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Homepage. This page: An example of caravanette based on the J4s platform
Classic J4
Camper interior showing the double bed

BMC J4 Camper van

Firstly, thanks to Steve for sending over an interesting set of photographs featuring the J4 camper that he has purchased, and agreeing for them to be featured on oldclassiccar. He first got in touch, in 2006, asking for some suggestions as to whether this Canterbury converted Austin/Morris J4 was worth restoring ...

"I have looked at your web site which is very interesting. I have recently acquired and Austin/Morris J4 Camper, it has a Canterbury badge on the back that I assume were the camper conversion company.

After looking at your website and reading the comments that the J4 are few in numbers, I am wondering if it is worth restoring her to her former glory. The camper has been in use and was used to tour around the Lake District last year, I have attached some photo's to give you some idea. I have only driven her short distances but apart from a little play in the steering she seems fine."


My reply was that financially, the restoration costs may well exceed the J4's final value (if that was important to him), but as a vehicle, which is of a type that is getting rarer, it would definitely be worth preserving this old van, which dates back to the BMC days of the 1960s & 1970s.

Old commercial vehicles of all sizes and shapes usually get a hammering, and few of their number survive into preservation. The Morris J4 range, which came with a variety of body styles including van, drop side pickup, steel bodied pickup, camper, and a host of other specially-built conversions designed and constructed by outside coachbuilders, is rarely seen on our roads now. Tin worm and abuse has seen to most light vans and campers, so those that have survived into the 21st century are well worth looking after if at all possible I think.

Steve continued ...

"I acquired the J4 from a friend of the family who thought I might like it as a project. The only history I have is that it came from Cornwall and had a UK MOT up to August 2005. It was brought to the Island in January 2005 and after being inspected by our Department of Transport was given its roadworthy certificate and registered with its Manx number, which is why the plates do not relate to UK registration. It was originally on a UK 'P' plate.

As you have mentioned it is not too bad and was in use last year touring around the Lake District. It had been standing since August 2005, but with a couple of jump leads started on the fourth turn of the key. The handbrake cable was stretched after being parked all that time, but other than that the engine sounds sweet and apart from a little play in the steering drives well.

I will have a go at restoring her, and perhaps I could keep you posted on the progress with a photo or two. If anyone knows of her history or can offer me advice you can contact me at sieling@iom.com. I would love to hear some stories about her. There is a plate on the back offside door with the name Canterbury, I assume that was the conversion company?

Finally thanks for the advice, we will see how it goes."
Good luck with the rebuild, by all means send me some pictures as work progresses! I'd suggest a rolling restoration, ie a programme of ongoing improvement work but keeping the vehicle roadworthy - that way there is much less chance of being overwhelmed when faced with a pile of parts that have been hastily stripped in one go. Better to do a bit at a time - remove a component, refurb as required, re-fit, then move on to the next part, all the while keeping the van usable. Motivation is much easier to keep up I find if the vehicle can still be used!!
canterbury conversion based on the J4 van

More history on this J4 camper turns up.

Update. Early in 2010, some four years after this page first went live, Jay dropped me a line after recognising the J4 camper in this write-up - he owned it, prior to Steve buying it....
"My girlfriend and I bought the van in Cornwall in August 2002. It's classic shape and sound of the horn gave it a cartoon look, like milkman's van, so it was named 'Milky'.
The original plates were P reg, and the vin plate is stamped with 1975 as the year of manufacture, which is kind of odd as I was led to believe that J4 production ceased in 1974 [it could have been built late '74 but not sold & registered until '75, Rick].
The engine was pretty much overhauled (or patched up as best was possible) over the course of 2 years. I forged an interesting relationship with the owner of Fairford spares in Kent (whose name escapes me), having regular supplies of parts sent to a pub in Cornwall, which were my lodgings at the time.
The van made 2 large trips abroad; around Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and France, as well as 2 winters in Switzerland. Autumn surfing days in the Algarve and snowy nights under Italian cable cars, we clocked 15000 miles during our time. We even had 2 weeks on a Tralee mechanic's forecourt, waiting for valve seats to arrive from Kent. Did you know there are 32 pubs in Tralee?
We sold the van to the chap from the IOM, in August '04, and have since moved home to Australia and now in New Zealand, where you see the odd BMC or Leyland about.
Those weekly and at times frustrating car manual repairs in various carparks on the continent only served to strengthen my relationship, as my girlfriend became my wife. Classic cars can be rewarding."

Great to hear from you Jay, that little van has had quite a life! Jay also sent the following couple of photographs, showing the J4 in use.
More Morris J4 van photos
You can read about other vehicles owned by visitors to this site in the your car stories section. Fans of old campers and caravans can find some more info here, and you can download a screensaver featuring period campervans right here.
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