08/03/2021
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Restoring a retro caravan on a budget

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Words and photos: Lee Davey

 

The caravan project story so far....

Part 1
Lee introduced his Bailey Maru – a project caravan bought for just £5.99
Read it here

Part 2
Lee showed us how to assess the damage and create a plan of action for the renovation of the caravan
Read it here

 

The year 1977 was a pivotal year for UK culture. Star Wars and the punk movement stunned the population, albeit for different reasons, and the Silver Jubilee introduced street parties to the masses. During this heady mix of cinematic milestones and royal celebrations, Mabel – our two-berth Maru caravan – emerged, blinking, from Bailey’s production line in Bristol.

When we collected her, evidence of previous holidays lurked in cupboard corners, but neglect in recent years has made her less than shipshape, with damp being the biggest problem.

In this DIY series we’re hoping to resurrect our £5.99 caravan for less than the price of a reasonable tent, and this month we’re repairing her wooden framework.

Modern Bailey caravans feature the Alu-Tech construction method, a process that bonds and bolts rigid panels together to form a tough shell; so tough that a car was famously craned onto a caravan roof during its launch.

However, things were different in the 1970s, with wooden skeletons formed from lengths of batten and aluminium sheeting fixed to the outside. Fibreglass insulation was then tucked between the ‘bones’ of the framework, and wallboard nailed to the inside.

As Charlie (my 12-year-old son) and I are working outside, we have removed the wallboard from affected areas, granting access to said soggy battens in a semi-watertight, outdoor working environment.

The process of renewing rotten sections of woodwork is relatively easy, incredibly therapeutic, and needn’t cost a fortune. Roofing batten proved to be remarkably cheap and effective during our last restoration project, and a call to a local roofing company secured supplies that were well within our meagre budget.

We opted for a 50mmx25mm batten as a saw cut down the middle gives us twice as many battens in a size that equates (roughly) to the imperial sizes used in 1970s Britain.

Identifying troublesome battens within the caravan’s framework is incredibly easy – if they are blackened and brittle, replace. Light brown and resistant to prodding by screwdriver? Leave well alone.

The key to replacement is dealing with small, bite-sized areas before moving to the next section. If you remove too much at once, you’ll be left with a jelly-like mass of aluminium that’s difficult to subdue and impossible to measure with any degree of accuracy.

Thankfully, the internal framework isn’t overly complicated and resembles that of a garden shed, with a latticework of criss-crossed woodwork that’s easy to replicate, especially if your 25mmx25mm roofing batten is of the same dimensions as the originals.

 

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With tape measure in hand, measure the batten requiring replacement and simply cut a new piece to length. Rotten parts can be wiggled free, or if nails hold parts of the woodwork in place, a mini hacksaw cuts through with ease.

The new section simply slots into place and we found screws offer a simpler, and firmer, fix. If you need to replace part of a batten, the newly cut segment acts as a template with a pencil marking a ‘cut line’ on the old piece.

A multi cutter is a superb piece of kit and makes light work of such cuts, allowing old and new timber to butt together before being glued and screwed, with bracing sections to the side.

Rotten woodwork around windows is commonplace and it’s best to remove the window before tackling this type of repair. We tend to work from top to bottom, ‘dry fitting’ the window to the new batten to check the gaps and fitment of catches.

With top, bottom, and sides replaced (and corner, crescent-shaped, segments refitted), we offer up the window once more to check the fit, before running a bead of sealer to the top and screwing into the new batten.

Futureproofing your caravan

If you’re planning to add external sockets for water, electricity, or a BBQ, now’s the time to plan the location(s) as the thin aluminium outer skin requires bracing from behind.

This can be an offcut of plywood flooring secured to the existing framework, or a small, square frame made to the dimensions of the new socket.

It’s easier to complete these works before replacing the wallboard, so now’s the time to decide what you’ll need. It’s also worth checking the roof light surround, even if it appears dry with no signs of water ingress.

Due to the roof design, these shoebox-sized frames have water running against them, so if there’s any doubt, fabricating a new part is worth the extra effort.

 

In Part Four
Lee discovers that a minor bump to the rear of the caravan, coupled with a previous repair to the door, has allowed water to pool. We peer beneath the eyewatering 1970s carpet to repair a rotten section of plywood flooring.

 

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