About the Book: Vintage and Retro Caravans Downunder
Wednesday 22nd November 2017
By Dave Eddy
Written by Marilyn Jessen, Author of Vintage and Retro Caravans Downunder
Caravans have been in the Jessen family since 1946, when Don’s father returned from the war and started building caravans in the home garage. Caravans became a holidaying way of life, which Don fully embraced by joining the company as an apprentice when he left school. Liteweight Caravans, went on to become New Zealand’s largest caravan manufacturer.
Many years after Liteweight had closed, Don found their first vintage van under a tree in a garden centre, and traded a dozen cold ones for it. Marilyn was convinced that he’d paid too much for it, and was not impressed with the new moss covered acquisition. What’s more, it had been used for seed and manure storage and stank! Marilyn was so less than impressed. It was, of course, a Liteweight, and turned out to be the last one hand built by his father in the home garage before they up-scaled production in a new factory. Of course, Don restored this 1956, 12 foot, Liteweight Kiwi to its former glory. Once the grime, and the smell were removed, Marilyn started to see the potential, adding her canvas and sewing skills to the restoration. To date they have covered more than 20,000 kms around New Zealand. It is their choice of home away from home, when they are travelling and writing.
The restoration started a new passion for Don. With the emerging vintage caravan scene in New Zealand, he started collecting photos and stories of restorations, which were published in his first book Retro Caravans –Vantastic Collections. This led to a new career in writing, with books on retro boats and vintage aircraft added to the title list. Marilyn came on board to assist Don with the photography.
Don has always followed caravan trends overseas, so with Vintage and Retro Caravans Downunder, it was a no-brainer to include the wonderful Australian vintage caravans.
The vintage scene in Australia is much stronger than in New Zealand,” says Don. “I think it’s because there are so many more vans available. We were blown away by the original condition of the vans, and the range of models is huge. We were intrigued that some models have such a distinctive Australian or New Zealand look, while others, like the Sunliner and the Concord, are very similar. We were keen to bring the Australian vans to a Kiwi audience, and likewise give Australians a glimpse of what was happening in the New Zealand scene. From petite caravans and teardrops, to larger holidaying models, café caravans and new replica vintage styled vans, our aim was to cover a wide cross section of caravan history. The book covers a fifty-year span from a 1928 Angela Gypsy Showman to a 1978 Alpha classic caravan.
There is no doubt that the restorations of the caravans featured in the book are an incredible testament to craftsmanship both of yester year and today. We love that so many owners have restored their vans themselves – such a labour of love. We know how addictive this can become, with many van owners having more than one vintage van, and many having the matched vintage car to complete the package.
While in Australia we quickly became vintage shop junkies, keen to add to our collection of retro ware and restoration parts. Marilyn’s interest in interior décor had motivated her research into the colours and fashions for the decades, from pre-fifties to the seventies. She has summarized this research, with photos, in a chapter of the book. Everyone we talk to says it’s a real walk down memory lane.
During the writing of the book we added another caravan to our stable – a 1958 Liteweight (of course) Kiwi 14-footer. The restoration of Daisy Mae, as she was quickly named, is also featured in the book – from rescue at an Auckland beach by digger, through chassis restoration, painting, interior fit out and decor.
Writing this book has been such an amazing journey. We feel like we have made the most incredible collection of new friends. We are often asked if we remember people we have interviewed. The answer is a resounding yes! Everyone has such a unique story, and their personalities are so wonderfully reflected in their caravans. Some have found their childhood caravan, and some have found new adventures with caravans taking starring roles on screen. Others have embraced the back to original styling while others have rock ‘n’ rolled their caravans with themes as varied as American diner to beach themed to retro garage complete with petrol pump and number plates.
We are so grateful to everyone we met. They have been so generous in opening up their caravans, enthusiastically telling us the restoration story, and allowing Marilyn to take photographs for us to share with the readers.
Vintage vanning is such an enormous amount of fun, and is continuing to grow at a rapid rate on both sides of the Tasman. We’re definitely hooked and will be back over to Australia to the National Vintage Caravan rally in April next year. If you’re there please look us up. You’ll know who we are. We’ll be the ones with notebook and camera knocking on everyone’s doors. We love to talk to like-minded people so please come and introduce yourselves to us.
To those of you who are ‘avid vintage vanners’ we hope you enjoy this book. For those of you who have a passing or growing interest in vintage caravans and the lifestyle, we hope you are inspired by what you see and read.