Vintage corner: Retro Caravans Northland Ltd

By: Rick Boyd, Photography by: Rick Boyd

Retro Caravans Northland Ltd A complete refurbishment from Retro Caravans Retro Caravans Northland Ltd
Retro Caravans Northland Ltd Retro Caravans Northland Ltd
Retro Caravans Northland Ltd Retro Caravans prides itself on keeping interiors ‘retro cool’ Retro Caravans Northland Ltd
Retro Caravans Northland Ltd Retro Caravans Northland Ltd

Rick Boyd and his partner Dave Jetts chanced into refurbishing vintage ’vans for a living more than a decade ago. Rick tells the story of their Northland company, Retro Caravans Northland Ltd.

Back in the late '90s, Dave and I bought a caravan made by the Anglo group for $700. It was a 1972 Anglo Ace in well-used condition.

This was our first caravan to refurbish together. We used it twice and then sold it for just under $5000. It was this caravan that got us into buying 'vans and doing them up for payment. We then formed Retro Caravans Northland Ltd.

My love of caravans goes back to when I was 10 years old and my parents bought their first one — a 1966 16-foot Oxford Special without brakes, which cost them $1336.

We try to buy caravans that are in sound condition with good bones but the odd one has a mind of its own and turns out to be demolition material. If the 'van has a cool retro design we'll give it the full monty, rebuilding the frame work, removing the roof and rebuilding it entirely, and fitting a new one-piece alloy sheet so there will be no issues with leaks in the future.

The chassis goes through a thorough inspection, overhaul and rust treatment. This also comprises a full brake system service or overhaul with replacement parts, even if the brakes are working. All our 'vans sold as tourers will have a working brake system. We do not sell caravans without braking systems unless the van is sold for a static situation.

Our caravans have all the joins stripped, cleaned and re-sealed and all window rubbers replaced if there is any doubt with their condition.

We fit new eight-ply tires to the 'vans we overhaul and try to find and fit alloy retro wheel trims to the rims. These are very rare now and we haven't found a new replacement yet, so at times we have to use those 'plastic fantastic' ones.

We like to keep the vans as original as possible and will never tart them up like a dollhouse, mainly because it's not our style — but we are moving towards being a bit more bold, if I'm allowed to say that.

We love caravans and have about 16 at any one time. We also have three we call our own and tell people these are not for sale.

A recent refurbishment is at the top of our list of favourite caravans — a 3.84m Lite-Weight 1300 Vagabond built by the Jessens in Hamilton. Their 'vans were built on an assembly line, much like a car. The Lite-Weight has to be one of the best built caravans of its time due to its welded steel frame giving the strength the 'vans required to last so well. We love working with these as they are easily repaired. The panels are riveted onto the frame, unlike other vans where the exterior is nailed or stapled into the wood frame, which is more likely to let water penetrate and cause the frame to rot. The sealants used back in the 60s, 70s and 80s are not a patch on the products you can buy today.

We purchased this 1300 Vagabond from a family in Otorohanga in the Waikato. By the look of the van when we bought it, it had seen life to the full. The chassis had never seen a coat of paint, apart from factory finish, but it was in amazing condition with no rust. I guess it was the dryer climate that saved it.

The exterior was very used and faded, with all end panels dented from people leaning on them, and major stone damage to the front lower panel.

The interior, though, was very tidy and all the woodwork was good. We will not buy a caravan that has been painted on the inside, as this is usually done to a poor standard without care and we like to see the original interior panels to ensure there have been no cover ups.

The first thing to do is to deal to the undercarriage, brakes, wheel rims and tyres. Once this is completed the 'van is moved off the ramps and into the working bays, where the damaged panels are removed and new panels are cut, folded and re-fitted. The windows are also removed and new rubbers fitted. The van is then sanded and re-sprayed. In the meantime, the interior is being attended to with new upholstery and drapes.

We leave the cool retro floor vinyl down if it's in good condition. Sometimes this can be quite ugly — we call it part of the caravan's 'retro-ism'. If it needs replacing, it will be sorted with either new vinyl or carpet, depending on the type of client we think will purchase the 'van.

In the case of this 1300, we figured a younger family would buy this 'van, so we used some funky colours in the upholstery and modern curtain fabric, and a bold turquoise on the exterior, married with a creamy white. We also fitted retro beehive-style road lights to give it a cool look. I think we succeeded. A large three-way fridge and a new Dometic gas cooker were fitted as well, as the old retro cookers no longer pass the stringent gas regulations and can't be certified.

The new owners are Aucklanders, with a young family and a cool 1963 Holden sedan to tow it. What a sight to see. I can't wait to meet them at the Beach Hop in March, 2014.

Most of our customers are first-time caravanners and have done their homework on their future investment prior to buying from us. This is great as they know what they want and what condition they need the 'van to be in. We offer a free service within the first six months of ownership, plus a full back-up service with parts and repairs and free information. We also carry out insurance repairs and private overhauls, re-sprays and almost anything to do with a retro or vintage New Zealand-made caravan.

For more information contact Retro Caravans Northland Ltd on (09) 405 1913 or visit

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