Review: Classic RTM Avant Garde
Form follows function in the luxury Avant Garde.
AN ESPECIALLY AERODYNAMIC VAN has arrived on the Australian RV scene. The Avant Garde is unconventional in appearance, almost like nothing seen here before. Built by Classic RTM on the Gold Coast (Qld), under the direction of Wayne Barrett, it has a composite shell that consists of a two-piece bonded monocoque-type structure. The shell has an inner PVC foam core with a laminate of fibreglass on either side of the foam. The technical construction term is Resin Transfer Moulding (RTM), hence the company name.
What’s interesting about the Avant Garde is that it doesn’t have a typical steel chassis. Instead, its composite chassis is integrated into the basic body structure. A look under the Avant Garde reveals a very smooth surface indeed. There isn’t even any electrical wiring, gas or water lines: they’re all built into the bodywork, just like the 160L water tank above the tandem axles.
Included in the integrated chassis is the drawbar, and even that looks a little different from usual. The 12V cabling for the towing connections again departs from the norm, with sockets at the rear of the drawbar that minimise the need for trailing cables.
"The structural design has all kinds of benefits," Wayne Barrett says.
"It weighs less than conventional construction and has sufficient structural integrity, which doesn’t rely on internal furniture. The bottom shell has moulded-in wheel arches to seal out the dust and water, and the fully moulded interior can be washed or hosed out very easily."
One thing that can sometimes cause headaches with fibreglass is getting accident damage repaired.
"No problem," Wayne assures us. "A good panel beater or boat repairer will be able to handle the job."
In case you are wondering, there are a couple of familiar features – the Al-Ko quick-drop corner stabilisers is one and the other is the fully-adjustable airbag suspension for the tandem axles. The awning, too, is conventional, although it’s slightly jarring, as it’s not quite in keeping with the streamlined nature of the rest of the caravan.
The windows aren’t typical, either, and are made of tinted safety glass. The front ones have quite a different shape. The entry door and the front boot also have a streamlined look. The boot is spacious, and stores the battery and airbag controls as well as a separate bin for the pair of 9kg gas cylinders.
Mid-way along the nearside is an entertainment unit with a hinged picnic table, connections for 240V and 12V power, a TV antenna and a light. There is also a gas bayonet fitting for an optional barbecue.
The rear of the van has a mounted spare wheel, chrome bumper bar and multiple oval-shaped LED tail-lights that give a it slightly retro look. The spare wheel is mounted on the rear wall – not the bumper bar, which protrudes very little. A look on the roof reveals a bank of solar panels, roof hatches and an air-conditioner.
As you might imagine, things are somewhat different on the inside, too. For a start, take the colour scheme. Instead of the usual timber panelling, white is the predominant colour, including on the fridge doors. Several lockers have faux timber inlays, which are similar to what you would see in a Saab or BMW. Slimline venetian blinds are used on the windows.
The interior has very few square edges. The layout is standard, though, with a full-width rear bathroom, mid-section dining/kitchen area and a front bedroom. Lighting is 12V, with a mixture of fluorescent and halogen fittings.
It’s in the bedroom where things are very different. The island bed does have its head at the front of the van, but because of the sloping design of the ceiling, the usual bedhead of cupboards and lockers isn’t there. This means you lose storage space, but it does look clean. That’s aided by the custom-shaped windows, which are an interesting variation on the theme.
On either side of the bed are cabinets, with the bonus of full-shelf areas. Extra storage space is supplied by cupboards at the foot of the bed, in addition to the normal under-bed area. The bed base, made up of ply timber and a metal frame, easily lifts with the assistance of gas struts.
In the catering department, some things look the same, like the four-burner cooktop/grill/oven that’s alongside the stainless steel sink/drainer. This design normally results in a small benchtop area, but the kitchen also has an L-shaped bench, with five more drawers beneath it. Later models, we understand, will have a slide-out pantry as well.
A 186L Dometic fridge, with microwave above, sits opposite the kitchen bench and acts as a divider between the lounge and bedroom. Fitted into the corner outside the bathroom, the L-shaped lounge offers a comfortable area to sit down and relax. The table sits on a single pedestal, which collapses to make up an extra bed.
Speaking of relaxing, the Avant Garde comes with a radio/CD/DVD player system. We should point out that you won’t find ceiling-mounted speakers; instead, there’s a larger speaker mounted above the lounge.
The bathroom, too, is far from conventional, with its screened shower cubicle and porthole. Of course, like the rest of the van, it is fully moulded fibreglass and all white. It should be quite easy to clean. Just squirt a hose around the inside and then wipe it down.
The bathroom has all the required items: separate shower cubicle, Thetford cassette toilet, washbasin and that increasingly regular feature, a front-loading washing machine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As we’ve said, the Avant Garde is a van that is very different to the conventional. Most of the items that caravanners would expect to find are there, but at the same time they’ve been put together with thinking that is outside of the box – literally. Naturally, there is a price to pay for that.
However, what you get is a van that has aerodynamic towing characteristics, with a weight that’s not over the top. And it’s certainly a van that will stand out in the crowd!
CLASSIC RTM AVANT GARDE
Overall length: 8.95m (29ft 4in)
External length: 7.4m (23ft 4in)
External width: 2.47m (8ft 1in)
Interior height: 2m (6ft 6in)
Nameplate ATM: 2900kg
Nameplate Tare: 2500kg
Advised ball weight: 260kg
Body: Moulded fibreglass
Chassis: Composite with body
Lighting: 12V halogen and fluorescent
Gas: 2 x 9kg
Fresh water: 160L
Classic RTM, Gold Coast, Qld, phone (07) 5563 9347.