Can the UK-built Bailey Unicorns cut the hot English mustard with seasoned and picky Australian caravanners? Michael and Wendy Browning take a top-of-the-range Pamplona and 5,000km to find out.
Story and photographs by Michael Browning
Australians historically have been suspicious of European caravans.
But while grudgingly curious about their lightweight construction, men temper their enthusiasm with blokey questions about their vulnerability to stone damage, their long-term durability and ultimate resale value.
Now Bailey Australia is winning over the doubters with its four-tier range of British designed and built caravans.
Bailey’s Australian range is dramatically different to those sold in the UK and Europe, incorporating 37 specific changes to suit our conditions – such as heavy-duty axles and drawbar and counting. By the time feedback from our 5,000km marathon test and the comments of the first Australian owners are included, there will be more.
Bailey soft-launched at Melbourne’s Leisurefest in September last year and with a bulging forward order book landed around 150 units in capital city ports around Australia during February/March this year.
Their range now consists of single and tandem axle vans in four separate model streams with lengths and tare weights commencing at 14ft/1,229kg tare Orion 400-2 and extending to the 21ft Unicorn Pamplona we tested, which weighs in at a still very light 1,680kg. All Bailey vans are fully featured with ensuites and AL-KO ATC self-stabilising safety hitches, making them very appealing and not intimidating to this emerging market of those who may never have towed a van before.
Typically, most Australian Bailey buyers to date have been only in bitumen use ad plan to tow their van with a two-wheel-drive vehicle, usually a mid-size family car, so we chose Holden’s recently-introduced LPG-only Commodore in Sportwagon Berlina specification with its 2,200kg braked towing capacity for the job of hauling our 1,800kg laden Pamplona from Melbourne to Perth.
With its close-coupled tandem axle and car-like tyres mounted on 15-inch alloy wheels, the Pamplona is as nimble as many shorter single-axle vans despite its 25ft.10in towing length, but with a rear axle overhang of nearly five metres, care needs to be taken when turning, as the van’s rear end describes a considerable arc.
Our trip took us just a whisker over 5,000km from east to west via Port Augusta, the Eyre Highway to Norseman, south to Esperance and then around the WA coast to Freemantle, via Albany and Margaret River. Until we hit the Kauri forests of Southwestern WA the route was fairly flat, but even the undulating hills west of Denmark proved no embarrassment to our rig.
At our usual highway cruising speed of an indicated 90-100km/h, the Bailey felt very comfortable behind the Commodore despite their disproportionate sizes, with only unexpected side gusts upsetting our harmony.
It was under these conditions on the Eyre Highway traversing the Nullarbor Plain where we first experienced the potential life-saving benefits of the Pamplona’s AL-KO ATC (AL-KO Trailer Control) hitch that is standard on all Australian Bailey vans.
Engaged via a unique 13-pin trailer plug, the system senses sudden swerving movements and applies the van’s brakes to straighten it up. With a large area of real estate behind a relatively light tow vehicle, this is a very reassuring feature.
Although it sits low on the road by comparison with most Australian-made vans, and its spare wheel hangs even lower in a cradle just rear of the tandem axle, the Pamplona never embarrassed itself on the many service station driveways it encountered in our hands, although because of its size we didn’t attempt entry to some of the smaller in-town sites that you might in a smaller van.
One thing Bailey owners will have to get used to for at least some time is the curiosity of other travellers. We saw two large German Geist and one smaller Adria vans on our three-week trip, but the large ‘helicopter’ front windows, distinctive, clean Euro styling and in particular the upmarket interior with its tasteful and stylish Italian fabrics always drew a crowd and guided tours were a regular feature of service station and caravan park stops.
We developed a standard routine: Wendy would usher the curious through the van, pointing out (to very complimentary comments) the spacious and light-drenched front lounge with its large Heki roof light, generous overhead cupboard space and three power points with both 240v AC and12 volt DC sockets, the well-appointed kitchen with its Dometic 190 litre three-way fridge, stainless steel 800W microwave and Thetford glass-topped four-burner stove, grill and glass-fronted oven.
The only disappointment was the relative lack of benchtop space, although the clever slide-out dinette table can be supplemented by a folding table that stows in a vertical draw beside the sink and this could also serve as a preparation or serving table, if required for more than two diners. The lounge also adapts into a double bed, using slat base.
The other annoyance, Wendy found, is that the sink’s mixer tap is offset to the left and hence can splash onto the adjacent benchtop and spill onto the lounge.
But the women in particular were very impressed with the Pamplona’s ensuite arrangement, in which both the Thetford toilet/washroom and separate shower sit on opposite sides of the van between the kitchen/meals areas and the rear double bedroom. With their doors cleverly design to fold in two ways, the ensuite can either be integrated into the bedroom, or the toilet with its heated towel rail can be accessed separately from the lounge area.
Through these doors, the bedroom can be isolated from the front of the van, so (for example) Wendy could sleep in with the distant hope of breakfast in bed, while I rose earlier and did a workout on the laptop. And with the full block-out Horrex sliding blinds (and fly screens) on all windows, late risers can enjoy almost 100 per cent blockout from the annoying early morning light.
Wendy’s tour also revealed the Pamplona’s considerable storage space, from the cavern under the lift-up double bed to the twin full-length bedside wardrobes and capacious cupboards and drawers that abound.
Unfortunately the hanging rails had the annoying habit of jumping off their locating lugs when travelling, leaving your clothes piled up on the wardrobe floor, but Bailey Australia is now fixing them more securely.
Another annoyance was that the mattress slid forward on its base during braking and had to be pushed back to gain access to the bedroom, but locating straps are now being fitted to prevent this happening in the future.
However Wendy was able to enthuse about the five-star comfort that Bailey owners enjoy. With its fully insulated 37mm thick walls and wheel arches, thick composite 44mm floor and double-glazed windows, Baileys have a Grade III thermal classification. Combined with its German Alde hot water/central heating system, you can toast the van’s interior to more than 30 degrees and Baileys are commonly used for accommodation at European ski-fields.
The sprawling-room lounge, fitted lift-out carpets and extensive mood lighting (with more than 20 individual downlights) make it a great place to east, relax in front of the multi-position TV, or to entertain neighbours for drinks.
And when it’s hot, the wide 90-degree opening windows all round, huge twin roof hatches and full-length Horrex pleated door flyscreen door catch every breeze blowing and this can be supplemented by the rooftop-mounted Dometic reverse cycle air conditioner.
Outside, the blokes were equally entertained. Those who looked underneath were both surprised and impressed by the van’s lightweight pressed-steel and galvanized AL-KO steel ladder-type chassis, which combines with the flooring and the van’s fully-laminated five-part body shell to lock into a strong aluminium frame to form a monocoque construction.
They also liked the full-length Australian-made 11.1-metre awning, which doubled the Pamplona’s livable room in a little more than a minute.
Like us they picked holes – literally – in the Pamplona’s removable front stone bra, which had already worn a hole through the sections covering the van’s lower front lights by the time out trip was just two days old.
The Bailey’s open-face design with its large Polyvision double-glazed windows leaves it very vulnerable to stone chipping from either the tow vehicle or material flying off the wheels of overtaking or approaching trucks, but the current British-made ‘bra’, while fairly easy to fit, is not up to the Aussie task.
Bailey Australia is in the process of replacing it with a simpler and more durable locally-made design that will also allow easier access to the small front mounted boot that houses the twin 9kg gas bottles.
We had a couple of other teething issues that Bailey Australia noted and is currently addressing, such as the inner frame around one of the front bay windows that worked loose (Bailey is now fitting solid plastic mounting lugs for better fixing) and the front of a cupboard draw that worked loose (larger screws are now incorporated).
And for serious road warriors, the 65-litre on-board water storage with 23-litre portable reserve is marginal for a large ensuite van for the many travelers who choose to ‘free camp’ off major highways for several nights a week.
But on the plus side the Bailey excelled in all the important areas.
It was light, easy and safe to tow with a two-wheel-drive Australian family vehicle proved impressively solid and with its extensive standard feature list, was exceptionally comfortable to live in, and with.
At less than $60,000 (depending on your State and equipment chosen), the Pamplona is the very best of British that is very much at home of Australian highways.
• High tech UK bitumen tourer
• Can be towed by 2WD family cars
• Smart European look
• Loaded with equipment
• Light weight, high-tech construction
• Comfort features
• Value for money
WE WOULD HAVE LIKED
• More kitchen bench space
• Higher-geared AL-KO stabliser jacks
• A larger main water tank
Comforts (5 stars)
Build quality (4 stars)
Value for money (5 stars)
BAILEY UNICORN PAMPLONA
Overall length 7.86m (25ft 10in)
External length 6.3m (20ft 8in)
External width 2.28m (7ft 6in)
Travel height 2.86m (9ft 4in)
Interior height 1.96m (6ft 5in)
Ball weight 85kg
Frame Interlocking aluminium
Chassis AL-KO galvanized steel
Suspension AL-KO independent with telescopic shock absorbers
Cooktop Thetford 4-burner gas cooktop/grill/oven
Fridge Dometic 190-litre 3-way
Microwave Daewoo 800W
Shower Separate cubicle with mixer showerhead
Toilet Thetford chemical cassette
Lighting LED 12 volt
Gas Twin 9kg gas bottles
Fresh Water 65-litre main and 23-litre portable tanks
Price as reviewed $59,900 tow-away (Victoria).
Supplied by Canterbury caravans, 140 Canterbury Road, Bayswater, Vic. (03) 9729 8188 www.canterburycaravans.com.au
For more information about Bailey visit www.baileyaustralia.com.au