After seeing a Portafold at the Morris Minor Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1998 I managed to purchase a sorry looking example for the princely sum of £85.00.
The caravan is made from GRP and can be put up by one person in just one minute! I believe that it was produced in the late 1960s but I am not sure as there is no manufacturer’s plate. I have a copy of the owner’s handbook which states that it can be towed by a mini and will sleep up to 5 people!
August 1999: I started by stripping the caravan to its component pieces and sanding off the awful brown gloss paint that someone had generously applied. There were several cracks in the fibreglass which I repaired. When spring finally arrived I will deal with painting and reassembling the Portafold and fitting out the interior. I planned to attend classic car shows with it, towing with a Morris Minor.
March 2000: I moved the Portafold from my back yard to a friend’s smallholding where I would have more room and workshop facilities. It soon became obvious that what was going to be a basic restoration was going to turn into something much more in-depth. I seemed to have “strip fever”.
The caravan was stripped into every component. The chassis needed very little work and was sanded and painted in several coats of black Smoothrite. The corner steadies were completely stripped and straightened before being painted and reassembled. As the chassis was being sanded a number appeared – PF 1645 7767. Armed with this I contacted the leading authority on Portafold caravans, Frank Perry, who deciphered the number and told me it was a 1967 model and probably built in March of that year.
The fibreglass body was in a very poor state. Years of abuse had taken its toll – I believe the roof section was used by kids as a boat for several years! Repairs were made to the roof and some of the side panels using fibreglass matting and resin. Several places needed repairing with body filler and then then problem of starring had to be addressed. Starring occurs where there has been some type of impact and this causes cracks to appear in the gel coat of the fibreglass. After experimenting with various methods I found the only real solution was liberal quantities of Plastic Filler Primer, which I obtained in copious amounts from a car accessory shop.
April 2000: Enlisting the help of friends, the panels were rubbed down (for what seemed weeks) with fine grade wet and dry ready for painting. I was originaly going to brush paint the portafold but decided that as I also have the “Pink Thing” to restore, I would use the caravan to practice spray painting. I bought the relevant equipment and several gallons of synthetic Old English White paint and got to work.
If I say so myself I don’t think I made a bad job for my first attempt. The paintwork was left for a week or so before lightly rubbing down with fine sandpaper and cutting paste.
May 2000: Now the fun really begins. The first job was to fettle all those little bits I took off the caravan – always assuming I could find them. Fortunately most of the fittings on the caravan are standard hardware items and are still available in the shops. Even the rear light clusters were readily available from caravan accessory shops (I noticed these fittings mouted at roof height on a brand new ambulance). Within a week or so the panels were reassembled and the portafold looked like a caravan once again. Surprisingly, it was a relatively straightforward process. The windows needed quite a lot of work. Somewhere in its 33 year history the side windows had broken and the glass was replaced with perspex. Shirley’s father came to the rescue and cut me some glass to fit. The aluminium frames were cleaned up and the new glass fitted before I applied cosmetic leading.
June 2000: With all the new exterior fitments in place it was time to turn my attention to the interior. Portafold caravans were a very basic affair, but still had the sidewalls lined in a quilted material and the roof lined in flock. As I couldn’t find any examples of this i decided to scour the local markets for suitable materials. I decided to use an off-white “sweatshirt” type material to line the roof and a grey corded fabric for the walls. Both these fabrics had an amount if give in both directions which would help when glueing to the contoured surfaces. All the panels to be lined were given a coat of white household gloss. to seal the fibreglass and give the glue something substantial to adhere to. I used spray glue to affix the fabric to the panels and this proved to work well. Attaching the fabric is not a simple job and required several pairs of hands. It’s not a job for the faint hearted!
With the fabric firmly affixed the windows and other fittings were put back in place. The manufacture of Portafolds was a very inaccurate science and so some of this work was a little tricky to say the least.
Portafolds originally came with 6 two foot square back rest cushions and 2 six foot by two foot base cushions which looked rather uncomfortable to say the least. I decided to buy new foam cut to fit slightly better. The foam is firmer than the original and so should give better support. The backrest cushions are held in place by unsightly metal plates and I decided to cover these with an upholstered rail.
July 2000: A kitchen unit was built using mahogany faced plywood with a sink sunk into the worktop. Alloy wheels to match those on the Minor were polished and added, after replacing the original studs which proved too long.
Its first outing was only two days after completion. We took it to Automania 2000 in Bolton where it was a huge success attracting a huge amount of interest from the public. I was even interviewed by Glenda McKay for Granada Men and Motors. Wow, a celebrity as our first guest!
The makers claimed Portafolds could be put up in just one minute by one person, and it is absolutely true!