Where “5 berths” once meant a double bed and a single bed permanently made up with sheets and duvets always fitted, and a fixed dining table for 4, it now means either quite a lot more twice-daily shuffling internally and/or somebody sleeping outside in either our Omnistor safari room or a pup-tent, possibly both. And that’s before factoring in our third child born a week ago, plus 40kg of highly-enthusiastic German Shepherd working dog who joined our family a couple of years back.

The inevitable conclusion is that our faithful Fiat/Hymer motorhome has been stretched about as far as is possible, and the time has come to expand into something bigger. The question is simple: what to get? Torquey though our 2.5 Iveco turbo-diesel motor is, I don’t fancy towing a caravan behind a campervan! This realisation does at least help focus the question a little though: what motorhome to have next?

This addresses a need, although perhaps not ours.

We’re in the fortunate position of being ‘in the trade’ and speaking with numerous motorhome-owning customers every day. Better yet, we’re often speaking with our customers about what needs to be improved, or fixed, on their own motorhomes following an extended period of real-world use (i.e. travelling and living). So we have a very good idea of what works well, and what doesn’t. And of course when we go to the various motorhome and camping shows every year, we get to see more new and customised vehicles than you can shake a stick at. Literally!

So we do at least have a fairly good idea of our ‘must have’ requirements (i.e. anything that doesn’t meet all of these requirements has no chance of being selected):

  • 4 fixed berths (1 double and 2 singles) minimum
  • Fixed dining/lounging area for 6
  • 2 occasional berths (preferably 2 singles)
  • Fixed travel seating for 4 (minimum) in driving cab, with lap & diagonal belts
  • Occasional travel seating for 4 in living area, also with lap & diagonal belts
  • Standard, unmodified diesel engine (definitely not petrol with LPG conversion!)
  • Base vehicle designed for long-haul driving, not local deliveries (I want to be fresh after an 8 hour drive!)

And a fair few ‘should have’ items as well (i.e. our ideal motorhome will have most or all of these features):

  • Rear wheel drive (pref with diff-lock to further reduce risk of getting stuck when towing off-tarmac)
  • Left hand drive
  • Adequate working surface in kitchen that doesn’t interfere with seating/dining space
  • Large cupboard space
  • Dishwasher & washing machine
  • Oven, grill & large fridge-freezer
  • Minimum 5 days & nights independence from mains-electric supply
  • Good size externally accessible garage
  • Cab able to be securely locked-off from living accommodation, both for dealer servicing and somewhere for dog to sleep

And we’ve even defined some ‘nice to have’ requirements too (i.e. in the unlikely event that more than one motorhome meets all the above, these will be the deciders):

  • All wheel drive, either 4×4 or 6×6 (we’ll eventually be heading into Africa, India and beyond)
  • Substantial fuel & water autonomy
  • On-board generator
  • Large garage, 2+ cubic metres
Luxury American RV with car in garage

This is bigger than we need, or can afford

On interior finish, we have no interest in the “ostentatious luxury for the sake of it” style of some motorhome manufacturers, and would prefer something that is simple, easy to clean and above all durable. We really don’t want beautifully polished wood, that will simply add cost at the outset and eventually wind up scratched, scared and looking tatty anyway. Such are the needs of a typical family, travelling and camping with active children of various ages and a big working dog.

The problem then comes because we’re struggling to find a motorhome (at least in the sense that most people use the word!) that meets even the ‘must have’ requirements, let alone anything more, mostly because of our desire to have the whole family in the cab so we can easily talk on long journeys, and because we don’t want to be forever making beds up and breaking them down again.

Small self build motorhome - pedal powered - camperbike

While this isn't anywhere big enough for us.

There are some Ducato-based vehicles that can meet our sleeping/eating needs by virtue of a tag-axle and long body, but their traction is woefully inadequate when trying to move across wet grass with a car-trailer on the back (I’ve got our current motorhome stuck crossing a mate’s field to camp there even without the trailer), they don’t have sufficient in-cab seating, and they’re not really relaxing long-haul vehicles (being built on a base vehicle that was originally designed for comparatively local journeys).

With some of the US imports it’s arguable that everybody sits ‘in the cab’ when travelling, and they’re certainly comfortable on the long-haul, but even if they nominally have sufficient berths too, the American propensity to waste space for the sake of it means that they’re not fixed berths and need to be constantly made up and broken down, which rules them out for us. Many US RVs brought into UK also have petrol engines with LPG conversions, and while I won’t go into the technicalities here that is definitely *NOT* a reliable or durable solution, and will most likely end up costing more in the long-run when it breaks than simply running on petrol would.

Self built 4x4 motorhome

And this isn't quite what we had in mind either...

All of which points towards a European truck base (as opposed to van base) for our ideal motorhome. Many trucks are designed for long-haul rather than local distribution, and unlike the US market the EU ones are designed with an eye on fuel economy too. They’re obviously not front wheel drive and are thus unlikely to suffer traction problems towing across a wet field. And with an extended/crew cab there’s even space for our children to join us up front, and enjoy the scenery as we drive. I’m perfectly happy to take a LGV test to drive the thing if necessary, no problems.

The only problem then is that the biggest truck chassis I can see in use for motorhome construction in Europe is the MAN TGL 8.210, which being plated at 7.5 tons is still small enough to drive on a car license (not that I care) but even then it’s seemingly only built as a motorhome with the basic day cab (meaning there’s only one row of seats – why???), and the very few motorhome manufacturers using that chassis appear to major on the “ostentatious luxury for the sake of it” style of interior that we’re keen to avoid.

The inevitable conclusion then is that it looks like we’re heading towards a self build motorhome here, but if you know otherwise do please share your thoughts either as a comment here or by email. And if you know anybody else that may be able to help us in our search for our dream motorhome, please share this post with them using your preferred social media mechanisms.

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