Life on the road in SA’s only known Mk1 Transit camper van

Posted by David Henning on 22 October 2021

Straight out of Benoni and off to, well, everywhere. Two years ago, partners, Linda and Craig, took a leap of faith when they sold all their belongings and converted a 1968 Mk1 Ford Transit into a mobile home. They’ve been on the road ever since, with no intention of stopping anytime soon.

Before indulging in the travels, something needs to be said about Martha, the 53-year-old camper van.

The Iconic Transit

The Transit is an iconic vehicle in British history, a byword for any other van. It was also said to be the getaway ride of choice for bank robbers, thanks to its V6 engine. Scotland Yard once said that the Transit was involved in 95% of all bank robberies!

Launched in 1965, the Transit was produced in Berkshire in an old ammunitions factory. The car became the template for all vans that followed, utilised for a variety of purposes from anything to ice-cream vans, to even transporting an elephant.

The Mk1 cost just over £542 pounds when it was launched (£10 000, or R202 845 in today’s money). Its production lasted ten years, making the first edition extremely rare. In 1967, Sprite Caravans entered the motor home market using the new Ford Transit.

In conjunction with Ford, the new coach-built unit was a luxury motor home, equipped with a shower and toilet, with the option of a fridge or oven. At the time of its release, it cost £3800, making it the most expensive motor home in the world at the time.

Only three of these Sprite Ford Transit camper vans were ever imported to South Africa, and Martha seems to be the only known one remaining in the country out of the six left in the world.

Meeting Martha

Incidentally, Craig and Linda didn’t know of Martha’s pedigree when they travelled to Klerksdorp to purchase the van. They rebuilt the interior, sold their house and all their belongings and hit the road– just before Covid hit.

‘After selling everything, we actually had to pitch a tent to store some things and make space in the van to sleep, we still had so much crap to get rid of,’ Craig told Getaway Magazine. Today, after downsizing their life to three pairs of pants and shirts each, and some basic kitchen utensils, they have all they need.

The van-life community

What must’ve been a daunting adventure at first, Craig says they have met the kindest and most charitable people from all walks of life. It’s a good thing too, because things didn’t always go smoothly.

They created a Facebook group called ‘Ford-in Transit,’ where they regularly post updates of their travels, and discovered a community that would prove invaluable in a time of need. When Linda and Craig found themselves staying near the Drakensberg one night, the rain started bucketing down.

The old van started to leak, and they had to use every pot, cup and bowl to try and catch the water leaking into their home.  One of their followers, John Knighton, couriered a sheet for them to put over their van when it rained.

He wasn’t the only one. Many others were also inspired by their story, and a company called Trevor’s Tyres gave them a new set of tires. Jonnesway Tools gifted a toolkit to keep up with all the maintenance on the van.

Martha getting a service at Ford’s Straundale assembly plant.

Even Ford was intrigued, giving the car service at their Straundale assembly part, and extending access to all its service centres across South Africa.

Getting somewhere – slowly

Craig and Linda have travelled throughout South Africa during a time when most of us stayed ‘locked-down.’ They even had a loophole for transporting alcohol, where their six-pack in the fridge was technically stored on their own property.

Throughout their journey, they’ve stayed in some rather precarious places, such as casino parking lots, as well as in the driveways of kind people met along the way. But most importantly, they encountered marvellous people and a community of like-minded individuals, something they say they wouldn’t trade for the world.

Follow Linda and Craig on their journey here.

Pictures: Linda and Craig Evans


Now this is the (van) life – nomads who live on the road

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