► Toyota Proace PRO40 camper on test
► In Le Mans TS040 hybrid racer livery
► This or a California?
What's sponsored by Denso, sports white, blue and red livery and can be seen beside the Mulsanne straight with electrics whirring in the middle of the night? Why, Toyota's one-off Proace camper van in Le Mans livery, of course.
It's a unique conversion, done for Toyota by Staffordshire specialists G&P. They take one regular Proace commerical vehicle and turn it into a four-berth camper - and the Japanese car maker's UK importer has niftily wrapped this one in the decals of its TS040 LMP1 endurance racer.
We didn't take it to La Sarthe, but popped over to Norfolk for a weekend's camping in the barmy British summer we're enjoying. Here's how we got on.
How much does this camper conversion cost?
Although our Le Mans-dressed Proace remains an unusual one-off, anybody could wander in off the street and commission similar. Prices for regular Proace vans start at £23,205 - and G&P Conversions could do the 'campification' for a further £12,000, plus VAT.
Call it £37k all in - nudging perilously close to factory-fresh VW California territory. This one is based on the long-wheelbase Proace bodystyle with regular roof height. Once the lid is raised, you're unlikely to want a higher roof.
The Proace is a badge-engineered version of the PSA-Fiat van, so this is essentially based on Toyota's Expert/Dispatch/Scudo. It's one of the oldest CVs in this segment and CAR understands it's due to be replaced in the next 18 months.
Is it comfy to sleep in?
It sure is. Camping lightweights will love the ease at which vans of this ilk can rock up, pop the roof and have the kettle boiling while your canvas-reliant friends are still fretting over groundsheets and missing tent pegs from last summer. There's no electric operation on this Proace, just a couple of catches to release the roof which then rises up on gas struts to provide extra headroom by day and - pull the separate, flat panel down - a double bed by night.
Ours had no mattress up top but it's dead flat and ideal for an inflatable to sleep on. Down below is perhaps more comfy (we had kids upstairs and stayed on the ground floor), the rock 'n' roll rear bench seat sliding forwards and locking flat to provide a more grown-up mattress. Note the racing-inspired chequered flag curtains all-round, and the same victorious material shades the windscreen too, popping onto studs to provide privacy all-round.
We slept long and hard in the Proace, though it's worth mentioning the difficulty of clambering up top. It's a much smaller aperture than our VW California long-termer had, although the room up top is just as commodious, with similar zipped air vents and peep holes.
How does the Toyota Proace PRO40 camper van drive?
There's no mistaking the roots of this commercial vehicle, with a loud diesely clatter at start-up and a pretty agricultural driving position betraying its age. But the thing about this size of van is they're a cinch to drive; you sit high up and the short nose and twin-lens door mirrors mean you have a great view out (although reversing is a tad trickier) and its 5.1m length makes it no more daunting to drive than a limousine.
Once you've adjusted to its dimensions, it's remarkably fun to punt around, with lashings of torque to keep up with other traffic, a smooth ride on 215/60 16-inch Michelins and a positive gearchange. Hell, even its 12sec 0-62mph time and 32.8mpg economy were a surprise (though Toyota claims 44mpg). Just watch out for some of the creaking and rattling over your shoulder: in line with many campers, the kitchen equipment and other ancillaries don't take well to being driven in too athletic a fashion. Instead, slow down, toss your rushing impetus out the window and join the camping-cruise, holiday fraternity.
While all camping accessories are of high quality (the easy-to-operate oven, plentiful stowage drawers and fridge are all top-notch), there are a few indicators that this particular Proace is an aftermarket conversion. Unlike on a California, there are some elements which betray its one-off status: awkwardly revolving front seats, the rudimenary roof lashing system and a camping table strapped to the front passenger seat where a Cali's is integrated into the door.
The Proace is a fun take on the camper and a reminder of a whole alternative motoring scene - one where your car is your transport, your accommodation and, in this case, your lifestyle extension too. Just remember those decals are optional (although we remain amazed you can see out of the wrapped side and back windows perfectly well). It'd surely garner cheers aplenty at Le Mans, if not in Brancaster.