I headed out to the heartland of Australian caravan manufacturing, Campbellfield, Vic, to check out the new La Vista factory and do a review on the El Toro 1. In case you were wondering, the ‘1’ designates single axle. Owners Alan Nisbet, Mary Lorenzo, and son Shane Summer were keen to greet me and show me around. Shane explained that they were small volume builders and had no plans for rapid expansion. The move to the new factory had been motivated to improve efficiency, giving them the room to set up an organised workflow for vans to progress through the build stages in an orderly manner. Compared to the big names, it is still a modest size factory at 1500sqm. But having seen a few factories from various industries in my time, I can tell you it is well laid out, with component stock located centrally to feed the line and assembly equipment positioned ergonomically for efficient use by operators. These are good indicators of a manufacturer committed to building a quality product.
We hooked up the El Toro 1, and Alan, Shane, and I headed off in pursuit of some photogenic spots. Often the cruise in the car is when the conversation flows, and the passion of the duo is obvious. Alan explained that they had been building vans since 2007. He was candid that they had made mistakes in the early days, but they had built up a wealth of knowledge in the traditional materials they work with and have a lot of confidence in what they build. Alan emphasised the importance of having a disciplined approach to surface preparation when sealing a caravan and not cutting corners with the specification of silicone used.
Alan is a self-confessed “old school” kind of a guy, and this shows through with his low key approach to marketing and relying on word of mouth referrals from existing customers.
Alan then deferred to Shane saying he was the future of the company as Alan planned to step back over time. Shane backs Alan in sticking with old school construction methods but has fresh ideas when it comes to internal design. Shane is a keen user of the product and gets away with the family whenever he can, which has led to many refinements.
DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
The first thing that struck me was the bright red cladding on the front and rear featuring a very distinctive bull logo. Not exactly my cup of tea, but the choice of colours is yours. My next thought was this is a traditional meranti frame, aluminium profile clad van just like dozens of other manufacturers in Campbellfield — quite frankly, on the surface they often look pretty much the same. But once you dig a little deeper there are a few distinctive features with the El Toro 1.
While there are well over one hundred caravan manufacturers in Australia, the undercarriage suppliers are dominated by just a handful of brands. La Vista bucks the trend and use an Intelligent Engineering chassis and the Tuff Ride suspension system. I must confess I am unfamiliar with these brands. A quick google revealed they have built 10,000 chassis over a 15 year period which made me keen to learn more.
Mary Lorenzo obligingly put me in touch with Intelligent Engineering and a few days after reviewing the van I was invited for a factory tour. Director and Head Engineer, Terrence McNicol, showed me around and told me they aim to build a premium quality chassis. The claim was backed up with what I saw. There has been major investment in equipment such as CNC bandsaws, assembly jigs and robotic welding which help to deliver precision and consistency in manufacture. Combined with the quality procedure processes I witnessed on the shop floor I can see why La Vista have chosen to run with Intelligent Engineering.
Chatting further, I learnt Terrence plays a part in more aspects of the undercarriage. He is an investor in the Tuff Ride independent suspension mated to the chassis. It is also engineered and built in Australia and rigorous field testing has been conducted in rugged Australian conditions.
Finally, Terrence is also involved as the distributor for the Tuson sway control fitted to La Vistas. This system continually monitors side to side movement of the caravan and if it detects a sudden sway, the brakes are automatically, independently applied on the left or right to correct the situation.
Moving back to the van review, I would describe the chassis as a classic Australian style, with large, box section profiles, welded together, meeting the typical customers expectation of robust construction.
While crawling under the van I noticed a couple of attention to detail features which indicate La Vista intend for the El Toro 1 to be used off the main drag. First, the chassis has recovery points integrated into it so you can be dragged out of a sticky situation. Second the PVC plumbing at the rear of the van was very neatly shielded with foam sleeving to protect against stone damage — not something you always see done at factory level.
Aesthetically, the interior colour palette was much to my liking. The dark grey doors and upholstery were safe yet distinctive because the abundance of LED lighting made the gloss surfaces pop. I was drawn to the concrete look benchtop and splashback. When I worked for a caravan manufacturer, we looked at the colour but chickened out because it might look to industrial. But you know what, I think it works.
There is no ground breaking innovation inside the El Toro 1, but I would still rate it as one of the best designed interiors I have seen. Nearly all vans have some really good functional interior design ideas in them. What made the El Toro 1 stand out for me is it has the most complete collection of all of these good ideas I have seen overtime all in the one van. I will take you through a number of these little things that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The bedroom furniture had six functional elements — overhead locker, wardrobe, storage nook, horizontal surface, drawers and cupboard. All unremarkable in isolation but impressive to see all put together. The wardrobes have hanging rails which are great, but it can leave a bit of hard to use space below the hanging clothes. The storage nook is cut into the side of the wardrobe making the space below the hanging clothes accessible while in bed. USB points are located in this nook which is an ideal place to charge your phones overnight.
At the foot of the bed, the furniture is designed to make moving around the bed easy. On one side you have the kitchen bench cut on just the right angle to walk around. On the other side there is a waist high cupboard and above that an overhead locker nestled behind the fridge, again nicely angled to walk around.
Kitchen bench space is maximised with the inclusion of a board that nests on the sink and a bench overlay on top of the cooker. Sure, plenty of vans have these features, but the El Toro 1 had both. The kitchen storage is pretty conventional with plenty of cupboards, drawers and overhead lockers. The use of drop down door cupboards, hinged at floor level is always contentious. Less mobile people can find it difficult to get down on their hands and knees to access the space. But the reality is the space just isn’t deep enough to accommodate drawers. If getting down low is a challenge for you, this space is best used for occasional access items.
There is a good suite of kitchen appliances. I have noticed a number of caravan manufacturers, including La Vista, avoid specifying particular brands and models in their literature due to industry wide supply shortages. Nonetheless, the van reviewed featured a Dometic 188L compressor fridge, Swift cooker (three gas and one electric plate, grill and oven), Sphere rangehood, and NCE 25L microwave.
Comfort and entertainment appliances included Ibis 4 reverse cycle air conditioner, Webasto diesel heater, two Sirocco fans, MYVI 24in TV/DVD player, and MYVI radio/CD player. Plus, the van comes standard with a Dometic unit which creates positive pressure inside the caravan while travelling to prevent dust ingress.
The bathroom continues the theme of a collection of good ideas. The overhead cupboards above the mirror are cut on an angle so you won’t bump your head. Sure, you lose a little bit of storage area, but I think it’s worth it and I just like the look. The decent size mirror has a real bright feel about it with overhead lighting. An upright washing machine fits in unobtrusively into the space, accessible via a section of hinged benchtop supported by little gas struts. Of course, the washing machine eats into storage space but there are three good-sized draws and a tall cupboard to make up for it. Hidden inside the base of the tall cupboard is a little hatch which reveals a space that could be used as a laundry hamper or perhaps storage for infrequently accessed items. This space is not the easiest to access as you have to remove items sitting on top of the hatch to get to it. The shower cubicle and cassette toilet are a conventional affair.
While quite close to the heart of Melbourne, our shoot location had an edge of the outback feel about it. The off-grid specs of the El Toro 1 would be right at home heading into the outback for an extended stay. Two 190W solar panels combined with two 100Ah lithium batteries and an Enerdrive 2000W inverter should give you all the spark you need. If you need more 240V to run the air-conditioner for example there is a box on the A-frame complete with slide for you to fit a generator. Two 9kg gas bottles is more than enough and water supply is plentiful with two 95L fresh tanks. One 95L grey water rounds out the package.
Some caravan manufacturers opt to spec their van at a basic level and then offer a big options list to build in the items you want. The more items you tick, the more the price and the weight of the van goes up. If you select a lot of options, it can be a bit of a challenge for the manufacturer/dealer to give you a precise tare until after the van is completed. This could cut your payload more than you like or push the ATM beyond your tow vehicle if you are cutting it fine.
La Vista go the other way offering an extremely comprehensive package as standard. Both approaches have their merits but the advantage of the La Vista approach is there won’t be many surprises in the price you pay for the van or the readout on the scales.
Towing with the Mazda BT50, we generally encountered cruisy conditions and the van remained poised at all times. We did, however, have to crawl over a small log at one point and the independent articulation of the suspension system took it in its stride. Without looking up the specs for this particular variant 2014 model BT50, the 2800kg ATM sounds about right to enable the ute to be reasonably well loaded up without exceeding the gross combined mass That’s not to say you will have a lot of spare up your sleeve. The El Toro 1 has enough payload at 480kg, but you wouldn’t call it a big carrier. The same things we keep repeating at Caravan World apply here — be smart about how you pack and always do your research on the GCM of your tow vehicle.
La Vista offer an above average duration 5-year structural warranty on the body. The suspension comes with a 1-year warranty and chassis is covered for 2 years. Appliance and other component warranties are as per their suppliers and La Vista refer customers to suppliers for assistance. On the road support is achieved by utilising an informal network of repairers as required.
THE BOTTOM LINE
La Vista have found a way to take what is essentially a traditionally built caravan just like many others but make it different enough to stand out from the crowd. Attention to detail in interior design with a combination of small but clever features add up to a highly liveable van. Choosing a chassis and suspension brand that is less mainstream is another point of difference. La Vista build a van with a comprehensive suite of features as standard which delivers a pretty reasonable value proposition and importantly provides a high degree of confidence in what your van will weigh in at.
For more on La Vista models check out here.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10
“A good example of a van loaded with features as standard for a reasonable price.”
“While our journey was pretty cruisy, the van remained poised at all times.”
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 8.5/10
“Everything you need and more for a couple to travel the expanses of our country.”
BUILD QUALITY 8.5/10
“A good example of a traditionally built van.”
“A very well thought out interior that delivers in spades.”
SELF SUFFICIENCY 8.5/10
“Well equipped for power and water delivery. Sensible packing is required to stay with payload requirements.”
CUSTOMER CARE 8/10
“A 5 year structural warranty is great. Owners of the company will be your first point of contact.”
“Innovation comes from a collection of small but useful ideas.”
“Bright red panels and bold bull decals are a standout. Some will love it, some not so much.”
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 5.8m (19ft)
Overall length 8.3m (27ft 3in)
Width 2.5m (8ft 2in)
Height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Payload 480kg (calculated)
Ball weight at tare 200kg
Frame Meranti 50mm x 25mm throughout
Cladding Aluminium profile / checker plate
Chassis Intelligent Engineering 150mm
Suspension Tuff Ride Independent Suspension
Coupling Cruisemaster DO-35
Wheels 16in alloy rims with 265/75 R16 tyres
Water 2 x 95L fresh, 1 x 95L grey
Battery 2 x 100Ah Lithium
Solar 2 x 190W
Air-conditioner Dometic Ibis 4 Reverse Cycle
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Tuson
Cooking Gas/Electric Full Oven
Fridge 188L Compressor
Bathroom Ceramic Toilet / Shower and Basin/Mirror
Hot water 23L gas/electric