BESSACARR OWNERS CLUB - 50 years and counting
 
   
 
 

History of the Bessacarr Caravan Marque

The formation of the company

The original company was Albert Skepper & Son of Rotherham, who started manufacturing holiday caravans after the Second World War to expand their building repair and joinery activities. At this time “Bessacarr” was a model name derived from a village in the area where Mr Skepper lived.

Whilst a limited number of tourers were produced in the late fifties, manufacture concentrated predominantly on holiday caravans and mobile homes. The factory at Warren Vale, Rawmarsh, was brought into operation in 1957, and on Friday 13th February 1959, the company was taken over by the Arnold Laver Group who were primarily a wood merchant business who wished to diversify. And so Bessacarr Caravans came into being.

Market Development

Bessacarr at first Caravan show
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In the first year, no tourers were produced, but the residential Manor twin units with their characteristic bulbous noses were shown in late 1959 at the first ever Caravan Exhibition at Earls Court. The next year saw the introduction of the first tourer to be manufactured by Bessacarr at the 1960 Caravan Exhibition. Designed from first principles under the direction of Tom Wilkinson, the 12.5 foot, 4 berth Royalette was a dramatic and stylish entrant to the market. That such a high quality ’van was being offered for only £325 meant that 100 orders were taken at the show.

Bessacarr towed by Austin Healy
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Subsequent reviews in the caravan magazines of the time saw testers admitting that this little jewel of a caravan had significantly exceeded their expectations of what a living ’van manufacturer could produce and it went on to become a firm favourite with the discerning public. The range was extended over the next few years with the Continental models and the up-market Rally models being added. On 25th January 1964, at Ye Olde Belle Hotel, Barnby, Notts, at what was the Inaugural Meeting, the Bessacarr Owners’ Club was formed (Members can read the minutes of this meeting in the Members Area 'Club Documents' section for 1964). The first Chairman was a Mr T. Wilkinson, the designer of the 1960 Royalette tourer!

Changing Market

Production of residential models was cut back in the late sixties as sites became increasingly difficult to obtain, and by 1972 the factory was concentrating entirely on tourers. They were the bulbous triple window glass-fibre fronted Rally range – all with names featuring “M” with a Mediterranean connection – Minorca, Monte Carlo, San Marino, etc.

Bessacarr participated in road rallying throughout the sixties and early seventies to the benefit of better construction and towability. They won the British Caravan Road Rally in 1970 and 1973.

They launched their ‘new concept’ Conisborough with its ‘stylish wedge design’ in 1976 and other models followed in succeeding years (the Denaby in 1977 and the Cadeby in 1978).

Bessacarr Cameo
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In 1980, Astral Caravans ceased production and Bessacarr took the opportunity to acquire their recently-launched and highly innovative twin-axle Cameo design, the 550S, and produced it as a Bessacarr to run alongside the more traditional range for a while.

By the 1984 model year Bessacarr were selling four Cameo twin-axle models – the 420 GL 2 berth, the 470 GL 4 berth, the 550 GLS 4/6 berth and the 550 GLD 4/5 berth. Only the Cadeby from the traditional range was still being produced. Prices ranged from £6,000 to £7,200. Production moved into the new factory (on the same site in Mexborough) at the beginning of the Eighties.

In the 1990 model year, Bessacarr made 400 'vans, producing single axle Cameos for the first time on the smallest 2 berths, the 420SL (end bathroom) and the 420SLE (end kitchen). These cost £9,619.75 ex-works. For 1991 they made 500 ’vans, and for 1992, they planned to make 600. Dealers clamoured for more of the extremely popular Cameo 470/2 so Bessacarr agreed to make another 20 of them. This underlined just how sought after these vans were at the time. In 1992 the 470/2 cost £12,349 and the impressive range-topping Cameo 600 GLX cost £15,049.

Enter the Swift Group...

In 1995 the Arnold Laver Group decided to concentrate on its core business, namely timber, leisure and property investments and divested itself of all the other trading entities, including Bessacarr, which was put up for sale in the summer of 1996.

Various options were considered for continuing Bessacarr production, including a management buyout, but towards the end of 1996 the Swift Group took Bessacarrs on, building them at Cottingham but on their motorhome line, and making them their premium brand. Swift showed their first 2 Bessacarr models at the February ’97 NEC Show.

Tourer manufacture was transferred from the motorhome line as demand for Swift Group motorhomes increased and Bessacarr tourer production continued smoothly for several years as the Cameo evolved alongside other Swift Group products.

For the 2008 model year, Swift announced they were to stop making Bessacarr tourers whilst continuing production of Bessacarr motorhomes. They had made only 300 Bessacarr tourers the previous year but had built 1000 motorhomes. So you can understand the commercial reasons behind this decision.

Revival

Couplands of Louth (Peter Coupland) and Swindon Caravans (Guy Collister) then entered an arrangement with the Swift Group that they should continue to make a batch of Swift Conqueror-based specials but badged and fitted out as Bessacarrs.

This meant the loss of the much-loved twin-axle Cameo 550 GL which had been a mainstay of Bessacarr, often making up 50% of production in the latter years. It is a moot point whether these post 2008 Bessacarrs are dealer specials, or a little bit more, because the name and badging live on as motorhomes still in production at Cottingham.

After a few years, Swindon Caravans ceased their participation in this venture leaving Peter Coupland in sole possession of Bessacarr tourers. And that is where we are today (2014). Louth is the home of the Bessacarr Cameo touring caravan.

Compiled by Humph Jones

 

Planning ahead!

Brantome, Dordogne

Why not plan on joining us for our relaxing 14 day holiday near the medieval French town of Sarlat in the Dordogne?


Why not join us?

Some benefits of joining the Bessacarr Owners Club:
  • Make new friends
  • Learn more about your own Bessacarr
  • Explore with friends who know the area
  • Free & easy programme
  • Technical help available at most rallies
How to join...


Swift enthuses about the Cameo from Couplands

"It's great to see Peter and his team making such a success of these models, keeping one of the great brands in the industry alive" comments Swift Group's Commercial Director, Nick Page.


 
 
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