Asked by a reporter what might blow his government off course, Harold Macmillan is supposed to have replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”
We could make the same response when asked why the Excel by Auto-Trail wasn’t a huge commercial success.
This wasn’t just an OK line-up, it was a brilliant, design-led range of excellent compact coachbuilt motorhomes, well-equipped and at the right price.
The ‘event’ that caused Excel’s early demise was the devastating economic recession just as they were being unveiled in 2008.
With the total market in decline by 60%, and dealers going belly-up left, right and centre, any new range didn’t really stand much of a chance.
Despite this, Excel sold quite well, but failed to create an additional younger group of buyers, as had been hoped. Instead, existing customers were simply diverted from Auto-Trail’s other ranges.
The good news is that these Excel ’vans now make really smart buys on the used motorhome market.
The launch range was subdivided into two lengths: the 600s, at 5.99m, and the 640s, which stretched the tape to 6.4m.
The 600B had a rear-corner permanent bed, the 600S offered twin bunks at the rear and an additional two travel seats, and the 600D (our favourite) boasted an additional single dinette at the rear, along the nearside.
The 640G featured a high-level transverse double bed at the rear, with a garage-style exterior-access storage compartment underneath.
For the 2010 model year, the range was refreshed, with only the 600B and the 640G surviving.
A shorter, 5.88m 590EK model offered a forward lounge with two inward-facing sofas, a rear kitchen and a corner washroom.
The 670B was essentially a stretched version of the 600B. Increasing the overall length to 6.72m allowed for a larger lounge and washroom.
What do you get?
All low-profile overcab coachbuilts on the Fiat Ducato, they included driver and passenger airbags, cruise control and a wind-out awning as standard.
Colour-coded bumpers and spoilers complemented the lightweight Polydet GRP clad sidewalls, which boasted closed-cell insulation.
The Sport Pack included a metallic blue cab, a TV/DVD player, aerial and Freeview box, and graphite-coloured dashboard bling.
The interior was transformed by Le Mans soft-furnishing fabrics, and graphite-coloured worktops and locker finger panels.
It’s a shame Excel was short-lived – right ’van, wrong time.
- Excel by Auto-Trail on Fiat Ducato chassis-cab
- Built 2008-2011 at Europarc, Grimsby, UK
- Low-profile overcab coachbuilt
- Overall length: 5.88-6.72m (19’3”-22’1”).
What to look for
If you think this could be the ’van you’ve been looking for and you’ve found one on the used motorhomes for sale pages, what should you check for?
A full service history is reassuring.
The standard power unit was the 100bhp motor with a five-speed manual gearbox, although some customers opted to upgrade to the 130bhp unit with a six-speed gearbox.
Don’t shy away from the softer engine: it really is more than adequate.
However, for those in a rush or who want to tow something, it is comparatively easy to get more oomph via a plug-and-play tuning box.
Although Excel models were built on the 3300kg Light chassis, all had a good payload, so walk away from any with tired springs or a tail-down posture.
Insist on a meaningful test drive and a new MoT certificate.
Tyres will probably require replacing, due to advancing age.
They are generally very practical and hard-wearing.
Check the operation of everything, paying particular attention to blinds/flyscreens and the bed make-up.
As with any coachbuilt motorhome of this age, check for water ingress and insist on a recent habitation service.
Budget for fitting a fire blanket, a fire extinguisher and a CO alarm if these are absent.
- Compact size
- Smart and sassy
- Generous payloads
- Built by Auto-Trail
- There is no automatic option
- It was killed off by the irresponsible bankers!
What to pay
Early examples are for sale privately from £26,000, warranted trade retail ’vans from £28,500.
At the time of writing, SMC had a smart-looking low-mileage 2009 (59) 640G (garage) with Sport Pack at an asking price of £29,995.
Which model would be our pick of the range? We like the flexibility of the 600D, although the best-seller was the 600B. And we think it is worth waiting for one with a Sport Pack fitted.
Or, alternatively, how about an Auto-Trail Tracker or an Ace Airstream, both on Fiat Ducato.
A brilliant, design-led range of excellent compact coachbuilt motorhomes