Compass Motorhomes was founded in 1979 by Siddle Cook — the founder of Elddis Caravans – and his son Raymond, after they sold their Elddis business to the ABI group. Compass Drifter coachbuilts were originally built on the Bedford CF chassis-cab, migrating to Talbot Express/Peugeot J9 when the Bedford ceased production in 1986. A few were built on Ford’s Transit during the change-over period. Talbot Drifter models numbered five, all with an overcab bed. Demand for the two rear-lounge offerings often outstripped supply.
The four-berth 6.1m (20’0.25”) Compass Drifter 404 has a transverse double over the cab and a choice of two single beds or a huge double bed made from the rear ‘U’-shaped lounge. The washroom is located behind the cab. The entrance door is far forward on the nearside, just ahead of the kitchen.
The flagship model was the Al-Ko Kober-based six-berth Compass Drifter 466. Its 6.83m (22ft 5in) length allowed room for a double Pullman dinette to be included behind the driver.
If you're new to motorhomes, it's a good idea to start off by searching for cheap motorhomes, and if you're on a tight budget, buying a used Compass Drifter could be a wise choice, since it was always a reliable and well made range.
Essential facts and figures
The Compass Drifter 404 and 466 were built on a Talbot Express or the Peugeot J9 base vehicle, between 1987 and 1995. Both were overcab coachbuilts. The Compass Drifter 404 was built on a long wheelbase Talbot Express, giving it a length of 6.1m. The Compass Drifter 466 was built on the extra-long wheelbase Talbot Al-Ko, with an overall length of 6.83m.
Tips to help you buy better...
What should you look out for when buying a pre-owned motorhome such as the Compass Drifter? Starting with the base vehicle, we recommend that you try all the gears during your test drive. Despite the long-throw gear-lever, selecting the ratios was easy when new, but later in the 'van's life, precise gear changing relied on good maintenance and adjustment to the linkage. Budget for buying a modified linkage if you need to.
Other things to check are the windscreen wipers, because the linkage can jam and the motor fuse. Make sure you can handle the steering in the Compass during your test drive, too. Power units are tough but on TD models power-assisted steering was an option.
The conversion work was good and motorhomes in the Compass range were well put together and pretty reliable. As with any coachbuilt ’van, check for signs of water ingress. Budget for upgrading some of the domestic kit such as the 230V consumer unit and space/water heaters – after all, the youngest will be 20 years old by now.
Our expert verdict
So, what things do we like best about the Compass Drifter? They were always popular – so there is plenty of choice on the used motorhome market. Good-quality upholstery means that the Compass Drifter interiors have stood the test of time pretty well. You get a choice of single or double beds and the payloads tend to be pretty generous – ideal for family holidays.
So is there anything to dislike about the Compass Drifter? Well, we have found a mis-match in the number of sleeping berths and safe travel seats with seatbelts, so do check that out. The other thing to be aware of is that the steering is heavy on non-power-assisted-steering models. Take it for a good test drive before you buy it.
Our pick of the best Compass Drifter motorcaravans on the market? We’d go for a 2.0-litre petrol Compass 404 (smooth, quiet and LEZ-friendly) or a TD with power-assisted steering (rare) on the 466. Buy a 2.5D 466 if it is immaculate and retro-fit a turbo and/or power-assisted-steering. If you're very lucky you'll find a Compass that came with the Merit Pack, which added useful goodies.
What should you pay? You should find that mint-condition Compass 404s go for £6000-£8000. If you find any 'fixer-uppers' in the Compass range, expect to pay from £3750. The top-banana Compass 466 will fetch big money – we found a sample 1994 model, TD, power-assisted-steering, with 55,000 miles on the clock advertised at £12,995… and what's more, it won’t hang around!
Still not sure? Take a look at some rival campervans to see what else is available. Consider the Elddis Voyager 1, or the Swift Kon-Tiki 640, also built on the Talbot Express. During your search you may find examples of the Compass Drifter 404 layout that was built on the Mercedes 208D – this was known as the Commodore 404.
We have plenty more expert advice on buying used motorhomes, so it's worth browsing through our guides to buying a Swift Kon Tiki or a Chausson Flash, as well as advice articles such as the one on how to choose a family motorhome. There's also loads more information in our Practical Motorhome reviews.