The History of the Touring Caravan
The people, models and manufacturers that shaped the touring caravans of today.
1885 – The Wanderer
Dr Gordon Stables, a retired Navy doctor, designed and commissioned the world’s first leisure caravan in the 19th Century, naming it ‘The Wanderer’. Made from mahogany and maple wood, this horse-drawn caravan was an extraordinary sight to see on the road at the time - a valet even had to be employed to cycle ahead and warn other travellers of its approach. Measuring 30 feet in length, it managed to squeeze a bookcase, a china cabinet and a piano inside.
1919 – Eccles Motor Transport
The first commercial touring caravan emerged a year after WWI with the Eccles car-pulled caravan. Founded by Bill Riley and his son, Eccles Motor Transport essentially gave birth modern British caravanning. Their first model was priced at £90 – a lot of money at the time.
1937 – Car Cruiser
The 1930s saw the caravan became more affordable and therefore more popular with the middle classes. The early manufacturer Car Cruiser was also well ahead of its time in terms of streamlining and reducing the weight of the caravan. The 1937 Car Cruiser Rally Four De-Luxe, for example, saw caravan design move on significantly in terms of aerodynamics.
1946 – Eccles National Caravan
It had taken many years of drumming up interest, but by the 1930s Eccles caravans were sought after by everyone – from VIPs and maharajah, to gypsies – all over the world. After WWII Eccles launched its National Caravan, which was produced on a mass production scale using jigs and flow-line assembly. Prices were cheaper, but this did not stop the brand from retaining its luxury status.
1948 – Streamlite Rover
This tourer was to be the forerunner to the more affordable Sprite caravan – a mass produced model that became world famous. Although its cheap qualities put many people off, the Sprite was highly durable and perfect for the odd weekend getaway. It hit the market in 1950 and retailed for less than £200.
1958 – Cheltenham Sable
The late 50's saw the introduction of GRP – Glass Reinforced Plastic – into the construction of caravans, which was initially used most successfully by the Cheltenham Company. The Cheltenham Sable, for example, was one of the most prestigious models of the time, since its light weight and compact length made it ideal for couples.
1969 – Ace Caravans
Ace were the first mass produced UK caravan manufacturer to use GRP full height front and rear panels – a full 15 years ahead of other manufacturers. Ace were also the first ‘non luxury’ manufacturer to take this step.
1973 – ABI Monza
In the 1970s caravans were made from pre-finished aluminium panels, which made them a lot sturdier. Towards the end of the decade people also began to experience the joy of flushing toilets and showers! The ABI Monza range were stylish, light and budget-friendly, and sold well into the 1980s (taking most of Sprite’s business).
1979 – Astral Cameo
The Astral Cameo was to set the pace for twin axled caravan popularity in the 1980's and beyond. Although long dead now, the Astral brand was a huge player in the touring caravan market during the 1970s, helping to secure the twin axles tourer as a staple of the industry.
1989 – Swift Corniche
Swift have always invested heavily in innovative technologies and 1989 was the year they released their new Corniche. This model had a unique style and was advanced in its design, using GRP mouldings to offer superb aerodynamic towing.
1996 – Bailey Ranger
Although the Bailey Ranger wasn't ground-breaking in terms of style, it was light, affordable and well finished. It offered families and couples a well-equipped caravan for very little money, making it a top seller right up to 2010.
1996 – Elddis Genesis
Elddis launched its Genesis with strong styling both inside and out. Appropriately name, the Genesis would influence all Elddis other ranges from 1998 to the present day.
2008 – Mehrzeller (concept caravan)
In the 21st Century, concept caravan design began to emerge and we were introduced to the Mehrzeller. Conceptualised by two Austrian architects, each model is tailor-made, allowing the customer to design their own multicellular layout. The model is being heralded as one of the most original travel trailers on the market and there are hopes that it will usher in a new generation of customized mobile living.
2011 – Swift Group
This was the year of the Swift Group, who launched their aerodynamic super styled sunroof Conquerors and Challenger ranges, which went on to influence several other manufacturers. Swift grew massively during the 2000s and now encompass Sterling, Sprite, and Autocruise.
2012 – The Sealander
2012 was also the year that caravans took to the sea, with the Sealander. This extraordinary floating two-bed mobile home has been created by Daniel Straub, a German-based industrial designer, to combine the features of an electric power boat and a camping trailer. It is set to ensure road and boat trips will never be the same again!
This blog would not have been possible without the help of Andrew Jenkinson, the UK’s leading caravan historian. Our sincerest thanks for his expert guidance. Thanks to Salop Leisure for providing this blog.