IN THE AUSTRALIAN RV scene, it's common for offroad caravans to come from relatively small manufacturers. In a number of cases, they can therefore afford to be quite flexible when it comes to the design requirements of their custom vans.
Such is the case with Gold Coast-based SLR Caravans and Motorhomes, which builds RVs chiefly for the offroad market.
One of the latest SLR vans to come off the production line was a custom-built 1900 Premium Off Road, with an internal length of 5.8m (19ft).
While the 1900 Premium does come as a standard layout, this particular model had many of the customer's own requirements fitted, and the SLR crew was keen to give me a good look at the finished product.
Like many offroad vans, the important features here are difficult (or impossible) to see once the van is built. For starters, the SLR rides on Vehicle Components' Cruisemaster suspension. Vehicle Components has built a reputation with its suspension systems and in this case the setup includes airbags, trailing arms and one shock absorber per wheel. Given the airbags, there is an on-board air-compressor which can also be used for tyre inflation.
Above the wheels is the box-section galvanised steel chassis with 150x50mm (6in x 2in) rails. It is all fairly standard, except that the full caravan frame is also made from galvanised steel and is part of the chassis structure, rather than bolted on top. The team at SLR believes that having a single integral structure, rather than two separate units, gives the van much more strength.
Still under the van, this model comes with five 85L water tanks and one 85L grey tank, all mounted between the chassis rails. They are protected by a continuous (at least on either side of the suspension) sheet of alloy checkerplate, which also gives the underside of the van a very clean airflow.
Most of the usual fittings are on the drawbar, as well as an alloy checkerplate toolbox. What is not so usual, however, is the new Hitch-Ezy coupling.
Composite fibreglass panels have been used for the fully-insulated body, including a single piece running from the front to rear, an arrangement with obvious waterproofing benefits. It looks pretty good, too.
In terms of external storage, there is a front tunnel rather than a boot. Given its offroad status, this rig is somewhat taller than usual, and the folding double-entry step is a very welcome piece of equipment.
A MATTER OF STORAGE
On the inside, the honey tones of the cabinetry are very appealing to the eye. In addition, the Dometic windows, complete with integrated blinds and screens, let in plenty of natural light, even on a cloudy day. The van's LED lighting is also very effective, even in natural light.
Although there are plenty of windows and a roof-mounted Aircommand Ibis air-conditioner, two small wall fans have been installed.
For the cabinetry construction in this particular layout, SLR uses a lightweight German ply designed especially for the RV industry. All cupboards and drawers open and close securely thanks to Ferrari stays, Harn runners and compression latches.
I mention all this because the van's owner was particularly keen on maximising internal storage. For instance, there are no cupboards under the kitchen bench, but more than a dozen drawers, a perfect example of the personal preferences that come into play with custom vans. A full-height, multi-shelved pantry is also fitted in between the bathroom and Waeco 215L fridge.
Speaking of the bathroom, there are three drawers and a good selection of cupboards, each multi-shelved. While this might sound a bit over the top, it's actually a very effective use of space. The only problem I can see is remembering where everything is stashed.
A little surprisingly, the kitchen is quite simply fitted out, with just a three-burner cooktop and stainless steel sink - no drainer, but SLR assures me one can easily be moulded into the benchtop. There isn't a microwave in this van, but that's not really a disadvantage for campers not planning on using 240V mains power too often.
The rest of the layout is very user-friendly. The bedroom offers all of the necessary features. The L-shaped dinette is comfortable for two, although there really isn't room for both parties to put their feet up.
The bathroom is fully kitted-out with cassette toilet, shower cubicle and vanity washbasin. The mirror hidden in the cupboard above the basin is a nice touch.
Two cupboards near the entry contain the 12V switch panel, regulator for the four 130W solar panels and battery charger, air-compressor controls and 12V fuses. Everything is neatly laid out and easy to navigate, including the cabling and terminal blocks.
The overhead lockers are home to a few more useful gadgets, including the satellite receiver, flatscreen TV mounting arm and sound system controls for the Fusion radio/DVD player/iPod dock mounted on the opposite side.
Four 6V deep-cycle batteries, a 2kVA Honda generator and the solar panels all work to keep the electrics running.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While the 6.2m (20ft 4in) SLR is quite well-behaved when out on the road, it isn't a lightweight van by any means.
With a Tare of 2940kg and an ATM of 4200kg, it can really be loaded up, meaning a substantial tow vehicle is required.
If you have the appropriate tow vehicle, SLR's Premium Off Road caravan is a specialist RV designed for well-equipped travel along the rougher roads of the outback.
Source: Caravan World May 2012.