Earlier in the year, I found myself at Lake Somerset in Queensland. It was the Thursday before the Australia Day long weekend, right at the end of the school holidays.
Needless to say, the Lake Somerset Holiday Park was buzzing with the sounds of jet skis, wake boats and kids on scooters zipping around. It seemed as though there was a never-ending procession of cars and caravans coming through the gates and setting up camp for a weekend of fun.
When leaving on Friday morning, we noticed something a little bit different. The early morning light reflected off the silver slab sides and drew me in. Just what was it that I was looking at? About as aerodynamic as a Besser Block with white wall tyres and rear fins with tail-lights resembling a Chevy Bel Air, I had no idea, but I was liking what I saw and grabbed my camera.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
I passed the images on to our wonderful editor, John, and after a bit of digging he found the owners of this retro revelation, based in south-east Queensland.
Originally built in 1963, the Carapark Astronaut 15-5 was rescued by Phil Hooper and Jon Bothamley from Mach 1 Caravan & RV Solutions, a caravan repair business based at Caboolture, Qld.
Dealing mainly with insurance repairs and restoration, they were looking for a project to haul to trade shows and highlight the skills, experience and expertise gained from many years in the caravan industry.
While scouring online classifieds for vintage vans, an ad on Gumtree caught their attention and it wasn't long before Jon was on his way to Bundaberg. What he discovered was a shell — a rusting shell. But it had style and that classic vintage look. It didn't have good wheel bearings, though, for on his way back, a roadside stop was required to change them.
Back at the workshop, ‘Buzz’, as the project became known (short for Buzz Aldrin the astronaut, not Buzz Lightyear), was stripped back. It was a ground-up re-build, with the original Astronaut too far gone. But there was still enough to provide inspiration for this modern interpretation on a classic Aussie caravan. From start to finish, the entire process took many a weekend and late night, and a tick under 12 months later, the fully functional Mach 1 Astronaut 15-5 took to the road.
T MINUS ZERO FOR TAKEOFF
Hitting the bitumen, it was easy to tell we weren't towing a relic of the past. The Mach 1 Astronaut, cruising on 14in white walls wrapped around white steel rims, tracked beautifully. With a Tare of 1760kg and ATM of 2000kg, it wouldn't be a challenge for many modern vehicles.
Helping out when driving in gusty conditions, or when getting passed, the Astronaut has been fitted with the latest sway control system by Dexter. Coupling to the tow rig is taken care of by the DO35 hitch by Cruisemaster.
While fully independent suspension and coil springs have become the norm, the Astronaut harks back to a simpler time, a time when 'no fuss' leaf springs and a single shock on each wheel took care of suspension duties. Upgraded 10in AL-KO electric trailer brakes stop this Astronaut from exceeding the earth's gravitational pull and ending up in orbit.
BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY
Finding a good spot to pull up will be the least of your worries, especially when your spaceship is only 4.7m (15ft 5in) long. You can sneak this little guy into all manner of tight spots.
Once you've found your slice of the universe, kick back under the full-length Fiamma awning. A pair of LED lights make sure there's still enough light when the sun drops away, and it's little wonder why a pair of Fusion external speakers have been chosen — surely, I'm not the only one who thinks of green aliens when mentioning Fusion speakers?
Originally, the Astronauts were clad with aluminium panels, which remains the case here. Except, this version uses aluminium composite panels for a sleek modern look and far better insulation.
While retaining the original style and shape of the 1963 Astronaut, little else, apart from the windows, remains the same. On the near side, a fold-down picnic table provides the perfect spot for drinks and nibbles, but it's what hides behind this that raises the bar. A 22in LCD TV/DVD combo will keep you up to date with the news and your footy team when on the road.
When I opened the hatch above the picnic table, I wasn't prepared for what I saw. Thinking it was another external storage hatch, I sure as heck wasn't expecting a 2kg Daewoo mini front loading washing machine. But then again, when you're out exploring the intergalactic highways, you do need some way to wash your spacesuit!
With the washing done and those drinks slipping away a little too easily, it might be good to think about something substantial to put on your plate. If outdoor cooking is your thing, the Astronaut has you covered.
Sliding out of the rear hatch is a two-burner gas BBQ and a stainless-steel sink. Gas has been plumbed to the rear passenger side for easy hook up, as has both hot and cold water. It might be a good idea to get the kids to cook though, as it does sit pretty low.
On the offside, there's not a great deal going on, apart from the rear storage hatch, which can also be accessed from inside. For a quick rinse off after a beach visit, an external shower with hot and cold water does the trick.
Up the pointy end, there's a fair bit going on. Apart from the already mentioned DO35 hitch, a BOS jockey wheel keeps everything steady when disconnected from the mother ship. An A-frame mounted toolbox houses the two 4.5kg gas bottles, while also giving a bit of extra storage.
Keeping your spaceship running takes a lot of energy. Thankfully, this Astronaut comes equipped with three large capacity fuel cells. Located at the front on the passenger side, three 120Ah AGM batteries provide more than enough power for a couple of days away.
When you're flying close to the sun, it's a great idea to have your solar game on point. Again, the Astronaut comes through with flying colours, with three roof-mounted 160W panels.
The rear of the van sports those funky fins with upgraded LED tail-lights and a single spare. Finishing off the look is a chromed, tubular steel rear bumper.
INTERIOR TIME TRAVEL
If you've ever had the chance to venture inside the cockpit of an original 1963 Astronaut, upon stepping inside this 2019 reproduction you'll quickly realise the similarities end at the location of the entry door, as a revamped floor plan brings this Astronaut well and truly into the 21st century. In place of the original front cafe/dinette, an L-shaped kitchen with large stainless-steel sink and gas/electric cooktop with grill takes pride of place. A single drawer Omega dishwasher takes care of that post-dinner task, while an electric range hood removes unwanted odours.
Large, tinted windows allow plenty of natural light to flood the kitchen and venetian blinds can be lowered for privacy. Under sink cupboards provide storage for larger items, while a clever lift up section in the bench top allows access to harder to reach areas of the cupboard. A pop-up twin 240V power outlet allows for household appliances to be used when connected to mains power.
A separate toilet/shower cubicle occupies the offside front corner of the van, and along with the 230L Vitrifrigo 12V fridge/freezer and storage cupboards along the near side, create a divider between the kitchen and the rear club lounge.
Honestly, apart from the cool styling of the exterior, the club lounge would have to be my favourite part of this Astronaut. The big panoramic windows give full 180-degree views, truly bringing the outside in.
At night, with the lounge converted to a queen sized bed, leave the venetian blinds rolled up so you can watch the stars as you drift off to sleep.
As far as creature comforts go, you are more than well looked after, with a pair of 12V fans, a Truma Saphir Comfort ducted reverse-cycle air conditioner and Truma hot water system and space heater. Remote monitors for your fuel cells, solar input and freshwater tanks are located above the storage cabinet, and your favourite tunes are pumped through another pair of Fusion speakers mounted in the overhead cupboards.
Wirelessly controlled LED lighting, 12V and USB charging points and high gloss cabinetry complete the modern look and feel of the Astronaut's interior.
One thing I had to keep in mind when reviewing the Astronaut, was that it was built primarily as a showcase for the business and what they could do. By their own admission, if it was built to be used for weekends away, or longer, things would have been done differently.
While it may lack the storage space of modern vans, there is still more than enough for a couple heading away for a week or two. Most people overpack anyway (me included) so it would be a great exercise in taking only what you need.
The other factor is, you only have a payload of 240kg. When you take out 160kg of that thanks to two 80L freshwater tanks, it really doesn't leave much room for anything else.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
When I first saw the Astronaut, it definitely caught my attention. After spending a day with Buzz, it still has my attention. While not for everyone, if I was solely a blacktop tourer, this would be the type of van I'd happily lug around. Yeah, there are some bits I'd change to suit me a little better, but all in all, I'd find a place for the Mach 1 Astronaut in my garage.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 4.7m (15ft 5in)
Overall length 6.3m (20ft 7in)
Width 2.1m (6ft 11in)
Height 2.5m (8ft 2in)
Payload (calculated) 240kg
Ball weight (estimated) 180kg
Frame Steel frame
Cladding Aluminium composite
Chassis 80 x 30mm RHS
Drawbar 100 x 50mm RHS
Suspension Leaf springs, single axle with single shocks
Brakes AL-KO 10in electric drum brakes
Wheels 14in steel wheels w/ 205/75R14 white walls
Water 2 x 80L (potable), no grey
Battery 3 x 120Ah AGM
Solar 3 x 160W
Air conditioner Truma Saphir Comfort ducted air conditioner
Gas 2 x 4.5kg
Sway control Dexter sway control
Washing machine Daewoo Mini front load 2kg
Cooking Slide-out gas BBQ with sink and plumbed hot and cold water
Shower External shower with hot and cold water
Cooking Swift stove w/ grill (3 x gas, 1 x electric)
Fridge 230L absorption (12V, 240V, gas)
Bathroom Separate shower and toilet
Hot water Truma HWS
Dishwasher Omega 1/2 drawer
PRICE AS SHOWN
N/A — not for sale
To enquire about this caravan, or what Phil and Jon can do for you, call (07) 5495 2146 or visit mach1caravans.com.au