HIDDEN AWAY IN the suburbs north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a campervan manufacturer that has been around for quite a few years but tends to hide its light under a bushel.
Frontline Camper Conversions, under the direction of Peter Farrugia, has consistently produced a range of pop-top campervans converted mostly from Toyota HiAce, VW Kombi or Kia Pregio vans. While most other manufacturers have upsized, Frontline has stayed mostly with the smaller vehicles and found them to be something of a winner.
That does not mean that larger van conversions are not available, and both Mercedes-Benz Sprinters and Fiat Ducatos are used for Frontline motorcamper conversions. To prove the point, Peter Farrugia recently made available a Fiat Ducato-based Spirit for our attention.
The Frontline Spirit is converted from a Fiat Ducato LWB van. That means an external length of nearly 6m (19ft 8in) – a size that makes it a reasonable around-town vehicle and something that’s easy to drive for those who are uncomfortable with larger vehicles. Adding to the ease of driving is the six-speed auto gearbox mated to the more powerful, 115.5kW, 3L engine – the smaller, 95.5kW, 2.3L engine is only available with a manual gearbox.
As part of the exterior conversion process, Frontline has installed Seitz hopper windows, a Fiamma F65 awning, a slide-put door step, a nearside gas bin, an offside Thetford toilet cassette door and a Truma Climaster ducted air-conditioning unit – the largish grille is the clue. That’s in addition to the usual water tank filler and roof-top vents.
One of the problems with using hopper windows in a van of this size with a sliding door is the distinct possibility of cleaning up the rear nearside window with a rapidly opened door. A solution used by some manufacturers is to block the door from fully opening. Another is to use a smaller hopper or a sliding window. Peter Farrugia commented that blocking the door meant that the Ducato mechanism for holding the door open could not be utilised, therefore he preferred not to do that for safety reasons.
With limited interior space, outside living under the awning is going to happen regularly, so I did like the hinged table that is fitted to the cabinet just inside the sliding door. It’s large enough for drinks and eats and a small radio/cassette player.
There are a number of options available with the Spirit. One is an outside shower, but possibly more useful ones are insect screens for both the rear doors and the sliding door. That way doors can be left open in warmer weather and the interior can still be insect-free.
INTERIOR LIVING SPACE
Inside the Frontline Spirit, the layout is quite simple. A dinette with sideways-facing lounge seats is located in the rear. They can be made up into a double bed. Fitted into the nearside is a kitchen bench and along the opposite wall is a large cabinet area containing the fridge, wardrobe and bathroom cubicle.
Our Spirit came with Fiat’s factory-fitted swivelling seats. The bathroom cubicle is directly behind the driver’s seat so that restricts usage a bit, but having both seats swivel around does mean that in conjunction with a swivel-mounted table, a small dining area is created. This is extremely useful if the rear bed is left made up and it’s too cool or wet for eating outside.
Integrating the cab area into the general design makes use of every part of the interior. The cab is also curtained around the windows, not across the cab, thus allowing full use of the swivelling cab seats at night.
In smaller RVs, space perception is everything and having an open lounge area in the rear creates that effect quite well. With windows on both side and the rear opening doors, real space isn’t an illusion either. A marine-origin Lagun swivelling, height-adjustable table is fitted between the seats and is one of the better ones around.
Above both lounges are overhead lockers, and a flatscreen TV is mounted in the nearside corner. Under-seat storage is accessible by both top hatch and rear doors, although part of the space is taken by the 240V/engine-coolant heat-exchange water heater on the nearside and batteries plus ducted air-conditioner on the offside.
The two lounges can be made up into a bed, using the table top and two-ply timber squares that are stored in a cupboard. The end result is a bed that measures 1.88x1.42m (6ft 2in x 4ft 8in), although the middle cushions (seat backs) are slightly shorter. Halogen reading lights are fitted under the offside windows.
KITCHEN AND BATHROOM
Atop the kitchen bench, a three-burner cooktop/stainless steel sink combo unit (with smoked-glass lids) leaves a little bit of benchtop area at the front end of the bench. A Dometic rangehood acts as both a fume extractor and twin halogen light provider. Three cupboards are fitted into the kitchen bench, one with wire basket drawers and the other at the end of the bench, with shelves.
Above the 102L Engel fridge opposite, a Sharp microwave oven is fitted. The fridge is mounted off the floor, so both are at reasonable operating heights. Given that the fridge is a 12V compressor unit, free-campers might have to consider either a three-way setup or solar panels.
Occupying the space above the microwave is a small cupboard and a panel for the 12V switches, water heater control and battery voltmeter. Between the fridge and bathroom cubicle is a full-height cupboard, the upper half offering hanging space and storage for the ply-timber bed base.
The fibreglass moulded bathroom, though relatively small, has enough space for a flexible-hose shower and Thetford bench-style cassette toilet. A handbasin is available as an option.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I like this Frontline conversion. It offers a larger area than the smaller campervans do and yet is still built to a budget that’s affordable. The Ducato is an easy van to drive and, if desired, the motorcamper can be used with the rear bed permanently made up when travelling.
FRONTLINE CAMPER CONVERSIONS SPIRIT X250
Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Multijet 160 LWB van
Engine: 3L turbodiesel
Gearbox: Six-speed auto
Max power: 115.5kW@3600rpm
Max torque: 400Nm@1700-2500rpm
Brakes: ABS disc
External length: 6m (19ft 8in)
External width: 2.05m (6ft 9in)
Internal height: 1.9m (6ft 3in)
Price: $89,900 (drive-way, NSW)
Frontline Camper Conversions, 36 Cross Street, Brookvale, NSW 2100, (02) 9939 0600, www.frontlinecamper.com.au