Restoring a 1968 Oxford Deluxe caravan

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Jemoal Lassey, Jill Malcolm, Rebekah Robinson


60s Crusader caravan 60s Crusader caravan
60s Crusader caravan restoration 1 60s Crusader caravan restoration 1
60s Crusader caravan restoration 3 The sadly deteriorated drawbar and chassis 60s Crusader caravan restoration 3
60s Crusader caravan restoration 6 The walls have been well insulated 60s Crusader caravan restoration 6
60s Crusader caravan restoration 7 The second-hand kitchen unit. The slat bed/settee was built by Jemoal 60s Crusader caravan restoration 7
60s Crusader caravan restoration 8 The new drawbar ready to go 60s Crusader caravan restoration 8
60s Crusader caravan restoration 9 Reconstruction of the curved roof 60s Crusader caravan restoration 9
60s Crusader caravan restoration 10 The renovated caravan is a real dazzler 60s Crusader caravan restoration 10
60s Crusader caravan restoration 12 Every little detail has a retro feel 60s Crusader caravan restoration 12
60s Crusader caravan restoration 13 The pullout pantry was made from a bookcase 60s Crusader caravan restoration 13
60s Crusader caravan restoration 14 60s Crusader caravan restoration 14
60s Crusader caravan restoration 15 The extractor fan over the cooker is an old computer cooling fan 60s Crusader caravan restoration 15
60s Crusader caravan restoration 16 The queen-sized bed is stand-alone 60s Crusader caravan restoration 16
60s Crusader caravan restoration 17 The underside of the awning is decorated with Kiwiana images 60s Crusader caravan restoration 17

Jill Malcolm meets a couple who, with a lot of clever DIY, have brought a dead-as-a-doornail caravan miraculously back to life

For many years, Megan and Jemoal Lassey had owned an old late ‘60s Crusader caravan at Orere Point on the Firth of Thames.

Its days on the road had long been over, but together with various tents and awnings it served as rough house accommodation for carefree family holidays.

Every now and then Jemoal was called upon to mend the leaking roof or other bits that had ceased to function, but apart from those, he had no experience of caravan restoration.

And so it was a leap of faith to buy a caravan that was ready for the graveyard and rebuild it into the functional butter-yellow RV that captured my interest at the 2018 NZMCA Motorhome, Caravan & Leisure Show in Hamilton.

Recently, I stopped in Hamilton to meet the couple again and hear the story of how they brought a caravan corpse back to life.

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Megan and Jemoal Lassey with their constant travelling companion, Biscuit 

"Our children were becoming independent and we felt it was the right time for us to have some adventures around New Zealand," says Megan.

"There were budget constraints, and finding an old caravan that Jemoal could renovate seemed like the best solution."

Jemoal is a stainless steel fabrication engineer and he was confident he could adapt those skills to get the job done.

The couple spent months searching the web looking for a suitable candidate and had little success. But then they came across an 18-foot, 1968 Oxford Deluxe caravan for sale on Trade Me, which also happened to be just three streets away from where they lived.

"That was a good thing," says Jemoal. "Because if we’d had to tow it any further it would have completely fallen to bits. It cost us $2500 but it was in a terrible state.

"Inside there were just a few old cabinets and rubbish. There was no lining at all, holes in the rotten flooring, and the windows, although still there, were screwed shut. The chassis was shot and the draw bar flexible!"

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The start of the journey. The inside was completely gutted and filled with rubbish

Jemoal started with the framework. It was largely rotten, and finding the right size timber proved difficult. In the end he broke up some old pallets to replace the rotting parts. "The corners were also rotted out," he says.

"And I had no idea what the original framing would have looked like so I just made it up as I went along. As to the chassis, I initially replaced just the drawbar and two years later I rebuilt the lot.

"Inside, having none of the original layout, the couple had a blank canvas. They wanted a full size bed, full size fridge, and double pull-out settee/beds so the caravan could sleep up to six people.

"At that early stage, I thought we’d never go off-grid and so had no plans to put in solar or batteries. I regretted that and have recently installed a battery and invertor and am now looking at solar panels.

"I wasn’t influenced by weight restrictions. When this was built, there was limited choice of tow vehicles, but today you have big four-wheel drives that can easily tow a house. In the end it weighs 1700kg and tows really well."

Other than those decisions, Jemoal says he just winged it as he went, and as a way of cost-cutting he sourced just about everything second-hand.

"I only bought new where I had to; that included the electrical stuff and the brakes and suspension. The brakes upgrade was the most expensive part of the whole build and you can’t even see any of it!

"The foam for the two slat beds was new. I bought two densities, one firm and one soft, and I had them glued together, so we sit on the hard side and flip them over to sleep on the soft side.

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The slat bed settees have hard foam on one side to sit on, and soft on the other, for sleeping

Our comfortable queen-size bed is standalone. "Because weight wasn’t a worry, Jemoal installed a second-hand kitchen (less than $100). Leftover cupboards and shelves became donor parts for other items.

"The pull-out pantry was made from a book case, and old filing cabinet sliders made the outside drawer and some extra drawers inside.

"This took a bit of lateral thinking," he says, "but cost nothing except time."

The extractor fan over the gas cooker is an old computer cooling fan. He bought a Bluetooth stereo for $20 from Kmart, pulled it apart and wired it up to some old computer speakers hidden in the walls.

"We have two old mobile phones hidden in the caravan and wired into a charging port that works on a timer, so they charge every day for a couple of hours," he says.

"They work as my GPS system and I can track either one of them if I need to. I could probably get a cheaper system nowadays, but sometimes it’s all about the challenge!"

The process that started when Jemoal drove the decrepit old caravan into their front yard continues. Next on his list is a home-made caravan mover, which he already has underway.

This will replace the jockey wheel so he will be able to drive the caravan up to the car and lower onto the tow ball!  "It will be hidden under the bed," he says.

"I want to use an app on my phone to drive it. And the best part? So far it’s cost me nada, and it’s 80 percent complete! After that’s sorted I’ll make a move on my plan to make the caravan self-contained.

I have some clever ideas so we will see where they go."So far, the Lasseys have spent $7800. The purchase price was $2200, the initial rebuild cost $4600 and $1000 was spent on paint and outside trimmings.

"The finishing details like the trimmings were the most challenging tasks," says Jemoal, "mainly because they were boring. I’m still working on some of the trims and small details after four years."

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Although one exterior innovation was far from boring. Jemoal designed an underside for the awning that I can only describe as awesome.

He had Kiwiana images printed on billboard material and developed them into a pattern in 3D software, which he sent to a local upholstery company to cut and hem.

"I made the stainless steel framework myself," he says, "and learned how to splice ropes to so that I could make those too. Luckily it all came together first time!"

Megan and Jemoal were unaware that so many other people were also doing up retro caravans until they started seeing them everywhere. Eventually they joined a club of other enthusiasts.

"There’s a surge in DIY people doing up old caravans," says Jemoal. "The standard is getting higher and higher. I’ve seen loads of ideas I’d like to try if I do another one.

We rebuilt ours to use, not to show, and some little things are pretty average in terms of finishing and detail. "If and when I do another, I’ll also concentrate on the detail.

It’s amazing how much I’ve already learnt, particularly from the mistakes I made. "The couple are justly proud of the (nearly) finished product. The journey started when the old wreck first came to a quivering halt in their front yard.

The reborn caravan, named Big Butta for its colour and its large curved rear end, has now journeyed to Raglan, the Coromandel, Opotiki and Napier.

"We are slowly getting further and further away from home", says Megan. "The goal is to get to see as much of the country as we can."

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