Vintage 1960s Plywood Caravan Restoration

Article by · May 27, 2017 ·

Owned and restored by the Bass Family, there’s nothing else quite like ‘Lannie’.

Miranda and Dave Bass are lovers of the 50s and 60s, the music, the fashion, the cars… and they were looking for something to tow behind their classic Chevy.

Spotted on eBay, and conveniently located just 20 minutes drive from their house, Miranda says this backyard beauty was the perfect match for what she wanted to do.

Where did you find your van and how did you come to own it?

Dave and I love the 50’s 60’s era, the music, the fashion, the cars. A few years ago we purchased another classic Chevy and at the same time became fed up with pitching our giant tent and we thought a caravan might suit us better. As we had the Chevy, we thought that a vintage caravan would be a perfect match for us – and our car. The process of discussion, searching and buying ‘Lannie’ happened within a couple of days. It all just came together; we think she was just meant to be ours. We found her on eBay, and she was local, only twenty minutes drive! We were all so excited when we saw her. She was perfect, and not unlike the Tardis – small on the outside and huge on the inside. Unfortunately when we were towing her home the roofing hatch blew off. Luckily there were no injuries to vehicles or people, but a good lesson learnt, and a mistake we hear is commonly only made once.

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We named Lannie after Dave’s late mother. Her name is Ann, but she was affectionately called ‘Lannie’ by her husband. They lived in a little wooden caravan in England during the 1960’s, when Dave was born.   They loved their little caravan, their baby’s first home, and we think that is pretty special.

What condition was it in?

Lannie’s overall condition was excellent as far as a sixtyish year old wooden caravan goes. She towed perfectly, all lights worked and we discovered she only had a small amount of rot. A piece where a repair had been done on her rear quarter and a little on the front window, where she’d been weathered whilst sticking out of her barn home of thirty years. She had pitted holes in her roof, which would have become a problem if she hadn’t been stripped back entirely to bare wood. But on the whole she was great, protected by numerous coats of paint over her lifetime so far. She had an enamel gas stove fitted, and an original plumbed in glass gas lamp too. There was no annex but six wooden poles and other timber pieces – a puzzle, without the canvas that we just couldn’t work out.

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What do you know of its history?

This little caravan is a bit of a mystery as far as history goes. We know she is from Victoria and had recently come from a deceased estate to Queensland when we bought her. She was sold together with a 1956 Chevrolet to a gentleman here in Brisbane who needed to sell her on. She was last registered in 1983. When cleaning out the years of grime we found many treasures and clues relating to her history.

A newspaper clipping from 1971 showing two bikini clad ladies on a beach, demonstrating ‘The Kiss of Life”; a receipt for Barwon Caravan Camp Ground, Geelong for three nights on a powered site in 1972 for a total of $6.80 (Written in the Name of Mr KV Dumphy of Ivanhoe); a member’s ticket to Pambula-Merimbula Golf Club; a Cobbity Farm 1.5 pound plastic bread bag “a new ‘keep fresh’ pack”; new currency coins of 1966; a few B &W VFL ladder tickets from 1959 (twisted and burnt to light the gas lamp); an unused 7c Christmas stamp from 1972; a pair if ‘Tots and Teens’ branded frilly knickers (stuffed inside one of the ‘mystery sconce-like holes’), and my favourite: timber curls straight off the hand plane. We are yet to find another caravan similar to her, so have come to the conclusion she was hand built by a craftsman. Her window frames are all wooden and the windows are glass. Quite a lot of the wire fly screen was copper wire too.lannie1

What were the biggest challenges in the restoration?

As far as restoration goes there was not a lot to do, in comparison to what I’ve seen others undertake. But it was still a giant job, that we set out to do right. The biggest challenge was taking off the many layers of old paint. We did enjoy seeing the rainbow of colours beneath each layer as we went, which came to be known as ‘vehicular archaeology’ within our family. The roof was covered the traditional way of that a calico sheet had originally been stretched over wet paint and painted onto again, providing a waterproof seal. Unfortunately the material had gone brittle in places and had come away, but in other areas it stuck like Araldite and was difficult to remove – even with the paint stripper. We used a coating system for boats called ‘Northane’. This entailed so many steps and as we were painting in suburbia, we had to roll and brush the paint on. The process was tedious and time consuming. Having to make sure temperature and humidity was right as well. Firstly we filled holes in the timber with the two-pack filler, then we sealed the timber.

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Next was the two pack undercoat and then two pack colour. And so much sanding in between! We also had to remake the front and rear window frames and had new glass cut for them. My husband had never used a router, but learnt how to on the job! I also replaced every fly screen and had to keep track of each individual piece of beading. There are six windows and each has four timber bead strips that are a custom fit for each window, and to top it off on an individual window you could mess-up your left and rights. So this was a puzzle I was not going to mess up and l kept all my pieces marked and bound. It was difficult finding the correct hardware, screws lights etc. as we tried hard to keep her as original as possible. I cleaned up old slotted screws with acid to reused them. I had my heart set on once again using her beautiful brass Marconi track when we had a new canvas annex rood made for her. I soon discovered the clips are as rare as hen teeth. I was graciously saved by a kind and generous gentleman from the Vintage Caravan Pro Board who came to my rescue with 20 Marconi clips for our new annex, which slides on perfectly!

Any tips for others?

Tips I’d give to anyone undertaking such a project would be to write lists and tick things off as you go along, so you can look back. Time flies and you may not feel like you are getting anywhere – this helps you give yourself a pat on the back and the drive to keep going. Also very gently remove screws and clean them up if you want to keep your van as original as it was, as I said they are not easy to find. My biggest piece of advice would be to take photos of everything, to document so you know where it goes and how it goes back together – don’t rely on your memory – jobs can take longer than you expect.

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Tell us what you use it for now.

Lannie had her first outing at Cooly Rocks On this year. We plan on taking her to car and caravan events towed behind our 1953 Chevrolet Belair, and to use her as a holiday van behind our modern car for longer trips. We will be self sufficient with a 200-watt solar panel and 12volt battery setup. We don’t intend on cooking in her, so the gas lines have been taken out. We plan to leave gadgets and screens behind, get out with our children, and just spend time together – away from the pressures of this technological time we live in.

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I have absolutely loved the journey of restoring this little wooden caravan and have grown from this experience. I’ve enjoyed meeting people undergoing similar projects, the family time of doing this together and even the times being covered in dust, paint and polish. There have been hair raising times like the sting of the dreaded paint stripper and freaking out when our chromeplater lost one of our precious hinges! And laughter discovering the frilly knickers or pride from people’s reactions when they see our girl Lannie – their smiles and their joy. The support, encouragement and of the generosity of vintage caravan community is also unique and quite incredible, for which I am grateful! My happiest moments were the day we registered Lannie and I saw her travelling on the road – equal to our very first night tucked up in our cosy beds.

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