Aussie By Design Humpback SmartVan Legend caravan

Iain Curry — 8 December 2013

FOR ALL THE SENSE it makes to opt for one of the many small and very well-equipped vans available these days, it's nice to see the odd luxury giant still being produced. Aussie by Design in Port Wakefield, just north of Adelaide, has gained a reputation for building impressive vans of mighty proportions, and its latest custom Humpback SmartVan highlights some of the modern demands buyers seek for life on the road.
Working to the design requests of customers Dawn and Bruce Chambers, Aussie by Design owner Ian Dutschke set about creating a high-spec caravan at his SA workshop, focusing on luxury fittings, self-sufficiency for extended trips and a unique setup for a mobile office.
Because Aussie by Design does not work with any dealers, its Port Wakefield showroom and workshop is the only place you can purchase one of its vans. All vans are built to order rather than mass produced, so they are not sold "over the counter". Dawn and Bruce were very happy with the final build cost of $110,000, especially considering the van's dimensions and specifications.

First and foremost, this van is a monster - 25ft (7.62m) internal and almost 30ft (9.15m) external length. Dawn and Bruce recently ordered an American Ford F250 to tow this Humpback, and they'll need it. There is not much else that can handle an ATM in excess of 4020kg. The positive trade-off, naturally, is the cavernous space throughout, plus a raft of creature comforts.
This SmartVan's bones are a 6in DuraGal chassis with meranti timber frame on top, which is covered in attractive aluminium cladding and checkerplating along its base. The noticeable rear hump that gives the Humpback its name is a feature designed to help the van keep stable by generating downforce in a similar way to a racing car's rear wing.
"This helps stop the suck-in sensation when you're passing trucks," Ian Dutschke explained. "And as a bonus, you don't get road dirt on the back of the van."
The van's weight means a triple-axle setup with six 15in wheels with electric drum brakes, riding on beefy Rocker Roller suspension.
The A-frame makes good use of its space, featuring a generator box, two 8.5kg gas cylinders and a Manutec side-winding adjustable stand with drop-down leg in place of a jockey wheel.
This SmartVan features many of the expected exterior features, such as LED lighting, speakers, awning, front and tunnel boots, and powerpoints. But as an experienced traveller, Ian always likes to add extras and innovations, so the van includes a water filter system, swing-out TV mount, automatic Alden satellite system, custom checkerplating for boot and access doors, two Four Seasons hatches and a Fan-Tastic vent for improved air-conditioner ventilation.
Most will agree that this Humpback is a very attractive-looking hulk of a caravan, with an amazingly generous amount of storage - all dust-sealed for protection on the road.

An electric step greets the van's occupants, and once inside its sheer size quickly becomes obvious (and appreciated). Forget the higher fuel bills for now; this interior is the kind of place you could see yourself living over the very long term. High ceilings give a nice sense of space and storage is phenomenal.
The scale of the storage robs the living area of some "moving around" space, and having two leather office chairs instead of a dinette won't be to everybody's liking, but as with all Aussie by Design vans, this has been built to the customer's requirements, and Dawn and Bruce very specifically wanted an office on the road.
This relatively unusual design request has been fitted with great success. The office chairs are very comfortable for long stints at work, and tough carpet ensures they don't roll around on a hard floor. A sliding door concealing a printer is within easy reach, while drawers and cupboards neatly house a laptop and associated equipment.
There will be few offices with the kinds of views Dawn and Bruce will enjoy once they're out in the wilds.
As for some more comfortable living, the fold-out office table doubles as the kitchen table, and is easily large enough for a couple. The van also comes with a standard slide-out exterior table for larger spreads and a few guests.
Back inside, the wooden cabinets, drawers and fridge are of excellent quality and feature robust push-button handles. The kitchen's marble-effect benchtops and splashback are quality items, and I liked how the LCD TV, radio, microwave and Dometic fridge all sit flush in their spaces.
There is a second TV in the bedroom to go with a queen-size bed, ample clothing storage and an air-conditioner.
However, having all of these features mean the space can feel quite cramped, with not a great deal of room to walk around the bed.
The space saved in the bedroom means room for a larger bathroom. The adjustable shower head can reach greater heights thanks to the Humpback's upwardly-sloping roof - ideal for taller people and a rarity in many caravans.
Shower, toilet and drying space is very good and there is a well-considered long rail for hanging towels. The vanity features a large mirror and sink, and with a 5kg Haier washing machine also fitted, the bathroom shows off the van's potential for extended trips.
Three 85W solar panels, four 105A batteries, and three 95L individually-tapped fresh water tanks also mean this van can stay away from civilisation for a long time.
Little wonder the Chambers are naming their new acquisition Follow Your Dream.

As the people who now live with the van, Dawn and Bruce are the most qualified to talk about their new home on wheels.
"I wouldn't change anything, we are so happy and proud," Dawn said. "Photos can't show you everything, so if you see us on the road or in a campsite, come in and see us. We will proudly show you our dream Humpback."
As this SmartVan has been built to an individual request, and the new owners appear blissfully happy, it's been a very successful build.
Not everyone would want something this large and heavy, but Aussie by Design has proven that good quality, innovation and listening to a customer's requirements is a winning formula. And given that the company builds vans from 5.8m (19ft) upwards, customers seeking something smaller and lighter are well catered for, too.

Source: Caravan World Apr 2011.


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Iain Curry