Motorhome shows are just the place to light a fire in the belly; they inspire many to take part in the RV lifestyle. For some that might mean acquiring a Mooloo 30-second tent in order to kick-start their outdoor adventures, perhaps a classic caravan that needs a little work, or just possibly a new or second-hand motorhome perfect for their needs. As well, motorhome shows allow first timers to meet the right people at the right time to help bring their dreams to life. This is how Gabrielle and Jim Bateman found their dream makers, Chris Cunard from ACM Motorhomes, at the Covi Motorhome show in 2018. And this year at the 2020 show I met the couple as they showed me their custom-built motorhome that resulted from that first meeting, and they also showcased it to the thousands of visitors who attended the show.

Gabrielle is so happy with the automatic chair lift. The spacious rear bathroom is an ideal landing spot for entry

This is Gabrielle and Jim’s first motorhome. They have travelled the world widely over their 40 years of marriage, always staying in hotel and motel accommodation as traditional rental motorhomes or caravans didn’t cater to their individual needs – the main one being wheelchair access in and out of a vehicle and suitable interior facilities . The idea of having a motorhome had always been there but finding one was a challenge. They looked at hiring one out of Tauranga, but it was older and had step-down seating that didn’t really work for Gabrielle, but it got Jim fired up looking – he searched online overseas but didn’t have much joy with Australian manufacturers so looked further afield to the UK. They found one to rent and hired it for 10 days, but that fell over. Then they heard of a manufacturer building a unit for a New Zealand woman, and with a few emails and phone calls they managed to do a tour of the Birmingham factory in the UK building that caravan.

12v electric flush Pedestal cassette toilet, handbasin that is clear underneath for access, a shower curtain to contain the shower area

Just months later they attended the Covi show in March, and with recommendations from other exhibitors at the show they ended up at the ACM stand where they met with owner Chris, and the excitement grew from there. Meetings were booked in and their dreams were given a blast of hope.

The process started with a list of course – what did they need the most – obviously wheelchair access into the vehicle, wet-floor bathroom, and slide-out for extra living space. Then the technical details came into play – how would it work getting into bed? What about being able to do dishes and reach windows? Level floors right through to the cab. If they had a fire, how easy would it be for Gabrielle to get out? All sorts of extra things to think about compared with a normal build.

Plenty of bathroom storage, and a fold down seat

The couple had already spent many hours planning, drawing and discussing what they wanted, so Jim had enough computerised details to start the design team off. A visit to ACM and the factory helped this process with a taped-out motorhome plan on the floor for Jim and Gabrielle to sit in and try wheeling about on, and think about ways and means to achieve what they needed. I have spoken to home-build guys before and it usually starts with this sort of floor plan – everything goes back to basics. Chris Cunard tells me that more than four hundred hours of design and two thousand hours of building time went into the vehicle, and much of it was custom built or specialty supplied, from the steel man-made folded floor sections, the rear door and wheelchair cassette, and the electric sofa-bed unit.

It all started with Jim’s plans being taped out on the factory floor, and some down-to-earth testing being undertaken!

Rear entry is via an automatic under-floor cassette wheelchair lift. What an impressive unit this is. When not in use it’s tucked away out of sight under the rear of the motorhome, but get the remote out, flick a switch, and it’s all go as it unpacks itself to lay flat on the ground, then … wheelchair on, press a button, and up it goes to access the flat floor into the rear bathroom area. Along with the custom rear entry door, the lift was custom-fitted to the rear chassis by the supplier.

Custom interior under construction

The bathroom is full-width, open and packed with storage on the right of entry; the 12V electric flush cassette toilet is easily accessible for Gabrielle with wall handles on one side, the vanity unit with no cupboards underneath also designed for easy access, is to the left, and a wide sliding door for easy access separates it from the living area.

Immediately to the left beyond the sliding door is a large slide-out pantry and then a 190L three-way auto gas fridge with separate freezer, positioned close to the floor for easy access. Next to this is the long kitchen bench, with lots of drawers and storage space below, and fitted utility drawers inside main drawers – an impressive amount of storage in here, and a decent length bench with nice Corian bench top. Not immediately noticeable, but a key design feature of the kitchen area, is the lower bench height and narrower depth to the bench unit – 520mm wide and 755mm high – a must-have for Gabrielle as she enjoys cooking and cleaning without having to stretch and strain for access.

On hand to test the automatic lift operation

To the right, opposite the kitchen is a comfortable sofa positioned in the slide-out area. I noticed at the front of the vehicle there was a good-sized Luton bed set up above the cab, and wondered how accessible that was for the couple. Jim then picked up a remote, and with a push of a button the lounge area sofa started moving, lifting, stretching out and settling down into a comfortable double bed. The Luton is for the kids and grandkids to stay over. Now that was pretty cool, and as they showed me the detail in the design, with pillow storage in the end, quality mattress and easy height access for Gabrielle, it was obvious what a space changer it was for the couple, and the sheets stay on it so no need to make up every night – just throw a duvet over. Jim sourced and imported this bed from Europe for the build.

The lounge area is in the slide-out, so there is plenty of floor space, for Gabrielle to wheel around in - perfect.

The slide-out area does a lot for the interior spaciousness of the vehicle and moving about is no problem, but it was important that  movement about the vehicle was safe at all times, even when pulled over at a road stop for a cup of tea or bathroom stop, so the design had to ensure that Gabrielle could wheel about in the interior even with the slide-out in – especially important in case of fire or emergency.

The sofa unfolds into a bed at the press of a button

Moving to the front of the vehicle, on the right behind the front cab is a small dinette with two front-facing seats, fitted with seat belts for passengers. To the left is the normal habitation entry door, with electric steps to the outside. Forward to the cab; a little board lifts out and fits over the entry steps to the cab, allowing the wheelchair to use this area. Access onto the Captain’s chairs is easy thanks to the swivel chairs. Above the cab is the Luton bed area, for the family and grandkids to enjoy.

The sofa unfolds into a bed at the press of a button

The IVECO cab has everything needed with drink holders, storage pockets and glove boxes and side-door storage galore. All the latest technology hook ups with Bluetooth, 7” LCD display with Iveconnect multimedia unit hooked into the colour rear-view camera, Air bags of course, and something I really like are the heated and adjustable driver and passenger seats – it is so nice to have a warm butt and back as you’re cruising across the Desert Road in the snow, so cosy. The IVECO cab chassis is a big unit but drives like a dream– the 153kW diesel engine is paired with the latest 8-speed auto transmission. All the fruit with ABC, EBD, ESP for extra safety whilst driving, and heated and electronically controlled outside mirrors and airbags add to these features. When you’re parked up and settling in for the night, at the push of a button the HWH hydraulic levelling system (a hydraulic pump system) kicks in for automatic, individual leg levelling, just another feature added to these motorhome-specific chassis by ACM.

The kitchen bench has been height and depth adjusted to be perfect for Gabrielle to use and access everything easily.

It was such a pleasure to meet and chat with Gabrielle and Jim Bateman. They couldn’t keep the smiles off their faces as they shared their motorhome with me and all the visitors who came through at the show to check it out.

They wasted no time getting away when they picked the unit up earlier this year. First night away – in the backyard, so not too far. Always a good idea to do a dummy run and check everything is working, make sure you know how to make it all work, haven’t forgotten to load something vital – all those reasons. The first real trip away was to Martins Bay north of Auckland, then regular short trips to Wenderholm, Mt Maunganui, Opito Bay in the Coromandel, and they’ve also been to a friend’s celebration party, using the motorhome for their own accommodation, so fantastic for them. A trip to the East Cape was proposed for after the show, but I am not sure that went ahead with Lockdown. When speaking to them this week they were in Whangamatā so are back on the road, and each trip something else is added to one of the multiple storage areas inside, and out.

Out and about – enjoying Eskdale, Napier. The IVECO cab is a good-sized unit, drives really well, easy to handle and has great transmission

Look out for them on the road, they would love to meet and share their experiences with others in their position as well as others on the road. Our thanks to them for their time and generosity of spirit.

Tech Specs

2019 IVECO Daily 72C

2998cc twin-turbo 153kW diesel

GVM 5995kg, this vehicle tare 5500kg

Car licence, COF

Two axles – front axle rating 2500kg, rear 5350kg

Wheelbase 4750mm

Dimensions (mm) – 7800(L), 2500(W), 3100 with slide-out extended, 3200(H) top of Luton.

Custom Construction

ACM motorhome body built with fully insulated floor, walls and roof with ACM exclusive fibreglass panels and body design, double-glazed windows, custom vinyl exterior wrap, HWH Hydraulic levelling system, automatic under-floor cassette wheelchair lift.

Self-containment

Fresh and grey water 280L tanks

2 x 150W solar panels with controllers

2 x 240Ah gel deep-cycle batteries

190L 3-way fridge-freezer

3000W Mastervolt combi-ultra inverter charger, 100A charger

190L Dometic three-way automatic gas fridge/freezer