Motortrades Insight Magazine Online

British motorhome manufacturers ‘putting up stiff resistance’ to European imports, says Holdsworth Motorhomes founder

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Published: 3 June 2013

richard holdsworth holdsworth motorhomes


With the sun beaming its heat onto Britain’s countryside, now is simply not the time to go abroad – at least for the 120,000 motorhome owners in Britain. 


But now, Richard Holdsworth, the founder and owner of the now defunct Holdsworth Motorhomes, has shared his take on the UK’s motorhomes industry.


So where is the UK motorhome or ‘Motor Caravan’ market heading? 


“Imports mainly from Germany, Italy and France seem to be taking an increasing slice of our home market,” he told Motortrades Insight. “Several UK manufacturers are putting up stiff resistance but I don’t see anyone taking the fight to the opposition across the Channel which is a great shame and indicates a lack of resolve from the management of our major manufacturers.”


Richard, now the President of the Holdsworth Owners Club, is proud of his company’s history and reputation for creating some of the finest classic Volkswagen campervan conversions. Holdsworth Motorhomes, which began in 1968, was the first of its kind to gain approval for the motorhome conversions by Volkswagen and having experienced the best and worst of the brutal motorhome market, Richard’s perspective as a former motorhome manufacturer is quite telling. 


“The Germans showed no hostility to us ‘invading’ their market – quite the contrary,” he said. “I was told by a senior executive of Westphalia that, ‘we welcome you, Herr Holdsworth.  We will have to sharpen our pencils…!’  Henning Duckstein, head of VW quality at the time, was impressed with our quality and even learnt something from us on the way we mounted our Valentine coachbuilt body on the Volkswagen chassis.


“I am sure an export market is there but it needs resolve from the top, a quality product, of course, and a good reserve of funds.”


Richard is so influential he was recruited by Anthony Trevellyan, owner of Autosleepers, as a consultant to bring his ‘expertise, quality and style into the Autosleepers brand’.


He even introduced La Strada - a German-based converter of vans into motorhomes - into the UK and has consulted for a number of major players in the UK motorhomes market.


Richard tells Motortrades Insight how Holdsworth Motorhomes began.


richard holdsworth holdsworth motorhomes


“The intention was to buy a second-hand Volksie camper but they were too expensive (I had sold my Porsche in Oz to pay for the fare – but not much left over). So we bought a Kombi with windows from Colindale Motors, Edgware Road, I made the furniture in a lock-up garage next to our flat at Clapham Common while Heather came home from her job as PA to – among other people Ted Dexter the England cricket captain – and made the curtains and seat covers. Between Heather’s work, we travelled the UK and then, the following year the Continent, always finding ways of perfecting our van (see pic). 


“The old, old story of people wanting a van like the one you’ve built convinced us there might be a market and we started up with the £80 cancelled deposits for our return fares and £150 from the local branch of Dad’s old bank, the Midland. 


“We had no security or skills other than the fact that I had been good at woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing at Grammar school. And we had the use of the lock-up garage at £1 a week! A move to a ‘real’ factory in Ashford Middlesex followed by a further expansion a year or so later, also in Ashford. 


“By this time we were converting Fords and Bedfords as well as Volkswagens – mainly second-hand vans provided by dealers and private customers. Business boomed and we took the giant step of moving, lock, stock and barrel 30 miles down the road to the old Woodley Aerodrome with unlimited space and a rent of £6,100 a year.


“We found excellent staff in the area – ex Miles Aircraft craftsmen – and were soon knocking on the door of vehicle manufacturers seeking approval and Bank Stocking whereby the manufacturer provides a stock of vans to convert which were then taken up by motor caravan dealers and sold to the public. British Leyland was the first to approve us… Fords, then Fiat. Volkswagen was the hard one to crack and we only received that approval – and Bank Stocking – when Danbury and Devon went broke. 


“Autosleepers went to see them at their UK headquarters in Milton Keynes and Heather and I went up there with our business plan under or arm the next day. I remember Anthony Trevellyan phoning me that evening and saying while the meeting had gone well, finding the headquarters in MK was a nightmare. ‘I am just warning you, Richard. Don’t be late.’ My reply was, ‘I’ve waited ten years, Anthony, they can wait ten minutes…’ We weren’t late and we joined Autosleepers in getting Volkswagen UK approval and the contract."


After deciding to leave the motorhome and caravan industry when he reached 65, Richard wrote for magazines such as Best of British and This England and has also self-published two successful books – Six Spoons of Sugar, detailing his experiences as an evacuee and In the Hot Seat, his ‘Aussie tale’. Between them they have sold some 3,000 copies. Discover where to purchase his books.


In the next article about Holdworth Motorhomes, Motortrades Insight discovers how Richard’s company lead the way in safety and consistently innovated, winning the company new contracts.

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