The Ford Thames 15 cwt van was a well overdue addition to the Ford range in the late 1950’s. Crucially, its size, side opening door and separate chassis design offered an ideal base for a motor caravan (among other variants) and it could easily double as an ordinary vehicle during the week and be used for picnics or breaks away from home at the weekends. The Thames was instrumental in helping the campervan establish itself and indeed the Martin Walters conversions, known as the Dormobile, were once synonymous with the word campervan.
The Thames did in fact boast some great features like it’s 35ft turning circle. Another virtue was it’s engine size. The ideal candidate, from Dagenham, was derived from the Ford Consul. At
1,703cc (103.9 cu in) it was considerably larger than any of it’s medium sized commercial vehicle contemporaries, and from January 1963 an improved higher compression version and a four speed all synchro box served the Thames well until the end of it’s manufacturing run in August 1965.
This fine example was originally registered in March 1965 by Martin Walters Dormobile Conversions, and then moved to Dublin in 1967 until 2015 when it was purchased by the current owner.
In 2016 the Thames took part in the Goodwood Revival parade celebrating England’s 1966 World Cup victory and also, in the same year, it travelled down to Italy to have fun with the Italian Job event Mini’s.
In 2018 the vehicle underwent a renovation of the engine, exterior and interior, managed by John Grainger at CAMad. A replacement high compression 1703cc engine was sourced and rebuilt by Phoenix Rebore. The bodywork was taken back to bare metal and fabrication, welding and paint work was completed in its original attractive colour scheme.
New rubbers for all the doors and glass were also fitted along with two new hammocks, a new canopy and original 1965 awning which attaches to the Dormobile. Finally, a new stainless steel exhaust, new petrol tank and fuel lines, fitted just recently in 2020, complete the picture.
The V5 registration document is present along with receipts for previous parts and the recent comprehensive restoration work. The current owner also has numerous photographs
of the refurbishment and a lovely book documenting the recent family trips.
The two tone blue upholstery is in fine fettle having been re-trimmed to a high standard on original sourced seats just a couple of years ago. This included restoration of the front seats, new door cards from Waboo Automotive, new wooden cupboards and table. The flooring is also in good condition.
The seats transform into two beds and two hammock style beds (perhaps for the kids?) reside at roof level. The current owner hasn’t got round to installing curtains, but these would make a cosy addition in the future if you wish.
There are a few items that need attention - The lifting canopy struts are a bit temperamental and the cooker will need a service. Also, upfront, the fuel and temperature gauges aren’t operating.
However, everything else appears to be in good working order including the wipers, which have been upgraded from the original vacuum type to far more efficient motor based wipers.
Following it’s renovation (as described above), the overall condition of the exterior is very good, clean and straight. There are some small patches of surface rust around the van (see photos), but these should be an easy fix according to the owner.
The general condition of all the exterior bright work is pretty good, and the underside has been
treated to some wax oil under seal. It looks good and solid. The window glass and rubbers are good along with all the other fittings, and the nicely painted original steel wheels are shod with new Doublestar 185/R15C van tyres.
As mentioned, the Dormobile will come with an attachable awning and a new canopy was fitted in 2018 - a great long term bonus.
Again (as described above), the engine was rebuilt in 2018 and with just 500 miles clocked up it is only just about run in, so should be reliable for many years to come. It has recently been serviced and runs well although it may need a fine tune as it has been sat idle for a few months.
The 4 speed box and column shift operate efficiently, although the gear linkage may require some attention soon. The four original 9” drum brakes work as you would expect and the suspension leaf springs and bushes are all in good condition.
With just 300 miles since the last MOT in 2017, the current owner is happy to provide a fresh MOT to the new owner.
This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a very rare and enduring classic, and is a great alternative to the more obvious campers. It will no doubt attract a lot of attention at car shows if that’s your passion (or indeed at photo shoots, as we discovered!), and, as the current owner describes - “bring a smile to your face”.
The relatively nippy engine, recent renovation work and above all - charm - should make this endearing Dormobile the perfect companion for family picnics, short breaks and other leisure pursuits - and with the bonus of a comfy seat and a cuppa whenever you like - what more could you want!.
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