How things have changed. The Commodore and Falcon have been consigned to the history books, replaced with twin cab, 4WD utes. Straight off the showroom floor, these utes are obviously taller and much more offroad capable. Add in Aussie’s thirst for suspension lift kits and bigger wheels, and we reach even greater heights, allowing us to act on a desire for tackling challenging, remote locations.
As tow vehicles have got taller, so have caravans so they ride level and can go the places our utes will. Goldstream has been a big part of this evolution. It started building camper trailers, followed by pop-tops and full height caravans in the 1990s, focussing on offroad spec vehicles. Goldstreams are Australian made in Pakenham, Victoria, which has evolved into a significant caravan industry manufacturing hub. Goldstream build around 350 units per year and its pricing and quality is in the mid to high range.
LOW RIDER CONCEPT
As pop-tops have gotten taller, their inherent advantages of improved towing aerodynamics, clearance under tree branches and fitting into lower storage have been somewhat negated. Goldstream developed the Low Rider to gain back these advantages. Lowering the suspension/ ground clearance is not the solution for offroad applications so Goldstream lowered the walls by 140mm. This brings the closed roof height down to 2480mm, or 140mm lower than their standard model. While there are probably even lower pop-tops on the market, I doubt they deliver the ground clearance of the Goldstream Panther series.
VAN ON REVIEW
The pop-top on review is a 1760RE, which nominally designates it as 17ft 6in body length, with the RE standing for ‘Rear Ensuite.’ The Panther is their most fully featured variant, with Touring, Adventure and Offroad sitting below that in ascending order. Additionally, you can choose to have the Panther in standard height or Low Rider.
The burning question is ‘does the Low Rider concept detract from the internal living experience?’ With a ceiling height of 194cm in the open position, only the tallest of people will find it an issue. A closed ceiling height of 157cm means most people will be bent over, but it is manageable to make a roadside sandwich or sleep comfortably if you can’t be bothered pushing up the roof for a night.
The next question is ‘even if I am not going to bump my head, will it feel cramped?’ And the answer is no. Due to the lower walls, Goldstream omitted overhead cupboards on the side walls. This creates clean lines and allows for bigger windows for an open spacious feel. The sense of space is further enhanced with the rearward door, meaning you get a straight through view of most of the van.
The omission of overhead storage on the side walls is compensated for with good overhead lockers above the bed. The rest of the storage in the bed area is great, and the little storage compartments right next to the bed are ideal for leaving bits and pieces in while you are travelling down the road knowing they will still be there at the other end. The USB charging points built into the reading lamps right next to these storage nooks mean they are a perfect place to recharge phones etc. The bedside drawers are huge, but the space below with 240V power points seems to be a missed opportunity for more storage.
Various manufacturers have all kinds of methods for moving the dining table to access the seating. The set up in this van is amongst the best I have come across. It was very easy to slide with a nice solid feel and no wobbles. The mechanism locked off with a very user-friendly lever.
The kitchen had all the right appliances and the luxury of choice to prepare meals and cook outside too. Bench space inside is relatively limited, but taller people could make use of the horizontal surface above the microwave for meal preparation etc. Again, the storage space in the kitchen has been well executed. A Truma under bed air-conditioner takes care of cooling and heating assisted by a wall mounted Sirocco fan.
Goldstream has done well with the separate shower and toilet which always seems nicer than a combination unit. There is plenty of storage, a good hand basin and mirror. It appears to me the bathroom and shower doors are prone to rattling due to latch mechanism allowing a few mm play between the door and the door frame. I can’t say it means they will cause a problem on corrugated roads, but it just didn’t feel great.
An optional ARL cabin pressure system was fitted to the roof. I flicked it on, and you can tell it moves plenty of air — I didn’t travel enough dusty roads to gain any firsthand experience, but the concept is definitely proven.
Using the pop-top was a good experience. I didn’t have to get on my tippy toes to reach the external latches because of the Low Rider height. More importantly, it had one of the better pop-top roof lifting mechanisms I have operated. Goldstream told me pushing up the bathroom end first would be easier as I could stand and help the pushing with my legs. It worked for me and the mechanism over the bed pushed up relatively easily after that. The mechanism locked in very positively without the need for locking pins seen on some other vans. It is worth noting you still have to be reasonably able bodied to operate these lifting mechanisms, no matter the caravan brand.
The Preston chassis appears to me to be a sensible design without an overkill of huge beams under the floor, which helps keep the van weight down. Don’t get me wrong, it still has a 150mm A-frame and Preston have been building chassis since the 1970s, so they have a pretty good idea of what they are doing.
Inside feels roomier than it may first appear
The growth of 4WDs as the preferred tow vehicle has been very kind to Cruisemaster. In my time in the industry, I have seen them shift from a very niche product for high end vans to practically mainstream. Many vans I review feature Cruisemaster and the Low Rider sported the high ground clearance, XT Off Road independent suspension version for which it is now famous. The DO35 articulated hitch is equally well regarded, and the 12in electric drum brakes round out the Cruisemaster package. Following on with the ‘vans are getting taller’ theme, the 16in alloy wheels fitted with 265/75R16 tyres are commonplace but when I started working in caravan manufacturing 14in rims were not unusual.
Above the running gear is a 12mm ply floor with waterproof coating on the underside. Above that is a traditional meranti frame with plenty of checkerplate on the lower sections and 3mm composite panelling in the top sections. Insulation is the conventional 19mm polystyrene. The roof is a meranti frame and ply structure, clad with an aluminium skin, capped with a strong looking aluminium surround. Like many other vans, the aluminium roof sheeting has a number of joins that will need routine inspection and maintenance to guard against leaks down the track.
The Panther has an optional extended A-frame to accommodate a generator box, two gas bottles and a functional stone guard. The following observation is to protect people from themselves. While I am sure it is never good practice to climb up on the genny box to look at the roof, I can guarantee you it is a really bad idea with this one. The box is mounted offset on the edge of the A-frame with part of it hanging in the breeze. I imagine it is no problem for the weight of a generator, but no good for the weight of a person — don’t ask me how I figured this out.
I like the optional slide-out kitchen. Having the cooker mounted on the end of the slider means one person can be cooking while a second person can be preparing at the sink without tripping over each other. The inclusion of the kitchen means you give up some tunnel boot space, but you are left with a reasonable amount of room via the offside access hatch.
The huge picnic table is a winner because it is actually big enough as a meal preparation area, not just a handy spot to plonk a couple of drinks. There is the obligatory awning and external speakers, and the LED strip lights bracket mounted to the walls fit in with the rugged style of the van.
An optional external shower at rear of the van is great for rinsing off. There is no provision for a wall mounted shower tent as there is too much other paraphernalia hanging off the wall. You could however use an aftermarket pop up shower tent.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Overall, the van presented very well. Everything looked straight and properly sealed, and the offroad stylised decals were nicely applied. Plumbing lines were neatly routed on the underbody and in internal cabinets. A substantial metal guard afforded the best underbody protection I have seen on grey water tank fittings in this style of caravan. There was a small wheel mounted on the top of the main door to protect the awning for when you inevitably bang into it.
I did, however, observe a handful of minor attention to detail items that I would hope get picked up in pre-delivery. I spotted scuffs on the aluminium roof surround, some of the silicone sealing in the shower was a bit rough looking and the shower head had scuff marks. None of these are functional issues but minor aesthetic detractors on a brand new van.
The Low Rider has all the fruit for a couples van to bypass caravan parks for good stretches: two 95L freshwater tanks, one 90L grey water tank, two 170W solar panels, two 100Ah lithium batteries, a BMPRO battery management system, two 9kg gas bottles, and a generator box.
The Panther 1760 RE Low Rider is a very practical weight to tow for many vehicles with a tare of 1941kg and a 600kg payload.
Hooked to my old Navara, it towed true with no bad habits. On the run to and from the factory, I climbed up out of and descended back into the strikingly picturesque Toomuc Valley. While only a short drive, it is steep enough to get a feel for how the vehicles respond together. Higher revs needed to be sustained to punch up the hill but nothing like the ‘foot flat to floor’ experience I have had with heavier vans.
The returning descent brought cause for an interesting side note. While I have had the chance to tow quite a few brand new caravans, it is the first time I have experienced visible amounts of smoke emanating from the brakes. If you happen to see this in a brand new van it is not necessarily cause for concern, more likely the new brake pads bedding in.
The warranty is one year and limited to the original purchaser. It also refers you to the original manufacturer for claims on components such as the chassis and appliances. Goldstream does, however, have a reasonable number of selling dealers across the country that perform warranty work. Further afield, Goldstream uses independent service agents as required.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Offering the Low Rider version to reduce the travel height by 140mm without compromising the excellent ground clearance and suspension performance is a great option to have. It still has enough headroom except for the very tallest of people. You will lose out on some overhead storage cupboards compared to the standard height model, but it does give the Low Rider a very roomy feel inside.
The Low Rider was a smooth tow experience
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 5.4m (17ft 7in)
Overall length 7.7m (25ft 2in)
Width 2.43m (7ft 9in)
External Height Closed 2.48m (8ft 2in)
Internal Height Open 1.94m (6ft 4in)
Payload 600kg (calculated)
Ball weight at tare 223kg
Cladding Checkerplate and composite panel
Chassis Preston 3mm Duragal steel with 150mm x 50mm A-frame
Suspension Cruisemaster XT Off Road coil independent suspension with dual shockers
Coupling DO35 articulated hitch
Brakes 12in drum Cruisemaster
Wheels 16in Alloy rims with 265/75R16 all-terrain tyres
Water 2 x 95L fresh and 1 x 90L grey water tank
Battery 2 x 100Ah lithium batteries
Solar 2 x 170W panels
Air-conditioner Truma under bed ducted
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Optional, not supplied
Cooking Thetford 4 gas burner with gas grill
Fridge Thetford 165L 3-way
Bathroom Separate shower and toilet
Hot water Girad endless
PRICE FROM Panther pack starts at $76,800
- Extended A-frame
- DS generator box mounted on the A-frame
- Continuous flow HWS
- Front and rear LED bar lights
- Swift slide out kitchen with sink and hooded cooker
- External shower
- ARL cabin pressure hatch (to keep dust out)
- 4 way table slider
- Air-conditioner upgrade to Truma Saphir
PRICE AS SHOWN $86,990
75 Bald Hill Rd, Pakenham VIC 3810
Ph: (03) 5941 5571