Build times for a Bushtracker can take up to three months, but with a staff of over 60, and 20 vans in various stages of production at any one time, the company still turns out six vans a month. This extended time spent in the build reflects in the price, of course. But the quality also shows in resale value, where models from early this century are commanding prices close to what there were when new.
All Bushtrackers have a distinctive look. One distinctive feature right from the beginning is the brow at the front, where the bed extends over two spare wheels, a feature that is practical and lends a formidable impression to what’s already a robust-looking offroad van.
The company was an outlier for a while, as they hung onto the raised profile aluminium sheeting that was one of their design features for many years. But times change, and many of the latest Bushtracker models have the option of a more modern appeal courtesy of a flat panel, glossy finished Italian fibreglass exterior. And while the composite panel now used is heavier, it has better impact resistance and street appeal. Nonetheless, traditionalists can still order the aluminium as part of the fully customisable company ethos.
Every couple of years, the three company directors build themselves a van and hit the road to personally test the product, travelling as much as 25,000km over our harshest terrain. According to company co-owner Matt Kurvink, they have experimented with all sorts of build processes and have stuck with what they know best — a welded aluminium frame on a robust chassis and suspension.
If you're planning to get to the ATM, you'll need a hefty tow tug
Twenty-five years of building vans and taking them to their limit have convinced the Bushtracker team that their box section welded aluminium frame is the best construction method for extreme offroad conditions. The welded frames are immensely strong but have enough flex over extreme conditions to avoid cracking.
Voids in the frame are filled with closely cut 25mm thick fire retardant insulating foam. The roof’s insulation is thicker at 75mm. The floor is a composite structure of a fibreglass exterior with a PVC core. Holes 50mm apart are punched through the core and filled with resin to form structural pillars for added strength and endurance.
Every chassis is engineered and built to each van’s specification. It’s then galvanised and finished in a protective coating for added durability. The walls and roof form a solid body bolted to the chassis — so confident is the company in the frame’s durability it comes with a ten-year warranty.
Suspension on the review van is the military-grade independent leaf spring system from Simplicity Axles, which has been a mainstay of the Bushtracker range from the beginning. This unique system offers extended wheel articulation and a soft ride that needs no shock absorbers. Additionally, the robust construction is ultra-reliable and easy to repair in the event of accident damage in remote locations.
Our review van is part of the ABCO Caravan’s demonstration fleet, and as the price hints, it’s loaded to the hilt with unique features that company owners Kathleen and Darren have optioned. ABCO Caravans is in Coffs Harbour on the northern NSW coast and has a special place in the Bushtracker story, being the only dealership in Australia.
There’s nothing pretentious about the look of the review van. The white body has a lower aluminium panel sprayed with black Dominator body armour. The understated exterior extends to a simple black and grey midriff stripe and smallish logos. With the spare tyres stored at the front, the rear end is equally straightforward, but the graphics of the company motto of “Real caravans for the outback” is a subtle giveaway of the van’s intent.
So, while the Bushtracker avoids the almost mandatory visual signals of bright paint, loud graphics and a display of rear-mounted monster wheels, there are signs of more practical innovations for the offroad cognoscenti. Check out the cutaway rear end to easily facilitate traversing steep creek beds and the swing away lower door cover to stop water flowing into the van in deep crossings. Then check out the innovative way the spare tyres are stored in cages that convert to ramps. These wheels are heavy, and getting at them is made easy. As we shall see, there’s more, of course, but these are examples of a builder walking the walk to hard road capability.
IT’S NO LIGHTWEIGHT
The review van is typical of similar size Bushtrackers in that it’s no lightweight. Tare is 3100kg, and a 750kg payload takes the ATM out to 3850kg, meaning you need a heavy-duty tow vehicle. You also need an upgraded hitch, chains and a suitable suspension to cope with that extra weight and stay legal. At the drawbar is an offroad, fully articulating Hitch-Ezy coupling, rated to 5T.
An electric jockey wheel has a permanent place on the A-frame just behind the coupling. This feature saves time decoupling and leaves space for storage. Here we also see a mesh tray for hoses or firewood. A sturdy stone guard protects a pair of 9kg gas bottles and a small diesel tank for the heaters sitting between the spares, while overhead, a lifting cover saves the front window from stone damage.
Stepping up and in is a simple task despite the travel hieght
Along the side is an outside kitchen with a difference. It has two slide-outs, one on top of the other, to take advantage of the void usually found over the cooker. The top slide gives valuable storage, while the lower kitchen has a sink and an induction cooktop, courtesy of a top-class solar and lithium setup.
You might note that in the photos here there are no toolboxes at the A-frame. Instead, a sealed hatch for a slide-out generator is located towards the back on the driver side for better weight distribution.
In keeping with the upmarket fitout, an electric awning extends overhead, and an electric step snaps into place at the push of a button. These might sound like small things, but anything that saves time and effort is a bonus when you are setting up camp.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
The layout has the bed up front leading back to the living space and an oversize full-width ensuite that doubles as a handy storage area. The van is both a show van and will be used by Kathleen and Darren on their travels, so the interior colours needed to be on-trend but also easy to live with, and I think the choice is spot on. There’s plenty of white for a roomy and bright impression and enough dark tones for a modern appeal. The matte finish and real leather add to the appeal
External body length is 20ft 6in (6.1m), so it’s on the larger side of average for a couple’s van. The added length and the front bed layout create a usable living space even if most of the extra room seems to go into the oversize ensuite. A club lounge has ample legroom below, and the seat padding is comfortable and well-shaped.
Cooks should appreciate some special attention in the kitchen with its hybrid gas induction hotplates and a convection microwave that works off-grid from the impressive power supply. And despite a large full-height pantry at the rear of the benchtop, there is a good amount of preparation space, and room to move around. A tropical rated 188L Dometic fridge rounds out the kitchen appliances and is a decent size for extended stays away from the supermarket.
A couple of innovative features set the Bushtracker apart from the pack. First, the team has developed a solution that recognises that your usual trifold table isn’t up to the hard knocks of rough travel. Instead, this tabletop lifts off its base and lives in a dedicated slot under the bed when travelling. This setup leaves provision for a low coffee table or, as here, a drop-down section to make an occasional bed.
So too the lockers underfoot at the raised platforms on each side of the bed are a great idea. It’s a clever use of a space that generally goes to waste. I also like the easy access to the water controls for three 90L washing water tanks and a dedicated 90L drinking tank. A small interior cupboard is dedicated so the tanks can be switched over with no fuss.
I’m generally not a fan of big bathrooms, but I have to say this one won me over for its exceptionally functional storage options. Either side of the entryway has roomy cupboards with drawers and extra hanging space. In addition, the walkway adds a feeling of space, and the bathroom itself is well equipped and continues the modern and friendly design.
The Bushtracker is a serious setup for off-grid living. Four 180W solar panels supply a 600Ah Lithium supply through an E-Pro Combi inverter/charger that delivers 3000W of 240V power and charges efficiently at 120A. This amount of power means that you can run the air conditioner, cooktops and entertainment systems under most circumstances without a backup generator.
At 3100kg empty with an ATM of 3850kg, the big Bushtracker is no lightweight, so the tow vehicle needs to be more capable than your standard twin cab. We’re talking an upgraded 200 Series or an American Ute, and the ABCO team has opted for a Ram 2500. The 276kW and 1152nN on tap from the 6.7L diesel was a good match, although its two-wheel-drive mode wasn’t up to some of the steeper sandy hills we found in the forests north of Coffs Harbour — a quick shift into 4WD solved that. Average fuel economy when towing is around 18.5L/100km which I think is pretty good.
Lift the bed to access more storage
The Bushtracker is designed with the expectation that owners will load the van with care to weight distribution when travelling but when empty the van has only a 5 per cent ball weight. So, adding some extra gear or water upfront is a good idea for better balance when the van is empty.
Build quality is superb, and the company has evolved with the times for an interior with a contemporary feel and well-considered design. It might be expensive, but that isn’t enough to stop buyers lining up for vans, with delivery dates out to ‘23 at present.
I have already suggested that Bushtracker is among our best caravan builders, and nothing I saw during our review convinced me otherwise. It’s a genuine offroad rig with as much off-grid capability as you can expect.
Find more Bushtracker vans here.
Weights and measures
Overall length 7.93m (26ft)
External body length 6.1m (20ft)
External body width 2.4m (8ft)
Travel height 3.1m (10ft)
Internal height 2.3m (75mm higher walls)
Ball weight 155kg at tare
Suspension Simplicity Load sharing leaf springs
Coupling Hitch Ezy Coupling 5T rated fully articulating 4x4 hitch
Wheels 65/70 R16 Bridgestone D697 all-terrain offroad tyres with Speedy Alloy wheels (5 stud LandCruiser pattern)
Water 3 x 90L non-potable, 1 x 90L Potable water (1 x 90L grey water)
Battery 600Ah Lithium system with E-Pro Combi, 3000W inverter/120A battery charge
Solar 4 x 180W solar panels
Air-conditioner Dometic Ibis 4
Gas 2 x 9kg Gas Bottles
Sway control No
Cooking Hybrid gas/induction cooktop
Fridge Dometic 188L 2 door Compressor Tropical rated (RUC6408X)
Microwave Panasonic convection microwave
Bathroom Extra-large ensuite
Washing machine Camec 2.5kg Wall mounted washing machine (20L wash cycle)
Hot water Swift Hot water unit
Electronics upgrade, Leather upholstery, club lounge,more
PRICE AS SHOWN
6 Collison Place Coffs Harbour NSW 2450
Ph: (02) 66512445