Isn’t it annoying? You read about a new camper only to be told you’re too late to buy one because they are all sold out. Well, that’s almost true of Track Trailer’s 18th anniversary tribute Tvan, the Firetail.
Thanks to its value packaging, the limited edition model has been very popular with not only new Tvan buyers, but also existing customers who see it as the perfect opportunity to upgrade to the current MK4 body style and advanced features of one of Australia’s most decorated hard-shell campers.
So, what’s a Firetail?
Ornithologically, the firetail is commonly known in Australia as the diamond sparrow – one of the largest and most beautiful members of the finch family.
The original intention was to give the name to the original Tvan when it left the drawing board in 1998, with the bright orange/red highlight on the hatch designed to reflect the tail of the reclusive local bird.
However, as the Tvan approached production, Track Trailer decided to adopt the shorthand name used for the development project file ‘Tvan’ – ‘Transition to Caravan’ – and the rest is history, until now.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
Reviving the Firetail moniker has given Track Trailer the opportunity to package some of the best Tvan features into what basically is a spruced-up Tanami – a model that sits second on the ladder in the regular four-model Tvan range – above the bare-bones entry-level Yulara and below the Canning and range-topping Murranji.
While it doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of the premium models (not everyone wants air-conditioning and space heating), the Firetail’s full front boot including left-hand fridge slide and Premium kitchen are among the most requested options offered on base models.
Throw in the Firetail’s custom colour scheme of Surf Mist aluminium composite bodywork with contrasting Jet Black highlights and its distinctive firetail badge for $57,990 and you have a winner.
According to Track Trailer, this represents a $3250 saving over a standard Tvan Tanami fitted with similar options and places it $600 beneath the Canning, making it excellent bang for the buck among premium hard shell Australian-built camper trailers.
As regular readers may have noted, the MK4 Murranji we reviewed in the October issue tripped the register at $73,480. But as the Firetail offers the same essential Tvan experience and quality construction at a saving of more than $15,000, it’s a bargain. So let’s see what you get.
For a start, the hot-dipped galvanised 125x75mm chassis and 100x50mm drawbar are identical, as are its standard DO35 hitch, aluminium checkerplate drawbar step, aluminium sandwich panel wall construction and fibreglass clamshell rear hatch. The Military Category 2 (MC2) independent asymmetrical suspension on the Firetail is rated to 1.5t, which is in keeping with its 108L water carrying capacity.
The quality, locally-made ‘standard’ tent that drops from the clamshell hatch is quick to erect and pack up. If the correct sequence is followed and with a bit of practice, you should be able to level the camper, lower the tent, attach the floor and tent mouth to the body of the camper and install the internal upright poles in a few minutes.
By then you are off the ground and your queen-size bed, with high density foam mattress is already made. Most importantly, when it’s time to move on, it will remain made up and dry.
However, because the tent is stowed away in the rear hatch of the van and not on the bed, you can choose whether or not to set up the full canvas.
In tropical weather, or for quick stops on the fly, you use the rear sandfly-proof mesh screen standard on all MK4 Tvans (except for the Yulara) that slips over the rear opening flange and allows maximum airflow.
Alternatively, you can option a large, rear canvas door with a sandfly-proof mesh insert to protect you in changeable weather. Either can be fitted at the time of setup and the hatch can be adjusted to protect the entry.
For longer stays, the Firetail – like every other Tvan except for the entry model Yulara – comes equipped with a sail awning that covers the outside kitchen area, and an annexe that covers the full side of the Tvan.
Depending on the strength of the wind, your experience and the availability of a second set of hands, the sail will take you about five minutes to erect, while the Full Monty annexe will take you and a friend about 15 minutes to set up and peg out.
As every MK4 Tvan shares the same body, the interior layout is similar across the range with the main differences in the level of furnishings and luxuries offered as standard.
The Firetail comes standard with a single 108L rear-mounted water tank, which leaves out-of-sight storage space beneath a marine carpeted hatch on the left-hand side of the rear floor, while there is plenty of room under the bed to slide plastic storage bins for your clothing, kitchen items or food supplies.
This is not as fancy as the optional sliding drawers, standard on the top-level Murranji Tvan, but Bunnings plastic tubs work well, as the slide-in kitchen limits how far they can be pushed in.
Block out patches to stop light entering through the Tvan’s fixed trapezoidal side windows are standard, however, you can spend another $2800 and get the sliding glass side windows optional on all Tvan models. Without them, the double-glazed roof hatch provides good ventilation above the bed.
The Firetail’s ‘Command Module’ on the right side of the entry houses the main electrical switches, a Projecta 15A charger and a battery management display. As it is all pre-punched for available options, fitting an optional sound system, USB plugs and the like is easily done provided you tick the required boxes and part with extras money.
A standard 60W solar panel on the roof to power the Firetail’s single 105A battery should be enough for most camping needs, but there is room to add more solar and a second battery.
Outside, the Firetail’s hero features are its large front A-frame mounted storage box and its slide-out Premium kitchen.
The boot with its twin opening side doors, makes maximum use of the A-frame and has a fridge slide that can be mounted on either side, leaving the other free to house a generator or additional jerry cans. Twin front pockets covered by elastic-sided mesh are ideal for storing pegs and other small items, while the spare wheel sits handily on top.
Thoughtful features of this box that shows offroad experience are its twin powder-coated black stone shield held in place by Phillips-head screws, which make them simple to remove and repaint after a trip, while sturdy truck vinyl protects the spare wheel and other vulnerable front areas.
The Premium Kitchen is the same as that fitted to the top-of-the-range Murranji. Occupying a 30 per cent larger locker than on the Classic Kitchen and employing a lock on the handle for single-handed operation, it slides out on Track Trailer’s in-house designed ball bearing runners and features twice the bench space of its smaller Classic Kitchen counterpart.
The stainless steel benchtop utilises Track Trailer’s signature sheet metal expertise for a premium feel. The kitchen boasts a Thetford three-burner glass-topped stainless steel cooktop with piezo ignition and a matching stainless steel sink with flick style tap, draining board and cutlery drawer located below, while integrated windshields are deployed by simply raising them into position.
It’s a nice place to cook with a lot of thought clearly invested in details such as the seamless aluminium edges and the way the unit and its drawers slide. If you want to be picky, you do have to walk around it to get to the fridge as it’s located in the left-hand front A-frame box, but given the Tvan’s overall length of less than five metres, it’s hard to avoid without reversing the relative positions of the kitchen and fridge.
My only other comment is that the weight of the sail awning works against it in blustery conditions. You really need two people to erect, peg and pole it out properly in high winds; otherwise it could flap about, which was what we found.
No such criticism can be levelled at the full annexe, which is made of canvas and, once erected with all poles in place, provides a good all-weather shelter.
Off the beaten track and behind our Ford Ranger, the Firetail with its MC2 suspension proved every bit as capable as its predecessors.
We ploughed the Tvan’s large flip-up jockey wheel into the soft crest of a fire trail ‘jump-up’ at one stage without any damage, but to be fair, the hitch was set fairly low and the terrain was very challenging.
Otherwise, with its Tare weight of just 1025kg and its narrow width and its ability to follow the wheel tracks of its tow car, the Firetail hardly made its presence felt behind the Ranger’s five-cylinder turbodiesel.
Despite the passage of 18 years from prototype to class-leading camper, you really have to be picky to find much fault with the Tvan’s overall combination of proven extreme offroad ability, quick set up, quality build and resale value.
More the pity that the Firetail is a limited edition. But if you miss out, don’t worry, the same options can be fitted to a regular Tanami or Canning.
The only thing you won’t be able to show your camping friends is ‘the bird’.
THE WRAP UP
Specified as reviewed, the Firetail represents the ideal Tvan for many travellers: sufficiently equipped for long-term living in remote areas, but without the extra weight and arguably unnecessary ‘bling’ of the more upmarket models in the range.
Okay, so the diesel heating and hot water would be nice, but you can always spec it.
HITS AND MISSES
- Timeless, functional design
- Superb build quality
- Clever thinking
- Pole clamps would assist sail awning erection
- Need to walk around kitchen to get to fridge
Check out the full feature in issue #109 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.