1950’S RETRO FLXIBLE CLIPPER CARAVAN - NEWCASTLE AUSTRALIA
OWNER: NORM AND KAYE
This custom-built van was based on the old Flxible Clipper buses of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Clippers had quite a following both in Australia and New Zealand (no doubt because of their distinctive-looking body design and quality of build).
I found the van quite by accident when the Flxible Clipper Club of Australia were having their AGM in the closed off main street of Coonabarabran (the country NSW town where my parents live). As a total coincidence, me, my wife (Kaye), our daughter and a couple of friends were staying in our modern Big Red off-road caravan on a friend’s property out in the country and one of them needed some sort of medication, so we all drove into the local chemist in town.
When we pulled up I noticed all the old buses parked up there, and whilst everyone else headed for the shops, I wandered over to check them out. As I drifted through all the old buses, this amazing looking caravan came into view; it was built in the exact same style as all the old Clipper buses and it even had the same distinct “FLXIBLE LOUDONVILLE OHIO USA” badge affixed to the front, same as all the others.
I poked my head into the open door of the caravan and saw this old fellow sitting at the table looking rather forlorn and I said, “How you going there old timer?” It was then that old Bill relayed his story about how his wife had died and he had recently had a stroke, and he was going to have to sell his beloved caravan that he had put his heart and soul into.
Within all of three minutes I had bought the van; I was so infatuated with it right from the start that I didn’t even think to look underneath or on top before committing to the purchase. When I look back on how it happened, it really was like I was in a trance and it was simply meant to be.
When Kaye and co finally found me, I explained to her what I had done and she told me I was mad, and the rest is history; but what is the history?
Turns out that Bill Hardinge was a senior member of the Flxible Clipper Bus Club and had owned a decked out Clipper bus for some 32 years; sadly his eyesight was starting to deteriorate to the point where he was no longer able to hold a heavy duty licence, and that was when the idea of the Flxible Clipper caravan came into being. Starting from scratch, Bill sourced the most experienced craftsmen for each stage of the build, and it was finally completed in the first half of 2007.
The chassis is 8 metres long and 2.4 wide, and the frame is an all-welded unit which they fabricated from galvanised 40mm square tube with everything sitting on a “Saturn” independent suspension system. The rounded “Clipper” style steel panels were shaped, glued and riveted to the frame, with the rounded rear being moulded from fibreglass. The method in which the panelling was done is extremely rare, and I have been informed by those in the know that there would be very few people who could perform such skilled workmanship anywhere in the world!
Some aspects of the engineering design are simple yet innovative, such as the stabilising legs on each corner of the van; so rather walking around the van and having to bend down to individually wind down each leg as you do on most vans, all four legs are hydraulically operated from one central location on the drawbar.
Right from the first time I laid eyes on her everything about this caravan appealed to me with little things such as the toned silver panels down each side done in a unique style of spraypainting called shadow-painting which gives a 3d effect.
The interior is absolutely amazing, and the first thing that struck me about the inside was the well- thought out design throughout every inch Never before had I seen such a beautiful and functional interior, from the double bed hidden away down the back with its curved walls and beautiful upholstery, to the wood panelling of the ceiling, cupboards and moulded trim which had obviously been shaped and fitted by a true craftsman. Other things that impressed right from the start were the built-in full sized fridge/freezer, and the plush bathroom with spacious toilet and shower; and there’s even space just inside the entry door for a cupboard with a washing machine inside!
The design really does put most late model caravans and motorhomes to shame; I mean when was the last time you looked inside a van with an entry door and central aisle about a metre wide, or a table with a view out of the front that can easily accommodate 8 people around it (with the addition of a pair of fold-up chairs)? Or how about a real split system reverse cycle air conditioner?
We happen to be members of CMCA (Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia). Their monthly magazine that they send out to all their members is called Wanderer, and we wanted it to have a special number-plate and I came up with WANDRN; when I applied to the RTA for it I was surprised that it was still available, so that’s the plate that’s on it.
A couple of years ago I was approached by a guy who rents out caravans and motorhomes for their owners; his company is called Camplify and they are effectively the middle men in the deal. Well Jason was driving past the van one day and came back and asked me if he could make it the feature van on his website, and I said yes.
So early one sunny February morning I met his film crew down on the waterfront at Wangi Wangi and they did a video of it, including using a drone for aerial shots; well the lead actor for the shoot didn’t arrive on time so I ended up stepping in and played the owner of the van introducing it to the rich renters; life imitating art. You can view the clip on the Camplify website.
When Kaye and I are on the road, the moment we pull up in town or at a roadstop, I can’t help feeling like a rock star because people come at me from every direction asking if I mind them taking a photo; and after a day on the road, when I pull into a free camping spot or caravan park, people come out of the woodwork from every direction like zombies.
It’s certainly not hard getting a crew around for happy hour with a drink and a chat around the van; and it’s rather funny when, after a couple of beers, men who should know better start scratching their head asking where the steering wheel is; unbelievable.
If you Google Flxible Clipper Caravan you can check it out with all the Flxible Clipper buses.
Story and Pics courtesy of Norm Doughty