Here at Recreational Society we love the idea of saving the near un-salvageable and giving it a whole new life to provide memories. Sam Elston and Matt O’Meeghan have spent the last two years transforming a wreck of a Liteweight Silverline into a minter…yes a bit of a dad joke there on the colour… Liteweight Caravans were produced in Hamilton by the Jesson Family until the early 1980’s and are highly regarded for their workmanship. Sam and Matt take up the story…
- Sam: My family really wasn’t into the outdoors! Very traditionally Kiwi parents, we went back to the same holiday spot every year and eventually Mum and Dad bought a bach there. Very grateful for this as we have awesome memories and are able to use it as a family base, but wow is it cool to be able to pull up wherever we want!
- Matt: I’d never been caravanning, I loved the idea of it but didn’t fancy having to hire a caravan so the best compromise was getting a project caravan we could personalise to our needs. There wasn’t much of a conversation about buying the caravan to be honest! I found the caravan via a friend, bought it sight unseen for $500 and there was no option but to go all in on a restoration. Haven’t looked back since! We had really no criteria other than something that would be a bit of a project. We estimate that around 10k has gone into it in materials and appliances.
- Sam: Matt owns his own businesses so has an awful lot of gear. We were living in Rotorua and had a large storage garage where we stored her and worked on her most of the time. Once she was painted and waterproofed we were able to park her on our carport for easier access for a few months.
- Matt: There wasnt much room so it was a bit of a balancing act getting it sorted. Biggest lesson was not to repair and replace suspenion when in a tight garage, we got it in as the suspension was sagging and old, once replaced, we could not get it out again without removing the garage door – oops!
Sam: There were quite a number of issues we had to tackle. Definitely had some seam leaks which we managed to patch up. A couple of windows missing and the window rubber had seen better days which we had replaced.
- Matt:The chassis was rusted and all the wood inside was totally rotten. The only option was to strip it back to bare metal and go from there. We stripped it back and removed the rust. We then sealed the chassis and replaced any structural parts. As the wood was all rotten too, this provided us a blank canvas when it came to designing the interior. There were a few roof seam leaks which we tackled with silicone, other than that the rest of the aluminium skin was watertight.
The interior fit out
- Sam: There were a number of drawing boards on this one. We knew from the start that we wanted to have a double bed at one end, and a single bed/couch situation at the other. Initially we were also very set on having a full shower, flushable toilet and bathroom set up in here. We very quickly realised that that would drastically cut down out room, and given where our wheel arches are placed, trying to find something (that wasn’t custom made) to fit into our space was really challenging. We certainly have a few tries but decided to forgo the bathroom in favour of more space. Matt knew that he wanted a full kitchen, with a full oven (no grill would suffice!) so that really set the tone for the kitchen space. From there, it was just filling the rest of the space with mainly storage.
- Matt: The layout was predominantly based off some ideas we had as to what we wanted the caravan to provide. We wanted a good size cooking space so we could entertain and cook well when away. We opted for a gas oven/hob and three way fridge to help with that. We then designed a bench around that. It is great to be able to go away and cook a roast dinner off grid! We also added a 12v lighting system as well as 160AH of batteries to power everything. We fully insulated it as well as installed a 2.5kw diesel heater which means it is super warm even in winter.
- Sam & Matt: We definitely couldn’t spend more than a couple of hours at a time working on her because we would both get too frustrated and have to cool off! We lined all the walls and roof, then had to pull back about half of it (including the whole roof) to redo it better because we were just constantly learning more and more. We definitely had more than one fight about how to get into tight corners for framing. Matt was pretty handy to start with to be fair, so had a reasonable amount of tools but that collection has definitely grown (to the point where he reckons we could do another one easy!). Overall it was definitely fun, in retrospect. Many times it seemed like it would never get done. It was really hard to see the progress as we were making it, so the before and after photos have been amazing to look at! Overall, it took us over two years but we have both been working full time and crazy hours during that. Some weeks we just wouldn’t get down to work on her and others we’d be there every night. Lockdown was pretty good for her actually, Matt was able to spend a heap more time working on her then. We think about 1000 hours total of actual work on her (not including all the research, planning and product hunting we did in the in between times).