Gentleman Jack

See other Advice articles filed in ‘Used motorhome buying guides’ written by Gentleman Jack
   
Dreaming small? Head to the used motorhomes for sale pages and pick up one of these for very little – here's what to look for to help you buy the best!

Both of these featured used motorhomes are proof that good things do come in little packages.

Although shorter than many cars, they pack a holiday cottage for two adults and a child into a Ford KA footprint.

Here we share expert advice on these 1986-1993 ’vans, to help you buy the best if you’ve found a potential purchase on the used motorhomes for sale pages.

Rear-door ’vans

At first glance, the Autohomes Bambi and Elddis Nipper look like copies of Barry Stimson’s iconic Romahome, produced by Island Plastics more than a decade earlier.

To be fair, though, there were important differences.

Romahome had a moulded GRP-mounted body and was originally based on the diminutive 350cc Honda TN chassis-cab.

Bambi and Nipper used lightweight aluminium-clad sandwich panels for fixed bodies.

All three had stable-type entrance doors at the rear.

A little history

Back in 1986, Autohomes was the UK’s largest volume manufacturer, and had already forged a mutually beneficial relationship with Bedford.

As a result, the Autohomes MD was shown a prototype Rascal before its public launch.

Bedford wanted Autohomes to build a camper van on the panel-van version, however, the converter claimed it was too small and came up with the Bambi design on the chassis-cab as a more appealing alternative.

Disney granted the use of the Bambi name and thus a little legend was born!

Two years later, Elddis wanted a piece of the micro action and launched the Nipper.

The same, but different

Although there are differences in coachwork colour, only the Nipper has a stepped roofline.

Both models utilised the overcab area as a child’s bed and/or useful storage for light but bulky items such as sleeping bags and pillows.

Both converters also put the kitchen either side of the dropped floor at the rear of the motorhome, where full standing height is available.

The main difference occurs in the seating – Bambi opts for two single inward-facing settees.

Nipper added an option of replacing the nearside settee with a single Pullman dinette. The latter includes one rear travel seat with a lap belt.

Sleeping arrangements are the same in both: two longitudinal singles, though it is possible to ‘bridge the gap’ and have an ‘all-over’ double.

At first, the Bambi’s overcab was windowless, unlike the Nipper, which featured a central window on the leading face.

Later, some Bambis offered overcab glazing.

The essentials

  • Autohomes Bambi and Elddis Nipper on Bedford Rascal chassis-cab
  • Bambi built 1986-1992 in Poole, Dorset; Nipper built 1988-1993 in Consett, County Durham
  • Both are micro-coachbuilts, approx. 3.71m/12’2” long.
      

What to look for

Spotted one such ’van on the used motorhomes for sale pages that takes your fancy? Here’s what to look for...

Base vehicle

Although ‘Bedford’ was emblazoned on the front, it was really a Suzuki Super Carry.

All models were fitted with Suzuki’s four-pot in-line petrol engine driving the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox.

It was robust and reliable, if a bit underpowered for today’s traffic.

It was never especially economical on fuel, at 28mpg.

Rust in the chassis-cab (especially the floor, but all over, really) was the big enemy. Check very carefully!

It is likely to have had at least some new floor, unless it was taken off the roads during the winter – salt used on the roads turned many of them into lace.

They are likely to lean a lot when cornered enthusiastically – just because they are relatively high vehicles with a narrow track.

Even so, owners quickly become accustomed to this, and most adopt a more leisurely pace.

Conversion

There are only two things to look out for.

The first is water ingress: everywhere! The second is degradation in the surface of the dimpled aluminium exterior wall cladding.

It turns to powder on occasion, and this is evidenced by pockmarks and a fine white dust.

It needn’t be terminal, but you’ll have to be in possession of ace DIY skills or a healthy bank balance to put it right.

Likes

  • Lilliputian motorcaravanning with Tonka Toy cuteness
  • Great fun and surprisingly comfortable on site
  • Two permanently available daybeds
  • Pocket-money prices
      

Dislikes

  • Cramped cab for long-legged drivers
  • Not much crash protection
      

What to pay

Around £4000 buys a mint example, £2000 a useable one. Fixer-uppers cost buttons.

A few owners have transplanted the body onto a newer chassis: usually, but not exclusively, a Daihatsu Hijet.

Avoid the asthmatic 1.2-litre diesel engine option.

Our pick? Either! That’s because the Bambi can be converted to a Nipper layout.

Buy on condition, but also keep in mind that Bambis have an active owners’ club and far more were built (just over 1500).

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