Two pedigree brands, Auto-Sleeper (our oldest volume motorcaravan converter) and Volkswagen – the largest German car and light commercial vehicle manufacturer.
We enter our specified time-slot to find there is already a VW Auto-Sleeper coachbuilt in production… and it had been for many years. Clubman is its name, and ‘Clubmen’ just flew out of the showrooms.
The body and layout were similar to those found in the Gatcombe, although the style of furniture was very different.
Gatcombe was launched at the opening of the new century and is, in essence, a facelifted Clubman. Both are built on T4 and T5 versions of VeeDub’s iconic Transporter.
Clubman/Gatcombe’s entrance is towards the rear on the nearside, and brings you into the kitchen – which takes up two-thirds of the rear wall, with just the fridge (plus cocktail cabinet above) on the nearside.
The offside rear corner is home to the comfort station, equipped with cassette toilet, shower and foldaway vanity basin. A forward lounge provides two inward-facing settees and swivelling cab seats.
Extra storage behind latching doors features in the overcab area, although there was a (rarely specified) option of replacing these with a foldaway double bed. In addition, one settee could be swapped for a face-forward dedicated travel seat. Default sleeping accommodation was a transverse double bed, although two singles were possible – just!
Vee-Dub’s seriously sophisticated driving experience, quality Sleepers’ build and compact exterior dimensions were just three of the many reasons why the Clubman/Gatcombe was so popular, and which make it difficult to see why Auto-Sleeper culled the production of two of their best-selling, most highly regarded coachbuilts.
However, 2000 also saw the launch of another VW Auto-Sleeper coachbuilt – the Sherbourne – very different to the duo-described above.
For a start, this one was no curvy monocoque, but a slab-sided coachbuilt constructed with flat sandwich panels. It wasn’t ugly, just not as pretty as those that had gone before.
However, the lighter construction method did allow for a much longer ‘van. In addition, development costs were low, enabling the Sherbourne to have an attractive windscreen price, despite its high spec.
The lounge consisted of a midships longitudinal L-shaped settee and as seating, this was great. It was at bedtime that everything went pear-shaped, as conversion from seat to bed required shuffling no fewer than seven cushions! The effect on comfort of all those joins can be helped by a mattress topper, but its short length is trickier to overcome.
The well-equipped kitchen is a corker and the rear full-width washing and changing room represented warp factor improvement, however.
The Sherbourne’s open-plan interior is particularly suitable for folk with mobility difficulties, especially those using a walking frame or a rollator.
Our final Auto-Sleeper Vee-Dub coachbult is the Sandhurst, which delivers practicality and style – with military precision! Controversially (because it was expensive), the Broadway crew opted for wide-track Al-Ko Kober galvanised chassis extensions. The interior was modern and practical, and the rear washroom particularly well executed.
The Sandhurst was launched midway through 2006, and was extremely well received by press and purchasers alike. Sadly, the soon-to-hit deep recession strangled promising sales and ended its production prematurely.
- Auto-Sleepers Clubman/Gatcombe/Sherbourne and Sandhurst on VW chassis cab and VW Al-Ko chassis-cab
- This generation built 2000-2010 in Broadway, UK
- Low-profile overcab coachbuilts
- Overall length: Clubman/Gatcombe 5.52m (18′ 2″), Sherbourne 6.19m (20′ 4″), Sandhurst 6.44m (21′ 2″)
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Monocoque bodies don’t leak at the joins because there aren’t any. That said, check for water ingress around the windows and rooflights. On all, check the conversion from settee(s) to bed and insist on a full habitation service and safety check. Early models had Carver hot water and space heaters and these might need replacing soon, because spares are becoming difficult (but not impossible) to source.
- VW/A-S combination
- Magic carpet ride
- Strong residuals
- Monocoque body of the highest quality (Gatcombe/Clubman)
- Short ‘n’ sweet (Gatcombe/Clubman)
- Palatial rear washroom (Sherbourne/Sandhurst)
- Compromised bed (Sherbourne)
Base vehicle: post-2003 2.5 TDi TS. Clubman: 2003 LE (Limited Edition) celebrating 10th year of production). Author’s favourite: T5 Gatcombe.
WHAT TO PAY
Early Gatcombes are available from £16,000. Low-mileage fully loaded examples from £17,000. North Devon Motorhomes has a 2000(W) TD for a fiver less (66,000 miles)! Sussex Caravan and Motorhome Centre has a later (2002) Gatcombe for £19,999. Highbridge has a low-mileage 2000(X) Sherbourne for £16,995 and Marquis has a 2007 Sandhurst for £27,995.
Prospective buyers of more limited means should look for a private sale of a 1990s Clubman; eBay currently has a cossetted early example with FSH at an asking price of just £31,000. That’s a quality carriage for sensible money.
OR YOU COULD TRY…
UK coachbuilts on VW: Compass Navigator or Calypso, and Autohomes Explorer. Alternative Auto-Sleepers on VW: Trooper/Trident and Topaz.
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The well-equipped kitchen is a corker and the rear full-width washing and changing room represented warp factor improvement