Most car enthusiasts can recall a tale of ‘the one that got away’ and Leigh Hicks is no different. Except his story also has a sequel called “and then I bought it back again six years later” which is why we had to meet up to find out more.
The story starts here
“I was looking for a van back in 2009 and this one, which was red and white at the time, popped up on AutoTrader” Leigh laughs. “It was in Portsmouth and I lived in Bexhill (about 80 miles away) and my only method of transport was a Honda C90 moped!”
£1200 changed hands, the bike (which incidentally ran out of oil on the way and was now full of second hand tractor oil kindly donated by a Farmer) got slung in the back and it was adventure o’clock for Mr Hicks. This bus kick-started a relationship, rekindled a love of travel and was a definite influence on him later opening up shop as Combe Valley Campers.
Do it yourself!
Quite often when money is tight enthusiasts dig deep and give the jobs a go themselves and Leigh is no different. He and a mate popped the T25 windows out and chose to repaint it with a roller – “Domi chose the colour” he quips! The interior was made out of Formica chipboard and below the fold-out back seat is the biggest leisure battery we’ve ever seen. “It was being chucked out at an engineering place I worked for, and was originally to power backup generators but it failed the annual test – it still works fine in here though”.
Domi and Leigh got married in 2012 and they took the bus back to her home town in Poland to tie the knot. After their nuptials, they headed out on the honeymoon road trip of a lifetime, with no real plan except to have fun. They even stumbled upon a convoy of Volkswagens all heading to a show in Austria – so they joined them!
Putting Family First
With a little one on the way, Leigh and Domi made the difficult decision to sell their beloved bus in 2012, after showing it at Brighton Breeze one last time. It was a sad farewell, but it was for all the right reasons.
Starting up the workshop
With an 8 year military career behind him and a few shorter spells working ‘for the man,’ Leigh decided he needed to become his own boss. Having carried out all the jobs on his bus previously and worked on VWs from a young age he founded Combe Valley Campers in February 2016.
In the past 3 years, Leigh has found himself attracting work on Type 25 buses from all over East Sussex. He reckons he’s owned more than twenty of them, including a super rare Syncro Tischer model that he brought to one of our Heretics meets and later sold on to a chap in the States. “It’s not just VWs we do though. From the cab back most Campervans are the same. We’ve done a Vauxhall, a Renault and most recently a Chevy G20 van too”.
Time to buy it back
“We’ve been through a few ‘family campers’ since, but none with any sentimental attachment like Bulli” Leigh explains. “One day I randomly found our T25 listed on eBay and sent a message straight away. Turns out it was still owned by the guy we sold it to. He’d hardly used it in the last few years after it was parked up in a garage that required the door to be removed and air let out the tyres to get it in and out”.
It still smells the same!
They had to have it! The AAZ engine fired into life and Leigh brought it back home again in August 2018. “It has had a few extra stickers added to the windows and was used for their honeymoon road trip too, but inside it still smells the same. Even the Coca Cola pin badge that was on the dashboard when I bought it originally, is still there!”
Plans for the future?
There’s a huge Viking pop top to go on and a few bits of metal work now showing their age, so T25 rust repair panels and a repaint are also on the cards.
Apart from that, there’s plenty of travelling ahead; rumour of some festivals and absolutely no chance they’ll be selling him again…
A big thanks to Long Furlong Barn for letting us use their lovely Wedding venue as a backdrop for this shoot.