Lets paint a typical scenario. You are a family of four or five, younger kids and ‘normal’ ie not retired with a huge super payout. Yet you want to explore the Australian Outback. Have you ever wondered if there is an alternative to the expensive new off road caravans that are on the market. Even the Hybrid camper trailers are upwards of $50,000+.
Well Brett at Brix engineering has a solution for you! He has just finished a renovation of an older viscount caravan for a family and made it ready for an outback trip (they just got back) at a fraction of the cot of a new one.
Lets hear from Brett about how it came about and what he did!
Camping with some friends on a June long weekend the discussion around the camp fire came to “would it be possible to retrofit the Brix air bag independent suspension onto a 90’s model Viscount pop top caravan”. My mate “who’s name is also Brett” owned the caravan explained that the Viscount suited his requirements.
A family of four fitted perfectly ,was fast and easy to set up and a was not too big to tow. The drawback was it was not suited for off road use. I had a good look at the van and was happy with the chassis and foam sandwich construction. So…Project “Viscount” was born.
There are two big advantages to running air bag suspension. Firstly the air bags are ideal for absorbing energy, isolate vibration, and reduce shock. All great qualities in an off road suspension system. We run a large air bag at a low pressure.
The second big advantage is the ability to level the caravan or camper without chocking or jacking. Just adjust each air bag and you are done. A key component of the system is the dampeners (shock absorbers). With any sort of suspension that is working correctly dampening is very important to control the system.
A few weeks later the Viscount was wheeled into the workshop. The first step was to accurately measure the chassis and wheel arches. A detailed drawing was then produced in our 3D CAD system “Solidworks”. Having a 3D CAD model allowed us to check clearances and identify any issues before we started removing the existing suspension. A sub fame was designed to connect the new trailing arms and air bags to the existing chassis rails without having to modify the existing chassis.
A jig was set up on our fabrication table to replicate the Viscount chassis. The suspension system was fabricated on the bench before disassembly and painting. The existing leaf suspension was removed and a the new sub frame fitted to the van.
An on-board compressor was fitted that allowed each air bag to be controlled. The old 14” Holden rims were replaced with 17” allows to match the Toyota Prado that would be towing the van. This allowed the spares to be used on either the towing vehicle or the Viscount. The new suspension was also fitted with 12 inch Electric Brakes and 2 tonne bearings.
Other modifications included installing two new 80L water tanks and a stainless steel pull out Kitchen. The internal layout of the Viscount accommodated a pull out Kitchen well. The kitchen included a sink, 4 burner stove, internal pantry and a griller. Across the back of the Van is a double bed. The Kitchen installed under the bed making good use of the space. A hatch was installed into the side of the Van to allow access. This made it perfect for roadside stops etc.
As it happened we were joining Brett & Kate and another family for a three week trip to the Flinders Ranges, Gammon Ranges, Cameron Corner and outback NSW for the September school holidays. This was the perfect testing trip to see how the caravan performed with its new suspension and modifications.
Overall we were very happy with the performance. The Viscount did not suffer any damage other than a couple of aluminium rivets that let go on the pop top. This was primarily caused by electrolytic corrosion over a number of years and was easily fixed.
All up this was quiet a successfully project. What Brett & Kate ended up with was a cross over caravan that allowed them to explore off the beaten track in comfort. The project did cost a reasonable amount however this is small change when you consider that to buy a new crossover van to go to the same places would be in the 60K + price range.
If you have an older caravan that suits your family but needs some suspension work for more adventurous trips, you really should have a chat to Brett at Brix engineering (02 9632 2388) to see what if anything can be done. Each caravan is individually assessed and quoted, but the work is first class and robust.