MAN THE CARAVAN parks! Defend the beaches! The Brits are invading Oz and they have brought out the heavy artillery - the top-of the-range Bailey Unicorn Barcelona caravan.
It's a fair bet that not too many locals have heard of Bailey caravans, but that is about to change. The company has a long, proud history. Family owned Bailey Caravans of Bristol has been in business for more than 60 years, is number one in the UK, and produces 10,000 vans a year with the capacity to build 80 a day.
It brought its first shipment to Australia in late 2011 and 70 more are due in January. They are built fully compliant to Australian standards, with extra engineering for Australian conditions such as heavy duty axles and drawbar.
Our review van was certainly eye catching with its smooth, aerodynamic lines and attractive light cream colour. With a Tare of only 1663kg, it can be towed by family cars, widening its appeal.
It is built using the Alu-Tech Bodyshell construction system, which Bailey says is the most innovative change in caravan construction in 30 years. The roof and front of the van are a single panel and, together with the side and rear panels, comprise a sandwich of aluminium, high density polystyrene and an inner-strengthened plastic lining.
The result is a van that is strong enough to withstand the weight of a Ford Mondeo on the roof (it has been done).
The hitch includes an Al-Ko auto trailer control (ATC) system, which comes into operation if the van sways, applying the brakes and straightening the van up.
Bailey's Vic dealer, Canterbury Caravans, took the van on a test run from Bendigo to Melbourne via Heathcote and Kilmore, a good mixture of hilly and country roads.
"It handled beautifully. I was 110 per cent confident with its performance," Canterbury's Colin Tobin said. "Adequate stopping power is achieved by the overrun coupling that incorporates an internal gas strut to ensure smooth and efficient application of the brakes."
The centre jockey wheel has a permanent home and does not need to be disconnected; it remains in the same slot and locks into a higher position when the van is on the road.
The jockey wheel in new vans to be delivered in 2012 will include an inbuilt ball weight measurement system, a welcome inclusion.
The galvanized chassis tapers from 60mm at the drawbar to 210mm at the axles and the smooth ride is achieved with 15in wheels on alloys supported by Al-Ko independent suspension, with shock absorbers.
The spare tyre sits underneath the van behind the rear axle in a retractable metal carriage that slides out on the nearside. The bottom of the cage is only 20cm from the ground, so this van will spend most of its time on the blacktop or smooth gravel roads.
"Anywhere your car can go, the van can go, is the best way to put it," said Colin. "It is warranted for gravel roads but not tracks like the Oodnadatta Track. It is no lower than 1970s and '80s vans such as the Viscount Supremes."
Water supply comes via a removable 23L plastic container on wheels, stored up front on the offside, and a 60L tank.
The main storage space is accessed inside by lifting the bed. It can be accessed from the outside, too, via a hatch. The storage area features a large plastic tray with a drainage hole, making it suitable for items such as water hoses and wet boots.
Other external fittings include a Prostor awning, wind-down corner jacks, a gas bayonet point, a powerpoint and a deep-cycle battery.
An optional padded material cover can be fitted to the front of the van to protect it from stones and debris while travelling.
The small front boot is home to two 9kg gas cylinders and there is room for a third gas cylinder in the front nearside storage boot. LED light strips on grab handles on the front and back give a stunning result of which many truck drivers would be proud.
Security is taken care of with two wheel locks and an intruder alarm system, plus every window has been engraved with the van's VIN number.
The door has a built-in rubbish bin and a split-opening function like a stable door. However, the flyscreen slides across separately like a French door.
Inside, the standout feature is the front lounge, which can comfortably seat four adults. The extensive front and side windows, plus a big hatch overhead, make this a light-filled, comfortable place in which to relax and enjoy the view.
The centre chest of drawers in the lounge has an occasional table that slides out and doubles in size and, if more bench space is needed, a free-standing table is conveniently stored in a nearby kitchen cupboard.
The lounge cleverly adapts into a double bed using slat base supports that slide out from under each bench seat.
Some night-time glamour is added with LED strip lights on three sides of the lounge beneath the overhead cupboards.
All drawers have a soft closing mechanism - just give the drawer a gentle nudge in and it closes itself.
Tailored drop-in carpets are fitted throughout and can be left in the bedroom only if necessary, or taken up completely, as desired.
As you might expect with a British-built van, the insulation is top grade (even the wheel arches are insulated) and there is gas/electric under-floor ducted central heating, including in the bathroom. A digital display unit near the door keeps track of the temperature. And when the weather heats up, a remote-controlled Dometic air-conditioner can be put to good use.
All windows are double-glazed and feature pull-down flyscreens and pull-up blinds, as well as curtains. The flyscreens and blinds can be clipped together and adjusted up and down for privacy as needed. The windows open to 90° for maximum ventilation and the larger ones have four clamps.
There is plenty of storage throughout with lots of shelved and classy-looking overhead lockers. For entertainment, an offside locker contains the TV aerial stem and a radio/CD player with iPod/MP3 player connections. There are three 12V TV points and double powerpoints - in the lounge, next to a bench inside the door and in the bedroom. A flatscreen television is included.
In the kitchen, the bench workspace sits between the sink and the four-burner cooktop/grill. The sink comes with a mixer tap, a removable draining board and chopping board, and a plastic container to collect veggie peelings or in which to do the washing up.
The offside overhead cupboards include a stylish wine cabinet with its own downlight. A full oven sits opposite the 190L two-door fridge which is next to a stainless steel eye-level microwave.
There are four reading lights in the lounge and two in the bedroom, plus heaps of downlights everywhere. A concertina-style door seals the kitchen from the bedroom, where the double bed is slotted against the nearside wall, saving heaps of space. The 1.94x1.38m (6ft 4in x 4ft 6in) innerspring mattress has a cutoff offside corner to make through access easier. And while the bedroom has only one (nearside) window, a large overhead hatch more than compensates.
As well as the underbed storage, there are five big overhead lockers (four with shelves) and two wardrobes offside.
The rear bathroom has all the essentials with a Thetford offside toilet and a nearside moulded fibreglass shower. It was good to see some handy extras, including a magnifying makeup mirror on an adjustable arm, a removable laundry bag next to the vanity unit sink, a couple of clothes hooks, and a small shelf above the window. Not forgetting a heated towel rack!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Clearly, this van will never be seen on the Gibb River Road. But it could find a niche in the Australian market as an on-road tourer that could do a bit of gravel work. It is a very attractive van with a clever use of space inside, plus it can be pulled by a Ford or Holden family wagon. Will the best of British make big inroads here? We'll have to wait and see, but the early signs are that the Bailey beachhead is creating a lot of interest.
Source: Caravan World Feb 2012.