The history of Sprite Caravans

2nd February 2016

 

Caravan historian and journalist, Andrew Jenkinson, tells the story of Sprite Caravans (one of the best-known caravan makes in caravanning history). The video contains rare photographs and expert commentary, that is sure to appeal to Shield caravan insurancecustomers.

Andrew succinctly describes the 65 years of Sprite Caravans: from Sprite’s creator (Sam Alper OBE) influence on caravan design and manufacture; the liquidation of Caravans International in the early 1980s; through to the present day with the Swift Group producing award-winning caravans such as the Sprite Major 4FB.

Transcript to the history of Sprite Caravans video guide

I’m Andrew Jenkinson, the UK’s top caravan historian, and I’ve just written recently a book on Sprite caravans, and I’m going to tell you about Sprite, how they’ve been innovative and how they’ve really shaped the industry as it is today.

The origins

Back in 1948, Sam and Henry Alper had a small business producing caravans. These caravans were quite expensive they were about £600 and also they were pretty heavy. After the war years the country was desperate to have some good leisure time, and the caravan was an ideal way of spending that leisure time.

So what Sam did, he actually decided to set about producing a cheap affordable caravan but it would be robust as well, and put his first caravan out at £199. The dealers said: ‘We love the van it’s great, it’s a great price plan, but unfortunately Sam it’s not gonna last’. He realised he’d have to prove this caravan was durable.

So the chance came in the mid-50s to enter the Mediterranean dash and Sam took one of his Sprites, with a team of two other people, one of them a caravan journalist called Martin Lumby, and one of his factory personnel and off they went, and they did it in several days, 10,000 miles. And on the way, what Sam did, he actually stopped at places and sold his caravan, he actually built up an export market.

The Sprite came back unhurt, he got back, he won the cup and that gave Sprite completely the street cred that it needed. He produced more models, he did more durability runs, he basically brought caravanning to the masses.

The 1960s

But what Sam also realised was, his company was expanding at such a rate, that he would need more investment. And it was at this time that Bill Riley, who owned a company called Eccles Caravans who basically invented the touring caravan, decided that he was going to retire and the Eccles name he didn’t want to see go. So he approached Sam Alper and asked him would he be interested in taking the Eccles name on with Sprite.

So in 1960, Sam bought Eccles, but also because he was expanding at such a great knot, he decided that the other thing would be to do a merger. And in 1963 he was in talks with a company called Bluebird Caravans who were based at Poole in Dorset. The two merged with Sam Alper being the chairman, and they decided to call this new company, Caravans International. And it would become a major force in the UK, in Europe and also in the rest of the world.

By the time the end of the 60s came, the Sprite Alpine which was a 12’6″, four-berth touring caravan, was the top-selling caravan in the UK, with top sales of 6,000 units. Sam decided that all his dealers, selling Sprite and Eccles, and Bluebirds by this time, had to have a spares backup, whether it was in the UK or in Europe.

So what he tried to do was emulate the car industry, so if you had a Sprite and something went wrong with it out in France, you just went to your Sprite dealer in France and you got your part, it was not a problem.

The 1970s

The next decade, the 1970s was gonna be a different story for Sprite, because caravans now were being produced in Italy, Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, but also, Sam as everybody wants to do in business, or show business, wants to conquer the States. And he decided the best way to do that was to buy an existing company, he decided to produce his Alpine, his 400, Major and Musketeerto the US regulations and thought he could emulate the success there as he’d done in the rest of the world, why not?

But unfortunately that didn’t quite happen, by 1972/73, things were looking a little bit dodgy, although Sam predicted at one of his meetings to the shareholders, that things were going to turn the corner. Problem was he’d got a lot of home competition as well as competition from abroad. Sprite was starting to lose its market share to another company called ABI Caravans, to its Monza brand and several other manufacturers at that time. The export markets were drying up, the recession was coming in the late 70s, they were producing far too many caravans for too few customers – things were starting to look shakey.

The 80s would be a finally chapter in Sam’s involvement in Sprite, but then a new chapter would begin.

From the 1980s to today

By the 1980s things had come to a bit of a crunch. In late 1982 the parent company CI Caravans went into liquidation, it was a major shock in the industry, but the Sprite brand came back. Not only was it durable as a caravan, but it was durable as a brand. And a new CI was born, it was a lot smaller but and more efficient, and the emphasis was on more quality, but Sam was no longer involved, it was a new breed of management in there.

And we had a new company called Sprite Leisure, and they produced things like Tyron safety bands as a standard on the Sprites, loose-fit carpets, halogen lamps in the caravans, they were far ahead, so it was still taking on that innovative part of the Sprite brand, and the Sprite name was then now under the Swift umbrella.

Unfortunately, some years later, the Sprite brand was dropped in the UK only, and was made for the European market. But a few years later in 2005, Swift realised that the Sprite brand was very, very, strong and had a loyal following to it.

Now, all these years on, the Sprite brand is again a leader in its entry-level market, for instance the 2013 range has got to be the best that Sprite have probably produced in all the years. The Sprite Major four-berth has won awards. The Sprite brand is still carrying on what Sam originally started off: value for money, durability and reliability.

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