Thursday, 22 August 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Biggest ever Retro Car & Caravan Club rally at Hot Water Beach last weekend

The New Zealand Retro Car & Caravan Club held its biggest ever rally last weekend at the Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park with more than 40 vintage and retro caravans taking part.

The rally got off to an ideal start on Saturday in what could only be described as picture perfect weather. Many owners of the participating timeless classics grew up in the era of the popular Kiwi built home-on-wheels and have painstakingly returned what were mostly very dilapidated and neglected caravans back to their former glory.  

Each brand and specific model on show had its own unique story to tell and come from a time when the local caravan industry introduced the concept of Kiwis enjoying the great outdoors in some form of comfort.

Rally organiser and the person mainly responsible for getting the club up and running nationwide, Peter Munn, said that the condition of many of the caravans are now equal to, or better than, the original builds. Peter’s own restoration project is a show-stopping 1973 10-foot six-inch Lilliput Gazelle and was displayed complete with a one-off replica scale model. The project took 12 months to complete.   

“The club is all about people who are like-minded and passionate about our country’s caravanning past and preserving the many New Zealand made caravans and similar vintage or retro examples,” says Peter. “As a combined group, we can support, help and advise people who are restoring their caravans. Hard to find parts and accessories are often sourced because of feedback from club members. Through our Facebook page, which was started nearly six years ago, the club has grown to around 1,500 active members currently.

“From restoring an old caravan, the attention can also quickly turn to finding a suitable tow vehicle that fits the same era for some members. Car shows and festivals like the Repco Beach Hop are happy to welcome us on board because we fit in with their theme and we believe we can add value and create additional public appeal.”

Judging by all the hard work that has gone into restoring classics that was on display over the weekend, it’s plain to see that it’s all very much a team effort. “When a car restoration is underway, it’s normally a male dominated world with countless hours spend alone in a man-cave, whereas with a caravan restoration, it’s very much a shared role,” says Peter. “While one half of the team can work on the structural and mechanical issues, other half can look after the interior fit out and sourcing of the appropriate accessories.”  

The weekend’s rally drew members from all over the North Island and ran from Friday afternoon until Sunday, although some stayed on for another day or two before heading home. Activities over the weekend were all low key with the main focus being on the mix and mingle among members and the sharing of stories and ideas all to do with vintage caravanning, of course. Those attending were also encouraged to enjoy the many nearby attractions in Mercury Bay as well.

Attending the rally were keen local Whitianga vintage caravan enthusiasts, Don and Marilyn Jessen, who between them have produced many best-selling books that centre on all things vintage and retro, including old caravans, boats and aircraft. Don’s father started the company Liteweight Caravans in the mid 1940s, which went on to become New Zealand’s largest caravan manufacturer until it ceased production in the 1990s.  
Don and Marilyn currently own one of the original Liteweight caravans and have covered over 20,000 kilometres around New Zealand since its restoration.

The oldest caravan on show was a 1950 10-foot Liteweight which was restored by Dave McRobbie from Hamilton. His caravan was the 22nd caravan ever made by the company. From an absolute wreck sitting neglected in long grass for many years, Dave has painstakingly rebuilt the caravan using mainly genuine parts, including tracking down an original tow bar coupling.

Dave’s past work history and hands-on experience with caravans would be unparalleled also. He started his apprenticeship as a coachbuilder with Liteweight Caravans in 1969 and has stayed connected to the industry ever since.      

All those who attended the rally were keen to point out that the beauty of their passion is the fact that the finish product can be put on display and can also be used as practical and comfortable accommodation at the same time.

And when the restoration is a team effort, both halves can contribute a story or two about the highs and lows of the journey around the campfire.

Pictured: Peter Munn, the founder of the New Zealand Retro Car & Caravan Club, at his beautifully restored Lilliput Gazelle during last weekend’s club rally in Hot Water Beach.

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