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  Owner Review - Autotrail Cheyenne 584

 
 

1997 Fiat Ducato 14 2.5TD 

Introduction:  Hello, my name is Alwyn; I'm one half of a partnership, the other half is my wife Judy.  We have been addicted to Motorhoming for almost 10 years. Our first van was an Autohomes Komet hightop based on a VW T3, in which we travelled over 50k in seven or so years. The problem was that after about 10 days away life in a hightop got a bit claustrophobic to say the least, so with retirement looming, we decided we needed something a little bigger but not so big that we couldn't travel the country lanes and 'white' roads we had travelled in the VW (which was 15'). Also we had to be able to get it up the drive to the house and it also needed to be un-intimidating as Judy does enjoy driving.

We settled on the 584 after 18 months of looking, comparing and endless talking. We bought it second hand when it was 3 years old with 13,000 miles on the clock. In the end it was a compromise between what we would have liked and what we could afford (isn't everything?). Having said that we got most of what we liked as well which is a coach built van under 20' long, with a good kitchen and shower-room, plenty of overhead storage, a comfortable living area and a big bed (me being 4 inches over 6 feet) Oh and plenty of head room. The build quality is quite good, not the best we viewed, but not the worst by any means.  

Driving:  The base vehicle is a standard Fiat Ducato MWB14 2.5 TD with enough power, even when fully loaded, to suit our style of driving. Meaning it will travel at 60mph on motorways forever and still return 25-30 mpg. We are never in that much of a hurry to go anywhere. That said you could soon find yourself exceeding the speed limit when overtaking, so enough power.

Noise levels at 60 are bearable, engine noise is subdued thanks to acoustic matting in the engine bay and forward bulkhead and carpets fitted in the cab (standard on all Auto Trails). Wind and tyre noise get intrusive as speed rises. Tyre noise, depending on road surface, can at times be quite tiring. A bit of thought will have to be put in when it comes time to replace the tyres, which are Michelin Camping Car Tyres. We have noticed over the last couple of years that the old road surfaces are being replaced by much quieter tarmac with obvious benefits.

Driving position would be improved with an adjustable steering wheel, the seats are firm and comfortable, at the end of a long days driving there are no aches and pains. They are adjustable for height and rake. One minus point is I can find no way of raising the head restraint. It's locked in one position, which for a tall person is too low. Another small irritation is the amount of draught that is generated in the front of the cab. Most of it comes up the door pillars and exits through the seat belt slots. Something to be looked at in the future.

Visibility to the rear is poor with many blind spots, the large door mirrors help a lot, but the internal rear view mirrors are next to useless. When reversing we find it's a combined effort, something you get used to quickly. Other things you learn quickly are the height of your motorhome and having to watch for the back end swinging out as you turn at slow speed due to the long overhang behind the rear wheels. Controls are pretty standard with every thing to hand. I find the gear lever an absolute joy to use after the VW's hit and miss affair. The pedals, once my size 10's got use to them, are okay but sometimes I tend to over-reach for the clutch and get too much of my foot onto it. Power steering, a light clutch combined with the high driving position and good manoeuverability make it easy for Judy's 5'2'' to cope with, so much so that at times I have difficulty in prizing her out of the driving seat!

We have replaced the Radio with one of our choice plus a CD changer (we don't have a television and music is important). Also installed is an alarm, added a door pocket to the passenger side door and replaced the rather feeble Fiat horn with a few more decibels in the form of air horns. Put a safe beneath the passenger seat, fitted deadlocks to both cab doors. One other thing I did for extra security was to slide the drivers seat as far forward as it will go, then drilled a 5/16th hole through the lower slider. There is already one in the upper slider; you can then slip a snaplock through them both, so locking the seat fully forward. I know it seems a bit over the top, but when you leave your vehicle in some remote spot and go off walking for 8-10 hour its nice to think it will be there when we get back. Something manufacturers should think more about.

Kitchen area:  The L shaped kitchen, situated at the Offside rear, is very impressive for such a small van. Four-burner hob, grill and a large oven, under which are storage for pots and pans etc., with the fridge next to that. I'm constantly amazed at what the fridge swallows. How can an object be larger on the inside than on the outside? Two thirds of the rear is work surfaces and sink and drainer, beneath which are storage cupboards. This is Judy's part of ship, where are stored all manner of foodstuffs, most of it non-tinned, (that goes elsewhere in-order to keep the weight forward of the rear wheels). 

It also contains the water pump and other items of plumbing, such as stop taps to isolate the water heater when not in use, switching taps and pipe work so that when things start to freeze up outside we can use two 10ltr water containers inboard (our 80ltr fresh water and 60ltr waste tanks are open to the elements). Also (when I get around to it) a water filter.

Above and at eye level are lockers for 'china' etc. and lighter items like tea, sugar, coffee, spices and 101 other things too numerous to mention. In fact, there is more space than we can reasonably use, even when away for 4 weeks! The whole area is well lit and ventilated with windows at the side and rear, 2 strip lights hidden under the top lockers so preventing glare plus the main cabin lights which are recessed 10W halogen lights and 4x 13amp sockets. There is also a very powerful two-way fan in the roof above the kitchen. Also there is a fire blanket and fire extinguisher close at hand and a smoke alarm further forward.

Originally the whole of the living area floor was carpeted, which from past experience we found not to be a good idea in the kitchen space, mainly because of spillage from the fridge - condensed milk over a carpet!  I removed the carpet from the kitchen area and replaced it with good quality wooden flooring, which looks good, is hard wearing, fire resistant and easy to clean.

Shower-room:  Situated at the nearside rear is the loo and washroom, not particularly large as washrooms go but by no means poky. Again well lit with plenty of natural light thanks to a window and roof vent plus the reflective effect of mirrors on the storage cupboards. Standard cassette toilets, deep shower tray, all round shower curtain. Everything in white plastic, easy to clean, easy to dry after a shower. I did fit a showerhead with a cut off combined so that once the water temperature had been set there was no need to adjust it again and again. I have fitted 2 towel rails above head height as a place to hang wet cags and over-trousers and any other bits and pieces that may need drying

When we got the van the previous owner had fitted a S.O.G. extractor to the cassette toilet. I was a bit dubious about it at first, but now wouldn't be without it. It means no matter where we are we can dispose of our waste down any toilet without fear of doing damage when it reaches the sewage works. The reason being, no chemicals are used in the system, everything is left to nature. No smell either even after three or more days...honest!

Living Area:  I have learnt one thing about Living areas, 'what suits one person - doesn't suit another'. 

With that in mind our lounge consists of a 6'6'' settee down the off side of the van, above which is a window of the same size. Opposite and next to the door is a swivel chair (Judy's property) with a tall window next to it. Above the chair is the liquor cabinet (also Judy's property) which has secure places for 4 bottles and several glasses. At first glance you would wonder how many times you'd bang your head when standing, answer. Not once as yet.

The cushions are well upholstered although I don't like all the buttons used to give it a dimpled effect, at some time in the future these are going to start popping off. Both cushions are flat so when used as seating don't give good support to the back or thighs, the liberal use of scatter cushions overcomes this to some extent. If you had to travel in the rear I don't think you would enjoy it too much. Also there are no rear seat belts, which is standard in this type of layout, re-enforcing my view that this was never intended to be a 4 berth but, as a 2 berth, it's fantastic.

The textile coverings are hard wearing and don't mark or stain easily. The curtains on the other hand are the standard mock-velvet found in most motorhomes and do mark without any provocation. The overall colour scheme, which is 'Dusky Pink' (as I said, one mans meat....!) is carried throughout the van including the driver and passenger's seat. The cab area is carpeted with the same carpet as is used throughout. I like that although I can see why some would prefer rubber mats in that area. Incidentally the carpets are pretty good. They get some wear in the course of a trip but come up spotless time and again.  

As mentioned before we don't have a television, but there is a fold-down table, sited above a small cupboard to the left of the caravan door, along with 12v, 240v and aerial socket but, and its a big but, there is no dedicated space provided to store the 'box' when on the move. Between the swivel seat and the shower-room is the wardrobe, large enough to take all we would ever need to take-unless we were going to the moon.... Unlikely! The base of the wardrobe contains the main circuit breaker and battery charger, these being sited in the most inaccessible place in the van, not good thinking!  Also the heater, a Truma S3002, and blower are sited there as well. You would think it would get pretty warm in that space but in actual fact itís not too bad. As a precaution I have added extra ventilation. Originally the van didn't have blown air but a frosty night or two soon made us see the error of the manufacturer's ways so off to O'Leary's and now there are 2 outlets, one in the shower-room and the other in the lounge.

Meal times are easy to prepare for as the fold down table is kept in the wardrobe, secured by a couple of clips on the forward bulkhead. It is removed with little effort. We like this arrangement as we can use the table outside if the sun shines or for use with the barbeque. The whole effect is one of light and space thanks to the large windows and bright upholstery.  No roof-lights cum ventilators though, the van was on the market before Heki became popular, more's the pity. The main cabin lighting is provided by 6x 10 watt flush fitting halogen roof lights, which can be switched in pairs to conserve battery power and 4 tungsten swivel spot lights for reading when lounging. All windows have cassette blinds and fly-screens.

Bed Time:  There are 2 options in this van, (1) the over cab bed and all that entails (2) the lounge bed. Our bed of choice is the first. The main reason is that it can be left made up. I hate pulling things to pieces last thing at night and putting them back together in the morning. I'm not at my best at these times of day.

Because of this we decided to up-grade the over cab bed. Like most beds of this type the mattress was of 4 inch polyurethane foam, which we find much too warm, and as time goes on looses it's support and you end up feeling the bed board. We made inquiries and found we could order mattresses made to measure width ways, so now we sleep on a spring interior mattress, which is far cooler and vastly more comfortable. Of course there are disadvantages in that the bed can't be folded-in during the day, so reducing the headroom in the cab whilst driving. Being 7 inches thick instead of 4 it also reduces the headroom of the upper bed, but as long as you don't suffer with claustrophobia it's not a problem. Side and front windows provide ventilation. The side window having cassette blind, curtains and fly-screen fitted, and a roof ventilator, so even with the heater going a happy medium can usually be found.

Because of the reduced headroom reading is not practical but the 2 overhead lights are useful none the less. The only way to get into the top bed is with the ladder, which clips securely to the side of the bed board. However I do wish whoever designed these things would try them before imposing them on others. A worse kind of torture I've yet to find! I'm going to buy a length of polyurethane water pipe lagging and tape it on to the treads with duck tape and see if that lessens the agony! Another problem with the upper bed is in stormy weather; the movement of the van in the wind can be disturbing to say the least. With this van I have found that by parking it with its rear end into the storm and winding down the rear steadies life improves markedly. The wind noise almost disappears, the buffeting is reduced and the sound of rain driving at the front of the van is lessened. If I can't do this and all else fails its down to the lounge bed. One other irritation is the drip drip of water onto the rear view mirrors from the Luton, so I try and remember to pull them in 'Before' going to bed!

The lounge bed is of the pull out type, utilising the settee cushions, settee arm rests and 2 in-fill cushions kept in the overcab bed. It's on a slatted base so is quite cool. The cushions I find too soft for sleeping on and on the few times we've used this bed I've woken with an aching back, although Judy has no problems. We can reduce the width of the bed by not using the in-fill cushions, thereby giving 6 inches more space in the lounge. The space below the settee cum bed is a large storage locker, which I have divided into 3 separate parts, the forward section has a box not unlike a wine box for storage of wine and tinned food etc. in order to get the weight as far forward as possible. Behind that is the water heater and storage for rucksacks and a further space just in front of the rear wheel arch for a tool-box and other odds and ends. To get at these end sections requires the cushions to be moved in order to reach them from the top. This is not a problem, as it is not done very often. Rucksacks can be removed through a door in the settee base. No exterior access is possible, although some Auto Trails do have this facility.

Life Support

Gas:  The gas locker holds 2x 7kg bottles, enough for between 28 -36 days depending on the weather. At the time of writing the price of Calor gas had just gone up again, so we thought enough is enough and have opted for an external gas tank, using Autogas LPG available from more and more garage forecourts at about 1/3 the price of bottled gas. The tank holds 28ltrs (which is the same as 2 x 7kg bottles) and is situated under the skirt just behind the gas locker. One hidden benefit is that we no longer have to go outside to couple up the regulator or curse when we have forgotten to uncouple it after a stop. The stop valve is an electrically controlled solenoid and worked by a switch inside. So far it has worked well.  As a result of this we now use the gas locker for storage, into it goes levellers, hook-up lead, triangle, plus quite a bit more.

Electrical:  There are 2 x 110Amp leisure batteries on board, one fitted as standard equipment and the other I fitted. We do enjoy wild camping and as the dark nights draw in we need the independence that an extra battery can give. I have also fitted an inverter to run a laptop, my electric razor and a small battery charger for re-charging AA batteries and the like.

Payload:  The payload for this model is just over 600 kgs on a 3.2 tonne chassis. Which is fine if you believe these figures. In practice 600 kgs is optimistic (the weighbridge never lies) so I took it along to Drinkwaters and they up-rated it to 3.5 tonnes. Not that they had much to do, as it has double rear springs and Michelin camping tyres already, It was done for my piece of mind more than anything else.  We decided that if we loaded anything into the van and never used it we wouldn't take it again, and in that way we have reduced the payload quiet a bit over the years. Without being silly, mind you we still have lists for almost everything!

Spare wheel, jack and tools along with tow rope and 'mud channels' are kept in a locker at the rear, under floor level, accessed from outside. The spare wheel has a remote inflation point connected to the outside of this locker, a nice touch.

And Finally:  We are very happy with our Auto Trail. It wouldn't suit everybody. For us this van represents a long-term commitment. We had the VW for 7 years. That is why we have done so much to the van, to make it a place we can live in for long periods with a degree of comfort especially in the wild.

It would be nice if UK manufacturers had made motorhomes for all year round use years ago instead of only just waking up to the fact of late. 

Alwyn & Judy Hughes


The Reviews

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Terminology

Hightop; a panel van (delivery van) with a high roof to enable you to stand at full height in it.

Coach-built; a 'caravan' style body added to a light commercial chassis with original cab. Often has an over-cab bed or store commonly known as a 'Luton' in the UK. Also known as a C-Class. The version without the Luton is called a 'low-profile'.

MWB LWB SWB; these terms refer to the wheelbase, the distance between the front and rear axles. Long is most stable at speed and short is most manoeuvrable, medium is quite popular for modest sized motorhomes. The 10/12/14/18 is a manufacturers code representing increasing carrying capacity.

Camping tyres; commercial grade tyres specially designed to cope with long periods of inactivity while still carrying about 80% of their design load plus use at sustained continental speeds while fully loaded.

Reversing aids; these come in four varieties. 1. Rear view cameras - a tiny video camera attached to the back of the vehicle and feeding a picture to a small monitor on the dashboard. 2. Parking mates - ultrasonic sensors set in the rear bumper with a bleeper and possibly distance indicator in the cab. 3. Clear views - Fresnel lenses that act as magnifiers and also see round corners to some extent, they are attached to the back window. The long distance to the back window in a motorhome make them less effective here than in a shorter vehicle like a 4x4. All these devices are a great help since it is often quite impossible to see behind motorhomes. And No 4? - a helpful passenger standing behind the vehicle to direct operations!

Water tanks; can be interior to resist frost or exterior to save space but are then subject to freezing.

3-way fridge; one that works on 230v 'mains' when 'hooked up', on lpg gas when no mains is available and on 12v from the 'van while travelling.

SOG; a brand name for a device to convert a toilet cassette to a chemical-free unit. The unit extracts air through a carbon filter to eliminate pongs and the human waste is left in the cassette unchanged.

Heki; a brand name for an extra large opening roof-light which usually has a clear cover too.

Weight distribution; any weight problems are normally concentrated on the rear axle (which is subject to a legal restriction on loading) so it pays to store heavier items well forward wherever possible.

Levellers; heavy duty plastic wedges or diy wooden blocks to raise one or more wheels to level the motorhome. Be careful with diy items, remember the weights involved, about a tonne on each rear wheel.

Chassis uprating; all commercial vehicles have a legally binding maximum weight. A lot of that capacity will be taken up by fixtures, fittings, furniture and accessories so personal payloads become limited. One way round this is chassis uprating. Sometimes this requires extensive and expensive modification but sometimes it is just a professional check plus paperwork. Uprating say 3400 Kg MPLM to 3500 KG is likely to be the latter. 


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