Gentleman Jack

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Stylish and in many ways ahead of its time, the 1996-2002 Laika Ecovip on the Iveco is a lot of motorhome for your money – here's how to buy a good one

Instant recognition of the Laika name and its distinctive logo might depend on which generation you belong to: the Russian stray dog, after which it’s named, was the first living creature to orbit the earth back in 1957.

This Italian motorhome manufacturer’s roots go back to 1964, though, and it’s been designing and building A-class models for 40 years – export to the UK has been sporadic.

The first company to import them in any number was Lowdham Leisureworld. Originally they were only available in left-hand drive, with the conversion ‘handed’ for Europe.

This made the decision to import them a brave one – although Lowdhams has never been shy in pushing the boundaries. And it was rewarded with praise from both press and purchasers alike.

With the possible exception of Mobilvetta’s Euroyacht, we’d never seen anything so steeped in Italian design flair.

Laika has always gone its own way, and nothing illustrated this better than its bold approach to furniture and fabrics, and the choice of the tough-as-old-boots twin rear-wheel-drive Iveco Daily to underpin most of the range.

Before setting off to view an Ecovip listed on a dealer’s stocklist or on the used motorhomes for sale pages, first make sure that it is an A-class (Ecovips also exist in low-profile and overcab coachbuilt formats), and second that it is Iveco-based: some smaller A-class Ecovips are based on the Fiat Ducato.

Iveco-underpinned models kicked off with the 400i, which stretched the tape to 6.43m (21ft 1in). It featured a rear-corner washroom and longitudinal bunk beds, and a forward lounge with both double and single Pullman dinettes.

Next up was the 6.89m (22ft 7in) 200i, which is really a 400i with a larger washroom.

Finally, the similar-length 100 had a fixed rear-corner double-bed with washroom beside.

Ecovips were more than just stylish: they had substance, too, with lots of features that were years ahead of their time.

That included double doors for weatherproof exterior-access storage compartments, proper ‘pong-free’ domestic-style sink waste traps, and convertible rear bunks/garage-style storage.

The range continued with only minor tweaks until 2002, when Iveco launched the next-generation Daily with a more conventional gate to the gearshift and a fascia-mounted gearlever.

The essentials

  • Laika Ecovip on Iveco Daily LWB chassis-cowl
  • Built in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Italy, from 1996-2002
  • A-class (integral)
  • Overall length: 6.43m (21’ 1”) and 6.89m (22’ 7”)
      

What to look for

Here’s what to look for before buying.

Base vehicle

Extend any test drive to make sure that all potential pilots are happy driving a left-hooker. And, as always, look for a full service history.

A puff of blue/black smoke on start-up is perfectly acceptable, but if it smokes under light loading then the engine is likely to need reconditioning.

The five-speed gearbox isn’t really like a modern example, but a four-and-a-crawler gear that’s out on a dog-leg. The latter is perfect for tree-stump pulling, or towing a boat up the side of a quarry!

The gear change should be smooth with no crunching.

Conversion

They’re generally very well screwed-together but, as with any coachbuilt, insist on a thorough damp check.

The marine toilet wasn’t universally liked, and the retro-fitting of a more-familiar cassette loo has taken place in some ’vans.

If so, open the exterior-access door and check that the aperture seal has been correctly installed.

Likes

  • Classy accommodation
  • Practical layouts
  • Twin rear-wheel drive
  • Huge towing limit
      

Dislikes

  • Agricultural drive
  • Unfamiliar marine toilet
      

What to pay

They occasionally pop up on eBay from £14,000. At the time of writing there were several at big-name UK dealers from £17,000, fully warranted and with around 60,000 on the clock.

The most popular model was the 400i, and that’s the one we’d go for: it’s perfect for mob-handed motorcaravanning.

It could be plated at 3500kg or 4200kg, although you’ll need category C1 on your licence to drive the latter.

For other options, how about Ecovip overcab Iveco-based models with the same layouts, or the Mobilvetta Euroyacht 170, 175 and 180 – all on Iveco.

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