Karen Needham is a married mother of two originally from New Zealand who moved to Port Macquarie NSW following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.
She regretted having to leave behind an 1973 Oxford Deluxe classic caravan she’d restored back in 2008 and so her mission began to find a suitable Aussie replacement.
Where did you find your van and how did you come to own it?
I had been looking for a van for a little while, but not too seriously, as I wasn’t really finding anything in my price range of $3,000 or under. In April 2014 I found a van that fitted what I was looking for, but it was three hours away in Tamworth. We made plans to go and look at the weekend, but the van sold the following day. The seller mentioned there was a guy in Taree who sold quite a few old caravans. I was in Taree when I got that phone call, so I went straight round to his place, had a look at what he had, got excited, and before I knew it I’d bought a caravan. We named her Blossom; she’s a 1978 Viscount Supreme.
What condition was it in?
The caravan was in pretty poor condition, even poorer than I realised when I bought it. Knowing what I know now, this seems a pretty common occurrence. The seller had given it a quick interior paint job and once I got in home and it rained I realised it had hidden water damage and mould. My saving grace was that this caravan was built with an aluminium frame, so even though there was rot around the windows, the frame was in perfect condition.
During our negotiations, the seller offered to paint the exterior in my choice of colours, to which I agreed. In hindsight that was another big mistake, as he didn’t mask the windows properly, and didn’t prep at all, which meant he painted over cobwebs, lichen and dirt. I ended up stripping the exterior and starting again.
What were the biggest challenges in the restoration?
Everything. I had only wanted to complete a cosmetic renovation on a caravan – not a rebuild, but I bought a lemon. I’m not a quitter though and don’t like to let things beat me. I had to teach myself everything – I had no prior experience, but got through by thinking, researching, planning, and focusing on one part at a time.
YouTube tutorials helped a lot, as did buying some great power tools. I’d have been lost without those. I’m very proud of the new skills I’ve learnt from this project, and the confidence I’ve gained has opened up so much potential for future projects.
I did all the work myself. The only trades I hired were a gasfitter and electrician. For my corner windows, which were cracked and cloudy, instead of having them replaced with polycarbonate, which was quoted locally at $200 per window and outside my budget, I replaced them with 3mm ply and 0.5mm aluminium sheeting, then painted to match the exterior. I painted the exterior with a brush, using Dulux Metalshield.
Any tips for others?
The whole project took me 17 months from start to finish. Be prepared for it to be much more work, cost more and take longer than you envision.
Tell us what you use it for now.
Blossom is ready and waiting for us to use as a holiday home on wheels – at first we plan on some weekend getaways within a couple of hours of where we live – we are spoilt for choice for beautiful camping spots here on the Mid North Coast. We are also making Blossom available to hire as a photo prop for special events such as weddings and advertising campaigns via my website restyledvintage.com. I will soon be blogging about my project from start to finish there also.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences?
I still recall the blind enthusiasm I had as I started working on it the day we brought her home. I was so excited and it quickly turned to dismay as I saw the extent of the water damage. I choose to look at the positives in everything though, and from this experience I can say that I’ve learnt all about what to look for in the next van I buy!
I guess the most fun experience of the whole project was when I got to the stage of painting and hanging the cupboard doors, and seeing the design in my head finally start to come together. That was so exciting. Lying down on the brand new bed to admire how far I’d come was a pretty good moment too!
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