Millard is one of the great names in the Australian caravan business, with the current owners focused on putting quality back into the marque.
Garry Willer and Hugh Bialas rescued Millard business from receivership almost a decade ago, then four years ago moved to a new manufacturing facility in the Sydney suburb of Ingleburn.
It’s not far from where Millard’s have been built for almost 70 years, possibly holding the record for longevity of all of Australia’s caravan brands.
The plant at Ingleburn is a niche operation compared to 1970s and early 1980s when hundreds of Millards rolled of the massive assembly line at the former Viscount factory, just up the road in Liverpool.
Garry and Hugh are working to re-apply some of the tried and proven quality measures back into the production line, while at the same time ensuring the complete Millard model range has the latest designs and finishes.
The team around 30 employees is made up of specialist tradespeople, with three full-time plumbers and electricians along with specialist cabinet makers and upholsterers. Working together they turn out between 15 and 20 mostly custom-finished vans per month in three broad model ranges starting with the Sunseeka at the budget end, then the mid-level Longreach and the luxury Pinnacle.
The company also owns the York heritage caravan trademark and builds slide-on camper units suitable for one tonne flat bed trucks under both the York and Millard brands.
As was the case in years gone by, buyers are welcome to come and take a tour of the complex to see what goes into the manufacturing.
It really is a sight to see as everything is done on site; the chassis, the frames, the furniture and cabinet making even the upholstery. On the day of our visit, the upholsterers are hard at it making up leather seating using full cow hides. There’s no cutting corners here.
As one of the long-term workers quietly suggested to me, while Millard has been around for 66 years, there hasn’t always been the same exacting attention to detail.
“Before we were building Hyundai (quality), now we make Mercedes Benz,” he said somewhat slyly.
The motoring comparison is apt given Garry has a background in motor racing and Hugh began his career working at the Porsche motor plant in Germany. He stayed for nine years before going to Ferrari in Italy. It was a long apprenticeship in precision manufacturing and the Millard workforce is keenly aware of Hugh’s standards.
While proud of Millard’s Australian manufacturing heritage, he’s not been backwards in injecting a little European style and quality into the vans and travels to the major European RV show in Dusseldorf each year to check out what’s new.
“We source the best materials with a quality that will last, for example we pay $7.50 for each of the cupboard door locks, when we could get inferior one for $1.50. Likewise we use all Italian laminates.”
Millard is one of a handful of Australian caravan builders still using all aluminium frames. The chassis is made from 3mm thick all Australian blue steel which is galvanised in a hot dip process.
Eight out of ten of vans sold by Millard are equipped with off-road specifications, including 15 inch wheels and Cruise Master independent suspension. On the Longreach, there’s chequer plate stainless sheets on the front and sides, as well as under-floor metal sheeting for stone protection. Even the two water tanks are protected by a plywood and metal casing.
Extraordinary work goes into making the interior furniture. The frames are all full timber, with any plywood used given a polyester coating for water resistance. The furniture is compressed in a vacuum press, a construction technique common back in the industry in the 1970s, but not used so much today. It is then riveted, stapled and glued to the walls of each van.
The external aluminium sheeting is fixed to plywood for added strength and insulation. “We use all Australian-made aluminium that is patterned and rolled here in the factory. It is much stronger and durable than anything imported, ” Hugh said.
The Longreach Seabreeze model as tested, sells for around the $74,000 mark and comes with most of the extras you’d expect in caravan at that price, only the quality is very apparent even to a first-time buyer. Among the standard inclusions inside are air conditioning, a 184 litre fridge, microwave and 2.2kg
Our test model had striking red leather and laminate finishes, providing a stark contrast to the all-too common dull brown and wood grain look finishes you seem to see too much of. It’s a fresh, almost a retro look from the 1970s – perhaps Millard is on to something here?
The other feature instantly noticeable is the height of the ceiling – it’s a full six foot six inches on the old scale, so there’s no skulking around in this baby, even if you’re a pro basketballer.
The layout is very straightforward and typical of the current fashion with the kitchen facilities neatly packaged along one wall in the centre of the van opposite to where you enter, then there’s a trifold table with comfy leather seats opposite the galley kitchen.
Folding back the table, whipping the flat screen TV on and sinking into the leather seats with a cool drink, my mind turns to whether I might be able to persuade Millard’s aforementioned upholsterers to knock me up a lounge suite for home.
Upfront is the queen-size bed with lift up storage underneath and wardrobes either side.
The ensuite is at the rear, with a full height linen cupboard and shower. It is well laid out and just seems more spacious than most.
Camden Caravans, the supplier of our test vehicle, said some Millard buyers regularly came back to trade up –some as many as four or five times as they seek to get the latest extra’s or just make a few changes to suit their lifestyle.
Tested: Longreach Seabreeze
Price $73,995 as tested.
Warranty: 12 months
Full details and specs: www.millardrv.com.au