John and Kris Horsley decided to build a caravan as opposed to purchasing one. I guess the most obvious question, John, is why did you build your own caravan?
“When we were in our twenties, about 40 years ago, we started caravanning and camping by taking the kids on short adventures. Over the years we used a 21 foot full caravan and a 16 foot pop top. The pop top fell apart travelling from Borroloola to Burketown via the Savannah Way, which became one contributing factor to building our own caravan. That and the fact we wanted an off road caravan with all the bells and whistles on retirement.
After looking at different caravans, the prices and their construction, being a carpenter, I believed I could do as good a job and get exactly what we wanted.”
How did you start?
“Believe it or not, we bought the boot door at a car boot sale. That was the very beginning. I then drew the floor plans and elevations, created a material list and got quotes to see if it was going to be feasible. It was feasible.”
The next step was the internal wiring and plumbing using 12 volt and 240 volt throughout and speaker wires. The speakers are internal and external complete with a dimmer. The caravan’s power is designed to run off 3 x 64 watt uni-solar panels which charge 3 x 100amp hour batteries via a 20amp regulator, except for the cooking appliances which run off gas.
Next step I lined the interior ceiling and walls with 3mm American Oak ply then built all the internal cupboards for the kitchen, pantry, under bed storage and wardrobes with timber framework and solid American Oak doors. The doors cost us $2,700.
50mm refrigeration grade foam insulation lined the ceiling and 25mm insulation lined the walls before I put the aluminium cladding on. The walls went on first but I had to seam lock the sections together to create the roof before dragging it into position as a whole.
The exterior was then sealed with non aesthetic pure silicon as aesthetic silicon will eat away the aluminium. The windows and hatches were then installed and sealed with white waterproof silicon especially for caravans. The windows, external cladding and awning came from a caravan repair centre.
Back to the interior we had the kitchen bench tops custom made out of laminate with timber edge strips. Award Caravans in Ferntree Gully supplied the sinks, cook top, oven, range hood, hot water service, pump, shower fittings and toilet cassette. We bought drapes from Spotlight and had help from friends to modify them and Kris’s good mate sewed all the upholstery for the cafe bar which seats four people around a table. As a result we saved $900 having friends sew as opposed to buying custom made.”
Now facing Kris, I ask why Kris didn’t sew the curtains and/or upholstery.
“Are you kidding, I don’t sew. I didn’t even pick the colours as I have bad taste. I left that up to John. My contribution was letting John steal the wheels off my 100 series Toyota Landcruiser.”
Looking back at John with one eyebrow raised, John quickly explained that it was cheaper to steal the wife’s rims than buy new ones altogether. John wanted steel rims and replaced Kris’s Landcruiser rims with mags. All the wheels on the caravan and towing vehicle are 5 studs, therefore making them interchangeable.
The finished product is a 6.1 metre full off road caravan with tandem axles, double bed, wardrobes and storage, TV and amplifier with surround sound, full kitchen, cafe bar, double door 190 litre Coolmatic fridge/freezer, toilet, shower, hot water service, 280 litre water tanks, power options, and roll out awning, fully enclosed annexe and skirt. The caravans six way coupling tow hitch is designed to prevent theft. Fully loaded it weighs 2.8 tonnes and has electric breaking system.
How long did it take to build?
Fifteen months in total.
What sort of money did you save by building your own off road caravan?
The caravan cost us roughly $35,000 to build on completion. To purchase otherwise we believe for the same caravan it would be estimated around $85,000.
How did you go about putting registration on the caravan?
We got a compliance plate and punched in the details such as the weight. On the registration papers we didn’t want ‘home built’ on the make so gave it the title X-plorer.
Now for the next big question. Where was its maiden voyage?
In 2005 we towed the X-plorer from Victoria to Borroloola and back. Unlike the pop top, it performed beautifully and came back unscathed. We set off again in 2006 around Australia over a six month period, again with no issues or adjustments. In 2007 we sold our home in Victoria, our boat and Harley Davidson motorbike and have been enjoying the caravan lifestyle ever since.