Instagram is full to bursting with “#vanlife” posts about 20-somethings who have packed their whole life (smartphone, selfie stick, laptop) into a converted panel van and set off in search of adventure – and a few more likes and subscribers. But a converted Model T Ford dating from 1914 is here to remind us that those van-life dreams are nothing new.
Nomadic people lived in horse-drawn vans for hundreds, if not thousands of years before this Ford Model T was commissioned by the wealthy Bentall family in Britain. And technically Pierce Arrow’s Touring Landau got their earlier, though it was definitely more of a car you could sleep in than a proper RV. But this example is thought to be the earliest surviving full-size combustion-engined motorhome and is the great granddaddy of every motorhome on the road.
Based on an extended Ford Model T chassis and fitted with a caravan body made by Dunton of Reading, it was sold in the 1920s and abandoned for half a century before being discovered and restored in the 1970s with the help of a professional cabinet maker.
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The driver and passenger get to share a button leather couch up front that can be turned through 180 degrees to face the living areas, while back in the main body of the van there are four berths and load of fitted wooden furniture that looks like it was lifted straight out of grandma’s house. And speaking of houses, there’s even a letterbox slot on the door so you can receive mail when you’re out on the road.
Bathroom facilities consist of whatever river you happen to be parked near to, and you can forget about flat-screen TVs, USB sockets, generators, microwave ovens and refrigerators and all the gadgets you get on a $140k Adria Supersonic. But you do get a wood-burning stove that’s used both for cooking and heating.
It would be a hardy traveler (and one with plenty of time on their hands) that attempted to see the world in this vintage van, which likely has a top speed of no more than 30 mph (48 km/h) based on the 42 mph (68 km/h) achieved by a regular 20 hp (20 PS) Model T car not lugging a railway carriage on its back. But it’s a stunning glimpse of what life was like for those wanting to take off – and with enough money to do it – more than 100 years ago, and it would certainly set your Instagram posts apart from those of the other 12 billion people doing van-life content.
This Model T goes under the hammer at Bonham’s Beaulieu sale on September 10 and has a guide price of £20,000-30,000 ($24,000-35,000).