Getting away from it all in comfort

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 08:03 22/01/2013
starlette interior
SUPPLIED/ Eamon Barrett
KIWI CLASSIC: The Thornley family has kept the interior of their classic Starlette caravan in original condition.

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Cantabrians travel in their thousands to the Waitaki lakes during the Christmas and New Year holiday, but, as people become more accustomed to home comforts, many are less inclined to rough it in an old camper van or tent.

Yet for a select group, the appeal of the older models remains, and it's a growing market. Geraldine resident Eamon Barrett concedes that he could upgrade to a newer model of campervan for those long, windy trips, but feels the new models "have no soul".

"It's all about the form, not the function. The older ones have a better look. They might be a bit heavier, but they drive as well as newer camper vans. The only hassle is finding replacement parts," he says.

Barrett acquired his 1960s custom-built campervan from family friends about seven years ago.

"It's a really unique shape. The build quality was unbelievable. As far as I'm concerned, I am only the custodian of the campervan," he says.

During the last seven years, Barrett and the family have taken it regularly on trips, but it's not the only old model he owns. He recently acquired a 1956 Belgium-made pop-top campervan.

"The family was from Holland, but they couldn't bring themselves to get rid of it, so it sat in storage in Auckland for years. It hadn't even been registered here. It's extremely well made. It's been a labour of love getting it back to roadworthy."

Barrett soon discovered many held the same interest in old campervans. Nearly six years ago, he established the Geraldine Classic Caravan Club, which has about 30 to 40 members and holds informal meetings throughout the year.

"It's a fairly loose club. To consider yourself a member, you just have to attend one of our rallies," he says.

"The vehicle doesn't have to be in mint condition. We had someone who pulled out a campervan from a farmer's hedge."

Ian Gillespie, of Christchurch, has taken part in several of the club's rallies. As a hot-rod and vintage-car enthusiast, he has owned the same custom-built campervan since 1975.

"A lot of care and effort has been put into it," he said.

"It cost me $2000 to get it roadworthy in 1975, and it has recently been valued at $60,000.

"But it doesn't actually cost that much to run. The hardest part is finding your drink once you've reached your destination."

The restoration and upkeep of the campervan had been extensive over the years.

"You have to get past the patch-up mentality, and ensure it's kept in good working condition. This means regular brake and suspension upgrades to keep it up to standard," he said.

"It probably runs better now than it did 35 years ago."

Gillespie said the family usually went to Lake Ohau for Christmas, but the campervan has travelled all around the country.

"People are really interested in the old models. It's like classic cars. There's quite a market for them."

Barrett said the atmosphere of the old models appealed.

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"I've always liked old things. I suppose you could say I was born in the wrong time," he said.

"The bach at the beach is no longer affordable for the average Kiwi, but you can pick up an old campervan and take it anywhere."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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