Tas may not be known for producing large volumes of RVs, but for the local manufacturers, the quest for quality verges on an obsession. Specialist slide-on builder Star Campers is found in Port Sorrell, a beachside village 20 minutes east of the ferry town of Devonport on the north coast. The owners, Michael and Christine Medhurst, belong to a breed of manufacturers that have first-hand knowledge of how to design and build RVs because they actually use their own products. They understand why a cupboard should be where it is, know how easy it would be to use a refrigerator if it was placed in a particular spot, and (from experience) can tell that an external locker needs to be of a particular size and shape.
The Star Campers slide-on pop-top I looked over was on its way back to Tas after a few months in northern Australia. Yes, Michael and Christine sell their own pre-loved slide-ons too; this one was a pop-top version that had been mounted on their LandCruiser flat-top ute. Built with an eye to the Medhursts’ intended trip into the tropics, it’s a basic unit without the extras found on some slide-ons. Star Campers does, however, build to the customer’s requirements, so the only real limits are the vehicle size and the customer’s bank balance.
As is usual with this manufacturer, the frame is welded aluminium in pursuit of strength with minimum weight. At 800kg Tare, the LandCruiser would have been aware that it had something on its back, but it’s the way to go if you are also keen on fishing and want to haul a boat as well as have your mobile accommodation, as the Medhursts do. Included in the package is a Fiamma awning, Happy Jacks electric jacks, a 90L refrigerator, microwave, cooker with griller, hot water service, TV, rooftop antenna, on-board battery and charger plus a pair of water tanks, so there aren’t many more items one would need to include.
The cabin is of traditional construction over the aluminium frame. Internal lining is 3mm board with a polyester linen-finish coat. External cladding is colour-bonded ribbed aluminium. The internal cabinetry is timber framed – nicely finished, too. Cupboard doors have natural timber panels in them.
Practicality has trumped glamour inside the slide-on – an indication that the builder knows from experience what is best for daily use. For instance, the three hopper-style windows have tinted glass (glass doesn’t scratch as easily as acrylic does) and they are fitted with venetian blinds. All the kitchen storage is provided by pull-out drawers. What an excellent idea – no kneeling to see what’s at the back of the cupboard. The pantry, opposite the sink and stove, has shallow shelves with lips at the front. These are ideal for storage of smaller items and are better than expansive shelves, where things can topple over during travel.
Forward of the pantry is a Dometic three-way refrigerator atop a drawer, and beside it, a tall locker. It’s a personal preference, but I would choose a slightly larger refrigerator positioned closer to the side entry because the refrigerator is used more than the locker. That would require the loss of the under-refrigerator drawer, repositioning of the radio/CD/DVD unit and some other items, but I judge that it would be a beneficial move.
The cook has many pot drawers and storage drawers. Cooking equipment includes a compact Smev two-burner gas cooktop with glass lid, plus a stainless steel-faced Smev gas mini grill/oven beneath. Almost at floor level is a 17L Black and Decker microwave. I’d prefer to have that positioned higher, perhaps by reworking the robe to its left. With space at a premium in any slide-on, sometimes one must accept that everything can’t be exactly where one would like it to be, though.
There’s a generous amount of food preparation and bench space in the Star slide-on. The sink sports a swivel spout with an unobtrusive flick-mixer, a laminate-surfaced cutting board fits neatly into the sink for even more work space, and a drop-bin for rubbish is close at hand. The sink, cooktop and work area are made all the more agreeable by the wide window that provides both light and a view.
The L-shaped seating is both comfortable and roomy – four adults can sit at the table if they don’t mind a little knee bumping in the corner. Because it has an adjustable offset leg, the table may be moved towards or away from the seat with relative ease. This is the kind of table for small areas in any RV.
One aspect of the interior that deserves a mention is the inclusion of kickboards at floor level. House kitchens have a space where toes fit when you stand at the sink or the stove, but many RVs don’t. It’s a great idea that shields your doors and bottom drawers against scuff marks caused by shoes.
Another thoughtful touch is with the entry door – the hinges at the leading edge protect it from air resistance as you travel. Externally accessible lockers, including a full-width tunnel boot, are plentiful for a slide-on of this size. Most of the storage lockers also have internal access as well. The fact that the vehicle spare wheel is mounted on the rear wall is a testament to the builder’s confidence in the structural strength of the unit.
One of the external locker doors contains a handpiece and hot water mixer unit so that an external shower is possible. There’s even a small light on the outside wall for night time showers. Thoughtful. The water heater fitted to the review slide-on was a gas-only 23L Attwood.
In this slide-on there are two 50L poly water tanks, but the standard fitment is one tank. A water level indicator is standard.
Small but significant indications of careful workmanship were seen wherever I looked. Edge mouldings were true and undistorted, windows were properly secured with no over-tightened screws bending the frames, and the finish was the kind you’d be happy with if it was your own.
Night time comfort is provided by your own choice of mattress, up to queen-size. I would recommend a ventilator mat under the mattress to allow air-circulation. Lighting is quite adequate: a mix of halogen, LED and fluoro lamps well positioned over work, relaxation and sleeping areas do the job well. The four 240V power outlets should be enough for most purposes. The builder included also a 19in Grundig flatscreen TV and Winegard antenna in the review camper.
I ran the measuring tape over this unit and found the footprint to be exactly 3m (9ft 10in) long and 2.1m (6ft 11in) wide, with the front overhang reaching out 1.6m (5ft 4in). The rise over the ute cabin was 1.1m (3ft 7in), and the difference between the pop-top up and down was 400mm, taking its overall height to 2m (6ft 7in) above tray level when erected.
Star Campers’ slide-on pop-top is well-built and thoughtfully planned. While I would have had some items in a slightly different place, this is clearly a very functional and successful design.
Star Campers, 53 St Louis Drive, Port Sorrell, Tas 7307. For more information, phone (03) 6428 6393.