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A New Perfection - or just changing needs?

Having read about our 'past perfect' motorcaravans here's something about our search for a replacement - a new perfection based on changing circumstances.  Our needs and expectations have changed, life has moved on and you we need to change with it.  

Difficult choices:  If our requirements were clear cut last time around they are anything but this time! Two things in particular have driven our need to change - number one is that we're not getting any younger and issues like comfort and space are becoming more and more important - and number two is the recent arrival of our first grandchild. The Avalon's small 2+2 layout and rather lumpy multi-part bed no longer seem very attractive and our heart's desire is now a 4/5 berth motorhome with the same number of 3 point seat belts as berths, a more comfortable bed, permanently made up if possible, some extra storage space especially low down storage for heavier items, a good kitchen, larger fridge, a bigger shower compartment and somewhere to lounge in the evening or after a wet walk! Oh! and I almost forgot to mention, it must have a very light and airy feel and it's got to fit on our drive which is just 18'6" (5.65m) long and we'd still like to drive down those wonderful little lanes with grass growing down the middle! Impossible? - well yes it was but that's when it gets really interesting - just how do you find the perfect compromise?!

This latest search started fairly casually at the Stratford show in June when we were there to promote this website but we took the opportunity to have a look round a few motorhomes at the same time. We were greatly tempted by two - a Swift Sundance 500 and a Mobilvetta Top Driver 52 but didn't buy either because we weren't absolutely sure that we really knew what we wanted. (with apologies to the very friendly and helpful salesmen there ). After further opportunities to browse scores of new and second-hand motorcaravans at both the York and Shepton shows we were beginning to wonder if we weren't now further from our goal than when we started.  With our interest aroused more by continental motorhomes our hopes were pinned on our last venture for the season which was to be a trip to the 'Caravan Salon' at the Dusseldorf Messe. This is one of the major European shows with a very substantial motorcaravan presence, it was held in October (earlier now) in a show hall complex very like the NEC with halls 9 - 16 packed full of new and some second-hand motorhomes. Quite apart from the sheer size of the exhibition we expected to see numerous European motorhomes rarely or even never seen in Britain. We duly bought a '5 day break' crossing from Harwich to Hook of Holland at 20% discount via the Camping and Caravanning Club.  We planned to take a day travelling each way, two days in the exhibition itself and a day out looking at local stock.

European Choices:  We set off round the exhibition on the first day with an open mind as to the European motorhome market in general but also hoping to find a 'van that met our own demanding requirements - or at least got close to it. By now we had a clearer idea of the type of motorcaravan we needed and of the compromises we might have to make. Having decided that you just can't get all we wanted into a Hightop it seemed we were looking for our first small coachbuilt. After an extremely interesting but exhausting day we retired back to the Avalon to take stock of what we'd seen. We were almost overwhelmed by the choice available and some of these European motorcaravans are real eye openers - huge storage, winter protection, good safety, large fridges, tiny kitchens usually without ovens, completely different decor & furnishing fabrics - truly amazing!

Somehow a glass or two of the red elixir produced a sufficiently relaxed state of mind that evening to enable us to see through all the novelty and to start focusing on the real opportunities. Since there were so many motorhomes to choose from, all that was really needed was a list of priorities and thereafter the choice would become obvious! Ah yes, pour me another glass and we'll make a list... 

First we thought about what we do with our motorcaravan and what resources we need in each circumstance. For some this will be obvious but we seem to operate in several parallel lives so we had to give some thought to what separate demands they place on our motorhoming life. I won't bore you with the details but they include - weekends away on our own, weekends away with 2 - 20+ photographer friends, weekends promoting the website, short breaks of up to 12 days away in the UK and abroad, days out and some holidays with 3/5-up including baby granddaughter, and so on. All this analysis raised many issues, some were obviously 'must haves' - must be less than 5.5 metres long to be instantly accessible on our drive, must have 4 or more berths for the family holidays, the beds must take a six footer (me) and must have more than four seat belts ideally all 3-point.  Other features were 'highly desirable' like two feet of headroom in any overcab bed and a light and airy feel to the living quarters with good clear views out (not everybody's idea of perfect this - some prefer privacy!).  Some desirables were conflicting - a big well equipped kitchen and bathroom would be nice as would sufficient room to entertain and also plenty of lounging space for the evening and for the 'monsoon' seasons but would we find these alongside everything else in a 5 metre motorhome? - back to the Tardis concept!  Exhausting stuff this so we resolved to take a day off and then to go round again with our list and see which 'vans met the spec.

Basic Layout Choices: (See our layouts section too).  With feet rested & refreshed we set out once more round halls 9 - 16 (yes it's HUGE) to finally find our new motorcaravan. In the process it dawned on us that there are only a few basic layouts in any given type of van, each manufacturer introduces his own variants but the basic designs are really quite restricted. As a personal choice we dismissed rear bunks and/or separate child dinettes as unnecessarily claustrophobic, we also dismissed twin settees or u-shaped lounge/diners as impossible for the rear seat belts we needed. In the end there were just two main choices for us in our budget range - a seat-belted dinette arrangement with side lounging on a small settee plus a very small rear kitchen or - no settee but with a much more extensive side or possibly side & rear L-shaped kitchen.  Variations on this theme included more or less cleverly designed storage (lots of it under-floor in some German motorhomes) and the positioning of the wardrobe and exit door. These positions had an enormous influence on the interior 'feel' of the 'van - we soon learned to close the door when we were sitting inside assessing our feelings about the 'ambience'! 

This proved to be a difficult choice, so difficult in fact that we brought the problem back to England along with all our notes and loads of digital photos. The problem was that we really wanted a good kitchen AND some lounging - but in 18+ feet - how??  We even considered modifying the front of out garage to see if we could get a 20 footer on the drive!  In the end a choice simply had to be made. Up to now everything had been 'we' but I now offered a completely free choice to Dilys on the basis that I could happily live with either layout. I fully expected the cook in her to get the upper hand and to go for a larger kitchen at the expense of a settee but I was surprised by her decision to go for more comfortable lounging.
Well there we are, decision almost made, the otherwise attractive L-shaped kitchen designs now demoted to second place - a Eura Mobil 545 with excellent storage and really comfortable upholstery but with a wardrobe where we thought a big window should be - a Rotec 5 with a delightful kitchen but the old style 'bubbly' exterior - a Mobilvetta Top Driver 52 with the L-shaped kitchen and lots of goodies but a rather hard bed and seats; but the side-settee loungers now promoted to favourite - a Brstner 5232/2 with the most amazing storage and excellent side lounging but lacking a little head height and with the smallest of all the kitchens or - a Hymer 544K with the side settee and a good balance of storage, comfort, workable kitchen, etc but with rather dark and severe upholstery in the example we saw.

The small Hymer turned out to be our favourite with the Brstner not far behind. All we had to do then was to find an excellent second-hand example at the right price.....!  (See the import section for the full story).
And now - have we found our perfect motorhome?  Well the answer is no of course, because we've made compromises again and in any case this specification won't suit us forever.  How will we feel about clambering in and out of an overcab bed in another ten years?  How will our grand-daughter fit in at the same moment in time - if at all?  No the perfect motorhome is an elusive and very temporary concept - roll on the next one!

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