Restoration of rare 1960s Irish built caravan | Season 1 – Episode 85
Wheels Feb 08, 2022
Ian Campbell has held an interest in classic caravans for many years and is a well-known expert especially on the Dundalk-built Sylva caravans.
Here in Ireland in the 1950s and 60s caravan parks and campsites had sprung up all over the island as caravanning became an annual family holiday for many people. Caravans had a wooden frame and a lightweight aluminium body to be easily towed by a family car. The interior of these caravans were a home away from home with all the comforts, beds and bunks for the entire family and cooking and toilet facilities.
Ian had spotted a rare 1965 Sylva caravan for sale online. He was drawn to the Sylva as he thought it was an unusual shaped caravan. After two months of indecision he made a 400 mile round trip to make the owner an offer he could not refuse. After a bit of haggling on the price as all the internal wall boards were damaged the 1965 Sylva Debutante 14 belonged to Ian.
The caravan was a former holiday rental in a vintage caravan park and while it was in reasonably good condition, upon detailed inspection in his own shed, Ian discovered that there was water damage to the wooden frame and flooring in a number of places and some impact damage to the exterior aluminium skin.
Ian began his restoration by replacing the frame that was damaged/rotten and the insulation was next to be restored to the areas where it was missing or damaged. While working on the insulation Ian ran cables within the walls to fit 12v lighting. As the previous owner had removed all of the gas tubing, this was also refitted along with a replacement gas light.
With the electrical cables and gas tubing in place the entire interior boarding was replaced and the interior given several coats of paint and yacht varnish for the kitchen and wardrobe units. Ian spent over 50 hours sanding the exterior flaky paint back to the bare aluminium.
With the exterior painted with etch prime (to promote the adhesion of paint to the bare aluminium skin) and stainless steel screws refitted to the exterior rails and bodywork, the caravan was resprayed in a lovely vintage cream.
The origins of towing a domestic trailer caravan can be traced back to the travelling Romani people who spent their lives traversing the roads of Europe. Following on from them came the travelling circuses and entire generations of families lived their lives in their horse-drawn and then car and truck-drawn caravans.
The first caravan built specifically for leisure activities was commissioned by the British children’s author, Dr William G Stables when in 1880 he commissioned the Bristol Wagon & Carriage works to build him a ‘gentleman’s caravan’ which named the Wanderer and used in touring the British countryside for research.
By the turn of the century, caravanning for leisure had become an increasingly popular activity in Europe and in the US. The Co Louth based Sylva Caravan company was part of the larger CRV Ltd (Commercial Road Vehicles), this company was born out of the old Great Northern Railway Company and the Dundalk Engineering Works which had made railway carriages up until the late 1950s.
On site in Dundalk the CRV group made use of the highly skilled former railway workers and produced cabs for AEC lorry chassis’ and from 1958 to 1962 they built Heinkel-Kabine bubble cars under a World-wide rights license. Ian has made a recent return trip with his caravan to the Dundalk Engineering Works in Co Louth where his 1965 Sylva Debutante 14 was built.
Information sources: 1. Ian Campbell @ Classic Irish Caravans 2. www.oldclassiccar.co.uk 3. www.practicalcaravan.com
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