The 'Devon' Caravette
It was 1956 and Jack White who was a carpenter builder in the Victorian holiday town of Sidmouth had decided to convert the VW Type 2 van into a camper for the family. Jack was said to have a great passion for the iconic vehicles, I suspect little did he think he would be part of the history we know today.
Jack needed to move out from the garden shed to the ‘Alexandria Works’ what is known today as Alexandria Industrial Estate. Over the course of a weekend Jack drafted in 16 bricklayers and work commenced on building a new factory, unbelievably they managed to complete nearly all the outside walls, a happy workforce on triple pay for working on the Sunday.
The five acre site consisted of fields and woodland, where his daughters kept their horses.
The new Alexandria works factory in Sidmouth officially opened in May 1960 at his peak they employed 75 people, mostly local carpenters and craftsmen. By this time they were producing 1000 caravettes a year. The strategic position of the factory right next to the railway track means the vw vans could be brought straight to the factory without any further transportation.
A conversion at that time would be around £200 plus the costs of the van so you were paying over £1000 which was a lot of money in those days.
As the vw camper grew in popularity increased as did the production, Jack was now employing 120 with sales around the world and gaining interest from famous personalities.
Unfortunately Jack White suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the wheel of a VW pickup at the factory in 1963 aged only 51. Death duties forced Jacks wife Annemie to sell the company to Renwick Wilton & Dobson Group who took on most of the staff and continued to trade under the JP White (Sidmouth) Ltd name until June 1971, when it was renamed ‘Devon Conversions Limited’.
By 1972 the company had become the official VW converter for the UK and was selling over 3,500 campervans a year. Apart from the Caravette the company went onto make a number of different versions such as the Torvette, Eurovette, Sunlander, Devonette, Continental, Sundowner & the Moonraker.
In 1978 the Moonraker version would cost you £5157.38 compared to the Ford Capri 2.0S which was £4,035.
1981 saw the company relocate to Exeter and then sadly in 1985 the company went into voluntary liquidation the end of an era of British campervan history.