If you follow Practical Motorhome on Facebook, Twitter or Google+, you’ll know that last weekend I took a campervan to Le Mans in northern France for the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race. First held in 1923, this is one of motorsport’s most prestigious races and the most famous endurance race in the world – and it’s one I’ve wanted to go to for years.
Run on the Circuit de la Sarthe, an almost 8.5-mile racetrack that’s part public roads, part purpose built track just south of the city of Le Mans, the names of the nearby towns of Mulsanne and Arnage, that give their names to sections of the circuit, have become the stuff of legend. For the drivers and cars that win, their names will be etched on the history books alongside icons of motorsport.
But for me this wasn’t just a thrilling trip because of where we were going, how we were going there was also a source of excitement, for a number of reasons. I’m not afraid to say it: this was my first motorhome tour. I’ve been away with colleagues for a few nights but this was the first time I’d be taking a ‘van and hitting the road without being accompanied by someone who’s been there and done it – and what a trip to pop that cherry on.
And then there was the ‘van, which was also something rather special. It was a one-off, converted Toyota Proace campervan, the Toyota PRO40. It made its Le Mans debut with us, the same weekend that Toyota’s sports car, the TS040 Hybrid, made its Le Mans debut.
The long-wheelbase Proace was converted into a four-berth camper by the family-run G&P Campervan Conversions in Staffordshire – and we were amazed by what they’d manage to squeeze into that space.
We had a sink, a fridge-freezer, a two-burner hob (essential for bacon baguettes) and a microwave at our disposal. There was also a dining table, fancy LED lighting, a TV with Freeview (admittedly, not so handy when not in the UK!), what turned out to be an excellent, diesel powered heating system and a courtesy table.
The final item in that list doubled as a step to access the two-person roof bed, once the campervan’s pop top was raised, while pulling a lever flattened the ‘van’s rear seats, turning it into the snappily named rock-and-roll double bed. Not bad for a 5135mm long, 1245mm wide van. And I loved the racing stripes on the roof and the chequered flag curtains.
But that’s not all. Toyota dressed ‘our’ PRO40 camper in the same livery as its sister racing car. Subtle it wasn’t, distinctive it most definitely was. And from the waves, smiles and thumbs up we received on the road, not to mention the turned heads, questions and nods of approval once pitched on site, it was a hit with our fellow campers and petrolheads.
It may’ve been powered by a 126bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that was a far cry from the 1000bhp of its hybrid sister racer, but on the drive to the Channel Tunnel at Folkstone and then south from Calais, it was never short of puff. It was the perfect chariot in which to take in the scenery and get in the mood for the weekend ahead.
You can read the full story of our Le Mans road trip and all about the Toyota Proace’s campervan conversion in the September 2014 edition of Practical Motorhome magazine, on sale 31 July.