© Tony Baker / Classic & Sports Car
© Gooding & Company
© Austin/British Leyland
© Tony Baker/Classic & Sports Car
© Tony Baker/Classic & Sports Car
© Science + Industry Museum/Albatross Roadways Ltd.
© Tony Baker/Classic & Sports Car
Kip in the car park with these roomy classics
Having the provision to get properly horizontal and grab some sleep in a car has always had appeal. Even the most mundane transport can become adventurous by means of a snooze.
Alas, that doesn’t seem to be something modern manufacturers are keen to promote, but at various times in the past it’s been quite the thing.
We’ve scoured our archives for some of the weirdest and wackiest examples from motoring history.
1949 Nash Airflyte
Nash introduced its ‘Bed in a car’ feature in 1936 on the insistence of chairman Charles Nash who, when out on a business trip, had become outraged at having to pay a whole $2 for a hotel room.
In fact, Ford, Plymouth Dodge and others in the low-priced field had, for several years, been offering the ‘Business Coupe’; two doors, two seats and long-tail styling for travelling salesmen to keep their samples in and sleep next to them if necessary, legs in the boot.
The dodgem-like 1949 Nash Airflyte took the idea a step further, with both front and rear seats folding into a two-man bed within the confines of its huge cabin.
Range Rover Carawagon
The introduction of the Range Rover in 1970 gave rise to a whole slew of specialist versions, perhaps most famously the six-wheeled Carmichael fire tender.
Less well known was the Carawagon by RJ Searle Ltd of Sunbury on Thames, already famous for campervan conversions on the long-wheelbase Land Rovers.
Their 1971 Range Rover offering slept two and seated six, the interior ‘converting in seconds into a luxurious lounge’ and featured an elevating roof with cooking and washing facilities in a giant centre console. Extras? Air conditioning or a toilet.
The Maxi had all the ingredients for success (five-speed box, overhead cam engine, versatile body) but its awful cable gear change and the miserable performance of the original 1500 version blighted its reputation for life, even among those who could live with the looks; no car more loudly said of its owner ‘I’ve given up’.
BL tried to flog it as an early ‘lifestyle’ vehicle for the gymkhana set, but it never caught on with that crowd. Still, they sold nearly half a million of them and a few diehard fans swear by their Maxis rather than at them.
The fact that you could sleep in a Maxi was probably the most interesting thing about it in the end.
The fact that you could get your head down in this car now seems somewhat incidental to its prophetic brilliance as Europe’s first family-sized five-door hatchback with a back seat that could perform a variety of contortions including being hung by the grab handles.
Comfy, refined and sensible, it was the sort of car your music teacher drove in the ’70s. The TX version with electric windows was the last and most desirable, but they’re all rare now, despite a 15-year production run that saw some 1.8 million built.
John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce Phantom V
This car outraged ’60s society with its bright yellow paintjob bedecked with art nouveau swirls, astrological symbols and floral flourishes – yet it brilliantly captured the whimsical mood of the day and delighted owner John Lennon’s sense of iconoclasm.
The car was something of a haven for the Beatle, with its stereo sound system, radio phone and Sony TV set. It was also one of the first cars in the UK to feature blacked-out windows.
Lennon bought it new, in black, from Meads of Maidenhead in 1965 for £11,000 fully factory optioned. Then, in December 1965, he paid £2000 to have a rear seat fitted that converted into a double bed, as well as some other modifications. The hippie paintjob came in 1967, after the original black paint got damaged on a film set in Spain.
Lennon’s sensibilities had moved on by 1968, and he was mostly to be seen in his all white Phantom V – which also had a bed fitted.
Sales of campervans based on small-to-medium sized commercials flourished in the ’60s and early ’70s because there was no purchase tax imposed on them.
Martin Walter, an established coachbuilder based in Kent, did a roaring trade in Bedford CA-based campers and extended the idea on to the much smaller 8cwt HA Bedford: the classic yellow GPO van built from 1963-’83.
The Martin Walter Beagle was a Vauxhall-sanctioned version of the van with rear side windows and a back seat, while the Roma took the conversion a stage further, with twin 6ft beds, a tiny dining table and kitchen and 6ft 5in of headroom in the extending roof.
On the Deluxe, there was a third bed but by the early ’70s buyers’ horizons were expanding beyond the idea of sitting in an A road lay-by with a flask and on to dreams of foreign package holidays, and the popularity of these mini campers waned.
This is still the king of all full-sized motorhomes, and is still the only one developed from scratch for that purpose – rather than being based on an existing commercial chassis.
Sleek and futuristic, this alloy-bodied six wheeler had the 7.5-litre V8/front-drive package of the Oldsmobile Toronado; at the back, there were air springs that could be adjusted to level the floor when stationary.
Capable of topping 100mph and performing traffic light burnouts, the GMC was more akin to captaining your own Starship Enterprise than the usual bumbling motorhome experience.
Much favoured by F1 drivers, GMCs were only produced for five years, to the tune of 12,921 examples, mostly in the longer 27ft guise.
Daimler Albatross Sleeping Car
Albatross Road Ways was set up in 1928 as a roadgoing sleeper car service, offering first-class travel for the price of a third-class rail ticket: 25 shillings.
The route was London to Liverpool non stop, via a specially adapted Daimler commercial chassis that could sleep 12. It had toilet and washing facilities and there was even a steward on hand to serve nibbles as you motored through the night at an average of 22 miles an hour over the 200-mile route.
Starting in London at 11.05pm, you arrived in Liverpool at 8am. It all sounds quite civilised, but the Albatross, like the rival Land Liner service, was short lived; it closed down after 13 months, most likely a victim of the 1930 Road Traffic Act.
Ford Zodiac Ginetta Camper Conversion
Looking for an additional outlet for their glassfibre handling skills, the Ginetta company proposed a camper-top conversion for the big Mk IV Ford Zodiac/Executive in 1970.
With boot lid and rear window removed, the top followed the curves of the Zodiac body, which was unchanged inside, forward of the rear window.
Sleeping quarters were at the top, with bench seating above the boot. Only one was ever built, and was used by Ginetta for attending race meetings.
Humber Super Snipe ‘Countryman’ conversion by Harold Radford
For £600 Harold Radford (Coachbuilders) Ltd would turn the new 1958 Humber Super Snipe into a vehicle fully equipped for the sporting country gentleman.
There was a picnic table under the boot floor, gas bottle and stove, coffee peculator and other essentials arranged in the boot so as not to interfere with the luggage.
A big Webasto roof meant you could stand up and watch the gee-gees go past. In the rear centre armrest, a mirror, note case, cigarette box and ‘toilet requisites’ were hidden.
The rear seat backrest split to increase the length available in the boot and, with the front seats fully reclined, you had your (slightly lumpy) bed.