One of the great things about the resurgence of camper vans is that a number of fantastic vintage vans are resurfacing. Some of them are known greats like Volkswagen campers, but some are more obscure campers like this van before you today. The Bedford Dormobile is Britain’s answer to the campers of its day and it sure is bizarre.
Dormobile’s history dates all of the way back to 1773. Back then, the company says, Martin Walter launched a family business that first made horse harnesses before getting into building carriages. Fast forward 60 years and Martin Walter Ltd was still coachbuilding, but now making convertible roofs for cars. Later, the Martin Walter company would create the Utilecon body, a concept that transformed panel vans into passenger vans in seconds.
The company’s experience with convertibles and panel van conversions would come together in the 1950s when it joined the then new world of camper vans.
In 1951, Westfalia created its first camper van, the “Camping Box.” While the camper van dates back decades prior, Westfalia is often credited with making the idea of camping in a van popular. Westfalia’s conversion easily turned a Volkswagen Transporter into a home for a weekend getaway. Martin Walter Ltd was right on the heels of Westfalia just a year later with its own take on camping.
In 1952, the UK’s Bedford Vehicles launched the Bedford CA. This was a van with what looked like the nose of a pug, sliding front doors and distinctive character lines. As the Dormobile Owners Club notes, Martin Walter Ltd took the CA and first added a bench seat for sleeping. The Dormobile — bedroom on wheels — was born. But of course, Martin Walter Ltd didn’t stop there. It also added a stove and in 1957 came its pop-top roof tent.
While Dormobile started with the Bedford CA, it quickly expanded to making camper conversions for a variety of vans, including the Volkswagen Transporter.
And it wasn’t long before Dormobile camper vans became famous in the UK. The company bought out other camper van manufacturers along the way.
That brings us to the van plastered across your screen.
It was built in 1969, the year that Martin Walter Ltd changed its name to Dormobile Ltd and started making Dormobile conversions for Land Rovers. It’s also the final year for the Bedford CA van.
The Dormobile that you see here has the features that you’d expect in a camper van with its stovetop, oven, sink and cabinetry.
Up front is a dining table with what looks like some cushy seats flanking it. The seats in the van fold flat — including the driver seat — so you can sleep in them. This Bedford CA Dormobile sleeps four and the accommodations don’t look bad for something this old. The van looks so good because it was restored in the UK before being imported to America.
This van also has some neat touches like steps to get in from the rear.
Under the stubby hood is a tiny 1.5-liter four. It’s said to have been overbored and rebuilt with a replacement camshaft and valves. This would have made 52 horses when new, or 54.8 horses if it was optioned with high compression. The engine is paired to a column-shifted three-speed manual.
Through some sleuthing I’ve found that van was sold on Bring a Trailer back in January for the surprisingly reasonable price of $23,250. Buying it now would set you back $48,000, but the seller says that more restoration work has been done since then, including the van’s bunk beds.
Sadly, while Dormobile is still around today building all kinds of campers, you won’t find them in the States.
That said, Dormobile does restorations on its iconic vintage vans, so parts to keep this going should still be around. Bedford Vehicles folded in 1986, but thankfully the engine is also said to have been common back in its day. Keeping that alive shouldn’t be too hard, either. That makes this van an import that you won’t be afraid to drive. So if you’re looking for something a bit different, this could be the ticket.
Hat tip to Nicholas!