I must introduce you to Precious. Here she is.
Precious is a Chausson V594 fourgon amenagée. Fourgon is French for van, more or less. (It also means poker, luggage van on a train and army ammo truck, but we can safely ignore those). Fourgons come in lots of forms: to give just a few examples, fourgon à bestiaux is a cattle truck, fourgon cellulaire is a prison van, a fourgon mortuaire is a hearse and a fourgon postal is the type of vehicle you’d find Postman Pat in. And then there is the aforementioned fourgon amenagée, which is the precise definition we want. This type of fourgon is a camper van.
Over the years some of our fishing clients have turned up in RVs, and in 2017 friends from Switzerland spent a few days in theirs in our garden. We’ve always been struck by the fiendishly clever cunning at work in sticking the essentials of a house into a van. This autumn we started looking at them more seriously and quickly came to the conclusion that we’d be very happy pottering around in one once we’ve retired. Then we decided that we wouldn’t and couldn’t wait that long, but would start going for mini potters whenever we could fit them in. Which meant buying a vehicle as soon as possible.
Out of the vast range of camping cars (French for RV) we opted for the fourgon, as opposed to a capucine, profilé, or an intégral. The fourgons, camper vans, are basically tarted-up Fiat Ducatos, or similar-sized transit vans. They’re the smallest, and consequently cheapest. Next come the capucines, which have the bumpy bit, containing the sleeping quarters, over the driving compartment. Of a similar size but a more blocky shape are the profilés, whilst the integral is the biggest, heaviest and priciest of the bunch.
Weight was another consideration. On our French driving licences we can drive anything with four wheels up to 3.5 tonnes without needing upgrade to an HGV licence, which calls for five-yearly medicals. (Unless you gained your driving licence before 1975, in which case, however old and doddery you might be, you can drive something colossal without any kind of monitoring.) Fortunately the fourgons and other smaller camping cars come in under that all-important weight.
We visited several camper van dealerships, some more helpful than others, and one which was no help whatsoever. It was a wet Friday afternoon, true, but no one even so much as stuck their nose out to see if they could be of assistance as we trudged around the yard inspecting models and getting soaked. We looked into getting a second hand fourgon for a while but by the time we’d seen an ad, the vehicle was sold. There’s a very brisk market in them, and they generally aren’t much cheaper than their new counterparts. Thus the decision to buy new was thrust upon us.
We had to work quite hard to get our fourgon. The first time we turned up at the dealership in Montluçon we got a bit of attention, and went away with several brochures. We returned a fortnight later to have a look at a certain vehicle, not Precious, and make serious enquiries into how to put down a deposit. However, the city’s trade fair was starting in a few days’ time and the sales guy was in the middle of getting his stock ready to move there. He was far too busy to sell us a van that day and suggested we come to the fair, which was to take place in the first week of October.
And come we did. It was a rather nice affair. It’s a yearly do but we’d never been before. We chose to go on the Tuesday, Ladies’ Day, and I got a freebie scarf by very cleverly being female. We zoned in on the camping car section. There were several dealerships there, but it was still our Montluçon guy who had the best offers, and now that he was unstressed he was friendly and helpful again. A rare second-hand van caught our eye, but although equipped with the luxury of a flat-screen TV, bizarrely it hadn’t bothered with the far more necessary passenger-side airbag. That ruled it out for us and, since the model we’d previously been interested had been sold and another one wouldn’t be available for several months, we settled on the sleek and stylish Chausson V594.
We walked around for a while, pretending to mull it over one last time before going ahead with our purchase, but we’d both already decided we really wanted our fourgon. We’d been doing our sums for several weeks and concluded that becoming camper van owners was not only possible and desirable, but also a good investment. And so we returned to our salesman, filled in the forms and put down the deposit. He advised us that whereas you get a grace period of ten days during which to have a panic attack and back out of the deal if entering the contract at a garage, at a trade fair that all goes out of the window. If you commit to buy, that’s it. No going back. All scary stuff, but we had no intention of changing our minds. We probably should have haggled over the price a bit because he kept throwing in free things for us – including a bike rack and a radio – which suggests he was doing more than well out of the bargain!
Now all we had to do was wait. And wait and wait. Being a 2020 model, for reasons that still escape us we wouldn’t be able to get our hands on our fourgon until December. It all seems odder still because, when they did eventually and grudgingly allow us to pay them the balance and hand over the vehicle, she came with a temporary carte grise (registration document) that is valid for four months. We’ll actually only need it for about six weeks, since her permanent registration documents should be ours mid January. We called by to visit our van during that long waiting period of nearly two months. She was just sitting there, alongside all the other sold 2020 models. It didn’t seem to make economic sense for the vendor at all. We sent impatient texts to the kids about wanting our van and that was when the name Precious emerged. Benj used it in a jokey, Lord of the Rings analogy. So Precious she became.
And finally she became ours on our son’s 28th birthday, 2 December 2019. The salesman spent an hour showing us how everything worked on her, and how to do all those essential things you need to do with a camper van – fill with fresh water, empty grey water, deal with the toilet’s contents, pull out the awning, top up the AdBlue (a substance that is injected into the exhaust system to reduce nitrous oxide emissions), and so on. Heads still reeling with all the info, Chris bravely drove off in her, followed by me in the car, to Leclerc’s Crescendo café for a sustaining dinner before driving her home where we could begin gloating properly.
We couldn’t wait to go for our first outing in her, which I’ll tell you about in the next blog.