Dave Sullivan and his Valiant Caravan.

Dave Sullivan and his Valiant caravan. Photo: Jay Cronan

A sole vintage caravan was tucked up the back of Kings Park at Wheels on Sunday.

This was disappointing really. I would have expected more given the attention paid to classic vanning during the centenary year when the celebration of the long weekend and the participation of a number of vans in the Canberra centenary rally threw a spotlight on a very popular Canberran pastime.

The Wheels caravan was a particularly rare example of the vintage breed. The 1964 Valiant 15 footer (that's 4.6 metres in the new money Gladys) is proudly owned by Narrabundah's Dave Sullivan.

Caravan interior. Click for more photos

Gang gang

Caravan interior. Photo: Jay Cronan

  • Caravan interior.
  • Dave Sullivan and his Valiant Caravan
  • Jaguar 3.5 litre.
  • ?Flying B on a 1950s Bentley.
  • Bird (Egret?) on Green Morgan three-wheeler.
  • Three wise monkeys on a rare Bugatti.

Mr Sullivan, a ''mobile caravan repairman'', has been hooked on homes on wheels for most of his life.

This little showpiece, which is dwarfed by the plastic fantastics that now clog our highways and byways, instantly evokes a simpler age when you didn't demand to be able to take it (all) with you.

That said, unlike many modern mobile homes, the Valiant is sheathed in a 2 millimetre thick aluminium hide that can take the odd knock and scrape without suffering catastrophic damage.


Mr Sullivan has polished his and the effect is much more striking than the powder-coated finishes that dominated the Australian industry from the 1970s. Ribbed for additional strength, the semi-matt panels make more sense than highly polished and mirror-finished panels fitted to the phenomenally expensive American Airstreams.

Because of their bulk, caravans were never a cost-effective import and, as a result, by the 1960s a strong Australian manufacturing industry had emerged to cater for a country that wanted to explore the great beyond.

Valiant (no relation to the car) was a relatively small player in a market dominated by firms such as Millard, Viscount and the like.

Mr Sullivan tows his with either the 1964 EH Holden wagon he had at Wheels on Sunday or an immaculate 1969 VF Valiant Regal 770 fitted with the 318 Fireball V8.

He and the EH go back a long way.

''It's a family heirloom,'' he said. ''Mum and Dad bought it as a low mileage second-hand car in 1970. It is hard to believe it's turning 50.''

That is just two years younger than its owner, who makes his living breathing new life back into other peoples' ''pride and joys''.

''You get to work on anything and everything,'' he said. ''To work with caravans you need to cross a lot of different areas and have a working knowledge of all trades.

''Jobs can be for anything from fixing an awning to a complete rebuild. The other day I was working on a van worth $95,000.''

Asked if he would rather a van like that than his Valiant which is valued at less than a tenth of that amount, Mr Sullivan says, ''No. I like old vans the most. They remind us of another time.''

While Mr Sullivan's was the only caravan at Sunday's event it was kept company by a Transit motorhome and a Kombi Camper.


Mascots make a statement


Much of the attention at this year's Wheels, Canberra's annual display of cars, motorbikes and other vehicles staged by the city state's plethora of car clubs and motoring associations, centred on Eleanor, the ''Spirit of Ecstasy'' Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost restored by Ian Irwin.

Many other bonnet mascots featured on cars on display were, however, just as impressive.

A rare locally owned Bugatti sports car bore a brass ''three wise monkeys'' above its radiator cap and a 1950s Bentley showcased a stunning version of the winged B.

A Kermit-green Morgan three-wheeler, one of the rarest ''cars'' at the show, was almost dwarfed by the egret it was carrying and there were various iterations of the R-R silver lady everywhere you turned.

My favourite, and one you would never get away with today, was the massively phallic leaping cat that graced a 1950s Jaguar.

This would have to be the ultimate attack weapon against recalcitrant cyclists and pedestrians, I suggest.