A Caravan fit for a Crusader.
An off-road caravan that nearly made it to these shores.
The caravan season has been upon us, which is fine for those heading off to the coast, Monopoly boards at the ready for wet days, inflatable's for when its fine. I found myself stuck behind a pair, both towed by almost identical cars. Kids excited in the back, parents wondering if they had remembered to lock the back door on the way out. A scene of domestic bliss, but I was stuck behind them in my 80 inch Land Rover, roof off, screen down and trying to enjoy a drive in the sun. I lacked the power to safely overtake both in one go, so spent 15 minutes reading the name Elddis Crusader instead. I mused that it was a good job the Crusaders didn’t have to tow one of these on their crusades. They would never have reached Constantinople!
In the winter of 2003, three of us were invited over to South Africa to take a look at an off-road caravan. My son Matt, friend Pete Sinclair and I were guests of the B’rakhah company in Johannesburg, swapping January weather here for warm sunshine in the southern hemisphere. Pete had come across this tough and capable 14 foot caravan, made a note of the manufacturer and was looking into the feasibility of importing them through Matt’s Derbyshire business. We stepped off the plane into hot African sunshine to be met by Johann Engelbrecht, the ‘vans designer in a 110 Td5 Land Rover. What rather alarmed us Brits was that Johann had a pistol on top of the cubby box - ‘You can’t be too careful round these parts’ he said without a glimmer of irony!
Fortunately the one hour drive took place without incident and we were able to enjoy a guided tour of Jo’burg from the 110. Once at the B’rakhah factory we were shown this really neat caravan that within minutes was looking sweet on the back of the 110, like the two were made for each other. They even shared the same alloy wheels and colour scheme. This was no accident as both Johann and his pal Hiene, who had joined us, are committed Land Rover fans and designed the caravan to have the same track as the Land Rover.
We were soon en route to Mpumalanga. A huge area of unspoilt beauty that extends up to the Kruger National Park, where Johann was to demonstrate the off-road ability of this tough caravan. Pulling off the main highway we ventured down increasingly remote roads and trails before finally turning onto a track like those found across wild areas of the Yorkshire Moors. It started high but descended into a lush, valley with a river, supposedly the home of a colony of crocodiles, at the bottom. The three of us have all done a fair bit of off-road driving and were sharing the same thought - going down a steep, narrow, rock strewn track is one thing, but the next day we would have to drive back out of it, with a caravan on the back! It got steeper, with the front wheels slipping slightly sideway as we negotiated a sharply angled smooth rock surface. With our hearts in our mouths we thought the whole rig was about to lurch into the bush, but Johann’s steady approach kept it going.
Safely in the valley we put all the awnings up, got the deck chairs out and enjoyed a perfect African sunset over a few beers and a barbecue. Where this caravan differed from our home grown products was that many of the amenities were outside. The kitchen pulled out to one side, the shower was outside in a separate awning and the interior was only used for sleeping. Not much room inside for endless games of Monopoly.
We spent the following morning walking and trying to spot elusive wildlife, before hitching the ‘van back up to the Land Rover to attempt, what we thought, would be an impossible climb. Johann adopted an attacking strategy, with the Td5 in second, low ratio, he kept up an enthusiastic speed flicking both Land Rover and caravan left and right up the steepest bits of track, wheels scrabbling for grip and caravan bouncing around behind. The caravan’s high departure angle ensured nothing came into contact with the ground and we did emerge, unscathed, at the top to rejoin the highway.
On the flight back home the three of us discussed the project and agreed that the success of that style of caravan, with its emphasis on living outdoors was very dependant on an African climate and it would not be viable in our North European weather. So sorry, but we shall continue to be stuck behind the likes of the Elddis Crusader for the time being.
Toby 1.jpg: Down the the river basin the Td5 and Caravan made light work of shallow water crossings and boulders.
Toby 2.jpg: The descent involved a steep, and at times polished, rock outcrop. Several times the Land Rover’s front wheels slipped on the shiny surface.
Toby 3.jpg: Toby, Matt and Pete were impressed with the tough little caravan, but felt its reliance on good weather would not make it suitable for the UK market.