I rarely go to the caravan and camping shows, and now and again I get a bit miffed that I miss out on seeing all the exciting new products first hand.
But as I drove up to the Custom Camper factory in Meyerton, I realised it didn’t really matter, since I get a much better deal: I don’t just have to look at the caravans parked at a show, I get to experience them!
I get down to the nuts and bolts, I see them being built, and actually trundle away and spend some time camping in these dream machines.
Could it get any better? I doubt it.
One of the latest caravans I got up close and personal with is the Gray, manufactured by Fred Oosthuizen and his team from Custom Campers.
You’ve seen quite a bit about this super-luxury home-away-from-home, but allow me step away from just giving you the stats and facts, and let me tell you what it’s like to live this dream!
One of the reasons I love visiting the Custom Camper factory – which is bigger than ever – is the fact that there are always fascinating vehicles being built. As the name suggests, Fred mostly builds exclusive one-off campers.
But this visit was about the Gray, a super luxury double-axle caravan that had just rolled out of his premises.
It’s hard to believe but all the designs of Customer Campers come straight from Fred’s fertile brain. No CAD or fancy computers for this lad.
Fred’s passion for the Gray is palpable as he tells me more about the caravan: “Last year I specially traveled to Düsseldorf in Germany for the Caravan Salon, the largest outdoor show on earth.
“I’ve incorporated a some of the latest technology from the overseas market.”
This includes importing the whole Al-ko chassis and tow bar assembly. This chassis allows for the Gray to even tackle dirt roads, and Fred purposely designed the caravan to make use of this ability.
Although it’s a big double-axle caravan over 7 metres long, the Gray whispers along behind the Kia Sedona like a small luggage trailer.
It wasn’t far to my camping destination, Klipdraai Caravan Park, but the looks and stares I got on the road and at the resort had me grinning and puffing out my chest.
At this juncture I should tell you that the caravan that was to be my home for the next few days was the prototype, the same one displayed at the Caravan, Camp & Destination Show earlier this year.
Fred explains: “The idea is not to have loose stuff floating around in your caravan… one can store all your items like your tent and other heavy stuff in the rear compartment, in front your tables and other loose gear…’
The Gray certainly has the looks, but trust me, the team at Custom Campers have put their knowledge of building custom rigs into every part of this beauty.
The first thing you notice about the Gray is the aerodynamic sweeping lines of the of the caravan nose, with two grey decal lines that sweep down to an arrow, giving it an ultra-modern look.
This hatch houses the outside kitchen, set at a good working height.
Sliding out the unit smoothly on a set of rails, you’ll immediately notice the gleaming black plate on the right of the sink – the Gray has a fitted Snappy Chef induction stove.
I really enjoyed using the outside kitchen unit. I’d rarely used a Snappy Chef before, but as a coffee’holic I always take my small expresso machine with me when I travel. So it was coffee whenever I wanted.
I also made a an oxtail stew, and with the Snappy Chef able to be set to exactly the heat that you want, it came out fantastic.
The Gray comes fully equipped with cutlery, cups and plates. Quality glasses are all part of the package.
The pull-out kitchen also carries through the curving design features found all over the caravan, with the self-same curvature incorporated into the two large spacious drawers.
The large grey G insignia is a hint of the luxury to come.
Along the roof, stretching almost the entire length of the caravan, is a strip LED light.
The entrance door is situated at the rear of the Gray, just aft of the double wheels. To the right of the door is another hatch. This is a large storage area.
Storage areas outside the caravan is a key feature of Fred’s design.
“We have provided tons of outside storage, all with outside hatches.”
Entering the caravan, one steps into a luxurious dinette with a table and comfortable leather seating for up to six people.
A large mirror runs the breadth of the back of caravan, and overhead are storage cabinets all with the signature curved doors. There’s a flatscreen television fitted with a DStv decoder, a classy drinks cabinet, and rack for glasses.
The lounge in the Gray is exactly that, a lounge. There is no juggling with a table that folds flat to make an extra bed, or that keeps slipping off when you try to relax. This is a dedicated luxury lounge.
Springboks are kicking off? No worries – park off with all your mates and watch the game on the humungous flat screen TV.
The table is particularly intriguing and clever. It’s not fixed, and folds up easily. It can also be set up at different heights.
And I know it’s hard to believe, but I do kind of work on my trips. So it was a real pleasure to sit at the custom-designed table with my computer and make some notes.
Moving from the lounge to the front, you find on your left is a large double door fridge and freezer, a microwave, glass-topped hand basin and a dishwasher. The forward-facing edge of the fridge forms part of a neat kitchen nook.
On the right is the two-room bathroom. That’s right, you have a toilet compartment, and and seperate shower.
I once owned a somewhat battered old camper. It had a very primitive portable toilet shower affair… it was a nightmare. Let me tell you that a horrible toilet shower arrangement can be the end of a marriage or girlfriend. The fairer sex doesn’t do scruffy bathroom facilities.
This is where the Gray shines. No sliding around the caravan when it comes to personal matters. This is a five-star loo with absolute privacy.
The separate shower is also a luxury. You can shower as easily and comfortably as any shower at home.
The bedroom in the front of the Gray is large and roomy. Forget about bumping your elbow when turning around or having to shuffle to and fro… this area is a dream in every sense of the word.
The queen-sized island bed has a mattress purpose made exclusively for Custom Campers. I always cart my Woolworths feather pillow along on camping trips, and the bed was as comfortable as mine at home. I don’t know who makes the matresses specially for Custom Campers, but I have a good mind to ask Fred if I can order one for home.
In the bedroom there are cupboards on either side of the bed and a special hanging cupboard. As I mentioned before, I really liked the curved cupboard detailing. It’s fine touches like this that separates the Gray from the herd.
Custom Campers also know how much technology we drag along with us, and the Gray has plenty of modern three-pin plugs, two-pin plugs and twin USB ports in both the bedroom and lounge area.
I love pushing buttons. Although it wasn’t necessary to use the airconditioner, I tested it out and it works a treat. I can just imagine lying on the bed on a sweltering hot day. Just take the hand controller, dial in 19 degrees and within minutes you’ll be comfortable for that afternoon snooze.
I know many of you fellow campers out there envy our work – always swanning around in the latest, newest, best caravans and campers on the market.
But our job does have a serious downside. Once we have fallen in love we have to hand the beautiful carriages back to their manufacturer or owner.
I’ve lost a bit of my heart to the Gray. I enjoyed camping in it, and I enjoyed visiting the Custom Campers factory and seeing the team building the caravan from the ground up.
Speaking of the factory, here I got talking to Greg Tarr, who had his Iveco Daily 4×4 in for some modifications and a paint job.
Fred built Greg’s camper in 2017, and since then the motorhome has done more than 35 000 kilometres.
Greg summed up Fred’s philosophy and work: “You know what I like about Fred, he sits with his client and together you design your dream camper.
“But even once built there is always something that doesn’t work out like you dreamt it up, but Fred and Custom Campers are always ready to modify it.
“I would recommend these guys to anyone.”
By Richard van Ryneveld