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An in depth look at Vintage Caravans and The Retro Caravan Club

Many people who buy from the yay retro! online vintage shop are keen vintage caravan or camper van owners. One such customer is Cameron who is one of the people who set up and runs The Retro Caravan Club - a fantastic, upbeat and welcoming organisation for owners of vintage caravans.  Have a read of this in depth blog post about caravans from the 1950s, 60s and 70s and find out more about how you could get involved. Many thanks indeed to Cameron, who has sent over some amazing photos of his extensive retro caravan collection and taken the time to answer the questions below about the vintage & retro caravan scene.

above....Cameron's 1963 Sprite Alpine, beautifully renovated inside and out with it's original features intact

Tell me about your caravans, how many you have, why you got into them, how long it takes to renovate one and why you have so many?

I'm not sure how many I have! I have around 10-15, though it varies as they have a habit of following me home! I've caravanned all my life, since I was two weeks old. My Grandparents are very hardy caravanners, still going away in their new caravan at 78 years old. Obviously caravanning must help you enjoy a long and active life. I caravanned with them all over Europe as a child, it was never a question of stopping when I left home, I couldn't wait to get a caravan of my own. I always liked the look of older ones and I've found them to be much more practical and easier to use than modern ones.

I couldn't possibly put a time limit on restoring one, as each one is different. And they will always need ongoing maintenance going forward, just like a classic car, due to their age. Sometimes you hit lucky and find a barn-stored example that needs a good clean, service and external re-spray, and I can turn something like that around in a few months. The longest restoration I have done is my 1962 Sprite Musketeer which was nearly a complete rebuild and it took me four years.

Ironically, I don't remember vintage caravans as I'm in my early 20s, and we were always lucky to have a nearly new caravan when I was growing up. It was my Grandparents' stories of their tiny 10ft 1966 Sprite 400 (their first caravan) that always fascinated me.

above... Cameron's 1967 Safari Caravan, loving the vintage rug and flower power cushions!

What would you class as a vintage caravan date-wise?

We class a vintage caravan as pre-1982. A huge recession hit Britain in 1980, and most of the long established manufacturers couldn't survive and ceased trading between 1980-1982. At the same time, a law was passed in the UK that new touring caravans as of 1983 could not be fitted with single pane glass windows, although some of the more expensive makes had been using plastic double glazed windows as early as 1973. There was a huge wave of change in designs, chassis types and fittings giving 1982 a very definitive "end of an era".

What model/makes are the caravans? Which model/makes are the most popular?

Without doubt, Sprite caravans are the most popular. Sam Alper, who founded Sprite caravans, was very much the Henry Ford equivalent of the caravan industry. They were stylish, practical, lightweight and cheap. At their peak in the late 1960s, they were turning out around 12,000 caravans per year! So there's plenty still around and they're very easy to work on. The more expensive makes such as Carlight, Viking, Cheltenham, Royale and Safari are very popular on the established classic caravan scene. Their style and quality is unrivalled all these years later.

Which are your favourite makes/models and why?

I'm one of the few people in the country who collect Sprite caravans. Because they made so many and they were so cheap, they never gained much respect with the established classic caravan scene. Consequently, some of these once popular models survive in mere handfuls due to so many people viewing them as "disposable", scrapping most of them decades ago. But at shows, they always attract the most attention as people relate to them more than the more popular "upper class" manufacturers. In their heyday, the more expensive caravans were unobtainable to your average buyer. My favourite models are my 1962 Sprite Musketeer and 1970 Sprite Major because they're both very iconic looking, with the infamous Sprite "swan neck" roof line and still very practical and easy to use, all these years later. Caravans tended to be styled rather conservatively, as typically in the mid-1950s, the average new caravan buyer would have been 50+ years old to have been able to afford one. Sprite changed all that and created a trendy caravan, with designs and interiors changing on a yearly basis to reflect design trends. 

above Cameron's Sprite 400 van, complete with vintage awning, fab latch hook rug and crocheted blanket which no vintage van should be without! I love this van, as we had one when I was growing up in the 1960/70s!

How easy is it to source a vintage caravan and where is it best to look?

There's plenty of vintage caravans listed on eBay every week. You'll also find a generous selection on Gumtree. Of course, Clubs such as the Retro Caravan Club are a good place to look too as enthusiasts tend to like their caravans keeping within the Club, so there's plenty of bargains to be had.

What sort of price range would you be looking at for a retro caravan?

How long is a piece of string! They can very from anything from a couple of hundred pounds to around £15,000. Of course, don't expect to pay much more than £1500 for a project, though rarer early models can command much higher prices in a derelict state as their end value is higher. Your average usable and restored 1950s-1970s vintage caravan seems to sell for around £2000 - £5000, depending on what it is. Pre-war and immediately post-war caravans typically sell in excess of £7500 - £15,000 due to their rarity and collectability.

above...Cameron's 1958 Sprite Alpine, I love all the genuine vintage accessories he has sourced including vintage plastic storage jars & cutlery tray. Plus just look at that pink plastic sink *adore*!!

How did you get involved with the retro Caravan Club? What is your role?

I co-founded the Retro Caravan Club in December 2015. It was a conscious move away from the established classic caravan scene, which had become quite stagnant. We wanted a fresh modern approach to a Club, with an easy online joining process (as opposed to a self-addressed stamped envelope and a cheque, as we'd previously been used to) and a strong social media presence. Other than that, we wanted to break down the traditional formalities that Clubs typically involve. We even toyed with naming ourselves the "Porta-Potti Owner's Club" because we wanted to show that it's all just a bit of fun. We hoped we'd reach around 40 members by the end of January 2016 to allow us to meet the minimum requirements for a printed magazine. To our absolute amazement, it completely took off, and we had around 170 members by the end of January 2016! Today, we're not far off accepting our 800th member, easily making the Retro Caravan Club the biggest Club for old caravans in Europe. My role is the Treasurer and Magazine Editor. I have a background in journalism and art and design, so the magazine is a real extravagant labour of love for me. The Retro caravan Club Facebook page is hovering around 8700 members at the moment, and followers are from everywhere in the UK - we even have active rallying members from the Continent!  

above...Cameron's 1962 Sprite Musketeer, complete with original radio with delicious Formica suround

What is the best thing about being a member of The Retro Caravan Club?

Without doubt it's the atmosphere and camaraderie. The rallies are amazing, with help and support offered from the moment you arrive on site and plenty of enthusiastic people who don't take themselves seriously at all. The more you get involved, the more new people you meet and very quickly form strong friendships. One of the most rewarding things for me as one of the founders is watching these friendships develop. It's amazing how much you have in common with everyone - I think it takes a certain kind of person to willingly drag a 50 year old tin box around the British countryside with them and watch for leaks as the rain beats down on a Bank Holiday weekend! That British eccentricity seems to be the foundation of our success.

How much is it to join The Retro Caravan Club and what benefits do you receive from joining?

It is £15 for the year, running from the date you join to the same date next year. You receive the current issue of our Retro Caravan Club Journal which has grown to 48 pages now. This is printed quarterly and is bursting with rally reports, technical articles, historical pieces and information about the Club. You also receive a code to access our member only area on our website to access Club information and view our rally calendar. We host nearly 50 rallies throughout the year, with a generous mix of social rallies held on campsites and display rallies where our caravans are on show to the public. Our social rallies offer very generous discounts on the usual nightly fee, with an £18 nightly fee price-cap, with most rallies coming in around £12-£15 per night with full facilities, which is excellent value for money.

above... Cameron's 1970 Sprite Major, I love the addition of the red contemporary retro design wallpaper which really sets off the stunning white enamel and formica kitchen area. The orange flower power curtains and cushions are simply stunning in the seating area - what a van!! 

What upcoming events does The Retro Caravan Club have and do any tie in with vintage events?

We have a Club stand at the two Retro Festival events Newark in June and Newbury in August, which is one of the biggest vintage festivals of the year. Our members receive a great price deal, as well as being positioned in pride of place within the event itself. It's great to have your caravan as a base to keep returning to, so you can keep trundling back with arm-fulls of vintage tat, have a cup of tea, then go back out to buy more.

above...Cameron's 1963 Cheltenham Puku caravan...complete with amazing Formica effect table (created by applying vintage wallpaper sealed with yacht varnish! I love the genuine vintage 1950s curtains in this van, along with the Atomic wire fruit bowl (a hard one to track down) and beautiful 50s vase!

Do you have vintage wares inside your vans? If so what are your favourite brands and why?

All of my caravans are restored to reflect the period that they were designed in. I exclusively use vintage items to furnish and equip them. I'm particularly fond of Gaydon Melmex, which was an early form of Melamine as it was widely promoted for use in caravans in the late 1950s onwards. Melmex has more of a flair to the shape of the plates and cups than the newer Melamine. I find that Midwinter china fits most china cabinets supplied in caravans. I have quite a lot of Midwinter sets, my favourite being Queensbury and Sienna. I also carry a selection of Feathaware items, which originated in the late 1950s, almost exclusively designed for camping. Their aluminium folding chairs are iconic but also practical due to them being exceptionally lightweight. They also designed the first plastic water carriers, which were all supplied in bright garish colours until the late 1960s.

Looking at the yay retro! shop, what are your favourite items for caravanning and why? 

You absolutely cannot go wrong with Melamine in a vintage caravan. It came in all kinds of colours, so you can easily find a set which suits the decor of your caravan. For me, the more garish, the better! So I'm choosing the bright orange melamine cup and saucer set by Rosti Mepal. I'm also very partial to vintage tins and containers, as storage is at a premium in a caravan. It's not practical to carry large boxes of tea bags or sugar with you, so decanting it into something smaller and just taking what you need is a must. I absolutely love this 1950s tin. Finally, it's always good to accessorise in a caravan and keep the decor quite simple. It helps create an illusion of space. Currently, Pineapples are very trendy - they were originally seen as a symbol of wealth in the 1800s, but also represent a bit of exotic glamour. We can't get enough of them over at the Retro Caravan Club!

Find out more about The Retro Caravan Club here

Go Shopping at yay retro! now for vintage caravan, campervan and homewares!

Some recommended buys for your caravan at yay retro!

Follow The Retro Caravan Club FB page

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