Sun Tor Caravanette

Motor Caravan Test

By Chris Park

This report was written in 1971 when these caravanettes were still in production. It gives an excellent insight into the vehicles as they were then - and now!

"Immediately after returning the Sun-Tor Estate Caravan we had been testing to the makers, Torcars of Torrington in North Devon, we met a member and his wife who were already the enthusiastic owners of a Sun-Tor. Our test had necessarily been a brief one spanning four rather wintry days so this seemed to be an almost heaven sent opportunity to discover the snags, if any, attached to a much longer period of ownership of this quite unique vehicle.

The brainchild of a couple of very experienced motor caravanners, the Sun-Tor is an in between, being smaller than the conversions of commercial vans which began the present motor caravan story yet bigger than the Escort/Viva based models with which some manufacturers have since sought to extend the market. The Sun-Tor's designers apparently decided that only an in-between-sized vehicle could satisfy the needs of a great many potential motor caravanners who have never been able to reconcile the claimed dual purpose nature of existing models with their relatively giant size and thirst on the one hand, and at the other extreme their restricted accommodation and load capacity.

The member we met had rejected the former as being virtually useless as a family car and impossible to garage at a normal house, but had tried one of the latter only to find it too small even for two people. Thus he had settled on buying a Sun-Tor, and no doubt a good many others will tread (drive?) the same road to Torrington. He told us that he had found this estate caravan eminently satisfactory for two people and had been lucky enough or wise enough to buy it during the fine summer of 1969 when maximum use could be made of it.

Due to a fortunate combination of circumstances we were able to test our Sun-Tor as a two berth caravan on site and a fully laden four-seater estate car cum picnic vehicle on the road and found it completely adequate in both roles.

The base vehicle is the BMC half ton van which when provided with the almost full length elevating roof can be expanded into a surprisingly spacious bed sitter for two. The double bed is made by mating the folded flat individual front seats with the cushions of the bench type rear seat. With the bed in position there is still ample floor space remaining, more in fact, than there is in some bigger models. The bed would be effectively bigger if BMC could be persuaded to fit a smaller steering wheel, and its shape makes it more comfortable to sleep head to feet.

The kitchen at the rear is well endowed with a full sized caravan cooker and an adequate sink, which is supplied with water by a hand pump fed from a 6 gallon underfloor tank made of fibreglass. A cool box is supplied as standard, a top loading refrigerator as an extra. Small roof lockers supplement the kitchen storage space and a respectable amount of hanging space (for a motor caravan) is provided in the double-doored wardrobe. Under the wardrobe floor a ventilated locker holds the Camping Gaz bottle and there is room alongside for a spare.

There is obviously an art in living tidily and comfortably in a vehicle no bigger than a medium sized car and though we did not have overmuch time in which to practise, we managed well enough despite the very cold and often damp weather. There is also an art in coaxing along the BMC half tonner, propelled as it is by a low compression version of the 1622cc 'A' series engine that powers the Morris Oxford. "Gentlemanly" is the only way we can describe the manner of its going, and it may be this trait that makes the Sun-Tor appeal to lady drivers, as it apparently does. The engine in the test car always started easily and warmed up quickly, then proceeded to pull uninspiringly but faultlessly regardless of the severity of the going. This included some of the steepest hills in the country, the Devon lanes across Exmoor providing a ready proving ground where the Sun-Tor laughed off the testing experience of restarting on a 1 in 4 gradient. On this occasion and on several others the umbrella pattern handbrake evoked a respect for the type we had never felt before. We could not feel the same affection for the steering column gear change, especially when vibration of its linkage spoiled the otherwise commendable mechanical silence.

The test vehicle had covered over 12,000 miles and still felt satisfyingly taut and free from noticeable wear while the all drum braking system demonstrated that discs offer little advantage at touring speeds. Impressive was the depth of tread remaining on the 6.50 x 14 cross ply commercial tyres. An accurate fuel consumption check was not undertaken, but our estimate of 22mpg could not have been far from the truth and this figure was fairly creditable in the circumstances, we were told that 28mpg is attainable on a long trip when the 8 gallon tank is clearly on the small side. It is, however, difficult to see how more space could be found for fuel. As the water tank filler resides in the place of the petrol filler on the standard van it is best to keep it locked to avoid the rather topsy turvy hazard of getting petrol in the water.

At present, as we said in the beginning, the Sun-Tor is unique. It has no near competitor in versatility, and though its machinery is uniquely dated, it is still robustly suited to the job. We drove many pleasant miles down the car-width winding lanes, turned it in tight spots where the road ended or when we went the wrong way, and fed four adults via its kitchen in all sorts of odd, remote and desolate places. If we had wanted a garage to store it in, the normal domestic size would have done.

Psychologist Stephen Black once probed the subconscious of a small selection of motorists and came up with a specification for the car that most of us are supposed to subconsciously desire. This was much nearer to that of the Sun-Tor than to that of the conventional car. If Black is right and all the world's car makers are wrong, then there is a new industrial revolution in the making down at Torrington".

Chris Park.