There’s a certain charm to retro, vintage caravans. Their shapes are reminiscent of a simpler time and they’re often brightly coloured and lovingly decorated. It’s hard not to enjoy the sight of an 80s caravan painted bright yellow cruising down the freeway.
Here at RV Solutions, we’re big fans of retro ‘vans. Our philosophy is one of high quality and top notch work, so restoring vintage vans was a natural fit. We take something brilliant from an older era, and bring it up to modern standards. If you’ve ever found yourself fancying a retro caravan for adventures in style, here’s everything you need to know to make that dream a reality.
What makes a caravan ‘retro’, exactly?
Retro caravans come in many different shapes and sizes, and they’re linked together by their unique retro style. The 50s, 60s, and 70s were golden years for caravan manufacturing. In these decades, innovative engineers came up with fantastic new designs, creating and recreating the caravan without compromising on size or functionality. But you’re not buying a retro caravan for state of the art technology and cutting edge materials. You’re buying one for the fun-factor. For the unique charm, and the pure enjoyment of the thing.
Typically, when we talk about retro caravans, we’re talking about the classic rounded, relatively short caravans of the pre 1980 era. Generally single axle—sometimes dual —with basic suspension, low ground clearance and a whole lotta charm.
Retro Caravans vs Modern Alternatives
The main difference between retro caravans and modern vans is what they’re designed to do. At RV Solutions, our specialty is off-road and off-grid caravanning. We of course sell and service caravans that are perfect for weekenders and sealed-road adventures, but our expertise lies in what it takes to live in your caravan up at Gnaraloo for weeks at a time.
If you’re looking to do an around-Australia trip, hitting dirt roads and unsealed tracks, perhaps even tackling the Gibb River Road, a retro caravan would not be the best choice. But if you’re looking to get away on weekends, or even an extended trip on sealed roads, then they might be perfect.
This is partly due to what lies beneath the caravan, as well as what’s inside. A retro caravan is generally built on a robust but simple chassis—a ladder beam steel frame with a simple leaf-sprung axle. Inside, you’ll rarely find a bathroom and almost never a washing machine. These simply weren’t common features in older caravans due to technology limitations restricting what was possible.
With limited water capacity, not being self-contained (i.e. having a toilet inside) and not particularly suited for rough roads, retro caravans are best for trips on sealed roads and to caravan parks and campsites with full amenities. For many travellers, this is perfectly acceptable, and on this playing field a retro caravan is an exciting, different alternative to a modern, run-of-the-mill caravan.
Our off-grid caravans, on the other hand, are fully equipped with massive water storage capacity, power systems and advanced suspension allowing them to conquer any trail the 4×4 towing it can. This is the main consideration you’ll want to factor in when considering what caravan you want.
Read more about off-road caravans: off-road vs semi off-road caravans
In a nutshell, if you’re aiming at yearly Gnaraloo trips, check out our off-grid caravans. If you’re looking for an awesome weekender that makes you smile every time you look at it, keep reading!
2 Options For Finding Your Perfect Retro Caravan
Broadly speaking there are two ways to get the perfect retro caravan, and by this we mean a stunning example of timeless style but fully equipped with modern amenities to make travelling enjoyable.
Option 1. Buy an old-school caravan used from a dealership or privately, and have it professionally renovated.
This is a fantastic option if you know exactly what you want and are financially prepared to make it happen. This option gives you ultimate flexibility and complete creative control. The end result will be a retro caravan that is not only built great, but built exactly the way you want it.
We’ve seen a few retro caravans that weren’t worth saving. If it’s got a rusted chassis and rotted walls, there’s not a whole lot left to save. While we no longer offer this service, there are plenty of mobile technicians that will!
Option 2. Visit our caravan sales Perth to browse our range of ready-to-go caravans today!
This is also a fantastic option; especially if you don’t quite know what you want. Find a reputable builder, and trust that they designed the interior well. Here at RV Solutions, every caravan we put together is carefully considered in terms of layout, styling and material choice. We back every van we build with 100% confidence. Buying a ready-to-go van also means you can be on the road immediately—no need to wait for the work to be finished!
Both options can be great choices, it’s really just down to what you’re looking for.
Custom, modern fit out of one of our made-to-order retro caravans.
How Much Does Fitting Out a Retro Caravan Really Cost
Let’s cut straight to the chase. Quality retro caravans aren’t cheap, and cheap retro caravans aren’t quality (unless you build it yourself!). While picking up a decrepit, 50 year old caravan can be almost free, fitting it out to a high standard with quality, modern amenities isn’t something to be done on a whim or a shoe-string budget.
There’s a common misconception in people considering van life—be it retro caravans or minibuses/vans—that it’s a cheap get into. The truth is it isn’t. Not really.
Van life is cheap compared to buying a house, but not compared to a swag or a tent.
Sure, you could pick up a 500,000km Mazda Bongo van for a grand or two, or a 1970’s Viscount caravan that’s literally falling apart, but that may not be an enjoyable experience. To experience the beauty of this great country, to hit the road and never look back, you need to budget properly.
To demonstrate, we’ll use our own pricing and services as a guide. You’ll find that the majority of quality caravan retrofitters will have a similar scope and similar pricing.
Our Retro Caravan Retrofitting Services
We touched on it earlier, but we operate with quality and durability at the forefront of our business principles, and this is reflected in our retrofitting services.
In essence, we take vintage caravans and turn them into something spectacular. Something that you’re proud to own and proud to travel in. We make your vision a reality through expert craftsmanship, design and material choice.
In a simple 3 step process, we sit down with you to discuss what you want and dream up your ideal caravan. Then we design it, and show it to you in digital format before anyone picks up a tool. Once you’re happy with it; then we make it a reality. From start to finish, our ethos is great service and high-quality workmanship.
This of course does come at a cost, and while we are flexible and accommodating, and can adapt to most reasonable budgets, the keyword there is reasonable. Good work isn’t cheap. However, giving a starting price can be tricky because no two retrofits are the same.
Instead, here’s a previous project as an example. This was an old Viscount caravan which we refitted last year. After all was said and done, this project totalled around $40,000.
Viscount Caravan Retrofit
For a smaller, single axle retro caravan refit, prices are less than a luxury motorhome but still vary quite significantly. Last year we made some extensive repairs and modifications to an older Viscount caravan.
Essentially, we assisted the owner with a lot of the more complicated parts of the restoration like layout modifications, reseals of panels, windows and doors and electrical work, including;
- Altered the layout to suit the new family, installing a new island bed, double bunks and drawers, plus new mattresses to suit all round.
- Removed broken windows, and replaced and resealed with perfectly functioning new ones.
- Resealed the exterior of the van including removing and replacing the J-moulds, roof sealant and miscellaneous exterior seals.
- Removed the broken front-mount air conditioner and replaced the panel.
- No restoration is complete without an exterior repaint, so we did that too!
All said and done, the cost of this renovation ended up around the $40,000 mark. While we did a lot of work, the owner still tackled a good portion themselves; for a complete drive-in, drive-out service with more involved this price could be higher.
On this Viscount, we removed the broken front-mount air-conditioner and replaced it with a quality window and new panel.
While we’re not trying to scare anyone off from pursuing retro caravan road trip dreams, we do want to make sure we set clear expectations. So before you go and buy a cheap, used caravan for sale from a bygone era, make sure you’ve got in touch and figured out a restoration plan!
Our showroom is always open to walk-ins, and our staff are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about all things roadtripping. So if you’re not sure how to get started or exactly what you want, get in touch.
No caravan retrofit would be complete with a fresh new coat of paint. It’s ready to hit the road!
Flying the Nest’s 2020 Mercedes Sprinter Motorhome
We also recently fit-out Flying the Nest’s Sprinter van. This was a project where complete off-grid self-sustainability was required. Starting from a bare van, we built out a full interior including an advanced power system, air-conditioning and water supply.
The van chosen for the project was a brand new 2020 Mercedes Sprinter, the extended version with a long wheel base and higher roof. Engineered for 3 seats, the van was built to take the couple and their young one across Australia with all the comforts of home.
Check out the full tour of the van over on flyingthenest.tv: A look inside our self converted sprinter van.
Designed to be safe, comfortable and able to camp anywhere, without needing a caravan park. The van included a diesel powered heater, a massive solar-charged lithium battery bank, 3000 watt inverter, WiFi, external shower and more.
The van fit out was, in our humble opinion, pretty next-level and had no expense spared. Pull off the road in the middle of the bush and enjoy everything without wanting for a powerpoint. As a one-off, custom build, it took our award-winning team four months non-stop to complete.
For a van like this—that made it onto the front cover of multiple magazines and into the West Australian—you’d be in the ballpark of $90,000; BYO van.
Fancy a Brand New Van?
If you love the retro style, but aren’t quite sold on the idea of finding a van and having it retrofitted, we can actually build you a vintage style van, but brand new. Our ToastaVans are our own brand of retro styled caravans built with the latest materials and processes. Have the best of both worlds; styling vintage charm and modern amenities. Be 100% confident in the build quality, and the structural integrity of your new getaway vehicle. Don’t inherit any issues from an old van; like furniture not quite fitting properly or antiquated technology.
The best bit? The price of a brand new ToastaVan is virtually the same as the restoration of an old van. Why? Because there’s no removal of old cabinetry, repairs to structure or tricky design required. Just your vision, built to perfection.
Give us a call today to discuss, or drop into our showroom for a cuppa and a chat.
Check out our socials to find out more on recent builds and to keep up to date with us.