Sprite 400 MkI caravan - an affordable family caravan
Sam saw the launch of the new Mini Minor as an ideal way to introduce more families to caravanning. These affordable vehicles, the Mini and the Sprite caravan, were made for each other, it seemed, so, a family caravan, capable of being towed by the new Mini, was designed and launched, unusually in mid-season, in 1960. The Sprite 400 MkI – 3m in length, 400kg in weight – retailed at £220, and replaced the Aerial (the Aerial name was to reappear in 1976). The 400 was so-called because of its 400kg weight. The four-berth 400 followed the same lines and layout as the Aerial, but was tweaked outside and in. Two models were made available: the MkII had a sprung mattress and glass windows, and the MkI had foam-filled mattress, and Perspex windows, and weighed 30kg less.
Sprite 400 caravan and the Mini Minor UK tour
To show off his new model as an easy-to-tow family caravan, Sam organised a tour that generated massive PR. Towing the 400 with the Mini Minor, the UK tour consisted of 825 miles covered in 38 hours and 54 minutes, at an average speed of 29mph, in June 1960.
The caravan and motoring press was amazed at how well the outfit coped, and the tour proved that the Sprite 400 was an ideal first caravan for a family with a small car. Ian Mantle and Graham Hoare were the drivers, visiting five capital cities in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Eire. The 400 was also put through its paces on the MIRA test track, so the model was well proven, and sales were good as a result. At the Caravan Show in 1960, cricketer Colin Cowdrey, top batsman and captain of England and Kent, placed an order on the Sprite stand for the new 400, as he had decided that the 400 was ideal for the Kent County Cricket Supporters Club to use as a mobile office. This created further publicity for the Sprite when it was towed to various cricket grounds around the UK.
The opportunity for Sam to further extend the Sprite business in 1960 hit a stumbling block when the company suffered financial difficulties as demand for Sprites outstripped it’s ability to produce tourers without further investment. The bad news spread quickly amongst the workforce, with many employees deciding to leave the company toward the end of 1960. Sprite’s dealer network had grown with the company, and these, too, were becoming jittery about the business. Sam decided to hold a meeting with the company’s creditors, and managed to calm any fears about the company’s financial position. Sam was granted until April 1962 to meet all creditor liabilities. This he achieved, turning near disaster into a steep learning curve.
New structures were put in place, and stronger management teams evolved, along with an improved relationship with dealers and customers alike. Aftersales service was improved, so that the Sprite brand became known as dependable. Adding insult to injury, the factory also suffered a fire, causing damage to the paint shop. It would be several more years before pre-painted aluminium panels were available, so the paint shop was an important link in the manufacturing chain. Production was affected, but not as badly as first thought, down just 2 per cent on 1960.