Practical Motorhome reviews Bilbo’s Celex SE – based on the Volkswagen Transporter, could this be the VW campervan you're after?

Design

The Transporter may not be quite as iconic as it used to be, but the shape is still as pleasingly minimalist as ever. The quality of the bodywork and paint is top-drawer, too. The Celex’s hook-up point is on the driver’s side, set into the body panels. There’s a 36-litre waste water tank and a 35-litre fresh water tank, both fixed. The Celex SE uses Bilbo’s characteristic side-lifting roof design, which is well-made and easy to set up.

On the road

The VW Transporter has the deserved reputation for excellent ergonomics, thoughtful features and urbane road manners. That is not the end of the story in this test, though: in order to make their conversion accessible to those expecting change from their £30,000, Bilbo’s built on the window van version of the Transporter, rather than the more commonly-used campervan version.

The window van Transporter is one step up the ladder from the bottom-rung panel van, and has a lower specification than the campervan base. The main differences are that it lacks body-coloured bumpers and wing mirrors, does without swivel cab seats and armrests, and has manual windows and mirrors. It still has a lot of the features that appeal, though: dual airbags, traction control, rear seat belt mounting points, remote central locking and radio/CD players are offered as standard. However, it’s only available with one of the punier power units from VW’s engine stable: the 83bhp 1.9-litre turbodiesel. In practice, this engine provides decent amounts of shove at the low-end of the rev-range, so scooting around on back roads and through towns is fine, but it tends to run out of puff on the motorway and has to be worked hard at high speeds, creating more noise and harshness.

Lounging & dining

Bilbo’s interiors are solid, hard-wearing and impeccably put together, and the SE range doesn’t cut back on this tradition. Founder David Latham was adamant that the conversion be identical between SE and non-SE vehicles, so customers of the former can rest assured that cost-cutting measures stop at the base vehicle and that the habitation area is converted to Bilbo’s usual high standards.

Our only grouse is that Bilbo’s tends to go with the continental tradition of favouring automotive materials and durability over touchy-feely value. Everything is some shade of grey in there, which some may find unwelcoming. It’s hard to fault, though, when everything feels so solid and when Bilbo’s customers so frequently report that their campervans remain staunch against the tests of time and use.

The Celex’s side-lifting elevating roof creates a living area with an even high point with maximum headroom running the length of the ’van from rear of the cab seats, on the nearside. This means you never have to mind your head when entering the ’van, but the slope down towards the farside means that the roof can sometimes have a claustrophobic feel, particularly when you’re facing the kitchen unit. Bilbo’s offers a rear-hinged roof design as an £800 cost option if customers prefer this variety.
Space or water heaters aren’t included, so there’s enough space on the floor in the lounge area to safely accommodate a compact low-wattage space heater. These are inexpensive and easy to come by and will function perfectly well in all but the coldest weather conditions.

The Celex’s comprehensive kitchen takes up quite a bit of space and as a result the rear bench is fixed further back than some rivals, creating a large gulf between it and the cab seats. The small-ish lounge table isn’t a problem for those only looking to lounge in pairs, but it’s a bit tight for four. There’s a 12V socket and a three-pin socket in the kitchen area, and bright – if slightly cold – fluorescent lighting for the lounge area.
The Bilbo’s excellent lounge table uses a clip-on folding-leg table that fits into a rail running along the face of the kitchen unit – meaning that it can be repositioned very easily – and which stows behind the driver’s seat when not in use.

Kitchen

The oven/grill unit will be a major point in the Celex’s favour for a lot of buyers. It’s fully useable, albeit small, and when combined with the larger fresh water capacity and on-board waste water tank it makes the Celex a far more convenient prospect for touring chefs. The designers have even managed to incorporate decent amounts of storage in the kitchen– and there are several lockers throughout the vehicle that can provide additional room for pots, pans and ingredients. The fridge is a very effective Waeco compressor unit, with a 65-litrecapacity. The sink is of a good size, and the two-burner hob (without ignition) is well-located, too, with good amounts of room for cooking. There’s a splashguard, too, and if you pay £325 for the sliding window option, then the farside window can be opened in order to better ventilate the kitchen when cooking.

Sleeping

The Celex uses a bed mechanism where the seat back drops down forward of the seat base, meaning that you don’t have to remove the headrests before making up the bed, even though doing so is simple enough. In order to keep the bed level, the seat base itself is nearly completely flat, which makes for an excellent night’s sleep but does compromise comfort when travelling.

The Celex has one bright light on a flexible stalk located towards the head of the bed, which functions excellently as a night light, but we’d like to see two placed there so that both occupants can have independent reading lights.

There’s also the option of a roof bed, priced at £400. It’s a drop-down bed, hinged along the farside. Unfortunately, the mattress is thin and access to it is tight.

Storage

This is often an area of compromise when it comes to van conversions, but both this model bucks the trend. The Celex appears to lack even a square inch of wasted space, with cubby holes coming out of drawers coming out of lockers. Access has been carefully thought out, too; all the storage – even the rear boot area – is accessible without the user having to step outside of the ’van, and the lockers under the rear bench can be accessed from outside, via a sliding door.

Technical specs

Sleeps2
Travel seats4
MTPLM3000kg
Payload800kg
Length4.89m16′1″
Width2.04m6′8″
Height1.99m6′6″
Waste water36L

Verdict

The Bilbo's Celex SE is far from a token effort – despite the lack of creature comforts included with the base vehicle, it’s a fully functional motorcaravan that will work just fine right out of the box.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Excellent quality and reliability
  • Lots of storage
  • Well-equipped habitation

Cons

  • Underpowered engine
  • Manual mirrors and windows
  • A grey interior
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