South Coast-based vintage caravan collector Richard Potter is busy preparing his prized collection for a special outing.
Mr Potter’s vans, which include a rare 1936 camper trailer and a classic 1960 fibreglass Sunliner, will be on display in Sydney this week at the Caravan Camping Supershow.
The Supershow, an annual event that attracts tens of thousands of campers, grey nomads and tourists, taps into the highly lucrative recreational vehicle market.
While today’s recreational vehicles include all the comforts of home and can cost up to $100,000, Mr Potter’s vans will give show-goers a glimpse of a much simpler time.
“My vintage caravans always attract attention and admirers, but I’m expecting at the Supershow punters will say they absolutely love them but can’t do without the microwave and dishwasher,” Mr Potter said.
A 1947 all-steel Carapark Suberb caravan, one of the finest vans in Richard Potter’s collection. (Photographer: sv1ambo)
A lifelong passion
Caravans have been a part of Mr Potter’s life for as long as he can remember, thanks to a dad who was passionate about caravans and family holidays.
When Mr Potter was old enough to get a driver’s licence, he made an unusual choice of first car: a collectable FJ Holden.
“I was always collecting accessories and parts for the FJ Holden”, Mr Potter said.
“And then I realised the ultimate accessory would be a vintage caravan, and the collection took off from there.”
Mr Potter’s first purchase was a little yellow van built in 1958 by Ron Davey from Urunga.
Since then his collection has grown to include 18 vans, requiring their own shed for protection.
Mr Potter is always on the hunt for new pieces.
“My latest purchase is also the rarest van in the collection, a 1936 Eicke and Provis, and it’s one of only two in existence,” Mr Potter said.
“The van was designed by a solicitor from Adelaide, has an ingenious pop-up design, a little stove and two bunks, so you could perhaps call it the world’s first camper-trailer.”
The other surviving Eicke and Provis was originally owned by artist Hans Heysen, who would take it on trips deep into the Flinders Rangers.
Other highlights in Mr Potter’s collection include the sought after 1960s fibreglass Sunliner, a 1955 Don caravan, considered the Rolls Royce of caravans, and a 1947, all-steel Carapark Superb van, better known as the “toaster on wheels”.
Just as his father used to take the Potter family on caravan holidays twice a year, Richard Potter now hooks up one of his vintage caravans to hit the road with his wife and family along for the ride.
“The first time I pulled up in a caravan park with the little yellow van, a bloke in his big RV asked if Mickey Mouse was living in the van,” Mr Potter said.
Richard Potter considers his collection more of an expensive hobby than an investment, and counts himself lucky that the wife and family are supportive.
“We’re a family of collectors really, my wife has over 200 vintage cameras, so fortunately she’s not really in a position to complain,” Mr Potter said.
A vintage Eicke and Provis 1936 pop-up caravan, one of only left in existence. (ABC Illawarra: Sean O’Brien)
A growing interest in vintage caravans
Richard Potter has noticed that interest in vintage caravans has grown significantly in the last ten years, which he puts down to a nostalgic desire for simpler times, and also greater appreciation of classic design.
“Many of the 1950s and ’60s era caravans have a boat-like feel to them, including stained timber interiors and fish emblems, which makes sense as many of the builders also built boats on the side,” Mr Potter said.
“When the boat trade was slow, the builders could make a few caravans to sell as ideal transportable holiday accommodation for booming post-war families.”
When he first started collecting, Mr Potter knew of only one other person with a vintage caravan.
Richard Potter’s first purchase, a 1958 plywood yellow caravan built by Ron Davey from Urunga. (ABC Illawarra: Sean O’Brien)
“But now there are whole groups dedicated to vintage van collecting, and we stay in touch via social media,” he said.
The tiny house movement also has a role to play in the popularity of modest living spaces.
“Vintage caravans are not designed to be permanently lived in, but you could consider them to be tiny houses on wheels, great for cheap short-term holidays.
“With a vintage caravan, you have an inbuilt fun factor.”
Mr Potter’s vintage caravan collection, together with vans sourced from other significant collections, will be on display at the Caravan Camping Supershow at the Rosehill Gardens Racecourse in Sydney from April 24 to 29.