Pop-top caravans have something of a chequered history in the world of Australian Recreational Vehicles. They were a development of the fuel crisis era of the 1980s. Almost overnight six cylinder and V8 power sedans became unpopular as everyday vehicles, therefore the caravans of the day lacked powerful enough tow vehicles. That might sound very odd in today’s world of turbo diesel powered Toyota LandCruisers and Nissan Patrols and mega sized offroad caravans, but it happened. Pop-top caravans were designed to suit smaller tow vehicles and, in theory, offer a better fuel economy.
The popularity of the pop-top caravans lasted for a few years, but the fuel economy feature wasn’t quite as beneficial as first thought and the shiny lustre of pop-tops dimmed somewhat. That said, pop-top caravans are still very much available and still do offer the twin benefits of a low-height towing and storage. Digressing just slightly here, storage undercover is something that first-time caravan buyers don’t always think about carefully enough. The lower height for road touring is undoubtedly a definite benefit to those who like travel along bush tracks where low-hanging trees are often a hazard.
This is where the Millard Breakaway pop-top shines a light or three. It came from RV Connection, based at St Marys, a suburb in western Sydney which seems to have become a popular area for caravan and motorhome dealers over the last couple of years.
Millard vans are built in Sydney, something almost unique in the Australian RV world, where a small handful of RV manufacturers (ahem, mostly motorhomes) are located. Location is important where real estate is concerned but in the RV scene, not being located around Campbellfield in Melbourne does means there’s less temptation to copy your competitor next door.
FITNESS FOR PURPOSE
Designed with a bit of rough road travel in mind, the relatively small van may have much to offer. The clue to the rough road bit comes from two features, one being the ground clearance and the other being the Cruisemaster XT suspension that the van is fitted with. Cruisemaster’s XT was one of the first that demonstrated that a good independent suspension could be fitted to a caravan, and has continued to have a good chunk of the offroad market ever since. In this case, the suspension setup consists of trailing arms, coil springs and dual shock absorbers. It’s not always understood well enough but shock absorbers play an important part of any suspension set up.
Clearly built for narrow and winding roads, the Breakaway has an external length of just 4.88m (16ft) and a width (including the awning) of just 2.21m (7ft 3in). That makes it not only ideal for negotiating tight corners and awkward reversing situations, but also very handy for squeezing into that ideal camping spot that others with larger vans cannot easily get into. With an ATM of 2600kg and a tare mass of 1850kg, the Breakaway has an amazing payload of 750kg, which I suspect many a traveller would have trouble fully using (not that I am encouraging that) and it also allows for a wide range of tow vehicles.
Given its relatively large value, the van’s payload is actually an interesting demonstration of a little something that has quite a few people confused. What matters here as far as the tow vehicle is concerned is that it only has to be rated for what the fully loaded van weighs, not what the ATM is actually rated at. Let’s say the load you put in the van is 500kg (water, gas, food supplies, personal effects, toolbox et al), then the tow vehicle only has to be rated at 2350kg, not the actual ATM rating.
Being fitted out for a bit of rough road travel, the Breakaway has two 95L freshwater tanks, one 100L grey water tank, a 100Ah deep cycle battery and 150W of solar panel capacity. Given the Dometic fridge is a 12V compressor model, rather than a 3-way using LPG. Anyone contemplating long term bush stays might like to try a few theoretical or even practical endurance tests before heading off to ensure the battery capacity is sufficient. A handy feature is the optional battery box designed for two batteries.
For the body construction, the Breakaway uses aluminium with bracing gussets for the framework and a mixture of fibreglass composite (roof) and aluminium (walls) for the cladding. Naturally for a rough road van, the lower wall areas have the ubiquitous protective covering of black alloy checkerplate. I know that looks aren’t everything but the mixture of ribbed aluminium and flat surfaces, along with the red and yellow decals do look good, and it all has nice, simple, clean looking lines. The Mobicool double glazed acrylic windows are tinted and the Milenco Columbia door comes with a security screen. The Dometic awning covers the nearside area of the van very nicely but the shorter van length means the front nearside window has an opening limitation with both the opening door and the closed awning arm.
The drawbar area, complete with Cruisemaster DO-35 hitch, stone protector and storage box with separate gas cylinder bin, looks very busy, as does the rear wall area. In addition to the twin rail bumper bar with spare wheel mounting, there’s also an optional Fiamma bike rack. Given the height of both, the users need reasonably long arms! There’s also front tunnel storage to supplement the drawbar storage box. Given the large frontal storage capacity, the loaded tow ball mass is something to take into consideration when loading the van.
Once unhitched, setting up a pop-top caravan does take a little longer than usual but not much. AL-KO drop down stabilisers are fitted to the hot dipped galvanised chassis, so that’s a quick operation. Unclipping the roof does take a little longer, mostly because most people are going to need a box or small ladder to reach the clips. Once released, the roof can be raised easily once inside — well, unless you have forgotten to put the awning into the “open” position. There is only one raiser mechanism, at the front, which lifts the entire roof. I found it’s easier to operate if kneeling on the bed. At pack up time there are roof grab handles at the rear to assist with lowering.
SHORTER VAN LAYOUT
In a van this length, the layout is determined by the full-width rear bathroom. Both the offside kitchen and nearside dinette have to be of a certain minimal size for functionality, meaning an east-west double bed up front is more or less a given in order fit the bathroom in across the rear. One of the disadvantages of a pop-top is that the overhead locker space is limited because of the vinyl curtain of the pop-top. But for those who like air space above and a good cross flow of air, the pop-top wins out. That’s an asset with much going for it.
Across the front, the bed measures 6ft 3in x 5ft (1.9m x 1.53m) and so takes up all the front area with no room for any shelf space, apart from the adjacent kitchen bench. However, low overhead lockers are fitted and there’s no problem with fresh air and natural light because windows are fitted all round. Reading lights are standard and are easy to reach from the bed.
A little surprise in this van is the very usable size of the kitchen bench, helped in part by the Dometic 109-litre fridge being under the bench. This allows for a fair bit of food preparation space alongside the three burner hob/stainless steel sink combination but means there is no separate grill nor sink drainer. There is, though, a microwave oven fitted into the overhead locker space, which puts it at a very user-friendly level. Three different sized drawers and a couple of cupboards make up the rest of the kitchen storage.
At the front end of the kitchen bench are a few essentials of modern caravanning life — a double power point, 12V/5V USB hub and a flat screen TV bracket.
Facing the kitchen is an L-shaped lounge, complete with 0.9m x 0.5m (3ft x 1ft 8in) table. Single pole mounted, the table can be swivelled to suit, and two people could fit around it without too much trouble. A couple of lockers are fitted above and there are reading lights at either end of the lounge. Tucked into the rear corner is the required selection of 240V, 12V and 5V USB power outlets.
SLIMMED DOWN BATHROOM
Given the external width of the Millard pop-top is slightly narrower than usual, the standard layout bathroom has a bit less width. That’s not as bad as it sounds, because it’s quite possible to turn around in the nearside shower cubicle and there’s still a bit of elbow room around the Dometic cassette toilet. The pedestal style wash basin sits above a vanity cabinet with a selection of cupboards, drawers and even a below bench storage that could be used for something like dirty laundry. In the air space above are two trimmed-down overhead lockers, both with mirrors on the doors.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Millard’s Breakaway 15ft 6in isn’t a large van and that might be seen by some as a disadvantage with the available internal space, but I reckon the advantages outweigh the small size. For one thing, the van’s length and weight don’t require a super-sized tow vehicle. In addition the narrower width of the van makes it an easier handling proposition for road and tracks where clearance is an issue. Of course, the lower pop-top height offers the same advantage for low hanging trees. The Breakaway is aptly named.
THE TOW VEHICLE
I feel like I should put this in capital letters for any eagle eyed readers who spot a possible problem with my towing setup. For this caravan, a mid sized tow vehicle or something like a Ford Ranger/Isuzu D-MAX/Nissan Navara ute would be ideal. However, on the photo shoot day, there was a tow vehicle problem and I had to settle for a Ford Falcon ute. It has a tow rating of 2300kg, which given the van has a tare mass of 1850kg does mean it is a legal towing combination. However, it does limit the use of the full payload of 750kg and there’s always the GCM of 4890kg to consider in the weight calculations.
From a weight point of view, while the Falcon may not be the ideal tow vehicle for some caravan travellers it does demonstrate the benefits of having a smaller van. Despite its size, it’s one fitted with most contemporary caravanning comforts. Power and performance wise, although it’s no longer made, the Falcon did prove to be a quite a good tow vehicle.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 4.88m (16ft)
Overall length 7.21m (23ft 8in)
Width (incl awn) 2.21m (7ft 3in)
Height (incl AC)2.81m (9ft 3in)
Ball weight 150kg
Cladding Fibreglass composite and aluminium side cladding
Chassis Box section hot dipped galvanised 150mm/6in rails
Suspension Cruisemaster XT independent
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes 10in elec
Wheels 17in alloy
Water 2 x 95L
Grey water 1 x 100L
Battery 1 x 100Ah
Solar 1 x 150W
Air conditioner Dometic Ibis 4
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control No (opt)
Cooking Dometic 3 burner
Fridge Dometic CRX 1110 12V compressor 109L
Bathroom Dometic cassette and separate cubicle
Hot water Swift 28L gas/electric
Electric entry step
Ibis 4 air conditioner
Double battery box
External gas bayonet
Reverse camera wiring
Composite rear panel
Price AS SHOWN
To enquire about this caravan, contact:
97C Glossop Street
St Marys NSW 2760
Ph 02 9623 0400