Black is Back
Of the many so-called off-road caravans on the market, few offer real all-terrain travel. This Bushmaster is a genuine offroader and boasting a generous warranty, it claims to be the toughest in the land.
Bushmaster is the real deal. According to company founder Terry Ryan, his vans will go anywhere the tow vehicle can, so if you are willing to bog yourself knee deep in black soil or drag it over rocky ground then the Bushmaster isn’t going to break, and all components will stay intact. Blazed across the back of the Ironbark show van is a sign telling the world this is Australia’s toughest caravan, and the company offers a five-year warranty to back this up.
Ryan explained that when he set out to design the latest Ironbark he wanted the toughest off-road caravan on the market, so it was clad it in checkerplate, set on a heavy duty G&S chassis and fitted out with all the features of the big vans in the Bushmaster range.
Covering all the models in the Ironbark range with aluminium checkerplate gives real meaning to the Ironbark brand and creates a distinctive, mean look. It may add 40kg or so in weight over a formed aluminium version, but it wins in resistance to stone and impact damage and ups the ante on who’s the toughest on the block. If you’d prefer to fly lower under the radar, then opt for the Bluegum range with mainstream cladding. I should note that, while the van on test combines all the features you would want in a van for extended off-road and off-grid excursions, Ryan is more than happy to accommodate your unique ideas and custom fitouts.
The van on test is the Bushmaster demonstration model and is finished in black to match the company Mercedes tow vehicle. It looks spectacular sitting high on raised suspension, but the dark colour is bound to be a little impractical under a baking northern sun.
An extended 6″ drawbar runs all the way back to the wheels on the 6″ Supergal G&S chassis. It is fitted with a large alloy storage box with an enclosed forward hatch for two 8.5kg gas cylinders and holds on each side for jerry cans, while the top section is described as a wet box for items like dirty mats and so on. A 3.5T Highland Hitch connects to the Merc and a set of sway bars help keep the rig level on the road.
Suspension is the G&S Control Rider TS independent off-road system with trailing arms and twin shock absorbers each side. It’s rated to 2700kg ATM and has 12” electric drum brakes. Wheels are 16” alloys shod with 265×75 General Grabber AT tyres.
Two 110ah batteries are chassis mounted ahead of the wheels on each side for a total of 440ah of charge. They are powered from a pair of 130w roof solar panels through a 40amp Electroparts charger. Also chassis mounted are three 95L water tanks with individual plumbing and a 60L grey water tank.
I don’t think I have seen as many hatches along the side of a caravan, let alone a diminutive 16’10” version. They include a front tunnel boot, a slide out kitchen, a two-door pantry, and a vertical hatch for chairs. On the driver side, I found a generator box and more storage hatches forward.
The kitchen with an adjacent pantry is an innovative and well-considered approach to outside cooking, which is a big part of enjoying time in a van. It has a sink with hot water and storage drawers, and as well as a Smev three-burner cooktop, there’s also a Weber Baby Q. Covering the kitchen is an electrically operated Dometic awning that deploys effortlessly in only a few seconds.
By building the van on review with an aluminium frame, there is a weight saving in comparison to meranti construction and some would argue the alloy version makes a more robust build. The roof is constructed from aluminium sheets that are permanently sealed and fixed together with a Pittsburg join, it should be immensely strong and leak proof.
Ryan explained that he didn’t like the idea of large storage boxes at the rear as it offered too much temptation for owners to overfill them with weighty items that might upset the balance of the van. Instead, they have installed a shallow firewood rack for loading close to camp. A rearview camera is standard and LED lights are placed both at a low (legal) level as well as high on the back, and turn signals are repeated along the sides for increased visibility.
With a full-width ensuite and only 16’10” body length to play with, it’s inevitable the smallest Ironbark has an east-west bed, which, let’s face it, isn’t everyone’s first choice. So, you either get a bigger model or embrace the more easily maneuverable and lighter version that misses out on none of the creature comforts you would expect in a long-term explorer. There’s still plenty of room to move around freely, and the layout provides for a passenger-side kitchen with a dinette opposite. I should add that the 7’3″ long bed leaves a bit of wriggle room at the foot so the inside occupants who are nimble enough can extract themselves without disturbing their partner too much.
Themed with white walls and marble benchtops against black joinery and black leather cushions, the interior adapts the mood of contemporary living, combining well with the edgy exterior. Cabinets are CNC formed lightweight ply with sturdy but attractive catches, piano hinges and metal runners. I noticed extra strong stainless steel locks on the bathroom and microwave doors to keep them in place over rough tracks.
The kitchen bench has admirable bench space and combines a stainless steel sink with a three-burner cooktop. Both under and over the bench are numerous storage cupboards and drawers including a large potholder. You may have noticed an earlier mention of four batteries on board and it’s all about having reserve power to run the 195L Waeco fridge when the sky clouds over. On top is a Whirlpool Crisp and Grill Microwave with steam and convection options. It’s a great addition to the outside kitchen, although you will need a generator to run it when remote camping.
The compromise in space for a north-south bed is to accommodate an ensuite and like everywhere else in this Bushmaster it includes innovative use of space and cutting-edge design. It’s a room well lit and ventilated with a window, roof hatches and fans. A marble laminated bench has a circular floating sink, offset to maximize room on vanity top, and a large mirror with bright strip lighting. A Thetford ceramic toilet is set to the passenger side along with a 4kg Camec Aqua RV washer on the back wall. The single piece shower on the driver side has a magnetic catch and a second heavy-duty lock, and there’s a hanging locker behind it to make use of otherwise wasted space.
All electronics and gauges are located in a cupboard handy to the dinette and include master switches for the Prostar charger and mains, water tank levels and fuses. A 19” TV is set on a rotating arm and connects through a Jack Aerial, while a Sansui Bluetooth sound system is controlled from an impressive digital display at the entryway.
Additional features include a roof-mounted Ibis 3 air conditioner, a pressure hatch for dusty tracks, Seitz Midi roof hatch and Dometic double glazed windows.
ON and OFF THE ROAD
I have to admit the GL320CDi was the first Mercedes tow vehicle I have encountered, and the 3L V6 turbo diesel pulled like a train over the steep hills heading to our photo destination on farmland near Broadford, north of Melbourne. The van towed smoothly and without any sway or lurching at highway speeds and through tight corners in the hills.
Off the track, it seemed Ryan was keen to see if we could bog the van or catch it on some steep drop-offs, but we managed to cross muddy, broken ground without mishap. He charged merrily through rocky water crossings without any drama or damage to anything underneath.
A five-year warranty is remarkable for an offroader and shows how confident is the Bushmaster team in the engineering and construction of their bush capable tourer. Here’s a compact van to get wherever you feel confident the tow vehicle can manage, so it’s limited only by the capability and common sense of the driver.
ATM is 2700kg, so you don’t need a big Mercedes to move it around. Even mid-sized 4WDs will do the job easily. Payload should be around 660kg so even with the water tanks full you have plenty of capacity to bring along all your camping gear and toys. There’s ample water and power storage and all the necessary comforts for weeks of bush camping. For such a well-equipped van, $78,450 as tested, seems good value.
You might expect that with state of the art technology in his vans, Ryan would be easy to contact. Well, he is, sort of, but you need to ring to make an appointment as a lot of the time he is testing, talking with customers or just thinking of ways to improve his vans. So, ring, email or fax your ideas on the details below, and he will take you through the process of building a tough off roader to your specifications.
- Truly Off Road capable
- Rugged appeal and trendy interior
- Well equipped with quality products
- Five-year warranty
- Storage options
- East-west bed
Model: Ironbark 16’10”
Overall length: 7.3m
Travel height: 3m
Tare weight: 2040kg
Payload less full water and gas: 357kg
Ball weight: 210kg
Price as reviewed: $78,450
Find Out More
28 Production Drive
Campbellfield, Victoria 3061
Phone – (03) 9357 5222 – 9am to 9pm
Fax – (03) 9357 5211
Terry Ryan – Phone 0408 194 481 – all hours