Think campervan and the picture of a Volkswagen is likely to pop into your head. The VW microbus is synonymous with campervans and has been since the 1950s. Not quite as old as those first 'Splitties' but well-established is Surrey specialist converter Bilbo's Design, which has been a major player in Britain's camper market since 1977.
Early Bilbo’s models featured the traditional VW campervan run of furniture along the offside wall and a double rear seat that was pulled forward to make a double bed. These were designed to make the most of early VW interiors, which had a rear engine in the way. The layout carried over into modern front-engine models.
By the mid-2000s, there was a growing demand for a VW conversion that offered permanent standing room, single beds and private access to a chemical toilet. Bilbo’s answer was the Celex. Launched at the back end of 2006, production started in earnest for the 2007 model year and has continued uninterrupted. The interior has benefited from a few nips and tucks and improved fittings and equipment. In essence, it remains unchanged from the first prototype. Bilbo’s got it right the first time and if it ain’t broke...
During the production run of the Lezan, its base vehicle – VW’s Transporter panel van – progressed from T5 to T6. Engine choice at launch consisted of four-cylinder turbodiesels with 85bhp and 104bhp at 1.9-litre and 130bhp and 174bhp at 2.5-litres. Later models of the Lezan were all built on the 2.0-litre TDs with outputs from 84bhp-180bhp, plus a bi-turbo version pushing out 250bhp, for those after a Sloane Square slingshot.
All variations of these VWs featured front-wheel drive as standard. An automated gearbox was available with all except the weedy engines. Early autos were six-speed Tiptronics, later ones are seven-speed double-clutch DSG units.
VW’s four-wheel drive is called 4-Motion and is strictly for those with deep pockets. They are a delight to drive and the Lezan would be suitable for folk to use as a car, provided they avoid multistorey car parks.
The Lezan’s rear seats are fully crash tested and approved. In the same vein, all Bilbo’s ranges have EU-wide Whole Vehicle Type Approval and exceed the relevant standards set by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and the National Caravan Council (NCC).
What to look out for
When you go to see a used Bilbo's Lezan for sale, make sure that the base vehicle has been well cared for. A full service history on time intervals – not mileage – from a main dealer or commercial vehicle specialist is absolutely essential. For example, if anyone had accidentally used the wrong coolant, serious engine damage could have resulted and would be extremely costly to put right.
The suspension is prone to early failure and there have been a few blown head gaskets. Therefore, check for excessive white exhaust smoke and uneven idling.
One further thing to check is highlighted in our motorhome recalls story. The DVSA has issued a recall for Bilbo's campervans based on the VW T5, built between 12 December 2003 and 5 October 2012. This is due to concerns regarding the glue used on the high-top roof potentially allowing water ingress over time, or even detaching. Make sure the current owner has had the remedial work done, or contact Bilbo's Designs for details.
Now consider the conversion work. Fortunately Bilbo's campervans are well screwed-together, so any broken furniture is likely to be indicative of a very hard life. The heating is diesel-fired and requires good maintenance or regular checks. Look for evidence of this on the habitation service record.
Ensure that any V5 has been registered as a motorhome since first registration, because there are some clipped VW campervans about. This means the interior is transplanted from an older model into a newer base vehicle.
A giveaway is when an after-market high-top has been used (normal height rear doors) because Bilbo’s only used VW’s own factory-fitted high-top on which to build the Lezan, which has full-height rear doors.
Likes and dislikes
So, to sum it all up, what are our likes and dislikes for the Bilbo's Lezan built in 2007? We like its Magic Carpet ride, as well as the iconic VW base vehicle with street cred. We appreciate the fact that this campervan has an on-board toilet and privacy screen. And if you buy one, you won't lose money, since it has strong residuals.
What's not to like about a Bilbo's campervan? Well, there are a few things to note. One is that VWs are not as infallible as their reputation suggests (see the results of our Owner Satisfaction Survey). The other problem is that they’re hard to find, because owners keep them!
The Bilbo’s Lezan is built on the Volkswagen Transporter T5 and T6 LWB panel van. It's a five-door, steel high-top panel van and the Lezan conversions have been available from 2007 to the present in South Godstone, Surrey. The overall length of the VW T5 is 5.29m (17ft 4.25in).
Which Bilbo's Lezan model year would we choose, if we had a choice? Most folk advise avoiding the asthmatic 1.9TD 85bhp but, if it is a bargain in other ways, we’d say go for it. Electronic engine upgrades (so called ‘chipping’) are not expensive. We’d plump for an automatic if possible though, as always, condition is everything. The poverty-spec SE range was inspired for the Komba but disappoints in the more upmarket Lezan, so go for the full motorhome specification.
So, how much should you pay for a used Bilbo's Lezan campervan? Even the oldest will be north of £25,000. Meanwhile, £35,000 buys an ‘as-new’ high-spec, cosseted four- or five-year-old Lezan.