Retro pop top campers are cool again

By: Jill Malcolm

Retro pop-top campers are cool again Retro pop-top campers are cool again
Retro pop-top campers are cool again Retro pop-top campers are cool again
Retro pop-top campers are cool again Retro pop-top campers are cool again

Nosing around camping ground over the summer I became aware of a leaning towards what I call 'retro camping' – the exact opposite of 'glamping'.

There appears to be a number of people who like to hang out in aged RVs, many of which pre-date the great 'caravan crash' of 1979 when Muldoon's leisure tax almost killed the RV manufacturing industry.

Refurbished caravans from that era kept me fascinated but not as much as the array of untouched, elderly pop-tops, often pulled by expensive vehicles indicating that the RV choice had little to do with cost. Driven by curiosity I ask several owners of these throwbacks what it was that kept them in the past.

Four years ago, Jennine Crofts and Brad Morrow bought a 1977 Topagee Camper Poptop Extender Six for $2400. They spent another $2000 on fixing the chassis and have been taking their two children way in it ever since.

"Its age is the reason we love it," said Jennine. "And its simplicity – just a sink and a gas cooker, plus two double beds, which could sleep six. It's also easy to pack down and store."

A similar 1977 poptop is owned by Sue and Bruce Jensen. It cost them $2000 six years ago and with an awning added is all they need for their adolescent family.

"We like history," the couple told me, "And old things that still function. We've never thought of trading up. Doing without and being away from modern distractions is our idea of a holiday."

Midge and Rachel Barnett's set-up is not quite so simple. They live in Paekakariki and every year come north with their two daughters in their 1974 VW Kombi Pop Top that was one of last to roll off the German production line. It was converted in Australia before landing up in New Zealand. Midge is cabinet maker and has worked magic on the interior but the exterior is original except for a new pop-top cover and the roof rack behind it.

Would they change it for something more modern and convenient? Never.

"The pleasure is in making use of and looking after old things," said Rachel. "Next I'll do up the tiny old caravan I've bought and we'll tow it behind."

Up on a hill at the Motutara Farm Camp at Whananaki sat a tiny bright-orange pop-top camper less than three metres long. It's a CI Munro, 1977 Sprite Hardtop that Adrian and Audrey Green bought from the original owner for extra sleeping space. A midget could comfortably cook and wash up in it and amazingly the canvas is original.

I have an uncomfortable feeling that retro is contagious. As he eyed these aged RVs, Bill threw me a married look. "Y'know I wouldn't mind getting an old pop-top and doing it up," he mumbled.

There goes another year!

Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.

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