Caravan overhaul: Rob Millington's retro take on trailer design
By Paul Ridden
July 15, 2009
If the mere mention of the word caravan gives you terrifying visions of formica fold-out tables, thermos flasks full of weak tea or being forced to play bridge with a bunch of sensible beige trouser-wearing accountants then fear not, there are those who are trying to leave such stale, cliched images behind and inject some modern thinking into the world of mobile holidaying. One person trying to bring some much needed cool to the world of the caravan is Rob Millington, who sought to create "something that had quality to rival that of a luxury yacht" with this gorgeous concept design.
The romanticized associations of enjoying a life on the road undoubtedly find roots in the European traveling showpeople (Romani Gypsies), who can still be seen sitting atop their colorful carriages to this day. The Bristol Carriage Company first took the idea of a personal traveling home to the public in 1885 when the horse-drawn Wanderer was introduced to the UK. Interest in vanning subsequently grew and grew, reflected in the formation of the Caravan Club in 1907. By the 1920s tin can tourists were being spotted Stateside and the global age of the mobile holidaying experience had well and truly arrived.
It's cool to caravan
Somewhere along the way though it lost its youth appeal and by the mid 1970s was becoming synonymous with the aforementioned beige trouser brigade. Change is in the air though and the box habitat on wheels has found some surprising champions of late - Kate Moss, Jamie Oliver, Robbie Williams and Lenny Kravitz are all said to be ‘cara-fans'.
No doubt a deciding factor in this resurgence of popularity has been efforts to give the tired old trailer design a facelift and break into a new festival-going generation, coupled with a healthy splattering of celeb of course.
Recent offerings from Teardrop, Mini and Tabbert show "what can be done with a caravan if a little thought is put into the design," according to budding designer Rob Millington. For his Transport and Product BA Hons degree project Rob tasked himself with creating a van that "had quality to rival that of a luxury yacht", something a world away from the familiar uninteresting plain white box.
With the sleek airstream form, aluminum banding, whitewall tires and wheel covers Rob's creation looks quite 1950s retro. But that cleverly masks the fact that this is bursting with up to the minute technology.
For a start, it won't be constructed from aluminum, poplar or ash like many modern examples. Rob's creation will be a two layer glass reinforced plastic (GRP) shell with insulating foam sandwiched between them. Using such materials should mean that the whole shell could be produced as a complete one piece affair, giving less opportunity for damaging water to get in. Also, GRP won't get damp and rot like some examples and should provide a good strength to weight ratio.
The body is attached to a tubular spaceframe chassis for improved weight and rigidity. But if this aspect proved too expensive for mass production however then GRP could be used for the chassis too.
Rather than mess around dismantling tables or sofas and self assembly beds, the sleeping area is in a pop top roof. When needed, the sleep space roof is mechanically raised via a control unit to provide for some comfortable snooze time (probably similar in feel to the sleeping areas found above the driver compartments in some mobile camper vans, but much more luxurious and not at all claustrophobic). It's accessed from the kitchen area via a ladder attached to a track at the end of the bed. And fear not, if you find you need extra sleeping space, the sofa would naturally be one that incorporates some sort of fold out mattress capabilities.
While we're on the subject of extra space, a rear fold down decking area is also operated by the control unit to instantly give more room. If the weather's good you can just throw a couple of chairs on it and enjoy. If not, or at night, there are sliding sides and a roof for a snazzy inside/outside experience.
The control unit will act somewhat like a modern TV remote in that as well as being used to activate the pop up sleeping area and the drop down decking, it will also manage the heating, set up the security features and for all the in-flight entertainment!
To complement the living and sleeping space there's a modern kitchen with fold-out breakfast bar and a well thought out toilet/bathroom area. And just so you don't worry about all those electronic gadgets running out of juice there's a solar panel on the roof to provide the batteries with charge. An important feature in a ever more eco-aware society - cutting down on damaging footprints is not just the domain of car and motorbike manufacturers. Last year for example, the UKs Caravan Club unveiled the Ecostream environmentally friendly caravan at the International Caravan and Motorhome Show at Birmingham's NEC.
One of the advantages of the design still being in the concept stage is that things like a WiFi 3G router or additional eco-friendly power generating tech could be incorporated into any pre-production specifications. Also, tweaks in the original design (good looking though it is) might need to be made in order to bring the product to the marketplace. The (potentially unpopular) lack of a front window, for instance, has already been taken into consideration. The pull out sides for the decking area not blocking out the side window might also need looking into. There could also be stability issues that will need some attention. But given that this is likely to be a product snapped up by younger vanners and not by anyone wearing beige, the look has huge potential to appeal as is which would just leave those technical issues to take care of.
Looking to the future
Rob says that he wants to take his concept further but recognizes that he can't do it alone. He'd like to see his design reach prototype and beyond. He's currently working on showing "manufacturers how current designs could be improved on without massive investment". So, if you think his designs deserve to exist outside of the PC environment, get in touch with Rob and express your enthusiasm (he's also working on a website to showcase his ideas but at the time of writing it's not ready).