We take a look at two of Bilbo's most popular campervans, focusing on 2003-2015 models based on the VW Transporter T5, and what to look out for secondhand

Bilbo's has been converting VW Transporters since 1977. During this time, the family-run company has successfully competed against well-known German offerings, by having two important advantages.

First, the range is tailored to UK buyers, and second, the firm is clearly aware that multifunctionality is a major 'must-have'.

It is reasonable to assume most Bilbo's campervans must be equally at home on the school run or extended European holidays.

In our opinion, this is why it is so important to 'hand' the conversion - having the side sliding door on the UK nearside and mirroring the conversion to suit.

Many campervans are used by young families, and if the door is on the 'wrong' sie, as on many European conversions, there is the possibility of discharging the kids into the traffic, instead of onto the pavement.

Celex has the traditional VW campervan layout of twin swivelling cab seats, ahead of an offside run of furniture and a double rock 'n' roll seat/bed to the rear.

Nexa has two forward-facing travel seats either side of the central aisle, which partner the swivelled cab seats to form a lounge-diner, or two single beds at night.

Towards the rear, the Nexa has a Porta Potti in a cupboard, which when combined with the privacy curtain, can be used for nocturnal visits.

If we had to choose one word to describe our two featured campervans, it would be 'choice'!

Each was available in any VW colour, on short- or long-wheelbase variants and with either of two elevating-roofs or a high-top.

In addition, the engines came in various power outputs and automatic transmission was also offered.

Celex and Nexa layouts remained unchanged for the whole T5 production run.

In 2009, VW refreshed the base vehicle. All engines became 2.0-litre common-rail injection turbodiesels, replacing the Pumpe Düse derv drinkers and the petrol offering. Also, a seven-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) - a robotised automatic - was introduced.

Sportline models had extra kit and specification upgrades, and Edition 25 was, as the name suggests, an anniversary model produced in 2011 only.

Bear in mind that the most significant differences between these models are that Celex has the most uncluttered floor space, but Nexa has the option to sleep in single beds.

ESSENTIALS

  • Bilbo's Celex and Nexa on VW Transporter T5
  • Built from 2003 to 2005 in Godstone, UK
  • All-steel panel van with side- or rear-hinged canvas-sided elevating roof, GRP high-top or steel high-top
  • Overall length, SWB: 4.9m (16'6"), LWB: 5.3m (17'4")

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

Base vehicle

Full service history is a must. In addition, a full or very long MOT is important. Mileage is likely to be higher than average for a motorcaravan, because many are used as a daily driver as well as for holidays and weekends away.

Check for recent replacement of engine drive belts and insist coolant is drained and refilled with VW's own product. The T5 was not as prone to corrosion (tin worm) as its predecessor, the T4. However, they are not immune, so check carefully for any pimples on the body: a sign that the vehicle has had a quick respray.

Conversion

On elevating-roof examples and under supervision, insist on lifting and lowering the roof to check for smooth operation and no mildew on the canvas. On all, check the seat-to-bed conversion operates smoothly. Bear in mind that there is no space heating fitted as standard. If it wasn't ticked on the original extra-cost options list and you intend camping off-grid, budget for fitting a diesel-fired blown-air unit.

LIKES

  • Wonderful to drive
  • Award-winning convertor
  • UK-friendly conversions
  • Strong residuals
  • Suitable for use as an only vehicle

DISLIKES

  • Some base vehicle spares are expensive
  • Space heater was an extra-cost option

OUR PICK

Either, but we'd opt for the standard low-lie side-hinged elevating-roof and use it as our only vehicle, with DSG (auto) if possible. Avoid the 84bhp entry-level model unless it is cheap and/or required for the lowest insurance premium.

WHAT TO PAY

We've not seen a T5 Bilbo's Celex/Nexa for less than £20,000 - except for one that had 280,000 miles! From a selection of costlier examples, we chose a 2008 Nexa with 50,000 miles, on sale for £25,995 at Highland Campervans. Bilbo's has an as-new LWB auto Nexa on a 15-plate for £41,950 - 140bhp, auto and fully loaded.

OR YOU COULD TRY

Bilbo's SE range, Auto-Sleeper Trooper/Trident, Devon Moonraker, CMC Reimo Multi-Style, Danbury Surf/Royal.