The Hills Hoist, the VW Beetle and Porsche 911: great distinctive designs that have survived the test of time because they hit the spot and, apart from keeping abreast with the times, their makers were smart enough to leave them alone.
In the camper trailer realm, we can add the Track Trailer Tvan to that esteemed list. The inspired collaboration of the late Alan Mawson and Gerard Waldron resulted in the original Tvan, launched in late 1999, and, nearly 16 years on, it remains unmistakable and one of the best hard-shell camper trailers you can buy.
It is also one of the most decorated. It was chosen as Camper Trailer of the Millennium by the Caravan Industry Association and was CTA’s Offroad Camper of the Year in its category in 2009 and 2011 and again in 2015 in Camper of the Year, despite fierce competition.
DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
Casual observers may find it difficult to spot the MK4 from its 2500-odd predecessors all over Australia today until they’re parked side-by-side. Even then, they may miss the many subtle changes to its aluminium sandwich panelled body that have left only the roof escaping the designer’s Autodesk Inventor keystrokes.
The most obvious body change on the test Tvan MK4 Canning is the (optional) body-hugging front storage box that has been completely redesigned to accommodate many common 80L fridges without impacting the Tvan’s impressive ‘bushability’ to perform a U-turn in its own length, if required. Conveniently for some applications, the fridge slide can now be mounted on either side.
Two of the most significant new features of the Tvan MK4 don’t reveal themselves until you start to probe its lockers and snug interior.
All Tvans except the entry-level Yulara and the top-spec Murranji come equipped with what Track Trailer calls its ‘Classic Kitchen’, which means a two-burner stainless steel slide-out with barbecue tray, windshields, stainless steel sink/pump and cutlery drawer.
However, the new ‘Premium Kitchen’ seen here (standard on the Murranji and available as a $2500 option on the other three lower-spec Tvan models) sets the benchmark in outdoor cooking style and convenience.
Occupying a 30 per cent larger locker, it is equipped with a Thetford three-burner glass-topped stainless steel cooktop with piezo ignition and a matching stainless steel sink with a flick style tap, draining board and cutlery drawer below.
But it’s the kitchen’s premium look and feel and its clever design features that count more than its size. For a start, it’s a metalwork of art, with beautifully finished rounded edges, while its clever pop-up L-shaped windshield is a great piece of industrial design.
The lock-in/lock-out handle makes extracting the kitchen a one-hand operation and, as the kitchen is anchored to the Tvan chassis, there is no need for an outrigger support to trip over. The whole unit glides out on Track Trailer’s self-designed ball bearing runners, making it a pleasure to use and, to top it all off, there’s a built-in bottle opener.
When fully opened, the Premium Kitchen takes up most of the left-hand side of the Tvan body, making it quick to access from the drop-down rear tent area, while the Tvan’s standard sail awning provides shelter for the chef under most weather conditions.
The best thing is that despite all the changes and refinements, the latest TvanCanning Mk4 remains a Tvan at heart, retaining the model’s unique blend of true go-anywhere bushability with secure and weatherproof hard-shell comfort.
Little has changed in the core idea. The rear tailgate drops on counter-weighted springs and unfolds to form a hard floor that is levelled by adjustable metal corner stays. The high quality tent drops down from the top-hinged fibreglass rear hatch that forms its room and is quickly attached to the base by bungee straps. The whole structure is tensioned by the clever timber ‘breakfast bar’ that is held in position by two telescopic rear tent poles.
If it takes you more than five minutes to erect the Tvan tent, you haven’t used it enough.
There’s no ensuite standard, but there is an optional zip-on tent that attaches around the right-hand side door of the Tvan’s living space to enclose a portable shower and toilet, if privacy is required.
But it’s the Tvan’s offroad ability that comes as part of its compact design and truly brilliant military grade MC2 Asymmetrical multi-link, trailing arm independent suspension with Koni shock absorbers that has made it a favourite over the years.
Not only can you take it anywhere, but its huge ground clearance, multi-directional DO35 hitch and its ability to be turned in its own length means that there will be few ‘blind alleys’ from where you can’t retreat.
Yes, its rivals are closing in and yes, the Tvan’s price has almost doubled since it was launched, but like a Porsche 911, it has gone down a separate development path where they are still no real rivals.
THE WRAP UP
Sixteen years on, Track Trailer’s Tvan is still the camper many Australians aspire to own and travel to remote places in.
Over the years, it has been enlarged, refined and kept up to date technically in most respects, but it’s still recognisably the same brilliant design it was in 1999.
We’re betting that the Mk4 will not only inspire many earlier Tvan owners to update – probably getting their original purchase price in the process – but will also create a new loyal band of followers.
HITS & MISSES
- Still the one!
- Superb build quality
- Industrial no-frills finish
- Real offroad capability
I would have liked...
- No hot water in slide-out kitchen (yet)
- Ticking too many options makes it pricy
Check out the full feature in issue #92 September 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.