A Carlight with a Slide-out

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The slide-out extension has become a popular feature with American RV manufacturers in recent years but the idea is by no means new. Sixty and even seventy years ago British caravan constructors were making models with slide-outs to extend sleeping space or create toilet or kitchen wings. One such development was the 'Extensicar', patented in 1930 by John and Mary Purdey of Wolverhampton. A rack-and-pinion mechanism operated by a handle at the rear of the caravan wound out extensions on both sides of the body.

D H Morgan, who made 'Fairway' caravans at Deganwy in Caernarfonshire, designed a slide-out toilet compartment and then, under a licence to use the Extensicar patent, went for more ambitious extensions. In 1937 he built a caravan for the actor Claude Dampier which boasted four slide-outs, two each side to the front and the rear of the wheel arches.

Dampier was a comedy actor, famous for his nasal drawl and portrayal of country yokel types. Among the films in which he starred were 'Boys Will Be Boys' in 1935, 'Riding High' 1939, 'Don't Take It To Heart' 1944 and 'Meet Mr Malcolm' in 1953. He died in 1955 at the age of 76.

Like present day stars, Claude Dampier no doubt found his caravan to be indispensable on the film set but we guess he was also an enthusiast for the caravanning life in general. Later, and to enjoy greater mobility, he commissioned a motorhome from Carlight, the company set up by Bob Earl at the beginning of the thirties and still in business today. The Carlight name became synonymous with quality and luxury and the sleek 1936 'Cosmopolitan' and the 1937 'Colonial' - a sensation at the Motor Show that year - boasted such features as hot-and-cold running water, mains electrics, radio, a battery fed by a trickle charger and dual gas/electric lighting.

Dampier's Carlight motorhome - one of just a few motorised outfits built by the Sleaford company during its long history - was based on a Bedford. Only the grille peeping from the A-Class style body reveals the identity of its mechanical foundations and the chassis we guess, would have been the M-type 2-3 tonner which was launched in 1939. In any case the engine would have been Bedford's 3.5-litre ohv six developing 72hp and driving through a 4-speed gearbox to a spiral bevel rear axle. Brakes were Lockheed hydraulics with servo.

Pictured in just postwar editions of 'The Caravan Manual' from Link House, publishers of 'The Caravan' magazine, the Bedford Carlight wears the headlight masks which were obligatory during the wartime 'blackout'. We deduce, therefore, that it was probably built on a new chassis before restrictions came into force barring sales to all but essential civilian users. Certainly the registration number, TL 8687, dates the vehicle to 1939-40 and the Kesteven area of Lincolnshire where the transformation to a motorhome was carried out. We have no information about the interior layout but doubtless the specification would have reflected that which Carlight put into its top tourer models. The body sports a 'west wing' slide-out but was there an equivalent on the other side? Perhaps one of our old readers remembers Claude Damper or even saw his grand-for-its-times motorhome back in the forties or fifties. If so, we'd be glad to hear from you.

Note: Article published in Motorhome Monthly, Britain's former number one motorhome magazine, by Chris Burlace, now an author at Motorhome and Campervan Magazine.

Did You Know?

The first North American woman driver was Genevra Mudge of New York City in December of 1899.

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