Ruth Bass

See other Advice articles filed in ‘General motorhome advice’ written by Ruth Bass
   
Fancy modifying your ’van to get the most from it? Practical Motorhome reader team member Ruth Bass shares a few tips, proving a little can go a long way

When my husband Geoff and I were looking for a motorhome to replace the family coachbuilt, we were pretty picky. We had in mind a gap year travelling in Europe and wanted a more comfortable layout for the two of us, comprehensive facilities on board and a garage with ample storage. It also needed to be a driveable, aire-friendly size and to have two additional travel seats and berths for occasional use. And it needed to be fully winterised because we are regular skiers.

A German A-class seemed to be the answer, but we couldn’t find a model to suit. Many lacked UK-friendly kitchens and most that we considered had insufficient payload. A chance meeting at a show with the German sales manager of Carthago opened our eyes to the build quality of the Chic. We realised that the optional Iveco base would suit our driving needs and provide a generous payload into the bargain.

In 2006, Carthago had yet to launch its more cost-conscious Chic C-line variant. The Chic range shared much of the same build quality and specification of its luxury models such as the Liner. We were impressed by the wood-free, double-aluminium-bonded construction of the body, with superior insulation and a double floor. In addition, with tanks and waste valves in the heated floor space, we would avoid freezing up in sub-zero temperatures.

Our first trip in the Chic was exciting. The cab seemed wide after a coachbuilt, but visibility was excellent and we soon adjusted, finding the driving easier with the semi-automatic gearbox.

We’d ordered left-hand drive because we planned to tour mainly in Europe and Geoff finds it easier handling a left-hand drive on familiar UK roads than a right-hand drive on the Continent. The twin-tyre, rear-wheel drive was impressive, achieving a tighter turning circle and improved traction on mud and snow. And we loved the comfort – having a comfy fixed bed and a good lounge would prove important when away for long periods.

We find that it takes a maiden voyage in a new ’van to work out how to sort the storage to suit our needs. Geoff has a rule when adding modifications to a motorhome: they must be non-invasive, reversible, or so in keeping that you’d never know.

First, we fitted some lightweight plastic drawers in the wardrobe for folded garments. Finding it more convenient to store shoes in an outside locker by the door, we fitted our Freeview box in an intended shoe cupboard, handy for the TV, which rises out of a seat back. Being a northern lass I love my cup of tea in bed in the morning, so a couple of mug shelves completed the bedroom. The washroom towel rail didn’t feel like the best place for damp towels so Geoff designed a drying rack from plastic piping. We fitted a sprung catch to secure the sink covers when using the sink. Finally, we fitted glass-clips in the crockery cupboard and a wine rack.

With the inside organised, Geoff got to work on his garage, inventing non-invasive storage solutions and adding a removable, additional water tank for occasional use, and a spare toilet cassette in a storage box. We also added batteries, an inverter and a second solar panel.

Our A-class has been a joy to use over the nine years we've owned it. Little has gone wrong. And at 50,000 miles it’s still in good condition, partly thanks to the build quality. We’ve only had two issues of any significance – one with the electric step, rectified under warranty, and the other with the gearbox, cured by a software update. Short of the odd cupboard catch coming loose, that’s about it.

Many recent Chics offer a sliding or swinging washroom door, forming a dressing area, and it was one thing that we coveted. So Geoff designed and fitted a conversion. You’d hardly know it was there and it’s a great asset to on-board living. Best of all, it can be removed when we come to sell – the only trace will be two screw holes that we can mask with filler.

As things worked out, our idea of a gap year never materialised – instead we made plans to retire a little earlier and got away as much as we could in the intervening years. We’ve had fabulous trips in all seasons.

We wouldn’t change anything about the Chic, but our requirements are different now and we need a more compact ’van, so we’re letting her go with mixed feelings. We’ll really miss the comfort and specification of our beloved I47, and hope the next owners will appreciate her as much as we have.

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