Portafold Caravan Restoration.
Part 1 of the restoration to a classic fibreglass folding 'van.
This article was sent in to Classic Wheels by George, who begins his story below...
With an article like this one question is where to start. After some deliberation I decided to set the scene right from the beginning, how we ended up with a Portafold in the first place. Well, back in 1994 we wanted a small folding caravan to take the family on Classic car rallies and mini-holidays. This was due in no small measure, to being fed up with getting soaked on two previous holidays, one in Cornwall, the other in the Isle of Wight using a 4 berth frame tent. We said never again and sold it at a car boot sale for £50 losing £100 after two seasons in the bargain. In 1990 we borrowed a Conway camper trailer and towed it to Worcester by my 948cc Austin A35 fully laden, two kids, two adults and loads of associated holiday camping gear for a long weekend away. It was a struggle and now looking back I wonder how the hell we got there but made it we did. The weather in early May held out by some miracle to the last night when the obligatory thunder and lightning ensued. As with any canvass structure, it will pass water after enough has fallen on it even when proofed. We decided to finish with canvass and vowed to find something solid to keep out the rain or not bother at all.
We wanted something fairly small a small car could handle, (maybe only just!) something old, and something dry inside and could sleep 4 up, maybe at a push.
I decided a small folding caravan would be best but had no experience at all of such things. Not having ‘the world wide web’ to look at in those days it was not so easy to find much information on what was possible without some time and effort. I did decide that the modern units were too big and heavy so narrowing the field of opportunity somewhat. After looking out for some time I found an ad in Thames Valley free ads describing a ‘Portafold folding caravan’. It was in Aylesbury, which was not too far from where we lived at the time and I arranged a viewing with the lady selling it. It turned out her husband had died recently and she was disposing of some of the larger items. When we arrived we discovered that the ‘Portafold’ was in a rented shed in the woods down a lane nearby. As she needed to give up the rental of the shed the Portafold had to go. After finding our way down into the shed we gazed through the creaking doors to spy this strange thing, an old ‘Portafold’. It was up on its legs, minus the wheels but erected so we could venture in. I must admit we were not very impressed to begin with but after some chat and general inspection it grew on us.
The lady said she was not sure of its date of manufacture as they could never find out, probably 1963/4 she thought. Anyhow, because of this I had always thought that it was about that age, as it seemed reasonable. It had a blue awning, various bits and bobs and although the white paintwork looked tired we made a lower offer than the asking price. With a little more from me the deal was struck and we agreed to take it away next week once it was made ready by her sons to be removed.
We went next Sunday, paid up, hitched it to my then Ford Granada and pulled it out of the old shed, put on the number plate from my trailer, checked that the lights worked (thankfully they did) and were away. Once home it was cleaned through and made ready for our Holiday in Scotland. We arranged to go to the Austin A35 National Rally in Perth and Glen Nevis during May. As it was too far for the Austin and at that time it didn’t have a tow bar we went in the Granada. It towed beautifully and at about 7 cwt empty was very easy for the 2-litre car, hardly noticeable in fact. Because it is only 3’6” high when folded you can see behind you easily and the towing drag negligible.
Perth was great and the weather was somewhat surprisingly, very nice. After a few days we went west to Ben Nevis and its glen and it rained soon after pitching up. Anyhow, we had our awning and the entire kitchen set up and kept dry and cosy once the hatches were ‘buttoned-down’.
It rained on and off for the 2 days there but we kept dry and the site was very nice. As a bonus the film, ‘Braveheart’ was being shot in Glen Nevis and we were allowed to walk around the set (non-filming day), which was rather surprising.
After that first holiday we had another the following year in the new forest, which kept dry and as I decided the A35 needed major restoration work, the van fell into disuse.
For the last 8 years it has been used on and off as a small ‘shed’ to hold all sorts of car boot items and as a summer sleep over caravan for my daughters friends staying over.
It has been out without being covered and become rather rusty and scruffy looking.
This year, 2004, I decided once the Austin A40 (current classic run-around) had some necessary work done that we should try to get the Portafold restored to usable condition again. Then we could go to the classic car rally events spanning a weekend, have somewhere to stay, somewhere to keep dry if it turned wet, and have something out of the ordinary to show and discuss.
It also seemed a good idea to join a classic or historic caravan club so that we could meet up with other likeminded eccentrics and hopefully have some fun in the bargain!
We joined the Portafold register and this proved to be very useful in emailing other Portafold owners and learn more about the versions etc.
On going to a car boot sale in Ascot early in May we learned of a classic vehicle show being held in Cranford near Heathrow on Sunday 27th June and that we could get in for free if we turned up in a classic vehicle. I thought why not take the A40 and the Portafold together and make a more interesting exhibit?
This article is spread over 8 pages: Page