Old is new again

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Vintage caravans
Joker II ... a 15.5’ classic built in 1956.

Caravans have come a long way in the past 50 years or so … or have they? Despite all the innovations in lessening wind resistance, improving suspension and reducing the weight of the modern van – and despite all the added mod cons like DVD players, air conditioning and microwaves – there is still a travelling army of old van lovers who wouldn’t trade their ancient treasures for any of the shining new caravans currently lining the showroom floor.

To their admirers, the vans of  ’50s, ’60s and ’70s have character by the bucketload and it is this that still makes them so appealing – and the fact that they are still perfectly functional.

Vintage van enthusiast Mark T from Perth has taken his passion to the extreme and currently owns eight old caravans, including his beloved Joker II, a 15.5’ classic that was built in 1956.

“I’ve taken it out on quite a few trips and it’s a lot of fun, I can tell you,” says Mark. “I like to tow it behind my vintage FC Holden and the attention you get when you drive into a park is amazing.

“You are never on your own for long and you are never short of people to talk to when you’re pulling one of these old vans. You may see people come into the park in their brand new 4WDs and their expensive caravans, but no one gives them a second look. Us old van lovers just have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs and there are plenty of characters amongst us, too.”

Although many might beg to differ, Mark insists that caravans have remained fundamentally unchanged over the years inasmuch as they have fold-down tables, a sink, and kitchen cupboards.

“Sure, the old vans may not have DVD players and microwaves, but they do have interesting interior fittings like the pump-style taps and sometimes a kerosene fridge,” he says. “And the original old ’50s Dunlopillo mattresses in Joker II are as comfortable as anything on the market today.

“If you look at the vans that were made in the ’40s and ’50s, the workmanship is just superb. In those days, these things were built to last. I bet you won’t have vintage van lovers driving around in the vans of today in 50 years’ time.”

Joker II, a 15.5’ classic that was built in 1956. vintage grey nomad rigs

Would John D trade his Coronet?

While it often seems that most van parks these days are filled with gleaming new caravans and motorhomes costing tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of dollars, there are normally one or two rather world weary looking vans from the ’70s or beyond tucked away somewhere. Some of them have been around Australia so many times it’s amazing they’re not permanently dizzy.

If the old Millards and the like could talk, they’d have a million and one stories to tell of adventures on remote roads and in rugged country dating back decades. Normally, these older vans are being towed not by vintage van enthusiasts, but rather by frugal travellers happy to live without the luxuries afforded by today’s vans.

John D from New South Wales travels in a Coronet “that’s at least 30 years old”.

It’s taken him on several major trips and has just come back from the Gulf country.

“Well, the old Coronet has kept us on the road magnificently well and has got real character so we have enjoyed that,” says John. “But although these older vans do have a lot more character, they are also a lot more work. The awning is such a hassle to put up that we tend to just move our chairs around to follow the shade unless we are staying put for a long while.

“If we’re being honest, we look with envy at people who just pull up, pull out their awning and move straight into relax mode. Then, when we look inside their luxury vans, we feel really jealous. There are some amazing set-ups out there with fantastic fittings but, of course, you get what you pay for.”

It seems that nothing then can stop progress. Slowly but surely the character-filled vans of yesteryear are becoming that little bit harder to find … and a lot of these charming old vans will soon go missing from Australia’s roads forever.

However, all is not lost. Whatever high-tech gadgetry and space-age technology goes into the building of modern caravans, there will always be a dedicated band of nostalgia-loving characters who remain determined to take us back to the future. And the fast-changing RV world is richer for them.



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