Torcars Sun-Tor Register
|Founded in 1995, the Club was formed to cater for the owners and enthusiasts of all the vehicles converted by Torcars of Torrington, Devon.|
SunTor's converted by Brownhills (pre-2001, Y Registration), & also vehicles converted by Nimbus (C&W) Conversions Ltd, of Torrington, are also very welcome to join the Club.
Ron Webster, had been trading as; "R. Webster & Co", in Hove, Sussex, for several years, building Motor Caravan's to customers own specifications on various base vehicles. Ron, together with his father, also fitted out the living areas of Cabin Cruisers, for local Boat owners. One of Ron's customers was so impressed with the quality of the conversion of his Ford Transit mk1, that he asked if he could invest in the Company. This was Alan Hutchinson, who had just given up working as a computer salesman.
The partnership between, Ron & Mary Webster, and Alan & Dr Margaret Hutchinson, was formed in November 1968. It was government policy at the time to try and get businesses to move to rural regions, where jobs were desperately needed. Ron & Alan looked at several sites, which included places at Bristol, and in Northern Ireland.
Ron & Alan, liked what they saw at Great Torrington, in Devon, and the foundations of Torcars of Torrington was laid, in a three-acre factory site, a little over two miles, from the town at High Bullen. They insisted on having extra land beside the factory, for a camp site for potential customers, and all holiday makers were welcome. The camp site charges for 1972 were; Caravans 50p per night, £2.20 per week, & tents 40p per night, £1.80 per week.
In late December of 1968, while the factory at High Bullen, was being built for them, Torcars moved into temporary premises, an old disused bakery in South Street, Torrington. They took with them three experienced employees, and started by producing the SunTor Estate Caravan, based on the Austin/Morris A60 half-ton van (340), of which the prototypes had been built in Hove, on used vehicles. Torcars experimented until a satisfactory design was found in February 1969. The target was 2 units per week, and from March to the end of July 1969, they had produced 29 SunTors.
Following the untimely death of Alan Hutchinson, on the last day of 1970, his brother Paul, stepped in to fill his position as a partner.
In September 1971, Torcars move into their new Factory and Showroom at High Bullen. The official opening of the new factory & camp site took place on Friday, 19th May 1972, by Mr Tom Wicks, Chairman of the Motor Caravanners Club.
They went on to produce the Marina SunTor (800), Commer SunTor Major & HiTor (250), Sherpa BrenTor & SunTor (150), and the Toyota Hi-ace SunTor. Torcars also produced a number of one-off conversions on customers own vehicles, such as two Range Rovers, and a Coach.
During the Summer of 1973, W. Mumford Ltd acquired a 50% share, the Torcars Directors following takeover was, David Burke (Chairman), Ron Webster, Dr Margaret Hutchinson, Gerald Apps (Chief Executive), W.G. Mumford, & D.H. Wilks.
Mumford, produced the Marina Convertible, and the Leyland Princess Estate car, and although badged as Torcars, these were converted in Plymouth.
During the winter and quiet periods, Torcars were "makers of quality handmade wooden toys" in there cabinet shop. With the brand name "Tortoys of Torrington", they produced such things as childrens Blackboard & easel's, Desk & chair's, Stilts, etc, as far as is known, the Tortoys was only sold through, Harrods of London.
Ron & Mary Webster, resigned in January 1978, and by the end of 1979, Torcars had ceased trading.
In January 1980, Brownhills of Newark, became the new owners. Mr Pearce, of Brownhills, bought Torcars for the SunTor brand name, the sale included one Marina and a huge quantity of spares.
Brownhills was founded in Bulwell Nottingham in 1962, selling Standard Triumph cars, in the mid 70's, 50% of the stock was motorhomes, and by 1977, they had become solely Motorhome dealers. Brownhills first SunTor, was based on the Ital van, but they needed the skills of experienced motorhome manufacturers to create a range of motorhomes that could offer quality and a great specification, thats how and why the Swift & Elddis SunTor range was born.
Today, Brownhills are one of the largest Motorhome retailers.
C&W Conversions, was created in the summer of 1972, by two former Torcars employees, Percy Colwill & Bryn Wathen. They moved into the former Torcars factory, in South Street, Torrington, and produced the Ford Escort "NIMBUS", & the "NIMROD" Motor caravan. The "Nimrod", was produced on the Ford Transit 100 custom & Bedford CF 220 vans. They also converted a couple of Renault 4 long wheelbase vans, & even managed some exports, on left hand drive Escort vans. Mention must also be made of their Weekender, not another motor caravan but a system designed to provide owners of virtually any make of estate car with sleeping and eating accommodation, the sample vehicle was a Ford Escort Estate. Before joining Nimbus full time Ivor Knight, did a lot of the seats for the Nimbus vans, from his workshop at home, whilst working for Torcars.
In 1976, Percy Colwill, left C&W Conversions, to start up on his own, as Euro Conversions (South West) Ltd., and C&W Conversions became Nimbus Conversions Ltd, now with Bryn & Rhona Wathen as directors.
Rhona, sadly passed away in July 1977, and Nimbus ceased trading in May 1978, shortly before the death of Bryn Wathen, in July, a year after his wife.
Euro Conversions (South West) Ltd, of Stibb Cross, Torrington, converted a small number of Ford Escort motor caravans called the Eurocamper.
The club has to date identified 796, of the 2,000 or so vehicles converted by Torcars, & we also have the details of 80 vehicles converted by Nimbus. If you have ever owned a vehicle from the Torcars stable, we would love to hear from you. Do you have information, photo's, or indeed anything regarding, Torcars, Nimbus (C&W) Conversions, or Brownhills SunTor's.
Following the death of Ron Webster, in 2005, the Register was given all the documents, and photographs, which were held by him. We also hold the Torcars factory Production Book, which was given to the club by the Works Foreman, Norman Baker, the notebook contains the production & conversion details of some 330 vehicles. The information within these pages gives when & the names of the Assembly team that worked on each van, (mainly Marina & Commer) for the period 1973/74.
A very important collection of motoring history is held by the club, however we are always adding new photos and documents to our archive, and very keen to continue to add to the clubs archive material.
The clubs newsletter "Let Sleeping Bags Lie", is published every month.