Elsie is the latest addition to the Happy Campers fleet. She’s a 1986-registered T25 VW Camper in pea green (although we know for a fact she was originally off-white, and you can see some of this colour showing through in the boot and the pillars either side of the windscreen).
For starters, she’s much taller — around eight feet from the road to the top of her roof. This is a boon for the less mobile (and anyone who prefers not have to to pop up the top the way you do on an older van) as it means you can stand up straight inside — unless, of course, you’re considerably taller than the average person.
It also means there’s loads of space for cupboards (and we really do mean loads). There’s cupboards to the side of the bed, below the hob and sink, above the hob and sink, above the driver area and in the boot. If you have trouble packing light, this makes Elsie the perfect choice for a break in a VW Camper.
This does mean, however, that there’s no upstairs sleeping as there is in Floyd and Delia — just a comfortable bed for two that folds out in the main body of the van down below. During the day, and while driving, this naturally folds back into the rear seat, and it’s equipped with a pair of lap belts. There’s also a three-point belt for securing child seats (this should not be used by anyone who isn’t in a child seat).
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Elsie is only suited to camping couples. By attaching a drive-away awning to the side when you get to your campsite you can sleep two in the van itself and plenty more in the awning, as it’s just like a regular tent. So, Elsie is just as good for family use.
The front seats are supremely comfortable captain’s chairs, with armrests, which are great on long journeys (we checked, by driving her down from Ilkley in Yorkshire to Happy Campers’ base in Essex). The passenger seat swivels around when you’ve parked up, allowing three people to sit within the body of the vehicle and face each other for a more sociable conversation.
You have a choice of tables, too, with a quick-fix arm that attaches to the side of the back seat allowing you to set up either a coffee table or a dining table depending on the time of day.
Of course, it’s fully kitted out for life on the road, with a two-ring hob and grill. There’s also — unusually — an oven, so you really can cook a whole meal in this van. Each of these is powered by gas using the tank that’s stored in the cupboard below the grill. There’s an extractor fan above the hob.
You’ll find a sink and draining board beside the hob. This is good for washing the dishes but as with all campers you should avoid using the water for drinking or cleaning your teeth.
We’ll supply you with pans, kettle, crockery and cutlery so you don’t need to bring your own.
There’s a fridge below the oven, which also has a small freezer compartment. When you’re parked up at a campsite and plumbed in to the on-site electrical hook-up this will naturally run off the site’s mains electricity, but when not it will work off either the leisure battery or gas so you should find that whatever you put in it is still cool at the end of a journey.
As with all of our vans, the leisure battery is good for charging e-readers, phones and tablets. There are two three-pin electrical sockets — one at the front and one at the back of the van — and there’s plenty of lighting, with two strip lights in the main area, a reading light in the driving space and a pair of reading lights at the back so you can use them when you’re in bed.
She’s an absolute joy to drive, courtesy of her 1900cc engine and five gears (our T2 vans have 1600cc engines and four gears). As with our other vans she’s kitted out with an FM radio with CD player and auxiliary jack through which you can play tracks from an iPod or smartphone. We don’t supply CDs, so don’t forget to pack your own — some people would say this was a good thing, though, once they’ve seen our musical tastes.
For the cooler months, she’s also equipped with internal gas-powered heating, with a thermostat, to keep you warm.