Grey nomad Tony D explains why – and how – he designed and built his own caravan that is exceptionally light and exceptionally eye-catching!
‘My wife and I retired on medical grounds a few years ago and we owned a VW style trike that couldn’t tow much … only 300kg. We endured a few years towing a motorcycle camping trailer … but it wasn’t ideal.
The problem was caravans with toilets and showers were too long and too heavy. So, the project to build our caravan under 300kg began … and it had to have toilet and shower!
A solid straight axle is cheap and easily aligned. Wheels? Well, I weighed a 13-inch steel wheel with tyre, then a 10-inch mag wheel with tyre and found a 10kg saving per wheel! 10inch wheels have advantages like lower floor height equals lower roof height equals less drag and smaller steps to enter.
The frame? Well I’ve never welded aluminium before and I was worried it would crack. I purchased a heap of 13mm steel square steel, a mig welder, as opposed to arc, and some 20mm angle for the corners. The main chassis rails were 75x25mm RHS 2.5mm thick. I considered multi-panel and other modern lightweight products but the weight savings weren’t worth the expense and extra support so, again, I stuck to convention.
The floor is only 6mm marine ply. Thin eh? But the 13mm tube is spaced out at only 130mm which is still lighter than 12mm ply with 300mm spacings. It did mean a bottom waterproof membrane and good paint coating though. I installed 13mm polystyrene insulation, a Bunnings shower acrylic wall with nylon screen, 12 volt only power, acrylic
sink, Waeco CF18 chest fridge, 100amp DC battery 90 watt portable solar plus 120W on the roof. Plenty of storage via hatches to under the single beds (2). Best thing is I installed a hatch for the Porta Potti … saves your back! 2 x 80 litre water tanks and 12V pumps. No brakes needed.
The caravan came in overweight and was registered with a tare of 450kg. This meant the trike couldn’t tow the van. But this coincided with other medical issues so I sought out a sports car that would make a good tow car. The JBA Falcon Sports I found was perfect and had been rebuilt in 2009.
Wherever we go we have enquiries about the van. What? Eleven feet long with a shower and toilet? I’d have to open the door to prove it. Some vanners doubted their own reasoning in buying huge rigs with huge tow cars and associated fuel costs.
However, there was one problem. At Tambo, our drawbar had cracks! I had made one big mistake … I had put a bend in the drawbar and it was a weak point. The bars were welded again but the stress of the Queensland roads was too much. At Cloncurry the boys at W&W Welding welded ‘fishtail’ plates each side of the bend and it proved stronger than the other parts of the drawbar. Obviously I tried too hard to save weight! Apart from the drawbar I have no regrets.
The van is aerodynamic, light, compact but comfortable and the build cost was less than $10,000. Can I improve on the design? I’d probably add 60cm to the length but retain the 185cm width. The extra length would make way for aircon under the kitchen bench and extra food storage with proper stove. We manage outdoor cooking with butane.
The Fiamma bag awning does a good job and the fold down table is handy. The van took 11 weeks to build but I build fast. I got a lot of information from caravan sales people. I took time to gusset many welds and seal the roof fully. My health is such that I won’t build another but – if I was younger and fitter – I’d look at building 13ft vans with shower and toilet. There’s a big market out there for them in my opinion.
See you on the road!’