Van fans: the vintage caravan collectors
Meet the people who collect, renovate and adore vintage caravans.
“As soon as we saw that, we knew it was original,” John Smyth says. He is running his fingers over the inside paint job of a cupboard door in his 1963 Sunliner caravan. The tomato-coloured fibreglass panel is speckled with multi-coloured dots and loops that form a random pattern. “That’s the paint they used to spray the inside of everywhere.”
John, 72, is a retired engineer who lives in Ballarat with his wife, Judy. They were bitten by the vintage caravan bug in 2009, after stumbling across the attractive curves of Sunliner at a caravan rally. Although it took them several years to find one for sale, to date they have owned, refurbished and restored more than a dozen old caravans.
For reasons not immediately clear, Ballarat is a hub for vintage caravan lovers. John and Judy’s friends Ron and Linda Harris, who live nearby, are getting their 1965 Roadhaven ready for a “run” to Loxton, South Australia. “It’s something to do,” Ron, 67, says. “It’s exciting. The vans on the Saturday afternoon will be open to viewing by the public. Each caravan – it doesn’t matter what year it is – is like a mobile museum.”
A number of factors including cashed-up, time-rich baby boomers, the spread of Facebook and Instagram, and the rise of the tiny house movement have fuelled interest in vintage caravans (built on or before 31 December 1969) and classic caravans (built on or before 31 December 1979).
Every two years the Vintage Caravan Nationals draw more than 100 caravan-mad enthusiasts to a week-long event in New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia, drawing appreciative toots and waves from other (usually overtaking) motorists. Many tow their caravans with matching classic cars but, as organiser Richard Dickins points out, there are definite tribes.
“We all get along well but there are two groups. There are the restorers, who like things as original as possible. Then there are others who like to modernise their caravans a little. We tolerate each other,” he says.
Meanwhile, vintage caravans have been creeping into the commercial world, too.
You’ll find a 1960s Viscount Ambassador at a cafe in Moorabbin (Dakdak), a converted vintage caravan bar perfect for weddings (The Wandering Woodsman) and six imported American Airstreams turned into luxury boutique accommodation in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD (Notel).