The retro caravan project continues
Words and photos: Lee Davey
In this article, I introduced our latest caravan DIY project – a 1977 Bailey Maru that my 12-year-old son and I plan to revive for less than the cost of a reasonable tent.
Having spent a whopping £5.99 on Mabel (as she’s now known), we’ll take you through the perils and pitfalls of buying a retro caravan, a steep learning curve we climbed during our last caravanning project.
The cold light of day makes few things look better, but as I squinted at the grey, two-berth cube, it looked far better than a £6 caravan should.
Father Time may have picked at her weatherproofing, rotted small sections of frame and floor, and littered the rear panel with four-decades of reversing mishaps, but the unmistakable 1970s styling remains.
If you’re thinking of delving into a similar project, here’s what we found upon closer inspection; a list that many classic caravans will undoubtedly share.
Weatherproofing a vintage caravan
Damp, or water ingress, is a common problem among vintage caravans, with the wooden skeleton, or frame, suffering as a result.
Sandwiched between the outer aluminium skin and inner wallboard, such issues can remain hidden until the surrounding structure also falls victim.
A £10/£20 damp meter from eBay is unlikely to be as accurate as the one your local caravan dealer uses but will prove reliable enough to highlight any areas that require further investigation.
My £15 Silverline meter has two sharp prongs that stick into the wallboard, allowing me to check the ceiling, down each corner, underneath each window, and around the door.
A prolonged spell of good weather skewed our results by drying floor and wallboard that would otherwise act as a sponge in wet weather.
Thankfully, a ‘tide mark’ in the Maru made it easy to identify problems, with a large hole by the door underlining a longstanding issue. As a rough guide, any reading of 25% and above should be added to the ‘further investigation required’ column.
A rotten frame in the caravan
Glass half full, the rotten wallboard allowed us to diagnose an equally rotten section of frame, but the affected areas are confined to bite-sized chunks which can be repaired with relative ease.
Resembling the ageing lines of a tree, numerous damp rings have marked the ceiling, but the majority of the timber underneath looks surprisingly good.
The nearside wallboard will have to be removed, allowing us to repair each corner, while adding strengthening beams for some new ‘kit’ we’re hoping to add at a later date.
Checking the caravan floor
Unless a booby trap has been fitted by the door, this soft section of floor indicates a shoe box-sized area that requires attention, and not a handily placed burglar deterrent from the 1970s.
Our last caravan project – a 1967 Bailey Maestro – swallowed an 8ft by 4ft sheet of ply, but I’m hoping for a much smaller repair. To test the floor, remove your shoes and walk on every part, feeling for soft or spongy areas.
The damp meter should be used on the outer edges of the floor where it meets the wall. I remain impressed by a segment that gave a 100% reading. In other news, we’re hoping the eye-watering original carpet will benefit from a thorough clean, allowing us to keep it.
Over time, external sealant has been replaced by moss, a surprisingly hardy plant that does little for structural integrity.
The outside of our Maru is made from a series of aluminium sheets, with the awning rails and external trim sealing the gaps in between.
These are generally pinned or screwed in place, meaning we can remove, clean and refit with a modern sealant. The window rubbers are covered in paint but appear to be crack-free.
Inspecting the chassis and A-frame
The chassis and A-frame are often overlooked but this vital part of the caravan comprises box and angled section of steel, often with lengths of timber towards the edges.
With handbrake on and corner steadies down, we inspected the metal parts for corrosion by tapping with a hammer, and the wooden sections for rot by prodding with a screwdriver.
The metalwork requires little more than a clean and repaint. We will cover the hitch, brakes, and suspension in a later issue.
Viewed as a single project, such an undertaking can seem overwhelming at first, with no clear indication as to where the finishing line is.
Writing a plan of attack is not only therapeutic, it also serves as a handy reminder, allowing each part to be further divided into manageable jobs.
Retracing footsteps can be frustrating during a build, but with bullet points written under each of the areas above, it allows a streamlined approach to getting a classic caravan back on the road.
In the next part of the series, we’ll be getting ‘hands on’ as we strip the interior… wish us luck!