With ever more buyers looking to explore our backroads, tough caravans are in high demand. Luckily, most builders have a mix of dirt road-friendly models in their range.
Sunshine Coast dealer, Steve Tauzowski, from Brisbane RV in Burpengary has taken a different path, though, and developed his own well-equipped brand with all the features experience tells him buyers will want.
Vans are built under contract by Safari Caravans in Melbourne to Brisbane RV specifications, and the result is a van that’s both competitively priced and unique to Tauzowski’s yard.
“Not everyone has a bucketload of cash to throw at a new van, but customers still want a capable rig that can tackle tough roads,” he told us.
Brisbane RV is a family owned business with an eye on customer service. They have many repeat buyers, and they count referrals from happy owners as a big part of their sales strategy.
Not only does Tauzowski design and sell vans, he is also a regular caravanner and travels with his family in their own Fortitude bunk van.
This Fortitude Fortress has an external length just short of 19ft at 18ft 10in (5.7m), which, according to Tauzowski, is the ideal compromise of internal space and manoeuvrability, essential in an offroader.
With a black and gunmetal grey colour scheme and a high stance on its raised body, the Fortress has all the appeal of the current crop of offroad vans. Splashes of red and dark grey wrapping around the sides and across the back add to the well-balanced and attractive impression. The main exterior is 3mm composite with an external layer of aluminium, while lower down is the usual checkerplate for added protection from flying debris.
Under the skin is a Meranti frame with 50mmx 25mm studs set 300mm apart for the sidewalls and roof. The floor is 19mm marine ply. Made from 3.2mm box section Australian Supergal Steel, the 6in FP Chassis has a 2in riser kit for extra ground clearance and strength.
Suspension is AL-KO’s tandem 3.5T Outback trailing arm setup with coils and twin shock absorbers at each arm. Slowing us down during were 10in AL-KO brakes.
Connection to the tow vehicle is through our favourite DO35 offroad hitch, which has excellent all-round movement and a very robust locking mechanism. Two 9kg gas bottles sit on the extended 6in A-frame, ahead of a full-width aluminium storage box with a generator slide on the driver side. A stone guard protects the front end and mud flaps down low will reduce the number of rocks flying under the van.
Two 95L water tanks sitting side by side forward of the suspension have stone guards and a 100L grey tank (with a quick flush drain tap) will keep you legal in National Parks and RV camps. Twin 120Ah AGM batteries are mounted in sturdy metal boxes on the chassis, so they are well ventilated and don't take up space inside the van.
Other exterior features include work lights front and rear, a rear view camera and a three-arm rear bar that's sturdy enough for two jerry can holders and a spare wheel.
Our review van had a doorway forward of the axles, so entry is near the bed, which makes maximum use of interior space by using the void around the foot of the bed. A low divider protects occupants from slipping down the stairwell and the side window is offset so there is no conflict with the door when both are open. If you prefer a rear entry away from the bed, that's an option.
Muted grey tones over the white walls give a contemporary impression, and the large windows and higher than average 2m (6ft 8in) ceiling reinforce an open and airy feeling.
The ensuite on this model is at the rear, with a centrally located dining/lounge and kitchen space. It was pleasing to see a large queen bed in the van. Extending to 6ft 6in with a bedhead bolster in place, it has a comfortable Pillowtop mattress and loads of storage underneath.
I found good access around the bed and the standard selection of hanging wardrobe, drawers and overhead cupboards. Side nooks at the bed will be handy for keeping track of phones and books and the upholstered bedhead was somewhat unusual with its slots for magazines and maps.
Kitchen bench space is as good as you could expect in a van of this size, but it is where the compromise of a smaller van shows. Overhead cupboards have piano hinges, struts that can be re-gassed, while drawers in the bench are on metal runners. The look is neat and well finished and all the openings have positive locks to keep them in place when travelling. Nothing detached or flew open during our test even though we covered enough rough terrain to give the van a good workout.
A Thetford cooktop and grill has a fold down cover to increase bench space and there’s a range hood with a light to get rid of cooking vapours. The wide stainless steel sink also has some space on the drainer. The 190L 3-way fridge/freezer is relatively large but perhaps a 12V chest freezer would be a good option to add to the mix for long term travel. A compressor fridge is a same price option, and the twin batteries should run it effectively as long as there’s prolonged sunshine.
A couple of features at the dinette will add to the enjoyment of spending time in the van and point to a good design. Couples will find plenty of room and comfort on the well-proportioned seating and the fold-out seat extensions combined with the padded backrests will be a welcome comfort of an evening.
Another compromise in a smaller van is a compact ensuite and while this one isn’t huge, I found it easy enough to move around. It has everything you need including a cassette toilet and moulded shower with acrylic door. A decent size vanity has a rectangular floating bowl ahead of a large wall mirror and there’s loads of storage space in several wall cupboards as well as a 3.3kg washing machine under the vanity.
Tare is a reasonable 2420kg for this sized heavy-duty van. ATM is 3290kg, so the carrying capacity is 870kg, or about 670kg with full water and gas. That's very generous but at the same time, it will need careful weight distribution to maintain safe stability. The van comes with a relatively heavy ball to ATM ratio of around 10 per cent, so it tows well when empty. As with all high payload trailers, too much weight at the back will cause sway at speed and too much up front could exceed the tow vehicle’s specified maximum ball weight.
Our review took us into the wilds of the Glasshouse Mountains, over some rough roads and across washouts and deep corrugations. The company 200 series LandCruiser towed the Fortress easily up and down steep hills, as well as along the 110km/h sections of the Bruce Highway on the way to our photo shoot.
But the Fortress doesn’t need a particularly big tow vehicle. Any number of the 3500kg capable utes should be a good match as long as you keep an eye on maximum combined weights.
Being able to stay off-grid is an important feature of any offroad van and the Fortress is well equipped for extended time in the bush. With 190L of fresh water, there should be enough if showers are kept to a minimum and the grey tank should handle the overflow. Two 150W solar panels charge the twin batteries through a BMPro system and all the electronics and readouts are housed with the DVD player in an overhead cabinet near the kitchen.
I’m pretty happy that Brisbane RV take their obligations under consumer law seriously and from what I saw the staff have a comprehensive hand over process.
The 3-year warranty includes offroad use but of course owners need to be sensible. As with all builders, you aren’t covered for misuse, accident damage to panels or undercarriage or water damage if you dunk it above floor level.
At $71,990 the 19ft Fortitude stands up well in this very competitive section of the market. Despite its position in the lower price range for an offroad van, the Fortress 19 isn’t lacking features that most customers would want. It has the steely appeal of a modern offroader and a comfortable and usable interior with an understated design that should stay stylish for years.
Suspension and chassis are capable of handling our awful outback roads with confidence and the generous weight carrying capacity should mean you can take all your toys and equipment for long ventures away from home.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 8.1m (26ft 6in)
External body length 5.8m (18ft 10in)
External body width 2.32m (7ft 6in)
Travel height 3.05m (10ft)
Internal height 2m (6ft 6in)
Payload 870kg (calculated)
Ball weight 258kg
Ball/Atm 10 per cent
Cladding 3mm Ali Composite
Chassis FP 100mm x 50mm Supergal Chassis
Suspension AL-KO 3500kg Outback
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes 10in AL-KO
Wheels 265 x 16 inc tyres and size
Water 2 x 95L and 100L grey
Battery 2 x 120Ah
Solar 2 x 160W
Air-conditioner Ibis 4
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control No
Cooking Thetford cooktop and grill
Washing machine Yes
Hot water Gas/electric
PRICE AS SHOWN
East Service Rd
270 Bruce Hwy Burpengary 4505
Ph: 07 38883273