THERE IS A surprising number of caravan manufacturers tucked into the south-east corner of Qld. And some are not particularly large. In fact, most are what you might describe as boutique or custom builders. Quite a few of the rigs they build are deliberately well-suited for the often demanding Qld terrain, but that doesn't mean they won't fit in around the rest of Australia.
One of these manufacturers is Caboolture-based Otron Caravans. Although this company is a new kid on the block, the other side of its business - Otto Tuza's VIP Horse Floats - has been around for many years. There isn't much Otron owners Otto and Rhonda Tuza don't know about the towing business.
When I arrived at their yard a polished 5.94m (19ft 6in) Signature Series 3 van was ready for my inspection. I was soon hitched-up and on my way. Well, almost. I was also given a brief factory tour to explain a couple of features of Otron caravans. One of these was a frame specially designed to demonstrate the van's suspension system, while the other was the timber waterproofing treatment used for the internal (yes, internal) framework.
The construction of Otron vans is conventional in some ways, but quite a bit different in others. The chassis, for example, is built using SupaGal RHS grade C450LO, rather than the lighter C350LO, while the framework is entirely waterproofed.
"The waterproofing is done with a membrane specifically made for us by a chemist," Otto explained. "The solution is an isotope-free product which consists of a sealer, a bonder and an anti-mould solution which seals the ply from the outside to the inside."
At the pointy end of the van, the drawbar is a busy-looking place. In addition to the coupling and the Trail-A-Mate jack (in lieu of jockey wheel), there are two 9kg gas cylinders, a large alloy checkerplate storage bin, pole storage tube and two jerry can holders. Given the tunnel boot, it's worth keeping the towball weight in mind when loading up. I mention this because the load capacity of this van is a very impressive 900kg.
Sitting between the 150mm chassis rails are 100L fresh and grey water tanks. The battery box (with two 120Ah batteries) is mounted on the front offside rail. Just about everything else has been neatly strapped up well out of the way, including the water pump, which has been placed below floor level in order to reduce the possibility of internal water leakage.
Under the chassis, the Aeroride independent suspension looks and operates a little differently to conventional setups. I asked Otto, who designed the system, for an explanation.
"Essentially, the suspension design has a rubber torsion bar as a lead point, the coils as weight reducing points and the shock absorbers as an impact area," he said.
"Combining these three points gives a smooth and responsive ride, in both negative and positive pull, which is similar to load sharing suspension. One important aspect with this system is that there are no wearing parts, eliminating all points of pressure." Airbag suspension can be fitted, if required.
ABOVE THE CHASSIS
Stapled and glued meranti timber is used for the van's structure, which is fully insulated with polystyrene and an outer aluminum skin.
One item that does take up a bit of storage space in the tunnel boot is the nearside slide-out barbecue. Two other external doors hide the battery charger and mid-offside 12V fuses and nearside entertainment unit.
On the inside, the Otron's colour scheme does away with the timber look entirely. Instead, a glossy white for the walls is contrasted by a brown for the doors, plus the interestingly-named "Lava Mineralstone" for the benchtops.
There are no major surprises in the general layout, but that is not the worst thing in the world. The Otron's front bedroom, full-width rear bathroom, offside kitchen and nearside dinette is a tried and tested design that has proven popular. All furniture is constructed with ply and pine, but the doors are made from an expanded foam celluka, which is water and humidity-proof. The screwed drawers run smoothly in metal runners. A Stoves four-burner cooktop/grill and stainless steel sink avec drainer are fitted into the kitchen benchtop. A 184L Dometic three-way fridge fills the space at the bathroom end of the bench, with lockers above and below.
The microwave location came up for discussion when I was looking over the kitchen with Rhonda Tuza. In this case, it is housed in the cupboard space under the benchtop. Apparently noting some of my comments in previous CW reviews, the Tuzas opted for the lower location. This is something I prefer for safety reasons, but there are those customers who prefer the alternative high location in the overhead lockers.
Given the length of this kitchen, benchtop space is minimal, but it is somewhat improved by the flush cooktop lid above and hinged extension at the end of the bench.
A couple of people can easily and comfortably settle down for a meal or some relaxation at the L-shaped dinette. With the flatscreen TV mounted at the forward end of the kitchen bench, one of the viewers is going to be in a more comfortable position than the other, but both can easily watch telly from the bed.
There are no real surprises in the bedroom, but again this design is popular for a reason. The innerspring mattress is surrounded by windows and a bedhead with overhead lockers, side wardrobes and bedside cabinets. Lifting the bed reveals a good storage space - compartmentalised with a large drawer underneath. Somewhat surprisingly, the bed base is plain ply timber.
If there's one thing for which the Otron's bathroom is notable, it's the generous amount of storage space, even with the cassette toilet, separate shower cubicle, washbasin and washing machine. There's even a small storage compartment behind the shower cubicle.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the bathroom door roller track, which was a cut above the usual - another Tuza touch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although on the surface this Otron Signature Series 3 van might look a bit like some of its contemporaries, there are a few worthy differences.
I would also make the point that with any manufacturer it's worth asking questions about construction techniques to find out what they do and why they do it. I raise this point because one of the items I had a look at during my review was the documentation Otron gives every customer: engineer's certification, gas and electrical compliance certificates, detailed notes on 12V wiring and a weighbridge certificate. It's a nice touch.
All of this adds up to a well-engineered van that proved a pleasure to tow. And it looks great, too.
Source: Caravan World Oct 2011.