I reckon one of the challenges faced by the Australian caravan industry is to build something that stands out from the crowd without being too weird and wacky. Sometimes it’s just the body shape that’s different; other times it’s the colour scheme or internal look. And sometimes the difference lies in what mostly can’t be seen: the chassis.
South-east Queensland-based Rhino Caravans builds stand-out-from-the-crowd vans with unique chassis, but the most unusual feature of the Zambezi can be seen – because the parts that are different are not hidden under the caravan’s body…
BUILDING THE ZAMBEZI
The chassis is hot-dipped galvanised in the conventional manner and uses 100x50mm RHS steel to create a standard box-section structure. But from the axle forward, there’s a unique arrangement involving an ‘arched’ drawbar and protective RHS steel along the forward walls. It’s quite a different take on the more traditional chassis you’ll find on most vans. It also raises the mounting point for the two 4kg gas cylinders and the large checkerplate storage bin. At the rear, the bumper bar sports two spare wheels and a jerry can holder.
You can’t fit standard weight distribution gear to this drawbar, which is something to keep in mind. The drawbar has standard features including a Cruisemaster DO35 offroad hitch, jockey wheel and handbrake.
A look beneath the chassis reveals a very ‘clean’ area with everything strapped up well out of harm’s way and/or protected, including the three fresh and one grey water tanks. The tandem-axle Cruisemaster independent suspension is set up with trailing arms and coil springs.
The body of the van uses a 30mm composite honeycomb panel covered internally with 3mm plywood. On the outside, alloy checkerplate replaces the usual mouldings on all the edges such as the roof, front and side walls while at the rear a raised section runs across the top, giving the van a purposeful appearance.
Although roof lines don’t come in for much discussion, the Zambezi’s has a stepped design, with the front lower than the rear, resulting in the air-conditioner and solar panels being almost in line with the main profile of the roof, rather than sitting well above.
Not everything about this caravan has been redesigned or reconfigured, though. The bumper bar with spare wheel is a conventional setup and there are a number of features popularly used throughout the Australian caravan industry, such as the Seitz hopper windows, Fiamma awning, hinged picnic table, and Camec triple-locker security door.
REST AND RELAXATION
All of the Zambezi’s internal cabinetry is made from 15mm ply bonded with beech laminate on both sides. Together with the mottled white of the walls and ceiling, it isn’t a bad look at all. The black leather of the seat upholstery, gloss black laminate on the benchtops, and the red bedspread provide plenty of contrast, while the large windows spread natural light evenly. When evening comes, the LED lighting, both downlights and reading lights, keeps things well-illuminated.
A look inside the cupboards and lockers reveals everything to be neatly finished, with items such as the overhead locker struts of noticeably good quality. If I was to be picky, I thought the overhead lockers have a somewhat square look about them.
The layout of the Zambezi is conventional, with its front bedroom, nearside dinette, offside kitchen and rear bathroom. The best place to take things in properly, though, is from the cafe-style dinette. Relaxing on the leather-upholstered seats, notebook in hand, I found it possible to do a fair bit of work for this magazine without moving too much. The tri-fold table, of course, is handy in its folded state for the drinkies, nibblies and the iPad.
There are two 240V powerpoints and one 12V socket at the dinette, located under the table near the wall – out of the way but still handy when needed. The flatscreen TV is mounted on the opposite wall between the kitchen bench and bedroom and can be reasonably easily seen from the dinette, although the person in the forward seat will have to swivel slightly.
Above the table are three lockers while below the forward seat is a drawer, and a narrow cupboard under the table, all offering plenty of storage space. The area beneath the rear seat of the dinette is taken up by the house batteries and charger.
An additional feature of the dinette is the shelf space on either side. The rear shelf is above a cupboard by the entry door and the forward area is above a corner cupboard in the bedroom.
The kitchen features an Evakool 161L fridge at one end, against the bathroom wall, and a stainless steel sink at the other. In between is the four-burner cooktop/grill, which is to be expected, and a Lemair washing machine, which is a bit unexpected. By putting the washing machine beneath the kitchen bench, the Zambezi maximizes food preparation space above (the cabinet has a flush lid) while reducing the size of bathroom and allowing for a sizeable wardrobe in the nearside rear corner.
With five of them of various sizes, drawer storage is the theme in the kitchen. This is in addition to the three lockers and three floor lockers.
Up front, the bedroom is marked by the lowered ceiling level that comes with the shape of the van. The queen-size bed sits centre stage with split wardrobes/cupboards on either side with a shelf in the middle. Because of the sloping front wall, no overhead lockers have been fitted.
The rear of the Zambezi is taken up by a three-quarter-width bathroom and the aforementioned wardrobe tucked into the nearside corner. Despite not running the full width of the caravan, the bathroom is still spacious, featuring a flexible-hose shower, Dometic cassette toilet, and washbasin with shaving cabinet above. A large window and roof hatch provide the necessary ventilation.
The electrics are well thought out, with three solar panels putting out a rated capacity of 250W for the two 100Ah batteries. All the electrical controls and switches are centrally located in a locker above the fridge, as is the radio/CD player.
The van has an ATM of 2900kg and Tare of 2460kg (ball weight is 180kg), thus giving a load capacity of well over the 400kg usually given to tandem-axle vans. But it also requires a vehicle with a mid-to-high towing capacity. Not that the Zambezi is a difficult van to tow, by the way. On-road, it behaved very well, especially across undulating terrain.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Zambezi is self-contained and even includes a grey water tank – a feature you’ll rarely find on a caravan. It’s certainly no lightweight; it has a purposeful look to it, both inside and out. That purpose, of course, is the exploration of some of the more remote parts of Australia.
Thanks to the design of the Zambezi’s chassis, the drawbar is built like a small bridge, about 300mm high, and extending along the sides of the van back to the wheel arches, which also have a frame built around them.
The result is the front section of the van’s body sitting in a cradle of what is essentially a chassis that extends upwards. It gives the entire frontal area a steel protection frame. At the rear, the chassis frame is lower but still acts as a protection rail.
Perhaps I’m being a little too imaginative, and it might be the African names, but to me the front of the Zambezi looks a bit like the head and trunk of an elephant. No? Oh well, just a thought.
- Lateral thinking behind the chassis design
- Front storage bin
- Internal colour scheme
- General fit and finish inside
- LED lighting
- Washing machine located in kitchen
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
- A less squared-off look to the overhead lockers
- Lower position for the microwave
Originally published in Caravan World #512, March 2013.