Kate Taylor
Digital Content Manager

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Practical Motorhome's Gentleman Jack tests the prototype GM Coachwork Panorama to see if this wheelchair-friendly camper will suit disabled people

Overview

GM Coachwork and Transformation Camper Conversions’ Panorama is based on its drive-from-wheelchair conversion of the VW Transporter T5 Caravelle. 
The habitation side was built by Transformation Camper Conversions (TCC). 

This prototype was a new camper conversion on a pre-owned, specially-adapted vehicle. Newton Abbot-based GM Coachwork and Transformation Camper Conversions is offering factory-fresh examples 
from £65,200. For those of more modest means, however, a new camper conversion on a specially-selected pre-owned base vehicle is available from £35,000 and has the same residential specification as factory-fresh. Judging by the 2008 demonstrator this will be a good way to go.

Design

One of the most important requirements for any vehicle that transports disabled folk is that it should look like any other. Years ago the little blue invalid trikes enabled wounded ex-servicemen to pilot themselves around without having to rely on a carer. Today, we would say that it screamed disability, and there was no provision for passengers.

Contrast this with what GM Coachwork and Transformation Camper Conversions iis offering. This is a lovely campervan, and looks just like any other. My on-site camping neighbours were astounded when I deployed the lift – the adaptions really are that integrated.

Actually, the cognoscenti will realise that this campervan competes in a more upmarket league. The devil is in the detail and the Caravelle Colorado will be the base for all factory-fresh examples. These Caravelles arrive with all the top tackle and look far more automotive. Less a bread van with windows and more a slick MPV.

On the road

The Panorama is built on a VW Caravelle Colorado and the demonstrator model we tested had a previous-generation engine and a Tiptronic gearbox. Factory-fresh examples will have the 2.0-litre TDI engine and seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automated gearbox.

To get on board without leaving your wheelchair, you roll onto the AMF Bruns K90 underfloor ‘cassette’ lift and operate it using either a wireless remote control or a curly lead version. It does seem to be a rugged and reliable bit of kit.

There is a lowered floor and hand-operated accelerator and brake, which means that if you need to drive from a wheelchair you can remove the front seat and enjoy all the freedom of having a camper, without needing an able-bodied driver. The drop in level is around 125mm (5”). Enough of the old floor has been retained for able-bodied drivers to use the pedals comfortably from the driver's seat.

Push buttons open and close the side sliding doors; a rocker switch operates the parking brake. Offside sliding door is an extra cost option

Lounging & dining

There is a reason why this traditional VW campervan layout survived the base vehicle’s transition from rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive T3 to front-engine, front-wheel-drive T4 and now T5. It is that it offers uncluttered floor space in the main salon and enables one motorcaravanner to move around the vehicle without disturbing the other(s).

TCC has included clever design touches and the overall cabinetwork finish in the demonstrator model was good. However, despite the specification sheet indicating they should be present, there was no leisure battery, alternator and 230V charging system, or a consumer unit on the demonstrator, so these couldn’t be assessed. There was a single 30ma MCB on the 230V supply but no earth leakage circuit breaker or polarity indicator.

The lounge will be familiar to anyone who's been in a traditional VW campervan, and it will suit wheelchair users because it offers open floor space in the main lounge area. In this camper, however, the dining table folds into three for easy storage, so you can get it right out of the way when you need more floor space.

A very useful cost-option to add to the basic specification is flexible seating. It's a six-way power transfer seat that moves in different directions, adjusts for height and swivels through 90 degrees to allow easier transfer from wheelchair to seat.

On top of that, there's a moveable transverse pole at head height that you can use as a grab rail to get from a wheelchair to the seating or bed.

Kitchen

The fold-down kitchen allows space for wheelchair manoeuvring. The work surfaces are balcony ones so that the wheelchair user doesn’t have to sit side-saddle. Full marks awarded here.

There's a 12V top-access fridge on board that allows easy retrieval of comestibles and won’t lose its cool every time the lid is opened. There's also a grey gas ‘locker’ containing two single-use canisters, located next to the 12-litre water porter in the kitchen base unit.

Sleeping

The rear seat quickly and easily converts into a double bed, if you are an able-bodied motorcaravanner, and the resulting bed has no ridges. It measures 1.91m x 1.175m (6'3" x 3'10.25").

Washroom

There is no washroom, but the Porta Potti slides out on a rack from its dedicated cupboard under the rear bench seat. We're not sure how much weight the little loo might take if it is used in situ.

Storage

The payload is 384kg and as with any campervan it's best if you can avoid taking unnecessary kit. There is a reasonable sized cupboard that you'd expect to be a wardrobe, but this one lacked shelves, hooks and/or a hanging rail, so it was difficult to be sure.

Equipment

Throughout my time with the Panorama, I did wonder exactly who it was aimed at. Compiling many periodical supplements aimed at disabled motorcaravanners over three decades has made me aware of the trend for smaller, specially adapted motorcaravans to be favoured by lone travellers and I feel that some of the Panorama’s equipment can’t be used by a wheelchair user without assistance.

Here are some examples; raising and lowering the manually operated elevating roof, converting the rear seat to a bed and vice-versa, having to place a waste water bucket under the ’van and then retrieve it to empty, deploying the exterior screens, plus lifting the fresh water porter in and out of the vehicle, all looked a ‘tough ask’ to me.

If it is aimed at couples with one able-bodied motorcaravanner then none of this will be a problem. However, this is such a good initiative it seems a pity not to at least offer an upgraded spec for the lone user. I suggest an Independence Pack that includes an electrically operated elevating roof, an electrically operated bed conversion, internal cab screens or pleated blinds, a freshwater tank with exterior filler and remotely controlled drain tap and an underslung waste water tank with similar provision for remotely controlled emptying.

Technical specs

LayoutCamper without washroom
Sleeps2
Travel seats4
MTPLM3000kg
Payload384kg
Engine (capacity)2000
Fresh water12L

Verdict

For couples with one able-bodied traveller it’s a great blend of pukka base vehicle and cosy camper that either could drive. For lone wheelchair-dependent motorcaravanners, it’s a work in progress.

For the latest updates on the Panorama elevating-roof campervan, see the GM Coachworks and Transformation Camper Conversions website. This van conversion company is based in Teign Valley, Newton Abbot, Devon. 

Conclusion

Pros

  • Fantastic lift for wheelchair access
  • A wheelchair user can drive the camper unaided
  • Flexible seating allows space for wheelchair inside
  • Budget version is available if a pre-owned van is used as the base vehicle

Cons

  • An able bodied person will be needed to set up the bed
  • The prototype we tested was incomplete
  • It would be difficult to raise the roof from a wheelchair without help
  • No washroom
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