MOTORING / There are no places like home: Phil Llewellin tests his parking skills at the controls of a bedsit on wheels

Driving a big motor home is a bit like sailing a ship. Making sure that all the cupboards are closed, to eliminate the risk of covering the carpet with everything from gin to jam, is the equivalent of securing the vessel for sea. The lofty driving position offers a hint of the captain on the bridge. Weather forecasts predicting wind speeds and directions command attention when planning a cruise in a vehicle as long, high and wide as a Swift Kon-Tiki 640 Vogue. And there are times when docking is a more appropriate word than parking, because the Swift measures 22ft 9in (6.8m) from stem to stern - one-third longer than a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit - and all of 7ft 5in (2.2m) across the beam.

Covering the Christie's International Historic Festival at Silverstone was the reason for spending a long weekend amid what Swift Motorhomes' brochure describes as 'the ultimate in customised comfort' and 'the highest level of comfort and convenience' on four wheels.

In fact, visions of living in the lap of luxury, while watching classic Ferraris and Maseratis racing wheel-to-wheel with Jaguars and Aston Martins, were modified before I left Swift's headquarters on the outskirts of Hull. Bill Branton, the company's general sales manager, rated top marks for his conducted tour of the vehicle, but I was surprised to be told that three important features - the microwave oven, the air-conditioning unit and the reading lights - would operate only when we were plugged into the mains. Silverstone, like most sporting venues, lacks such facilities. A generator to produce your own electricity costs an extra pounds 3,500.

Being deprived of the microwave's convenience focused my wife's attention on the absence of a gas-fired oven to supplement the four-burner hob. Cold plates made it virtually impossible for five people to eat a cooked breakfast at the same time.

Jokes about going on holiday with everything but the kitchen sink don't apply to motor homes. The Kon-Tiki 640 Vogue's specification embraces washing-up facilities, a 22-gallon freshwater tank with an efficient heater plumbed into the system, another 22-gallon tank for waste water (which declined to flow out), double-glazed windows, velvet curtains, two tables, a sort of promenade deck on the roof, and a dedicated drinks cupboard for dedicated drinkers.

Pre-breakfast and post-prandial rituals in the 'fully fitted luxury shower compartment' prompted a question. How would Swift describe a deluxe bathroom if it added a five-star hotel to its portfolio? Washing facilities share a space not much bigger than a telephone kiosk with a Porta-Potti cassette toilet.

Efficient utilisation of space - squeezing quarts into pint pots - is what motor homes are all about. The Kon-Tiki 640 Vogue is a squirrel's delight. There are no fewer than 23 cupboards, including a crockery locker, so remembering what is stowed where can save a lot of time. Seats lift to reveal compartments big enough to swallow all the bedding and other bulky items. Weight is saved, convenience enhanced and ventilation encouraged by fitting slatted, rather than solid, lids.

The original motor home was built in Paris in 1901. The owner, an intrepid German doctor who planned to become the first man to drive around the world, named his home on wheels after globetrotting Phileas Fogg's valet. He left London in April 1902, but the engine gave up the ghost and forced him to abandon Passepartout in a Russian snowdrift.

Britain's first motorised caravan was based on a Belsize car, slept five and emerged from a Manchester workshop in 1903. The concept was not greeted with universal approval at a time when driving a horseless carriage was widely regarded as an amusing hobby for a few wealthy eccentrics. The 1905 edition of the Motor Year Book dismissed the newcomer as suitable only for 'those misguided folk who imagine that motoring has something to do with carrying your home about with you'.

Towed and motorised caravans still attract similar sentiments, albeit expressed in much stronger terms, when crawling nose-to-tail along crowded holiday routes. But the Kon-Tiki belied its bungalow-on-wheels appearance, and a name borrowed from nothing more powerful than a wind-driven raft, by performing remarkably well.

Peugeot Talbot's answer to Ford's Transit provides Swift with the cab and chassis on which the motorhome's aluminium and plastic body is built. The package includes a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine with a turbocharger that boosts power to 95bhp at 3,700rpm and also provides good mid-range acceleration. It averaged 22.6mpg.

As expected, the engine clattered when cold and at tickover when hot. There is no chance of a blindfolded passenger mistaking the Kon-Tiki for one of the most sophisticated of today's diesel cars, but on-the-road noise levels gave no cause for complaint over more than 600 miles.

The real surprise was the Kon-Tiki's ability to keep pace, for most of the time, with motorway traffic. Notable exceptions included the M62's long climbs over the Pennines, which reduced it to a little under 50mph. At that speed you are locked in combat with trucks. Apart from that, the main problem is being pushed sideways by the bow-wave of coaches, few of which travel at anything below grossly illegal speeds.

Lesser roads inevitably reduce the motor home's pace. This is not what I would choose for a dash across Wales from Cwmystwyth to Eglwyswrw. The understandable lack of agility, even when compared with a limousine, is compounded by the body being considerably wider than the cab. Failing to remember this when squeezing through narrow gaps can be expensive.

Does this flagship model's pounds 34,998 price tag represent good value? One way of answering the question is to recall the 24ft-long (7.2m) Millard Sprinter that was home for the Christie's weekend in 1991. Built in the US and imported by Greenaway Marine International, it had a 6.2-litre Chevrolet diesel with automatic transmission, was bigger than the Swift, and even better equipped, but cost about pounds 3,000 less.

Of course, like the new range of Ford-based vehicles that Greenaway has begun importing, it had left-hand drive, which was a handicap. But if you can get used to driving a ship, you might as well make it an aircraft carrier.

Swift Motorhomes Ltd, Dunswell Road, Cottingham, North Humberside HU16 4JX (0482 847332).

Greenaway Marine International Ltd, Broad Hinton, Swindon, Wiltshire SN4 9PA (0793 731666).

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice