Guide price: £14,000- £18,000
・Upgraded 1,725cc engine
・Recent complete restoration
・Modern electric and gas hook-ups
As much as we would love to insist you watch Carry On Camping, that’s not the purpose of this listing. Instead, we’re here to introduce you to an automotive rarity. A camper so special that, in all honesty, you’ve probably never seen one before. This is a Commer Hadrian Motor Caravan, and this is not like the other Commer-based campers. Mainly because this was so much better.
We’ll get into the details shortly. Until then, a bit of history. In the ‘50s and especially in the ‘60s, us Brits were desperate to go on holiday. This was of course before jets were commonplace, so we stayed at home, and favoured exploring our lush and green land rather than those overseas. Some used hotels, others camped and the smart ones went for a bit of both in the guise of a campervan. It was big business, as various coachbuilders turned their hand to it. Some were nothing more than vans with a window box on the back. Others, however, were more special. The result of proper thought and engineering, and that’s what we have here.
The Commer FC was a common site on the campsites of ‘60s Britain. It’s gentle road manners and excellent load space meant it made for a great camper. Many were simply vans with windows cut out and some carpet in the back. Others were rebodied from the cab back, to give more space and functionality. The most common of these more bespoke solutions was the Highwayman. It was good, but it wasn’t the best. For that, you had to go for a Hadrian. And that’s what you’re bidding on here.
The Hadrian was a much better engineered machine, but was also more user friendly. The entrance was on the side, and it incorporated a nifty little mechanical fold out step for easy egress. The windows were vast, giving it a huge sense of internal space. The arrangement inside could seat four in motion. It could also sleep four, in either a four single bed configuration, or as two singles and one double. There was ample overhead storage, a kitchenette and, well, it was just lovely.
This particular Hadrian was with its long term, caring owner until the year 2000, After this it’s history is sketchy, but the MOT history shows a mileage of 40,832 in 2002. It was acquired by the current owners in 2016 and the latest mileage of just over 42,000 in 2021 demonstrates very little use in the past 20 years.
During its past history the camper had received some renovation and painting (with old photographic proof) but the new owners decided to restore it again, keeping its past olde worlde charm but with modern fittings and capable running gear. Owners who, happily, have a full workshop and enough Rootes NOS to build several vehicles. Perfect.
With this father and son pair, the Hadrian was once again restored, but also modified. Don’t wince though, as it’s made it a more usable proposition. They sorted out the complete lower half of the van, with new wood and metal. The chassis was cleaned and protected. Modern electric hook-ups were installed, making it 2021 campsite compliant. The water system was renewed, too. And finally, to make it a more appealing proposition in modern traffic, the engine was upgraded to a 1,725cc unit Hillman Hunter engine with a stromberg 150carb.
As for the looks, new paint was applied where needed, but that’s it. No curtains were fitted, the fabrics are excellent, but standard. Nothing has been done to personalise this van. That’s where you come in. This Commer is now ready for someone to make it truly theirs, a home from home if you will. Mechanically, all it needs is fuel - everything else is done.
There is a lovely selection of paperwork to go with this rare Commer Hadrian. There is a scan of the original advert, which makes for brilliant ‘in period’ reading! There is an original Commer handbook and wallet, and there is also some paraphernalia from the various shows it has attended.
As for the important stuff, there is a collection of old MOTs. There is no MOT currently in place, as the Commer is not being used and is also exempt. However, should you require it, the vendor will put twelve months of test on before collection. Back to the paperwork, there are various invoices and receipts from past works and servicing, and there is also a detailed collection of photographs from the first time the van was restored. The current owner has pictures of the more recent restoration on file.
As for the works carried out recently, there is no paperwork. The current owners are passionate about the brand, and have amassed a staggering collection of Rootes parts, so they literally have everything in stock. They have their own workshop, too, which is where the work was carried out. Trust us, when you collect this Commer, you’ll be thrilled to see where it’s coming from!
It was 1961, so there is no air-conditioned this or Bluetooth that. Instead, it’s simple and functional, and all in exceptional condition. Starting with the cab area, there are two green-trimmed seats separated by the hump of the engine cover. There is a steering wheel and a gear lever and that’s about your lot. It’s all clean, tidy and very well presented indeed. The floors are excellent, the front panel and headlight bowls are clean and tidy, and even the washer bag is present and correct. The door cards are in wonderful condition, the door furniture all works as it should, and the doors themselves are rock solid.
Now, let’s take a tour of the back, as this is where the Hadrian really shines. Firstly, there are two further seats. These can be locked into place for driving, or when parked they can be moved and then, when paired with front seats, create two single beds. The two sofas in the rear can fold out into two beds, or one massive double. The seats are green, and are all in excellent condition.
At the very back of the van, there is a counter that runs the full width. This has been fitted with a modern stainless steel unit which incorporates two gas burners and a small sink. There is lots of kitchen storage under and around the new hob and It is all covered by folding glass panels. On either side of the counter are twin three-pin plug sockets, ideal for a microwave or kettle. The rear window is made of two outer fixed sheets with a horizontally slatted window between.
There is new flooring throughout, as well as new panelling. Electrics in the living area are all new with new wiring and plug faces; there are another three double sockets in the living area. There is also a new fuse board in the kitchen storage cupboards. Up above, there is a skylight, while the outer perimeter is populated by nine original wooden storage cupboards. There is also storage over the cab. Plenty of space for all your camping essentials, that’s for sure.
The living area has new pelmets and curtain rails; the privacy rail is also in place in the cab area.
Finally, there is the side door. This has a large window and a Yale style lock/latch mechanism. Also, when you open it, it activates a mechanical drop-down step, which makes getting in and out a bit easier. It’s a little feature, but it says so much about the level of design that went into this.
As you can see, the exterior of this Commer Hadrian is nothing short of excellent, and certainly doesn’t look like it’s sixty years old! Some of the paint is fresh, which of course helps matters. But it’s not just paint. This Commer is exceptionally solid, too. The lower half panelling is excellent, retaining the important details like the swooping body lines and the like. There is no rippling, nothing untoward, it’s all very straight indeed.
Around the back, there is a new hatch. This has been liberated from a modern caravan, but painted to match the hue of the Commer. In it, you will find a modern electric three-pin hook up, as well as the water hook up. The gas system is also new and has its own hookup. There is space in the kitchen cupboard for a gas bottle; all systems are new, and serve to ensure maximum campsite compatibility. You will be amazed at how well this has been incorporated.
Looking underneath the Commer, there is a spare wheel and then a veritable ocean of clean and carefully applied underbody sealant. No corner, nook or cranny has been missed, and as such you could drive this old thing through the saltiest of seas without fear. But don’t. It’s not a boat.
There are no leaks, nor is there any evidence of substandard repair. All the suspension bushes are new, as are a great many of the fixings. The exhaust is in excellent health, the suspension all looks grand and on the whole, it’s very solid indeed. But have a look for yourself in the gallery - the owner has a ramp, so we were able to have a proper nosey.
Between the driver and passenger is the engine cover. Unlatch it and lift it forward and you’re in for a treat. Normally the forgotten part of a camper, the engine here shines. Literally, as it has a natty Holbay rocker cover fitted, which has been colour-coded to match the van. But it’s not just a nod. Underneath that rocker cover lives a 1,725cc reliable Hillman Hunter lump. It’s no hot rod in a vehicle so big, but it does mean this Commer can mix in with modern traffic with ease. The engine pulls very well indeed, it doesn’t get hot, has an electric fan, it doesn’t cough or splutter as it has an electric fuel pump,the manual choke works as it should and, well, it’s just a strong time proven Rootes unit with superb spares availability from UK based specialist suppliers. A new stainless fuel tank is fitted to ensure trouble free motoring.
The four-speed manual transmission, by virtue of its age, takes a little getting used to. But when you do, it’s effortless and direct in the way it shifts gears. The same can be said of the brakes. You’re dealing with drums all round here, so it takes a bit of mental adjustment, but you soon learn how they respond. They pull the big Commer to a halt without issue, and without pulling in an untoward direction.
The suspension is free of creaks, bumps and rattles. All four tyres have plenty of tread and the steering is surprisingly direct, too. It’s actually something of a joy to drive. It can keep up with modern traffic without breaking a sweat, which is more than can be said for some other olde campers. The owners have made this a very usable machine for 2021, that’s for sure.
At the blunt end of the scale, there is the argument of ‘find another’ because, frankly, you will search for a long time. And when you do, it won’t be as nice as this one. But we’re not here to be blunt, we are here to instead encourage you to take on what has to be one of the most usable classic campers out there. And one that manages at the same time to not be a Volkswagen. It’s something just as cool, but also wildly different and a lot bigger internally.
But more importantly, it has been built to quite literally carry-on camping. With its modern hook-ups, the new interior fittings, the bigger engine, the new electrical system and stainless fuel tank, this isn’t a cheeky nod to the past, but a classic that can be used. It’s been built with proper care and enthusiasm, but only to a point of being structurally and mechanically sound. It now needs you to take it on, to fill it with the things that make you happy, and to build new memories with it. And you will. Trust us.
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