The van that started the camper revolution, Bedford’s immortal CA still makes ideal holiday accommodation.
Few commercial vehicles can claim to have shaped social history like the Bedford CA. Following its 1952 launch, it kick-started the post-WW2 camper van revolution.
With modern full-width steel panels and a shortened nose, complemented by Vauxhall-derived mechanicals, the new Luton-built van was streets ahead of the ageing PC model it replaced.
Kent-based coachbuilders Martin Walter saw it as the natural choice for the multi-purpose Utilicon and Utilibrake conversions. Acting as van, estate car, minibus and overnight sleeper, this spawned the fully-equipped Dormobile. With everything the holidaymaker needed in one package, the leisure industry would never quite be the same again.
Power (bhp@rpm) 59bhp@4000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 86lb ft@2000rpm
Top speed 68mph
0-60mph Approx 40sec (be brave)
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Rust is often a major issue with the CA. Secondhand panels occasionally crop up, but be prepared to repair what you have. The step recesses behind the front and rear doors are the first places to inspect, followed by the door bottoms and the lower quarters of the body. Filler could be hiding some nasty surprises, so watch for bubbling paint. Sill structures are vulnerable, so they should be examined closely, as should chassis box sections.
Later Romany Deluxe Dormobiles had glassfibre trim panels fitted. The finned rear wing panels can cause trouble if moisture has been trapped between steel and glassfibre, allowing rot to remain unnoticed until it’s too late. Crusty rear wheelarches and rust stains bleeding from under trim are clues.
Not all Dormobiles were built with the famous elevating roof, although if this feature is present, then its condition is crucial. Replacement of the striped plastic material is possible, but it won’t be cheap. Check that the glassfibre roof panel is sealed correctly and that rainwater hasn’t been allowed ingress. If this has happened, inspect the floorpans and interior trim for signs of rot or damage.
Accessed by an external ‘bonnet’ hatch, and a removable panel between the front footwells, the CA was powered by all-iron engines of 1508cc and, later, 1594cc capacities. These powerplants work harder in the CA than in the Vauxhall Victor, but they are sturdy. As a result, check for the same maladies as other British four-cylinder units.
Blue oil smoke is a clear indicator of worn valve guides or bore wear, the latter being an engine-out job. White smoke from the exhaust points to head gasket failure, as does traces of ‘mayonnaise’ in the oil, or lubricant and coolant being mixed.
Despite its cutting-edge design, the CA was initially only available with a ‘three-on-the-tree’ column gear-change. This was later upgraded to four speeds. Check if the synchromesh on second and third gears (and fourth on later units) still provides crunch-free changes.
Look for leaks from the oil seals – if lubricant levels have run low then the transmission is likely to be noisy. Expect some noise from units with high mileage, but particularly vocal gearboxes will require rebuilding or replacement. The same goes for rear axles, which can suffer from low oil levels.
The all-round drum brake system should be capable of slowing the CA from speed without
too much fuss. Check the van pulls up squarely
– leaking or sticking wheel cylinders could be behind pulling to either side.
With more fittings than most classics, including domestic fixtures alien to the average saloon, there’s plenty to inspect. External brightwork varied from model to model, but missing parts will be extremely difficult to replace.
Inside, check that the Dormobile folding seats are in operating condition, and that soft furnishings such as seat covers and curtains aren’t damaged. If the melamine-covered wooden cupboards require repair, then imagination will be required. Ensure that sinks and gas hobs are present and correct.
The Bedford CA Dormobile is more than just a classic vehicle – it is also a people-mover, load-lugger, spare bedroom, style icon and holiday choice.
Regardless if nostalgia or camping practicality is your motivation, the CA is
as practical and as entertaining as it was in the 1950s. All you need to see the world is
a sense of adventure and a CA.