Peter BaberSee other caravan reviews written by Peter Baber
Lovingly crafted to its buyer's specifications, Wildwood Design's Showman's Twagon bucks the trend for wood-free caravans in the most charming fashion
Wildwood Design offers caravans for sale for people who want something just a bit different. A caravan, say, that can still be made entirely of wood and painted bright colours just like in the (very) old days, yet can be towed by your average family car.
A couple of years ago, the company brought out its first such vehicle, complete with the kind of bowtop roof that you would have seen in gypsy wagons in days gone by.
October 2016’s NEC show was the first outing of Wildwood’s second design, the Showman’s Twagon, another wooden vehicle based on a 1940s showman’s travelling vehicle.
It even has a mollycroft roof. That’s a roof shape you don’t really come across these days, although it should be familiar to anyone old enough to remember Safari caravans, which made a speciality of such roofs.
Wildwood’s founder, Chris Ward, is a specialist boatbuilder by trade. That may explain the thinking behind a lot of the van’s construction. The plywood floor, painted with an aluminium primer, is first bolted to the chassis and a redwood frame is then bolted to it.
This whole structure is then covered in a breathable waterproof membrane, before the marine-grade plywood walls and ceiling are screwed on top. An IKOpro acrylic roof is then added on top to seal the structure fully, and internal cavities are sealed with 30mm of celotex.
Such a construction is clearly some way removed from that of conventional caravan manufacturers, who in recent years have been going out of their way to make tourers that have no wood in them at all. But all the material used comes with a 10-year guarantee, so customers should not have to worry about dampness or rot.
Then there is the paint that goes on top of all this. Artist Sarah Harvey individually paints each van to a unique design.
The paint used is International 2-pack – which means that it comes ready-mixed with a polyurethane coating. And they use nine coats of it.
Given that this stuff is meant to stand up to the very worst that an Atlantic hurricane can throw at it, it should be able to take the odd bit of spray from a passing lorry on the M1 in its stride.
The Wildwood Design Showman’s Twagon has a starting price of £15,500 for the basic vehicle. But, of course, every example is different. The test model featured here is fitted with furnishings and equipment that take it up to £19,500.
So, how does such a tourer pan out in reality? We headed down to Wildwood’s workshop in remotest Dorset, to find out.
Pitching and setting up
The chassis is supplied to Wildwood by Admiral Trailers, a company Wildwood was already familiar with because it specialises in making trailers for boats.
The Showman's Twagon proved very easy to hook up and was adept at managing the windy and bumpy road on the way to a nearby CL we had chosen to take the photographs in.
Our test model was 2.5 metres wide, wider than the bowtop wagon, but a 2.0-metre wide version is also possible, while the van itself can be built to a variety of lengths.
The example on test also had wheels built on the outside of the main frame, which the company prefers because it leaves the inside clear for installing cupboards. A version with wheels tucked well under the body can also be built, if that's what the buyer wishes.
The example pictured gave some indication as to what might be possible. It has a U-shaped lounge at the back of the caravan, at the centre of which is an octagonal pedestal table.
One thing you notice immediately is that the company’s love affair with wood doesn’t end on the outside. The window frames are all solid oak, as is the door you close firmly behind you with a reassuring thud.
The seats too, are backed with wood panelling, which gives them the appearance of church pews. They are a little upright and, it has to be said, not ideal for lounging for a long time. No wonder a fair amount of scatter cushions have been included to complement the seat base.
Finally, the floor and table tops are also solid wood. In our test model they had been rubbed down with oil for a matt effect, although if you prefer a glossier look, varnish is another alternative.
This whole area is pleasantly lit from the two slit-like windows in the mollycroft roof.
The top half of one of the two solid oak shelved cupboards, for example, could easily hold an oven and hob, with a sink fitted into the top of the other cupboard. That would still leave three drawers.
It’s at this point that the advantages of having the wheels on the outside of the van become apparent, as you wouldn’t be juggling with wheel arches.
At the back of this example you can make a large double by lowering the pedestal table and combining it with the existing seat bases. It’s perfectly comfortable and, as with everything else, variations in width are possible.
The Showman's Twagon also includes its own version of a gas bottle locker on the outside at the front. It didn’t actually hold any gas bottles on our test model, but can easily be adapted to do so, and to hold much else besides.
The Showman’s Twagon is clearly aimed at a specialist market, in particular at those who want something a little bit different that is likely to turn heads.
Starting at £15,500, this is perhaps not as expensive as you might expect such a bespoke caravan to be, although it is clearly not an impulse purchase.
- The level of craftmanship is beautiful
- It's very solid on the road
- Buyers have the reassurance of an Al-Ko chassis
- Each caravan is bespoke, so selling it on might prove tricky