Westfalia James Cook
If you are a fan of the British school of motorhome design then you may find the James Cook a bit of culture shock at first glance. For example the table doesnt live in the wardrobe and there isnt a leaded light cocktail cabinet or even a cupboard with bottle and glass clips. What there is clever design and good quality. The interior of the James Cook is well built and very versatile. The entire inside is moulded plastic panels, no carpet to be seen! An example of the thinking behind the design is shown in many simple details; there are two tables, one, a small coffee table is hinged from the side wall next to the rear seat and the, very sturdy, main table is stored in a dedicated locker above the cab and under the upper bed.
I have to admit to being a great fan of Mercedes vehicles. One of my great wishes is that they made a car that fitted both my needs and my pocket but that will have to wait until depreciation has done its work. Fortunately they do make commercials that fit both criteria and, after owning a Hymer Mercedes for over eight years, when we looked for a replacement it had to be built to the same level of quality. Mixing my desire for Mercedes and Hymer build standards made the search difficult until I remembered a high top motorhome that used to visit close to where we live. That was a James Cook built of the old Mercedes Bremen chassis. I started looking in magazines and what surprised to see an update using the Sprinter base. One thing quickly led to another and soon we were on the plane to Lubeck to meet the owner, soon to be ex-owner, of a 98 James Cook. So our first drive was the short journey (!) from north Germany to Dunkirk. Our new MH had recently been through a workshop and so the only preparation was the checks you would do weekly, tyre pressures, fluid levels, etc. We took the route that was suggested by our computer navigation and took 2 ½ days for the trip. The MH has the 2.9l 5 cylinder engine mated to the fully automatic 4 speed gearbox. We used the fitted cruise control whenever we could and the trip passed without event. I forgot to mention that one thing that has to travel with us is my wheelchair and as I am quite a big lad by necessity the wheelchair is also of larger than average dimensions. We had thought that this would have to travel inside with us until I had a chance to get engineers to construct a carrier. Part of the design of the James Cook is its height and we knew from the brochure it has a luggage boot under the bathroom. I was amazed to be shown that the complete wheelchair, with cushion, fitted in this area and left room for loads of other odds and ends to be packed around it. The boot is accessible by opening the rear doors and this is also where the cassette for the WC is accessed. You can also open a door to the wardrobe from here, this is useful if you need quick change of shoes for instance. The gas locker is below the wardrobe and again accessed from within the rear doors.
When entering the MH from the side, sliding, door there is a step up into the kitchen area and opening the front of this step gives access to storage which although at first narrow opens to the main boot described above. There is sufficient length here for skis, windbreaks, etc. When lounging there is choice of using the cab seats, which are both fitted with swivels (the passengers on a clever eccentric that takes it closer to the drivers seat and so also closer to the table for meals) or the rear seat which is fitted for three. This seat is of steel construction and runs in alumimium floor channels. All these places have proper three point inertia reel seat belts and there is a comfortable headrest. Under and behind this rear seat are storage areas and the (100Lt)fresh water tank. Alongside the seat is an opening picture window. All of the caravan windows in the MH are fitted with integrated roller blinds as well as the openers having a bug net. Along the nearside is the kitchen where there are numerous cupboards, three tall cupboards above the sink unit, three under the sink (one contains the release tap for the (70Lt) grey water), a good sized cutlery draw and a huge cupboard which is fitted with a mains power outlet and would be suitable to house a microwave to back up the two gas burners of the hob. We managed easily cooking and feeding three of us on our three week holiday in France and Switzerland last summer but I know there are many campers who find the idea of not having an oven slightly off-putting, here you have the choice. Returning to facilities alongside the sink is a hinged draining area and under this is another large cupboard which we use to store crockery. On the offside is the worktop containing the top loading compressor fridge. Among the cupboards under this worktop are the factory fitted safe and frame for rubbish bags. To the rear of this worktop is the wardrobe door.
Behind the kitchen is the bathroom, fitted with a Thetford WC, shower fitting, wash hand basin, a cupboard for towels and another which houses a four string pull out cloths line. A long open shelf takes care of all the bottles and potions which are part of our lives. Attached to the inside of the bathroom door is the ladder to help access the upper bed.
The lower bed uses the rear rocnroll seat and it can be made up to child or adult length. The upper bed used a two piece base that folds up concertina style to open the van up during the day. I think both beds are of incredible size given the vans size. Our James Cook is fitted with the option of a large slide back sun roof, of the automotive type, to go with the two small hinged windows which give night time ventilation. Lighting throughout the MH is by fluorescent fittings added by a flexible reading light over the rear seat/ bed.
To drive the James Cook is simplicity given the automatic transmission and power steering. The physical dimensions make it easy to thread down any street we found while abroad and also allowed us to enjoy our passion for mountain views. The rear wheel drive means that there is no tyre scrambling or wheel spin on tight uphill hairpin bends. The standard Anti-Locking Brakes gives reassurance and, if you do get onto a loose surface there is the added security of an Automatic Braking Differential to control and help with forward progress. The MH is slightly susceptible to side winds but no worst than our Hymer was. I suspect this is a side effect of the MHs height. Because there are no rear windows we have fitted a colour rear-view camera and 7 monitor/TV. Moulded into the roof lining above the windscreen is the electronic digital panel that is the control centre for the MH fitments, here you set the fridge and diesel heating temperature. It also has readout for water tanks and battery (2x80AH Gel) levels. The James Cook is a super MH for two people to tour in and, as we proved last summer when we toured eastern France, more than adequate for three to enjoy a three week. She is different in so many ways, the biggest differences, for me, are the feeling of quality and a clever, and inovative, use of space the likes of which I have never seen in a MH of this size.
I hope this insight into the James Cook has been of help and interest to you.
Words and pictures © Ian Emery 2006
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