TVAN TURNS 18
This go-anywhere hard-shell camper has stood the test of time.
The fourth generation Tvan was launched in 2016 - the 18th year of manufacture of this revolutionary camper.
The longevity of the Tvan says a lot
about a design that was way ahead of its time at the turn of the century. There have been developments over the years, but the basic concept remains.
The Tvan body is built from fit-for-purpose materials that are all custom-designed and 3D-modelled: the lower body is powder-coated, galvanised sheet steel;
the walls are fully-sealed aluminium composite panels that follow the roof line and the roof and rear hatch are fibreglass.
These different materials provide a light, strong, functional, durable and stylish body.
The Tvan’s suspension was designed in conjunction with the Australian defence forces. ‘MC2 Suspension’ stands for Mobility Category 2 - the highest off-road
rating achievable for a non-powered vehicle.
Electrical power is transmitted through a vehicle-style loom and the power system is designed to integrate all the electrical options into one neat package.
All circuits are protected using built-in circuit breakers.
Specifications vary depending on model and selected options, but the lineup includes a master switch for electrical isolation; a six-switch
panel with integrated fusing for lights, stereo water pump and fans; battery monitor or volt meter; 240V outlets with safety switching; two USB chargers;
a 12V Merit plug and a 12V cigarette-lighter socket; seven-amp solar controller or Redarc DC-DC controller, including solar controller; water tank
gauge for one or two tanks; stereo options, including a docking station for MP3 players; Projecta 15A or 25A charger and a Projecta 300W or 150W inverter.
There are two types of kitchen available.
The Classic kitchen is standard on the Tvan Yulara, Tanami and Canning models and features: stainless steel workbench with built-in windshields; twin burners
and BBQ plate; sturdy slide-out design, without the need for support legs; 65-litre pantry that’s accessible from both sides; sink, electric water
pump and large cutlery drawer.
For 2016 the Classic Kitchen received the following improvements: new carcass design with more aluminium for weight saving; redesigned windshields for
better protection; sink and cutlery tray redesign for more storage volume and a new flick mixer tap to allow for hot water at the kitchen.
The Premium Kitchen is standard on the Tvan Murranji and occupies a 30-percent larger locker than the Classic Kitchen and has twice the bench space, along
with a draining board and cutlery drawer. The Premium Kitchen also boasts a Thetford three-burner, glass-topped, stainless steel cooktop with piezo
The Tvan Camper Trailer can be set up in two ways: because the tent is stowed away in the rear hatch of the van and not on the bed, the owner can choose
whether or not to deploy the tent.
Accessing the bed is done by unlocking four over-centre catches, folding down the deck and releasing the gas strut assisted hatch. The owner can then go
straight to bed, or can install one of the two optional rear door covers.
The rear insect screen option is ideal for tropical weather as it’s manufactured from sand-fly-proof mesh. The rear canvas screen option has a large entry
door, also fitted with sand-fly-proof mesh.
The Tvan Camper Trailer is among the quickest of the all camper trailers in the market to setup and pack up. No canvas ever packs onto the bed and the
bed can always remain made.
A full annexe roof and end wall are standard on Tanami, Canning and Murranji. This annexe is said to take approximately 15 minutes to setup and covers
the full length of the Tvan.
The Tvan is an Australian-made product and comes with a three-year body warranty and five-year chassis and suspension warranty that includes off-road use.
To celebrate 18 years of Tvan manufacture Track Trailer released a limited-edition Firetail model, distinguished by a black and grey colour scheme and Firetail Finch logo. Based on the popular Tvan Tanami, the Firetail came with the Premium Kitchen option, plus a full front boot, with LHS fridge slide.
The last major upgrade to the Tvan range was in 2012, when OTA spoke with Lloyd Waldron, Track Trailer’s Marketing and Media Manager.
“The Tvan range has been fully refreshed this year,” said Lloyd Waldron.
“This time last year we released our new-bodied Tvan that has 23-percent more interior space and more external storage options.
“This body was exclusively released in our top-model Murranji and featured upgraded construction that was all-metal and off road rated. “For this year, we have upgraded the Canning model with this new body, giving it more space, refinements and a different colour scheme.”
Track Trailer also rejigged its entry level van that was previously known as the Sport and was tagged Yulara. It came with more standard equipment, including a stainless bench and cook top that were options on the Sport. The Yulara also came with LED lights and a fabric lined roof. The price rose slightly to $34,900, but the ball weight dropped to a more flexible 63kg. With this low ball weight and a tare of only 800kg, virtually any vehicle could tow it.
“As with other Tvans the Yulara can be retrofitted with any item from the options list,” said Lloyd Waldron.
“So this van can evolve with its owners’ needs for coping with changes such as a growing family, downsizing, wanting to go more off road or simply wanting more comfort.
“Because of durable construction and this reto-fitability, Tvans hold their value well in the second hand market.”
OTA’s off-road testing of Tvans has shown that they handle Australian conditions superbly, but we’ve had dramas with the company’s preferred coupling, the Vehicle Components DO-35. We’ve had couplings that simply refused to separate, without considerable effort, despite regular greasing in accordance with the maker’s instructions. Dirt and creek water combined to ‘glue’ the locking mechanism to the pin.
Lloyd Waldron acknowledged that the early D035s did have some ‘sticking points’, but that the latest versions had overcome these issues:
“Vehicle Components has refined it, to make it easier to unhitch after exposure to dust and dirt.
“It’s the best coupling we’ve ever had off-road and addresses all our customers’ wants, being extremely easy to hook up, having full articulation and rotation, and rated to 3.5 tonnes capacity.
“Customers can request different couplings, if they wish, but we don’t believe there is a better alternative,” said Lloyd Waldron
On and off road testing
Back in 2010 we took six different camper trailers on a torture test through outback Australia.
The Tvan Tanami was the only hard-roof camper trailer in this test and was judged the best for short overnight stops, with no need to open the tent section at all.
The outer section of the tailgate doubled as an easily packed firewood rack and became the tent floor when hinged down to ground level.
This hard floor made site preparation unnecessary and height-adjustable legs compensated for uneven ground. The inner lid opened upwards and, normally, the tent section was then unfolded from the under-side of the lid.
However, for overnight stops it was possible to leave the tent stowed and either shut the lid for privacy, or zip in a mesh flyscreen to keep out the creepy-crawlies.
A clear roof hatch provided ventilation over the bed, even with the rear lid shut.
For tented camps the canvas section unrolled from the lift-up rear door and was reasonably easy for a couple to erect and pack away. The tent emerged from under the lid and was clipped to the hard floor section, which made a sheltered dining area or space for kids to sleep. Zip-up doors on both sides of the tent provided flow-through ventilation.
Long-stay mode involved fitting the standard awning and end wall. If you really wanted to stake a land claim you could buy optional annexe walls. Fitting the awning wasn’t difficult, but was made easier by using a small folding stool or mini-step-ladder. Like most camper trailer awnings it was held up by poles and pegs.
The Tvan tent-stowing arrangement meant there was no chance of a wet tent soaking the bed, because it was safely stowed inside its storage net on the underside of the lid. Our testers loved the bed comfort and the night-time view of stars through the roof hatch. Getting in and out of the sack was a little tricky, but the payoff was excellent under-bed storage space.
The Tvan had a roll-out galley with two-burner stove. The test trailer came with a deep-cycle battery, but without an optional floor-mounted fridge. Our test crew used an in-vehicle fridge.
The Tanami came with an electric pressure pump over the sink and an additional manual pump on the side of the body. The latter was ideal for a quick hand wash after packing up and for topping water bottles without the need to open the galley.
The standard water tank held 70 litres and a second tank is optional. The only kitchen change the testers wanted to make was a clip-on stove frame, rather than the screw-on attachment, to make cleaning quicker and easier.
The Tvan Tanami sat on Track Trailer’s, military-design, cross-over swing-axle, independent suspension, with coil springs and top-quality Koni dampers.
Unlike many independent trailer suspensions this asymmetric link design had optimum roll-over resistance and even high-speed manoeuvres failed to provoke any sway in the trailer.
The wheel ends were fitted with electric, off-road drum brakes.
With a loaded axle weight of 1.1 tonnes the Tvan was the second lightest camper on test, but, with three full jerry cans located on the drawbar, had a heavy ball weight of 132kg.
It was towed by a Mitsubishi Triton and that amount of weight on the towbar gave the standard-suspension Triton a rearward droop. Moving the uncoupled Tvan around on its jockey wheel was a literal pain, unless the jerry cans were removed.
Track Trailer made the Sport model, without a jerry-can storage rack and a longer drawbar, with a claimed ball weight of only 63kg. Given the Tvan’s super-stable suspension design, that should be enough.
Tvans came with a DO35 mechanical coupling that we found easier to connect than the poly blocks used on all the other trailers, but we had trouble every time we tried to uncouple it.
Our test conditions involved a sequence of soaking rain, mud spray, creek crossings and bulldust and the DO35 didn’t like any of them. The coupling jammed in place and needed the persuasion of ‘The Murray’ (a 110kg crew member) whenever we had to separate trailer from vehicle.
We read the coupling instructions carefully and followed them to the letter. We also performed several cleaning and greasing operations on the coupling - to no avail.
The Tvan proved to be a true go-almost-anywhere camper trailer that was stable to tow in all conditions, quick to set up and very easy to live in and around. If we bought one we’d opt for no jerry can stowage on the drawbar and a poly-block coupling.
Check out our video of the test.
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