Jackie's Journey: Buying a retro caravan

By: Jackie Norman , Photography by: Gareth Scurr

Jackies Journey Front of the caravan plus awning Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey Minnie finds the new caravan much more comfortable too Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey Tools of the trade Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey Our bed is no longer our entire living and working space! Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey Out with the old Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey Having room to cook is such a novelty Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey It’s been a long time since we got to eat at a dinner table! Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey I transformed this spare piece of timber into a funky bedside table. Before... Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey ...After! Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey We have the original papers in a frame on the wall Jackies Journey
Jackies Journey Jackies Journey

NZMCD writer Jackie and her husband, Gareth, both full-time RV'ers, recently invested in a caravan of their dreams

Things can happen quickly when you live on the road. You never know who or what is going to come into your life next. Fortunately, in our experience, it’s almost always good, and in some cases, life-changing. Like the day we met Marjorie Jean. We weren’t looking for her but we found her anyway. I guess some things are just meant to be.

As mentioned in last month’s issue, after months of pain and worry, I was diagnosed with a rare type of neuralgia, which is greatly aggravated by prolonged sitting. This made total sense—when you live full-time in a Mazda Bongo, there’s not much else you can do but sit a lot of the time!

However, this revelation also now put us in a bit of a predicament. For almost two years now, we had lived happily in a space just 4.6-metre long by 1.6-metre wide. We were perfectly content and had always laughed off the constant comments from other motorhomers such as ‘You’ll be wanting to upsize soon, won’t you?’

Quite the contrary, we had no intention of it. But the more we learned about my condition, one thing was becoming clear. If we stayed living in the van, my chances of improvement and possible recovery were pretty much zero. It was affecting our work and our travels.

We could never plan anything in advance in case I ended up having a ‘bad day’. Our quality of life was suffering. There was nothing else for it. We had no choice now but to go bigger.

Right place, right time

Getting carried over the threshold!

Making the decision was the easy part. We didn’t anticipate the next step— finding the perfect home on wheels for our needs at the right price – would be quite so easy. We had a fair idea what we wanted. Something with a bit of character; not too big, but big enough. A caravan, maybe?

Whatever it was, we agreed we weren’t going to rush into anything. With a bit of luck, the right one would come our way soon enough, just as our beloved van had. That very same evening, Margaret, a friend and fellow camper called out to us.

"There’s a caravan for sale just around the corner. Looks good!" Too good to be true no doubt, we thought, but hopped out of the van and walked the short distance to where a dear little green and white caravan was parked outside the owner’s house.

We could hardly believe it. She was exactly what we wanted and at the right price, too! A beautifully cared-for 1975 Zephyr. Perfect on the outside, with everything up to date, and the interior basically a blank canvas for us to transform into the ideal home and office. Just six days later, she was ours.

We couldn’t believe everything had been so easy. As we opened the door to our new ‘house’, the original Certificate of Registration lay in pristine condition on the bed. Her first-ever owner had been a lady called Marjorie Jean Luscombe, and so we named our caravan Marjorie Jean in her honour.

Feels like home

First few moments in our new home

Moving out of the van was surprisingly emotional. After all, it had been our home for the past 730 days and had served us well. But as soon as we moved into the caravan, it was surprising how quickly it felt like home, too. As we bustled around finding new places for everything, we couldn’t believe how we had ever managed to fit it all in the van.

Ironically, when it came to our possessions, upsizing forced us once again to downsize. Up until now, we had been lucky in being allowed to store some of our gear in sheds but now it really was crunch time. It meant letting go of some of the things we held most dear, yet in the last two years, we had had no cause to wear, use, or display them.

Big enjoyment from small things

The awning gives us twice as much room

We’ve been in our gorgeous wee caravan for two weeks now and are still delighting in so many simple things, such as turning the key in the door instead of sliding it, not to mention opening and shutting it quietly, instead of cringing at the noise and trying in vain not to wake up the neighbours.

Walking across the room to get a drink, being able to get dressed standing up, sitting across from each other at a table to eat instead of always having to balance dinner on our laps—things are so different now, we wonder how we ever managed so long in the van.

Minnie loves it, too; she gets a whole couch to herself these days instead of being squashed in the bed with us.

So what’s next?

Outside our new home

There’s no sitting around for us now for the next wee while at least; we’re too busy sawing, sanding, and painting. Currently, we’re in the process of building a new kitchen from scratch and working out the best way to maximise the best use of our newfound space.

We never had the opportunity to customise our previous vans, so we’re having a blast right now, rummaging through op shops and demolition yards for items that either complement or are in keeping with Marjorie Jean’s ‘70s era. It’s so much fun and we’ve uncovered some amazing finds.

We’re looking forward to showing you the finished result in the near future. Do we miss the van? I have to say no. Already those days feel like such a long time ago. But the two years we spent living in it were the best and most memorable ever.

And besides, Ken is far from retired. From now on, he will be our weekender vehicle and everyday runabout, and, of course, we will be using him to tow the caravan. A whole new era of motorhoming is just beginning for our merry little travelling family.

Jackie's tips to owning a retro caravan

One of the best things about becoming new owners of a retro caravan is finding low-cost ways to achieve the look we want and make it feel like home. There’s nothing more rewarding than getting fantastic results on a tiny budget.

Remember the four ‘Rs’. Reduce what you don’t need, reuse and recycle items where you can, and repurpose things to give them a new lease of life. All you need is a little imagination. For example, our soon-to-be kitchen bench was once a wooden door. As for the pots and pans cupboard, you’ll have to wait and see.

Ask and you shall receive. Some of the best items we have picked up have been free, such as a brand-new sink and draining board. You’d be amazed at the things people have lying around. Ask around friends and family or online in motorhoming or other likeminded groups for the things you need. Even the smallest towns have a Buy, Sell, or Swap page on Facebook and more often than not have just the thing you need.

Don’t get carried away. A new home on wheels is always exciting, and just like any other home, there’s always that desire to deck it out with beautiful new things. Fun as it is, it still pays to exercise restraint before splurging too much. Ask yourself ‘Do I need this? Is this practical in a motorhome? Where will we put it? Will we use it?’ The last thing most of us want to do is make more housework for ourselves when we’re trying to get away from it all.

Take your time. Spend at least a week in your new mobile home before rushing into doing renovations or making any drastic changes. What works in theory doesn’t always work in practice. Taking the time to think carefully about any planned features and functions will pay off in the long run and help you avoid costly mistakes.

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