New Zealand Classic Car - - Classic Campers, Motorhomes, And Kiwi Cribs -

Con­vert­ers de­vel­oped new forms of roof styles and op­tions to pro­vide bet­ter head­room. Sev­eral had a moulded sec­tion ris­ing ver­ti­cally, the gap be­ing closed by wa­ter­proof fab­ric or plas­tic. Other man­u­fac­tur­ers cut the whole steel top away and re­placed it with a high domed top of moulded plas­tic in plain or lan­tern-roof form.

In the Volk­swa­gens, a trans­verse bed for one child was com­monly placed above the rear-mounted en­gine. Some makes in­creased liv­ing space by fold­ing the kitchen sink and hot­plate away, sac­ri­fic­ing con­ve­nience in pre­par­ing meals and wash­ing up. Th­ese units might even have been mounted on a rear or side door and, ideally, were re­quired to be used by the camper stand­ing out­side with the door open — even in 2016, we see some rental camper­vans us­ing a sim­i­lar lay­out.

One de­sign that cer­tainly at­tempted too much was the Mini Wild­goose four-berth mo­torhome based on BMC’S Mini van. In­te­rior room was found by build­ing out the rear end and fit­ting a full-area ris­ing top. There can’t have been many mo­torists or car­a­van­ners who did not re­gard this as just plain ridicu­lous.

At what size do we re­gard such ve­hi­cles to be mo­torhomes rather than camper­vans? Dur­ing the past two decades or so, here in New Zealand, we have wit­nessed a pop­u­lar trend to con­vert exJa­panese minibuses. With lengths rang­ing from six to 8.5 me­tres, th­ese types of ve­hi­cles con­vert into very com­fort­able and easy-to-drive mo­torhomes. Al­though they’re pop­u­lar with the home handy­man, there are also many busi­nesses in both the South and North Is­land spe­cial­iz­ing in fit­ting th­ese ve­hi­cles out as mo­torhomes.

As well, there is the rel­a­tively new trend to re­store old car­a­vans. I’m cur­rently car­ry­ing out a retrorestora­tion on my 1974 Zephyr 380c and throw­ing orig­i­nal­ity to the four winds as I seek to mod­ern­ize the car­a­van.

1925 — New Zealand’s first mo­tor camp

In 1937, New Zealand was de­scribed as ‘unique in the whole wide world in its rich pro­fu­sion of per­fect bathing beaches’ and as ‘the land of a thou­sand golden beaches’.

Our taste for hol­i­days by the sea ad­vanced as we bought cars, while the An­nual Hol­i­days Act of 1944 guar­an­teed ev­ery work­ing Kiwi two weeks’ paid leave.

Young beach-go­ers in the early 1900s made do with buck­ets and spades, but, by the ’50s, a beach cul­ture had emerged. Chil­dren frol­icked with a range of in­flat­a­bles, and the grow­ing in­for­mal­ity of life meant less-re­stric­tive swim­suits. New Zealand’s first of­fi­cial camp­ing ground opened in, of all places, Dunedin in 1925, and this novel form of hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion quickly caught on. Soon, tents were be­ing widely ad­ver­tised as ‘an aux­il­iary to the home, as a sum­mer house, or for hol­i­day pur­poses’ and ‘camp­ing-out’ was soon es­tab­lished as an al­ter­na­tive sum­mer life­style.

Many peo­ple re­turned each year to their favourite spots at such sea­side re­sorts as Mount Maun­ganui, Waihi, Orewa, Tahu­nanui, Nelson, Kai­teri­teri, New Brighton, Sum­ner, Tay­lors Mis­take, Akaroa and Caro­line Bay, and to lakes such as Wanaka and Frank­ton Bay.

An over­seas vis­i­tor in the late ’50s thought New Zealand had some of the finest camp­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the world, but, ap­par­ently, what im­pressed most was a ‘won­der­ful in­no­va­tion’ that we would rec­og­nize as the Zip wa­ter heater, in­tro­duced in the early ’30s.

Fast for­ward to 2016, and there are still a few mo­tor camps in the South Is­land that have had no or few im­prove­ments since they were orig­i­nally de­vel­oped, most back in the ’50s through to the ’ 70s. At the other end of the spec­trum, we have some mag­nif­i­cent camp grounds, such as the Murchi­son Mo­torhome Park and Jack­son’s Re­treat at Jack­sons, West Coast. Th­ese two camps, both re­cent de­vel­op­ments, are a head and shoul­ders above most oth­ers.

While the ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic here in New Zealand chose to own a car­a­van — the most pop­u­lar length be­ing in the 4.8-me­tre to 5.3-me­tre bracket — the self­pro­pelled mo­tor car­a­van was slowly gain­ing hold.

The pop­u­lar­ity of mo­tor car­a­vans for full-length hol­i­days — rather than sim­ply nights and week­ends — was fur­ther en­hanced by the de­vel­op­ment of spe­cial awnings de­signed to fit the side or the rear end, ac­cord­ing to the model, to give more liv­ing space and, if nec­es­sary, sleep­ing space. Some could be left stand­ing in­de­pen­dently and fully en­closed — like frame tents — when the mo­tor car­a­van was uti­lized for day trips. This de­vel­op­ment made it un­nec­es­sary to stow ev­ery­thing away and pos­si­ble to re­serve what would oth­er­wise seem to be an un­oc­cu­pied mo­tor camp or river­side camp site.

Typ­i­cal Kiwi in­ge­nu­ity

In the ’ 70s, many Bed­ford CF vans were re-pow­ered. A pop­u­lar con­ver­sion was to re­place the van’s orig­i­nal Vaux­hall 2.2-litre four-cylin­der mo­tor with a Holden six — ei­ther the 2.9-litre or 3.0-litre (179 or 186ci) unit. Such con­ver­sions were suc­cess­ful, al­though not ex­actly eco­nom­i­cal with fuel, but were very evenly bal­anced and smooth run­ning, par­tic­u­larly the 2.9-litre en­gine.

Some Bed­ford vans were also re-pow­ered with 4.9-litre (302ci) Ford V8 mo­tors cou­pled to a C4 auto box. The North Can­ter­bury Ford agent at Ran­giora — Palmer & Doak — car­ried out this mod­i­fi­ca­tion for many cus­tomers. The same com­pany also re-pow­ered 105E Anglias with the larger 1.5-litre Cortina en­gine, car­ry­ing out mild mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the car­bu­ret­tor, ex­haust, camshaft, and head.

There are a few of th­ese V8 Bed­fords still in ex­is­tence to­day — I re­cently came across a Cf-based Mr Whippy ice-cream van pow­ered by a Chevro­let 5.7-litre (350ci) V8 — a con­ver­sion that had been car­ried out many decades ago.

In more re­cent times, some of th­ese Holden mo­tors have been re­placed with more eco­nom­i­cal units, such as the Isuzu 3.8-litre diesel. Late-model Holden Com­modore 3.8-litre V6 mo­tors, plus match­ing auto box, are also pop­u­lar trans­plants. And, of course, th­ese mod­ern con­ver­sions of­fer far bet­ter fuel econ­omy

Spot­ted at Am­ber­ley Beach mo­tor camp, this Bed­ford camper bus fea­tures a wooden ‘front’ door, pot­belly stove and ‘white­wall’ tyres — take a photo to­day, and it wouldn’t look much dif­fer­ent to one taken in 1962.

The clas­sic week­end bach was usu­ally built to a straight­for­ward de­sign and was rather sim­ple in con­struc­tion. Ex­te­rior cladding was ei­ther rough­sawn ver­ti­cal tim­ber plank­ing — com­monly re­ferred to as ‘ board and bat­ten’ — or Durock sid­ings, their bot­tom edges cut in a wavy fash­ion sim­i­lar to the over­lap frilling around the out­side of most car­a­vanawn­ing roofs. Many New Zealand state houses built dur­ing the ’50s and ’60s were, and still are, clad in th­ese cap­pings. I now re­gard houses built with th­ese large fi­bro­lite tiles as real ’50s-style clas­sics.

With that, I’ll con­clude my fi­nal ar­ti­cle on camp­ing, car­a­van­ning, and old camper­vans. I sin­cerely hope read­ers have en­joyed read­ing my travel ex­pe­ri­ences through­out the South Is­land over the many years.

From my early child­hood days, over many decades to re­cent years — my, how times have changed. Take my ad­vice, as sign­writ­ten on our camper: “En­joy­ing HAPPY DAYS while we can!” — it’s later than you think!

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