An American Dream

Caravan 01

Shasta Airflyte 1961, 19-foot re-issue

Words + Photos Don Jessen

In 2015 Shasta Trailers (caravans in our lingo) celebrated 75 years of production, the company having been formed in 1941. Being one of the larger companies in the USA, they decided that they would re-issue a Shasta from earlier times. The president of the company and his wife owned a vintage 1961 Shasta, so they decided that this would be the type of caravan that they would build. as they would have the original on tap to copy in order to keep the new caravan looking authentic.

They planned to build 1941 of them to commemorate the foundation year and decided to replicate the two models of the original Shasta Airflyte originally produced in 1961. One would be a 16-footer, the other a 19-footer. Now, remember, in the USA they count the drawbar in the overall length, whereas here in NZ we exclude the drawbar when measuring a caravan. So, they are a little shorter in body length than indicated.

The shape is an authentic replica of the originals and the interior layouts of both models are authentic as well, right down to the same plywood and varnish. But there are some subtle and practical improvements that were made to the caravans.

 

Caravan 02

 

They come in three colours, Sea Foam Green, pale yellow and red, all contrasting with white. They were also coach built in the old-school way, which in my opinion is a much better way and ensures a lot longer life.

I spotted the Shasta Airflyte 19 featured here parked at Brophy’s Beach in Whitianga, just a minute from home.

Now I can’t resist a retro caravan, so it was on with the brakes and before I knew it I had introduced myself to the proud owners, Lucas and Miranda.

They had bought the Shasta secondhand from the original owner in Auckland. The original owner had bought himself a hybrid car, then found to his dismay it couldn’t tow the caravan so he put the caravan on the market. Luckily Lucas and Miranda were in the right spot at the right time and snapped up the Shasta.

When I interviewed them on Waitangi Day, they had owned it for five months and were heading home from a weekend away in Matarangi.

Apparently, a now-defunct NZ caravan dealer imported a few of them in 2017, and indeed I have seen only two others previously so I think ‘a few’ might be actually a correct number.

 

Caravan 2

 

They are a striking caravan from the outside and certainly invoke a past era. The inside also doesn’t disappoint. It is like stepping back in time when you enter the caravan. Forward of the door is a large double dinette with red and white tuck-and-roll leatherette squabs. The table is clad in retro Laminex, and at a seven-foot width, the caravan allows ample room for reasonably tall adults. Above the dinette are overhead cupboards running across the front of the caravan. These are an exact replica of the originals, right down to the central light, which Shasta reproduced off the old one. The only difference is that the new one is an LED, as are all the interior retro lights. At the end of the overhead is a narrow cupboard that houses a modern stereo and DVD player that can be bluetoothed to your phone. It is connected to internal speakers as well as concealed external speakers that are cleverly hidden behind a false fridge vent – this is a New Zealand-fitted adaptation. The caravan also sports a TV.

In the middle of the caravan, opposite the door is the sink bench. It features an exact copy of the 1961 sink and faucets. Here it departs a little with a stainless-steel three-burner gas hob with a stainless-steel microwave fitted underneath. It is quite clever as it all looks quite old school with the micro-wave easily being mistaken for a conventional caravan oven, A patterned cut-out ply panel cleverly hides a floor-mounted air-conditioning unit under the sink, but is wired for 110 volts (as is the norm in America) it has been removed as it is too costly to even think about converting to NZ standards. Surprisingly the bench still provides plenty of storage. Overhead are two quite deep storage lockers, one fitted with a rangehood and between is a window with a small opening part. They are known as Jalousie windows in the states and the caravan features a few of them period to the 1960s. Opposite is a unit containing a mirror finish three-way fridge, and a large floor-to-ceiling cupboard unit that can be configured as a hanging wardrobe or a full pantry of half and half, depending on your own personal preference.

Moving rearwards on the same side, is a full bathroom containing both shower and toilet. These along with the sink are connected to underfloor grey and blackwater tanks. The freshwater 90-litre tank is also underfloor. 

 

Caravan 03

 

Opposite is another red and white retro tuck-and-roll leatherette L-shaped settee that continues down the side and across the rear of the caravan, This settee pulls out to form another double bed. A clever feature is a folding top bunk across the rear of the caravan creating the fifth berth. When not in use Lucas and Miranda have found it a great space for casual storage of daily use things like bags, towels and sun hats. The bunk actually hinges up to the ceiling and the base has shallow overhead cupboards fitted, so you would never know it was in fact a bunk bed when folded up.

The floor is finished in black and white checked vinyl, a pattern that is often replicated in Kiwi retro caravans when they are being restored. This is complemented by a black and white striped Kiwi-made awning. The caravan is fitted with a 330W solar panel connected to a 260Ah deep-cycle battery and has a ducted LPG heating system for winter use.

The overall feel both inside and out is very vintage, right down to the whitewall tyres, yet it has all the mod cons including a solar power set-up.

Miranda and Lucas have so far travelled to the blue lakes at Rotorua and taken in Bowen town, Te Aroha and Morrinsville, so are looking forward to many more weekends away in their Shasta Airflyte. Their first big event will be the 2021 Beach Hop Retro Caravan camp and show, so if you are going, make sure you stop in and say Hi. If you are into retro or modern caravans, their Shasta will knock your socks off! 

Story and images supplied by NZToday-RVLifestyle magazine. 

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