Gentleman JackSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Used motorhome buying guides’ written by Gentleman Jack
While for Europeans it was the Westfalia that was ‘top of the pops’ for buyers of VW camper vans, in Blighty it was the two ‘T’s.
Up to shoulder height the Trooper and Trident are identical, sharing the same interior layout and similar equipment.
The same VW camper vans – but different!
While the standard-model VW Transporter has a tin-top, standing room is facilitated in Troopers by the addition of a pop-top, and in Tridents by removing the roof and replacing it with a fixed GRP high-top.
Although this buying guide’s start date is 1991 – when imports of the front-engined/front-wheel-drive T4 commenced – production of both models had already been going for yonks, on earlier rear-engined/rear-wheel-drive T3 examples.
This is significant because the layout was designed to minimise the intrusion of the rear-engine hump, but was carried forward to front-engined models.
Although this felt unadventurous and counter-intuitive at the time, history has shown it to have been a smart move: this layout offers the most uncluttered floor space, so feels much more roomy than others.
The conversion is best accessed through the nearside sliding door. To the left is a brace of swivelling cab seats, to the right and towards the rear, a two-person travelling seat can be found.
These are frequently referred to as a rock ‘n’ roll seat/bed, because that sofa converts quickly into a longitudinal double-bed.
The remainder of the interior furniture consists of a run of cabinetwork down the offside, and includes a well-equipped kitchen and the tantalising suggestion of a wardrobe.
If there’s one word that sums up these conversions from our oldest volume builder, it is ‘quality’.
This is applicable to all models, but it is most frequently applied to those T4 VW camper vans using Auto-Sleepers’ traditional cabinetwork, which features hardwood frame fitted (rebated) doors and drawer fronts.
Inevitably Auto-Sleepers felt that it had to move with the times, and later furniture was more contemporary in looks and just as well-made – but it’s the original that still appeals to many.
Auto-Sleeper models were always well equipped, and all included a fridge, too. So what are you waiting for?
- Auto-Sleeper Trooper and Trident on short-wheelbase VW T4 and T5 Transporter
- Converted in Broadway, UK, between 1991 and 2014
- GRP high-top or elevating-roof on steel panel van
- Overall length (T5): 4.99m /16’4”
What to look for
If you like the look of these Auto-Sleepers and want to find a good one when browsing the used motorhomes for sale pages, read on!
Despite effective TV advertising, VW camper vans were not always 100% reliable or better-engineered than their rivals.
By endowing all of them with fully independent compliant suspension, the resulting magic-carpet ride is second-to-none, however.
The T4 kicked off with a variety of petrol and naturally aspirated diesel four- and five-cylinder engines, with turbocharged derv drinkers arriving later.
You should insist on a full service history from a VW or commercial vehicle specialist, and make sure that the coolant is pink. Using non-VW-approved coolant can result in huge repair bills.
Check for corrosion on both the body and the floor pan.
By and large it is a rock-solid VW camper van conversion, built to last a lifetime.
However, cassette blinds and flyscreens were prone to early retirement, and a badly adjusted electrically operated elevating-roof can cause cracks in the roof cap.
Never buy any elevating-roof ’van without carefully checking the operation of the lifting and lowering mechanism, and the sides for fit and mould.
- Quality counts – VW and Auto-Sleepers is a great combination
- Practical layout
- Fantastic to drive
- Good spares availability
- Some VW spares are very expensive
- Early models suffered from excessive roll on corners
What to pay
The last models off the line still fetch between £35,000-£40,000. Take your time, though, and wait for the sharp deals.
At the time of writing, the Heathrow Auto Centre was offering a sub-50,000-mile 2007 TD Trident for £28,995.
Motorhome Depot (MD9328) also had a 1997 diesel model with 97,000 miles on the clock and a windscreen ticket of £12,999. It looks in good order in the photos, has the brilliant solid-sided pop-top, is sensibly priced… and won’t hang around long!
Our pick would be the Trooper if it was to be our only vehicle. The super-low-line-roof version (2m/6’6” high) is multi-storey car park friendly, while the standard version (2.17m/7’2”) might be!
The Trident is better for off-season motorcaravanning, because it provides better insulation and more storage.