The annual Cruise Martinborough event is a fun few days here in town. The Rock and I both love the sound of a deep, throaty V8 motor rumbling past the house, and we enjoy heading to the rugby grounds along the road each day for muster, before the 350+ cars (this year) head off to a venue around the beautiful Wairarapa region for a day of cruising, and eating great food while listening to music at stunning venues, both rural and on the great South Wairarapa coastline.
For the purposes of this magazine we are always on the lookout for RVs with a story; popular at the present time are classic cars paired with a paint and era-matched caravan of some description. This year two beauties were stars of the Martinborough event.
In this issue we feature a 1956 Hillman Husky van with a hand-built Teardrop camper inspired by the original plans from a 1947 edition of Popular Mechanic magazine. At that time, returning GIs would build them out of wood or aircraft aluminium, achieving a light, compact camper that could be towed economically around the country, often doing the classic Route 66 road trip. The idea quickly spread worldwide.
The camper classification is quite right for this model built by Steve: traditionally a bed on wheels with a rear galley, this one has a sink and running water, hot water, portable BBQ, outside shower if required, and enough cupboards for the necessities. Steve would love to build a 1930s style caravan. Tiny 1950s camping trailers cannot comply with self containment but Steve and Nicki don’t mind they love the more traditional basic camping experience. That’s not to say they haven’t put some technology into this model that wouldn’t have been there in 1947, such as LED lighting and a USB charger that Nicki can use to run a 12V hair dryer and charge the laptop, powered by a lithium 100Ah house battery. Plus they have a solar blanket that they carry in a owner-made replica 1890s sea chest that sits on the tow bar of the camper. The look of solar panels on the vehicle did not fit the 1950s brief for the couple, so a solar blanket is a great option for them and works well; driving the vehicle also charges the house battery.
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In the design-and-build process Steve took around three months to nut out, test and finalise the design specifications, then nine months – working every weekend and many late nights during the week – to create the pretty little honey that we saw. I was surprised when I asked Steve his trade, expecting the common response of a motor trimmer, or mechanic, or similar hands-on worker in the trade, but no – he is a lab technician. He figured his 31 years’ DIY house-building experience and self-taught motoring skills would do the job, and he was right. All the panels, walls, roof, doors, etc. were hand cut by Steve.
His ideas morphed as he saw other people’s campers at the Beach Hop one year. One idea was to have a drop-well floor so you could sit comfortably on the two lounge seats with foot and leg space on the floor, and when required simply lay the squabs flat for your bed at night. Having an instant hot-water gas Califont was another idea that made sense, rather than having to store hot water, but they also hooked up a hot/cold exterior shower hose they can use whenever it’s needed. Steve and Nicki don’t care about not being self-contained. Steve and Nicki enjoy the camping experience the Camper allows, meeting people from all walks of life and bonding with them – while talking about their cool van and amazing camper, no doubt.
The car was a separate project, and what a little cutie this 1956 Hillman Husky is – not exactly a classic though, as Steve found the 1200cc original motor was a bit slow for them, so he dropped in a sweet little V8 flathead engine. The interior features match the Teardrop interior and together this pair looks great.
1956 Hillman Husky Van
Originally manufactured here in New Zealand as a very basic budget car, but actually made from left-over parts from other vehicles. This particular van had one school teacher owner in Hastings prior to Steve taking ownership over 16 years ago. Initially Steve did up the Husky as a vehicle for his teenage son, but over time it wasn’t quick enough so the son moved on, and Nicki and Steve took over the vehicle and started doing more classic events. Didn’t take long for the new motor to be dropped in, a fascination with classic campers and caravans to take root, and a project begin.