Top 5 cheap camper vans for festival season

Festival season kicks off soon as tens of thousands of people descend on a dairy farm in Somerset for the legendary Glastonbury Festival.

But Glasto is just the biggest of literally hundreds of festivals up and down the country. Not just music festivals, either. In fact, if there’s something even a small handful of people are interested in, there’s a festival for it.

Once you’ve booked your tickets, the biggest conundrum is what to do about accommodation. Tenting is the obvious choice. But such is the British summer that you never know what the weather will do, and there’s the ever-present danger that the heavens will open and all your stuff will float away.

The sensible thing to do is get a camper van. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to buy one. Even for only £5,000, there’s a huge amount of choice.

Here Only Motors brings you the top 5 cheap camper vans for festival season.

Bedford Rascal

There were several Bedford Rascal-based campers, sleeping two in, err, intimate surroundings. But it’s a clever little thing, with two bench seats, a table and a tiny kitchen packed in.

The Rascal wasn’t fast to begin with, it’s 1.0-litre engine only serving up about 40bhp. Add in the aerodynamics of a dormer bungalow and it is very slow indeed. Probably doesn’t like crosswinds, either.

Camper builders replaced the Rascal with the Daihatsu Hijet and Suzuki Carry – you can get good examples of any for our £5,000 budget, but watch out for rust in the chassis. If you like the format but want a bit more space, you can get something similar on the Citroen C15 chassis.

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The festival movement started at a time when hippies toured the country in knackered, converted coaches. If you want a taste of those early days, there’s a huge choice of coaches in all sorts of shapes and sizes for our budget.

But you may as well go the whole hog and buy a full-size 12-metre coach. Re-register it as a private vehicle and you can drive it on a car license – though, as a former professional coach driver myself, I always advocate getting a bit of tuition before taking on something so big. £3,000 – £4,000 will buy a 25-year old Volvo, Leyland or Dennis. Buy one that’s still in regular use and is well looked after.

Once you’ve ripped the seats out the possibilities are endless – there’s about 270 sq. ft. to play with. Or as a money-making alternative, charge the 30 or so people that will fit a couple of quid a night to bed down on the floor. You might even make enough to cover your fuel bill – most coaches have 400 litre tanks and do around 8mpg.

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Mazda Bongo Friendee

Festivals are about having fun and car names don’t get much more fun than ‘Mazda Bongo Friendee’. Saying it forces you smile. It’s actually a completely conventional Transit-size minibus that became popular as a grey import to the UK, specifically to be converted into a camper.

There’s a lot of them around, but be aware that the quality and spec of conversions varies massively. Most are diesel automatics – not fast, but it chugs along endlessly and probably won’t ever go wrong. As with all Japanese imports, though, they do like to rust.

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Volvo estate

Of course, you don’t need to go to the lengths of shelling out on a purpose-built camper that will only be used a couple of times a year. By far the easiest thing to do is sleep in your car.

Anything reasonably big with folding rear seats will do. A big, square estate is best for space, and estates don’t get much bigger or squarer than the old Volvo 700/900.

You can pick up perfectly serviceable examples for a few hundred quid and £2,500 will buy the best there is. The top end of our budget will buy a 10-year old V70, but they just don’t have the character.

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Volkswagen Type 3

The classic ‘split-screen’ Type 1 and ‘bay window’ Type 2 VW campers are now bonafide classics, so decent ones are well out of our budget. The Type 3 that followed isn’t as characterful so prices are still reasonably sensible.

The T3 is much the same as the older vans, with an air-cooled engine in the back and wobbly handling. Even the bigger-engined versions are slow in the extreme, so only get one if you’re happy to live life at 45mph.

There are probably just as many homemade conversions out there as professionally built ones, so buy on quality. Overall condition is vital as well, as T3s will happily rust into oblivion.

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By Only Motors

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