Back in 2008 we were convinced we needed a 7 metre plus A Class, having rented several examples on holiday just to make sure. Then while on one of our weekly walks in the Lakes we realised motor homes over 2 metres wide could not legally access these lanes. Unwilling to compromise on our hobby we about turned and started looking at panel van conversions.
Our local council had also just introduced parking restrictions which limited anything larger than a VW camper which was a compromise too far, leaving van storage or could we find something to fit on our drive? With minor modifications to a wall we could accommodate a 5.8 metre long van but even that seemed several steps too far when compared with an A Class with permanent bed, full bathroom, etc. But persistence pays, as does using the power of the internet.
Having trawled meticulously through all the information on panel vans available in the UK, we came across a report from MMM on a 2004 la strada Regent L which was based on a 5.7 metre long Mercedes Sprinter. Using the report as a comparison it would appear la strada did listen to the criticisms made by the reporter and rectified them on our model. By the way does anyone know who now owns the test vehicle? Further internet searching led us to the la strada Club and listed in the “for sale” section was a metallic silver 2006 model. The rest is history.
Just Fits !
We bought our Regent L with only 7000 miles and in immaculate condition in June 2008. The van has a 2.7 litre, 156bhp, 5 cylinder diesel engine with 6 speed Sprintshift gearbox – very powerful and I just love the gearbox. When travelling along there is the feeling of being in a large luxury coach as it effortlessly gobbles up the miles, yet still returns 30 mpg. Being a small van the cab air conditioning easily cools all the interior even in the hottest French summer. With electric windows, electric mirrors, reversing sensors, central locking and alloy wheels, it really is well appointed. The superb cab seats are both fully adjustable for height, reach, tilt, lumber support and even depth of squab and when they are rotated there are no problems with “dangly” feet as the floor in the lounge area is all one level.
The suspension feels supple but again this adds to that luxury coach feel when travelling along. The downside is in very strong cross winds when the highish centre of gravity can give a few heart in the mouth moments. Lowering the bed improves the situation and does not affect my driving position and I’m 6 ft tall. Could it be we are travelling too light, as this van is rated at 3500kg and we run fully loaded at 3100kg? Anyway I wouldn’t trade that cosseting ride for anything.
On the security front we have a Laserline Cat 1 alarm with immobiliser interfaced to a Smartrack Alert 24 Tracker with UK and European monitoring. The Alert 24 has a small keypad whereby a 4 digit code must be inserted before moving the van. We are contacted if the van is moved without the code or if the alarm goes off – very neat. We have also fitted Thatcham approved security van type deadlocks to all four doors, operated by a key from the exterior only, so even if a window is smashed and the remote central locking over-ridden, the doors remain locked and access will only be through the broken window – very limiting for a thief in a hurry. We hope just the sight of dead locks will mean the opportunist will pass us by. At night we deadlock only the cab and rear doors, depending on the central locking for security but allowing us unhindered escape in an emergency through the side door.
As we are strictly two when we travel I have removed and stored away the return on the “L” shaped bench seat in the lounge, which gives more room to move around. In original “L” seat format this area can be made up into a small bed but we have no need for that. The main table which is stored in the wardrobe is an excellent, stable piece of kit with adequate room for four but because of its size, it also limits space in the lounge . I have made up a smaller table which clips onto the vans internal wall for when we stop for a break and can also clip on the sliding side door cupboard for use outside. It has proved very useful for just the two of us.
The forward facing bench seat has two seat belts but only one is a 3 point belt. Below it is stored the 110Ah leisure battery, fuse box and battery charger for engine and leisure batteries. There is room for an inverter and other electronics if required. So far we have resisted but I am considering the Sterling battery to battery, 4 step charger which offers a very fast and complete charge of both batteries directly from the alternator by safely boosting its output to near maximum which in our case is 90 amps. So even short trips or site hopping should mean fully topped up batteries in less than an hour without resorting to mains hook up or solar panel. The kitchen has a 2 burner hob with incorporated sink/drainer and even an oven/grill and is more than adequate for our needs but I can imagine some may find it limited. The Dometic fridge at 80 litres and 12v/240v/LPG is also more than adequate. Storage for cooking utensils, crockery and food/ drink is just amazing. Even the preparation surface area is surprising, but then we are not the Sunday roast with all the trimmings type of campers, so perhaps again, others would be more critical.
The bathroom with Thetford C200S/CS swivel toilet, stainless steel basin and separate full size shower with folding doors is brilliant. Like everything in the Regent L it is quality and is based on the “excellent in use but sometimes not as easily accessible as you would like” school of thought. So when in the shower I have plenty of room, but getting in to it does take some care. Yes it would be better with 2 drain holes in the shower tray and if the s/s basin was oval instead of round there would be a little more standing room in front of the mirror, but I’m just being picky.
The bed is magnificent. It is so comfortable and is even adjustable for firmness. Raising and lowering is a piece of cake but to ensure it remains stored at its maximum height we made some supports which prevent the bed “bouncing” when travelling over undulating roads. We lie with our heads towards the front of the vehicle as it makes it easier for us to get in and out without disturbing each other. The bed can be raised with the all bedding in place which is brilliant. No making up beds or storing bedding in valuable cupboard space with the Regent! We find the steps built into the furniture perfect for climbing into the “loft” and there is a great sense of security up there. With the roof side windows and Heki open there is excellent ventilation which seems to flow up the sides and over the top of the bed. So, while it may at first sight appear claustrophobic @ 70cms head room, we most certainly do not find it so and have the best nights sleep ever. The fact that the bed can be lowered for use, yet the lounge, kitchen and bathroom areas can still be used, is nothing short of amazing. Great if one of you just wants to have a lie down or head off to bed early.
We have a Truma C4002 E Combi with 240v and LPG water heating (pity it didn’t have an electrical space heating option too). This works very well, quickly heating all of the van, even in the depths of winter, which fits well with the inboard 90 litre fresh water and inboard 85 litre waste water tanks. We have taken down and stored away the cab curtain and instead use the silver screens as this makes the van feel more spacious.
We have changed most of the down lighters to warm white LED’s as the original blue tinted versions gave us a sickly appearance. There are in fact 12 down lighters and four 13 amp/12v sockets located around the interior. Even the spacious wardrobe has a light. As for general internal storage it seems we have an excess for our kind of camping, as some cupboards still have nothing in them! The main external storage is accessed by the double rear doors and is separated from the rest of the vehicle and thus makes an excellent high security storage area, especially with the dead locks.
We wanted to take bikes with us to extend local exploration but if possible without a rear bike rack. Much research and major expense later we think we have the perfect (for us) solution. We have removed the 13kg + 6Kg LPG cylinders and installed a refillable 30 litre (13kg equivalent ) Stako vapour LPG tank under the van. This has allowed the rear storage to be modified by a local van converter and we can now fit in two Brompton folding bikes, one above the other while the rear underfloor store holds two Lafuma chairs, folding table, Fiamma levellers and chocks. The other “stuff” (25m mains cable and various connectors, water hose, water container, spare oil, toilet chemicals, 12v tyre inflator, rucksack, Brompton pannier, awning fly screen, etc, etc) all sit on the shelves behind or below the bikes. Very satisfactory, easily accessed and all secure within the van.
Finally we had a Fiamma F45ti awning fitted and what a difference this makes. The installers baulked at first, thinking they would need to strip the lining from the internal walls but la strada emailed a full package of installation instructions showing where the reinforcement had been factory pre fitted and the job was completed in 2 hours! That is just an example of the superior support an owner receives from the la strada factory and the thought that has gone into the design of this brilliant motor home.
Stewart Gibson and Rebecca Johnson