Ken Bowman owns a unique Land Rover camper that is attracting a lot of attention. Bob Weir investigates
"We used to spend our holidays caravanning, and wanted a mobile home with a bit more size,” said Ken, a retired mechanic-cum-lorry driver by trade. “As I’ve always been a fan of Land Rovers, I decided to combine the two.”
Land Rovers are no strangers to camper conversions, and enthusiasts will remember the Carawagon and Dormobile makeovers. Although Carawagon has sadly been consigned to the history books, the Dormobile name was purchased from the Official Receiver in 1997, and subsequently sold to the SHB Hire Group in 2002. However, where as both conversions were happy to use the existing parameters of the Land Rover, Ken was after a lot more space. He said: “The great thing about caravans compared to a conventional motorhome is that you have more a lot more room. I was looking to create extra space, by extending the Land Rover’s body.”
Ken first became interested in Land Rovers when he was in his early 30s: “One of the attractions was that they were easy to work on, and you didn’t need these new diagnostic computers,” he recalled. “I ended up buying a petrol LWB 109. First thing I did was convert the Land Rover to diesel, using a Perkins engine. The conversion kits were quite common at the time, and being a mechanic I did all the work myself.
I then ran the vehicle for several years, before moving it on.” With its rolling farmland and central location, the East Riding of Yorkshire is ideal caravan country. During the nineties Ken also pursued his other hobby – collecting old commercials. He owned a Bedford TK lorry for several years, as a fond reminder of his early days working in haulage. “I then acquired Q512 XCY in 2006,” he explained. “Of course, it was a conventional 110 when I bought it, and didn’t need a Q plate. I spotted the vehicle on the Internet. “The Land Rover was based down in Kidderminster, so I rang up the owner and arranged a visit. I took my old Bedford lorry along, just in case.
Fortunately we were able to come to an arrangement, so I loaded the Land Rover onto the truck and drove back up to Yorkshire.” Ken remembered that the vehicle was in poor condition: “The Land Rover was wearing a J plate, and had originally been registered in 1991. Unfortunately, the engine had seized up. I had no plans to convert it into a camper at that stage. I just wanted to get it back on the road. I managed to get hold of a 300Tdi engine and gearbox out of a 1994 Discovery, and then just tidied the vehicle up. I used it to tow our caravan for the next three years.” Ken then had a health scare, and decided to replace the unwieldy caravan with a more practical mobile home. “I got the idea out of a magazine,” he recalled. “That’s when I decided to build my own body on the back of the 110. "We basically wanted a caravan on the back of a Land Rover. The first step was to make a plan, so we spent a lot of time online looking at designs of different types of caravans. We then came across a Coachman Mirage that had been written off in an accident. We stripped out the furniture and fittings laid them out on the floor, and designed our own body to put on the back of the Land Rover. “We bought the wood for the frame from a local builder’s merchants.
I also made a few modifications to the Land Rover’s cab, including fitting modern doors and replacing the old sliding type windows with wind-ups. I also had to cut a bit of the seat box away, to accommodate the
gear linkage. "The vehicle also has a shorter gear lever, than on the standard Discovery. I also fitted Terrafirma two inch shock absorbers, and twin car springs on the rear to make it a bit more stable. “We were planning to do some lengthy trips, so I decided to use a set of standard 7.50/16 road tyres and I managed to find some along with a set of new set wheels on the Internet as the conversion was almost finished, so fitted these as well. "I had already painted the original Land Rover myself but I got two old school chums, Brian Berryman and Pete Cuthbert trading as B&C Motors to paint the new doors and some cab panels.” Although Ken is no slouch when it comes to using tools, a lot of his friends were keen to lend a hand. He said: “We got a lot of help from Graham Silburn and Peter Edmondson, who have both worked in the caravan trade. Evelyn’s cousin, Roy Barnes, did most of the electrical
and gas work. I must also thank Mike Stubbins who sorted out the bodywork. In practice, this meant lengthening the chassis wheelbase from 110 to 130, and adding a 30 inch extension to the rear. My son-in-law Dave Clark also helped with a lot of the build. The camper body is clad in aluminium.” Ken remembered that he had a few problems persuading an aluminium supplier to provide the aluminium for the body. “I approached the Eltherington Group based in Hull, a company I knew from the old days,” he said. “To start with they weren’t particularly interested, because this was going to be a one-off job. But I persevered, and they eventually agreed to come on board. Their consultant came up to Pocklington to take all the measurements, and the work finally went ahead. The aluminium was all pre-painted before we took delivery.” While all this was going on partner Evelyn was busy doing a lot of the odd jobs, making tea plus planning the interior.
Ken recalls: “We obviously had to put all the fixtures and fittings from the caravan in the right place. These included Cramer gas rings, hob, oven and grille; an Electrolux fridge, and a full sink and drainer. We also fitted a proper washroom, and added a few little luxuries like a TV and set of electric steps. Our gas supply is carried on board the camper, and the electricity is provided on site by way of a mains hook-up. Looking back, I would say the whole project took the best part of eighteen months.” Having completed the Land Rover’s transformation, Ken had one final hurdle to negotiate: passing the VOSA test. He said: “Once you start tinkering around with the chassis you then have to get the vehicle cleared by VOSA (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency). The Land Rover is now taxed as a motor caravan. I went to the VOSA office in Beverley, and applied for an IVA (individual vehicle approval). This is the reason why it is running around on a Q plate. “Looking back I suppose the whole project was bit of gamble, because there was always the chance they might have rejected the conversion. We would then have had to do something different with the Land Rover, like turning it back into a 12-seater Safari! Getting the paperwork and DVLA sorted out took the best part of six months.” Once everything had been squared away, it was time for Q512 XCY to hit the open road.
“Our first outing was local to a campsite at Slingsby near Malton,” said Ken. “I didn’t want to take the Land Rover any distance, just in case we had some problems. We certainly attracted a lot of interest from the other campers, and this sort of reaction continues up to the present day. "People are always knocking on the camper door, asking about the conversion. You get used to it after a while, and we are generally happy to show people around. Either that or they are busy taking photographs. I remember coming back recently from a trip to Wales, and one driver overtook me in a white van while his passenger took a photo on his mobile phone. “The funniest incident happened shortly after we had finished the conversion. We decided to take the camper up to the vintage vehicle rally at Kelso in Scotland. I was driving along minding my own business, when I noticed a police car in my wing mirrors. I was a bit concerned especially driving a modified vehicle, so decided to pull into the next lay-by to let him past. Much to my consternation, he also pulled in and parked right behind me. "I got out of the Land Rover fearing the worst. Fortunately, the police officer turned out to be just another Land Rover fan, and was simply curious. Next thing I knew, we had invited him into the camper for a look around. We must have been chatting for a good 20 minutes.”
Any modified vehicle needs to be driven with care, but Ken says the Land Rover is fairly straightforward. “Although I was obviously used to driving the vehicle, as you can imagine it handles a lot differently with the camper on the back. You have to be a bit careful, especially going round corners. Other than that the engine can certainly cope with the extra weight, and it is pretty much business as usual.” Ken and Evelyn have always enjoyed life on the open road from their caravanning days, and so far they have driven the Land Rover camper all over the UK. Ken said: “We’ve certainly enjoyed ourselves over the last few years, although we’re not getting any younger. I’ll probably keep the Land Rover for a bit longer, but could be tempted to sell if the right offer came along.”