By 2023, there will have been over 3000 Sussex special edition vehicles built, touring around the UK, Europe and even the southern hemisphere, having provided owners with the best leisure vehicles available, and with many industry firsts.
The Sussex special has become synonymous with always providing the best value for money for what is truly a bespoke and special product.
So much has been the success that now ‘Sussex spotting’ has become a pastime for both owners and us alike...but after 25 years, how did this all come about?
As with many good ideas, the ‘Sussex Special Edition’ story came about by accident...
In 1998 we had a request from a customer for a particular caravan, but wanting certain changes to the specification. Up until that time, it was not possible for manufacturers to modify or change items during production.
After discussing with Elddis, they agreed to the changes so the order was taken and a deposit placed by our customer.
Some months later however, with no bespoke caravan forthcoming, the manufacturer called us with a ‘U-turn, now saying this was not possible for a ‘one off’ although if the order was for 10, they could still go ahead.
To make the deal more attractive, Elddis offered exclusivity, and some enhanced extras free of charge. Not wanting to let our customers down, we agreed to the 10 caravans (9 unsold) and the hybrid Elddis Hurricane Vogue GT was born.
To our surprise, even without the physical caravan, we were able to sell these special vehicles - to the point of asking the factory to make 10 x 4 berth models, which became the Typhoon Vogue GT, all of which sold quickly.
These models were so popular that Elddis, having promised exclusivity, then made their own version for all dealers called the ‘Knightsbridge 470/2 and 520/4, but with an exterior in burgundy rather than the green of our Vogue GT!
Due to the overwhelming customer reaction to those first Vogue GTs, it was an easy decision to ask Elddis if we could do a similar thing for the 1999 season, but with an increased range and greater numbers. The manufacturer duly agreed, promising us a larger input which was very exciting as we would be having our very own models, and could even have our very own names!
And so for the 1999 season, we launched our unique ‘Sussex’ range, with 4 models: the 2 berth end kitchen Wiston, the 2 berth end washroom Chiltington, the 4 berth side dinette Ashington and finally the 5 berth Washington.
For 2000 the range was expanded to 5 models with the Salvington and in the next couple of years the Goodwood (our first fixed bed) and the Tangmere (our first twin axle).
During the few years that followed, we sold more and more Sussex specials and less and less standard products, to the point where the standard vehicles only sold after the special editions had all gone!
We started to do ‘Launch Events’ to showcase the special editions as the next model year was eagerly awaited. This was fantastic to gauge consumer reaction to the latest ideas (and also incorporate some of our customer's own ideas) and at the same time take orders for the forthcoming season.
In 2003 We Had Our First Setback
The 2003 models had an all-new blue colour scheme, and with the new swing V-Tech chassis technology, we added alloy wheels and the new Winterhoff stabiliser to have an enhanced towing performance package. These models would still carry the Sussex badging but the individual model name would be followed by GT.
By now the Sussex specials had turned into a very bespoke product, even having our own Sussex chassis prefix. The Wiston GT was designated ‘SU0001 - 5, the Salvington GT SU0006-10 and so forth for the other models.
After a very successful launch with many orders taken, Elddis made the decision to cancel the remaining orders - wanting to replace them with standard product as the specials were in their words ‘too expensive and too time-consuming to build’.
This resulted in a pretty frosty relationship for the rest of the season but for 2004 a compromise was reached with us being able to have a bespoke colour and specification on the all-new Elddis Odyssey platform. The chassis prefix would become ODY, as opposed to the unique SU branding - this simplified manufacture and at the same time enabled us to continue with the ‘Sussex special’.
Using the same blue colourways as our very rare 2003 GT, the 2004/5 models became GTX. These were very popular and between 2004 and 2007 the Sussex brand became even more successful with the 2007 model GTS being one of my personal favourites at that time.
The industry at that point however was having a spike in popularity and this placed the next set back upon us.
Once again, we were visited by the Elddis ‘top brass’ consisting of the MD (a very rare visit) and the sales director.
Their view was to stop all dealer special edition production, replacing instead with an all-new Avante Club, that was to be available to all. For Sussex, they would allow us to have the Compass brand sit alongside Elddis as a recompense for losing the Sussex special.
As they were the manufacturer, they convinced us that they knew best and it would be good for us at the dealership, so reluctantly (and naively) we agreed.
2008 was a strange launch event of the Elddis and the new (to us) Compass brand. Our customers enquired: ‘Where are the Specials?’ and we were hearing stories of the early days of ‘Sussex Spotting’ and how friendships had been formed from the recognising of fellow ‘Sussex’ owners.
Customer orders were taken on the basis that they would have ‘Sussex’ badging to complement the manufacturer’s own branding, and only then did it begin to dawn upon us what had been created over the previous 8 years - completely by accident.
These Compass and Elddis standard caravans however did not sell as well as the previous years’ Sussex specials so some drastic action needed to be taken, but with Elddis not ‘playing ball’ a new plan was required.
A NEW BEGINNING
Early 2008 had us pick up the phone and speak to other manufacturers, wondering how we could start again - introducing ourselves and our plans and requirements to individuals that knew nothing about us.
It was at this point we realised how much the industry respected our Sussex brand and our special editions. Coachman, Lunar and Swift were all excited to welcome us and build a Sussex special. Bailey contacted us out of the blue to sell their products, which only left Avondale and Fleetwood however we felt them financially compromised and therefore off our radar.
Word obviously got around, and Elddis made it clear they would also be happy to revert to the Sussex special but now the door had been opened, we were curious to see the other manufacturers, their facilities and what they could do for us.
Now, faced with a complete choice, we visited our two favoured manufacturers, Coachman and Lunar, both of whom had experienced recent management ‘buy-outs’ and were definitely on the up.
It was a difficult choice, as both offered different benefits, but the decision came down to Coachman as we felt, following the factory visit, this was the best-built caravan in the marketplace.
2009 saw the re-introduction of the Sussex special. 100 orders were placed with Coachman (which incidentally they felt was too optimistic and unachievable) and we were able to retain the names Wiston, Chiltington, Ashington, Goodwood and Washington.
The 2009 launch was instantly successful, with the Coachman representative not understanding how customers were saying ‘oh, we’ve got one of these’, as they only saw the Sussex brand.
100 Sussex (Coachman) were sold, but the increased demand had us now wanting to explore further. The Coachman caravans were fantastic but the quality made them a little heavier and we wanted to be able to offer a lightweight special, so welcome Lunar for 2010 as they built the best lightweight caravan.
SUSSEX CARAVAN CENTRE EAST OPENS ITS DOORS
2010 turned out to be a busy time, as we opened a second dealership in East Sussex at Colestock Cross. Again, this was almost by accident, as it wasn’t the original plan, but then that’s another story…
Elddis had become more enthusiastic to return to the Sussex special edition and it seemed a good opportunity to renew the Elddis brand at the East branch, with West concentrating on the Coachman and Lunar special editions.
Once again, the popularity of the Sussex brand evolved, with wider ranges and more models to choose from. The launch weekends now extended to the Friday, becoming a 3 day event that was so popular they became ‘invite only’ to our existing Sussex customers.
This gave the opportunity to expand to catering, competitions and themes, with one year having a full size WW2 Spitfire on display (really!)
Virtually no standard caravans were now on display at either branch as it didn’t make sense - our customers always made the decision to go for the more desirable, and more individual Sussex special.
We now had a range of caravans from three separate manufacturers:
- Lunar with our ‘Club edition’ - our lightweight range.
- Elddis with our ‘Premier edition’
- Coachman with our GTR range, which due to computer search engines we later changed to our VIP editions.
Unlike the manufacturers, who would have to make each range better than the one below it, we could concentrate on making each range as best it could be, by ‘cherry picking’ from each maker at what they did best.
Also, unlike the manufacturer, we would have the opportunity to sell the same caravan several times during its life, whereas Lunar, Elddis or Coachman would only sell them once. It was therefore in our interest to use the best products for soft furnishings and external graphics, as we would require them to look their very best for the next 20 years or more. Recently we had a 21-year-old, 1 owner Sussex Wiston back in, and the upholstery still looked new!
We formed relationships with these suppliers, and today we are the only agent that works in conjunction with the soft furnishing and external design companies to produce our unique bespoke Sussex Special, using the very best quality materials.
GOODBYE LUNAR..........HELLO SWIFT!
Dealing with more than one manufacturer gives us more flexibility to choose the best models, and also change to suit demand.
Leading up to 2018 it was becoming more apparent that Lunar was suffering from certain difficulties, and with the Swift product being strong it was an easy decision to move our ‘club edition’ range onto the Swift package.
Once again, we retained the Sussex names, so in actual fact, someone with a ‘Sussex Goodwood’ could have either a Coachman, Elddis, Lunar, Swift or even a Motorhome depending on the year!
This is something we are particularly proud of - imagine being able to buy a Mondeo but made by different car manufacturers - it just wouldn’t happen.
Our traditional open weekends had already expanded to include Friday, and the East branch would also have its own event for its own customer base.
Each year at Ashington we would have a theme, with different catering and other items of interest for our customers. Over the years we have had classic caravans, a World War 2 theme with Spitfire, tank and ‘Dad’s Army’ regalia. We have had Caravan Club attendance, cake making, caravan mastermind, guest appearances and much more right down to Scalextric caravan slot car racing!
Every year we tried to use local catering, choosing something different each time. We then came across the Sussex Charmer ‘Cheese on Toast’ at an event a few of us attended. This suited us so well that we have continued to use them for the last 7 years.
Today, Sussex Charmer only do catering for the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival, Ascot…and Sussex Caravan Centre!
With the Covid pandemic and social distancing, our launch events were cancelled, and then returned but with a different format of appointments. This worked so well for all that the Sussex ‘invitation only’ launch events now take place over 5 days with a mixture of the old and new styles.
Obviously, our much sought-after Sussex puppies are always in attendance, in all of the caravans awaiting their new owners and adventures.
THE SUSSEX BRAND
Working closely in conjunction with the graphic and soft furnishing suppliers we have now been able to create a familiar ‘Sussex’ feel across the ranges. Since 2020 therefore, the graphics pack for all three manufacturers have been the same, but with different colourways to distinguish between them, therefore even though one may be a Coachman, Elddis or Swift, they are unmistakable in being a ‘Sussex’ caravan. Something we are proud of, and of the achievement.
For a few years, we were able to make a Sussex special edition motorhome, by Elddis and Swift, however, with the smaller numbers and the difficulties of chassis cab availability during the pandemic this has halted (for now!).
2023 is the 25th anniversary of the Sussex Special. Virtually all new caravans, at either West or East branches, are from the Sussex ranges, with only one or two standard models.
All are bespoke to Sussex and are only available from our dealerships. They retain their value-for-money packages, offer higher residuals, and continue to use the very best products available.
They are still the best special edition available - this is down to the most effort put in from us, and feedback from our customers and has resulted in many awards, plus 3000 plus leisure vehicles being produced.
Sussex spotting is now played all around the UK, Europe and beyond!
The Sussex story will continue into 2024 and beyond…