The Bedford Dormobile: Britain’s Obscure VW Camper Van Rival

When it comes to #vanlife living, few vehicles feature as prominently as the VW camper van, aka ‘the VW Bus.’ Not only is it still popular today, but it also inspired a wave of rivals when it was first introduced. Chevrolet had the Corvair Greenbrier, Mercedes had the Omnibus, and in the UK, there was the Bedford Dormobile.

What is the Bedford CA Dormobile?

Back in the 50s and 60s, Bedford was a UK company that specialized in commercial trucks and vans, Automobile reports. Basically, its products, like the CA, were rivals to vehicles like the Ford Transit and Morris J-Type.

And, just like the Transit, the CA was often converted for non-commercial use. One of the most common conversions were camper vans, performed by another British company called Dormobile, Silodrome reports.

Maroon 1961 Bedford CA Dormobile camper van with its pop-up roof open in front of a forest
1961 Bedford CA Dormobile | Automobile Magazine via Instagram

Although Dormobile converted Austins, Vauxhalls, and even VWs into camper vans, the 1952-1969 Bedford CA Dormobile was the most popular, RM Sotheby’s reports. And it came with quite a few useful features.

Bedford Dormobile vs. the VW camper van and competition

Green 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia Bus camper van with yellow pop-up roof
1976 Volkswagen Westfalia Bus camper van | Bring a Trailer

The Bedford Dormobile wasn’t particularly fast, even compared to VW’s camper van. By the mid-70s, the VW Microbus came with a 2.0-liter flat-four rated at 70 hp. In contrast, the typical Bedford CA Dormobile offered a 50-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder.

1961 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier
1961 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier | Bring a Trailer

According to the Dormobile Owners Club, larger-capacity engines were available. None were notably more powerful, though. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder model, for example, only made 59 hp, ClassicCarsForSale reports, and topped out at 68 mph. In contrast, by 1964, the Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier offered as much as 110 hp.

Maroon-and-grey front seats of the 1961 Bedford CA Dormobile folded down to serve as beds
1961 Bedford CA Dormobile folding seats | Bring a Trailer

But, while it wasn’t quick, Bedford’s camper van was comfortable. Its front seats can fold flat so they can be used as beds. The pop-up roof is side-hinged and features 2 slide-out bunkers. Plus, while VW’s camper van had a sliding door, the Dormobile has 2 of them.

And of course, the Dormobile could be equipped with a number of additional useful #vanlife features. These included a sink, a cooker, and even a toilet and ice-box fridge. Some models even offered separate bedrooms instead of the pop-up roof.

Pricing and availability

The Bedford Dormobile, though it was popular in the UK, never reached the same levels of popularity as the VW camper van. However, restored models do occasionally surface for sale. In fact, the accused fraudster and former CEO of Interlogic Outsourcing, Najeeb Khan, owned one, Business Insider reports.

The restored interior of a 1961 Bedford CA Dormobile, showing the wood-paneled fridge, sink, and stove, and pop-up tent
Restored 1961 Bedford CA Dormobile interior | Automobile via Instagram

In fact, as of this writing, Khan’s own Bedford CA Dormobile is heading to auction. RM Sotheby’s will offer it during the October 23-24, 2020, Elkhart Collection auction. The camper van’s been restored, with modern tires, toilet, a modern fridge and gas stove, and an 11-gallon wastewater tank. It’s expected to go for $60,000-$80,000.

Overhead shot of a restored 1964 Volkswagen 21-Window Type 2 Bus with the sunroof open
1964 Volkswagen 21-Window Type 2 Bus overhead | Bring a Trailer

However, many Dormobiles go for quite a bit less. RM Sotheby’s auctioned another restored CA Dormobile in 2019 that went for $39,200. Others can go for $15k-$25k, Bring a Trailer reports. In contrast, the typical VW Westfalia camper van goes for $20k-$30k on BaT. And some pristine restored VW Buses have gone for as much as $90,000.


A Glimpse at the Mercedes-Benz Popup Camper

In addition, there’s now an easier way of getting parts for your Bedford camper van. The Dormobile company is officially back in business. And although it now specializes in VW and Land Rover conversions, it still has parts for the classic Bedfords.

Follow more updates from MotorBiscuit on our Facebook page.