1984 Caravette 6 interior rebuild
Ever considered a complete caravan interior rebuild? Nick Jennings recently brought his ’84 Caravette 6 back to life with a comprehensive DIY project, saving thousands of rands along the way.
Reading the editor’s note in the March 2012 issue about DIY projects immediately motivated me to do something about my 1984 Caravette 6. I’d rushed into buying this particular unit simply because it had an island bed and I could afford the asking price. Once it was in my possession, however, I realised my error in judgement: the modified layout and home-made workmanship were poor. I was definitely a very disappointed and unhappy caravaner.
I have little experience in woodwork, so a very dear and close friend, Dawie Bornman, who has a wealth of knowledge and experience, as well as all the necessary tools, offered to help me, free of charge! This meant a substantial saving in labour costs.
Our intention was to completely rebuild the interior of my Caravette. The main reason for this was that the previous owner, who evidently had little or no experience, had attempted to modify the caravan by constructing an island bed. The quality and hence the results of his work were disastrous. As you can see from photo 2, it was virtually impossible to get from one side of the bed to the other without climbing over the corners of the bed. Secondly, once you got there, it was impossible to stand upright, as the top storage cabinets were in the way.
Also, the bed base was so badly designed and built, as pictures 3 and 4 show, that it nearly collapsed on our first trip. The base sides were made of thin strips of pine, and two centre strips of thin pine were installed, with upright struts to support these strips. The upright strips prevented any bulky items, such as a tent, from being stowed there. The side length flaps that were constructed to gain entry to this area made it difficult and impractical to store anything there.
The two single-length cushions used to make up the double bed were also a problem. The bed sheet wasn’t enough to keep them together, which resulted in their drifting apart during the night, and giving us a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. The bed’s side-table had no clips to secure the doors in a closed position, and was poorly secured to the floor.
The fridge’s outer case was in poor condition and covered with wallpaper. The two cupboards on either side of the fridge were badly constructed and in a shocking state. Planning and layout I was still very much in favour of an island bed layout. However, the owner of a business that does modifications to caravans, a man with many years’ experience in the caravan building industry, gave me some valuable advice: when you dismantle the entire interior of a caravan, it’s important to put at least some of the redesigned layout in exactly the same position as the old layout. This is to maintain the outer-body structural strength of the caravan.
Based on this, I decided not to remove the locker cupboards installed right around the upper walls of the caravan. These cupboards are still in very good condition. This all meant that I couldn’t fulfil my dream of having an island bed, as the upper cupboards would then intrude on shoulder and head space, forcing us to crouch when standing on either side of the bed.
To get some layout ideas, I paged through all the old Caravan & Outdoor Life magazines I’ve kept over the years. I finally found something I liked very much in the July 2006 issue. It was a picture of the interior of a 1995 Sprite Storm, featuring overhead cupboards, just like mine, and a side bed. The interior length and width of the caravan were identical to those of my Gypsey Caravette 6.
I then purchased a Croxley quad exercise notebook and, based on all the measurements I had taken of the interior of the van, I started to design a scaled layout. The objective was to make it as simply as possible. The interior design would exclude a stove, washbasin and microwave, but include a standard-size double bed, lots of cupboard and storage space, a dinette, a large fridge and ample space for movement – so that we could perform activities like getting dressed and undressed without feeling too claustrophobic.
After spending a number of hours on the design, trying to get it right, I was amazed at how much excitement and satisfaction I felt when I saw what I’d put down on paper, although I had no experience at all of doing something like this. The visualisation in my mind of the finished product seemed so real. My motivation at this point was at an all-time high. It was time to get started on the actual construction!
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the piece of paper with the design layout would prove extremely valuable during the construction process. Naturally some of the measurements on paper had to be changed for practical reasons, but my design layout meant that we weren’t working totally in the dark; it guided us as we progressed towards our planned goal.
As Dawie had work commitments, we could only work on the caravan in the afternoons and over weekends. Combining all the hours, I estimate that it took us the equivalent of less than three working weeks to complete the project. The only jobs on this entire project that we did not do ourselves were the following:
• The installation of the new Novilon floor.
• The electrical installation.
• The re-covering of the dinette cushions.
• The making of the new curtains.
• The fitment of the pole box under the caravan. (Our welding machine packed up!)
• The fitment of the spare wheel to the front of the caravan.
• The making of the spare wheel cover.
• The making of the roll-up blind for the door window.
As I’ve said, I didn’t have any experience in woodwork or with the machinery involved, so I relied very heavily on my good friend’s expertise. The photos show how the work progressed.
Pic 1: This is what the caravan looks like today, with new colour strips fitted around the middle section. The top strips have not been fitted yet. Take note of the difference in colour between the faded old strips and the new middle strips.
Pics 2, 3 and 4: The ‘before’ pictures of the previous owner’s disastrous attempt to make an island bed.
Pic 5: What the caravan looked like after it had been stripped out. Note the poor condition of the floor.
Pic 6: What the caravan looked like after we had cleaned up the walls and had the new Novilon floor installed.
Pic 7: As we stripped off the old wallpaper that covered the fridge area, we could clearly see the poor condition of the outer casing. We then re-covered the fridge with board and gave the corners an aluminium finish. It looks absolutely beautiful now. This picture also shows the first stage of the side cupboards being built.
Pics 8 and 9: These photos show the finishing of the side cupboards and the building of the bed base. Take note of the quarter-round wood strip finishing on the cupboard top against the wall.
Pics 10 and 11: This is the finished caravan.
Pic 12 shows it at night with bed lights on.
Pic 12: My wife’s cupboard is now complete. Take note of the finishes: the aluminium and quarter-round wood strips on the corners of the cupboards, walls and floor.
Pic 13: I was lucky here: the dinette base was still from the original factory build and in fairly good condition, needing only minor repairs to get it into shape. Note the newly re-covered cushions. The table top was also re-covered to make this area complete.
Pic 14 and 15: Here you can see the old rotten door and the new repaired door. Pics 16: This shows the bed lights installed under the upper cupboards.
Pic 17: We replaced the old door window curtains with a new roll-up blind. The curtains always seemed to be in the way when we were entering or leaving the caravan, or when we wanted to close the door.
Pic 18: This is the pole box, made from a plastic drain pipe. The pipe was quite affordable, but the plastic end covers cost a bit more. It was easy to make and simple to fit, and, most important of all, it’s the ideal place for storing the poles. We also fitted guard plates over the plastic pipe to prevent stone damage from the wheels. I was slightly concerned about ground clearance, for instance when going over speed humps and the like, but have subsequently driven with a fully loaded caravan over some high bumps, and so far so good. We drive quite slowly, and always with a lot of caution.
Pic 19: We decided to fit the spare wheel to the front of the caravan’s A-frame so that it’s out of the way. A 50 mm flat steel plate was used with a bolt welded in the centre, so that the bolt would protrude through the centre hole of the rim to keep the wheel secure. We also fitted two spacer plates to the top of the A-frame at the front end of the wheel. These spacers put the wheel in an inclined position when resting on the A-frame, which allows the caravan’s braking mechanism to move freely under the wheel. The only disadvantage of storing the wheel here at the moment is that it restricts the handbrake from being pulled up fully, so we’re working on a modified handle to overcome this. We also had a wheel cover made, at little cost, to finish off the installation neatly and provide some protection to the wheel.
It’s important to note that we were able to use two cupboard doors from the old furniture, as well as some of the board that was still in good condition. I enjoyed this project immensely: the learning experience with my skilled friend, the excitement as we progressed, the problems we encountered and overcame and, at the end of it all, the ultimate satisfaction of achievement. It was really a dream come true.
We’ve been out twice since the rebuild, and it was magic! I was proud to show other campers my caravan and what we’d done. Their response was extremely positive and they wanted to know more about what it all had entailed. A good couple of hours have been spent around the campfire, proudly explaining the project and answering questions. Once again, a special thank you to my friend Dawie Bornman for all his expertise and the time he gave up to help me. He’s a true friend indeed!