Caravanning has a long history but many people will be surprised to hear that Australia is home to one of the longest running manufacturers in the world, rivaling Airstream in America for the title. Roma Caravans was established in the bayside Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick in 1928 by a Mr. Green, an Englishman. The company was named after his wife, Roma Green, rather than through the Italian connection established in the 50s when Victor Palmarini bought the business.
These days Roma operates out of four factories in the heart of Australia’s caravan precinct in Campbelfield on Melbourne’s outskirts and is run by Victor’s son Tony and two grandsons Mark and Brendan.
Over the last 86 years there have been thousands of Romas built with older examples now lovingly restored as classic vans.
Mark told me that Roma has maintained its reputation amongst buyers by keeping up with modern building techniques and design trends and that while I could see elements of the classic Roma interior in our Elegance test van, production techniques are very different from those of only a few years ago.
Composite sidewalls combine with moulded fibreglass ends for a distinctive look that separates Roma vans from the pack. It seems everything old is new again as I recently saw a 60s Roma that had aluminium ends and flat bonded timber walls.
Construction follows the well-proven practice of a meranti timber frame on a heavy duty Roadrunner Duragal chassis. Black alloy wheels look the part and are shod with 235”x75”x15” off road tyres.
Chassis rails are 6”x2” with 2’ risers, while the A-frame is 4”x2” with strengthening sections welded below. The tandem axle suspension uses leaf springs with shock absorbers, which the Roma team describes as being good on corrugations, easy to maintain and repair. Best described as a semi off road, Mark assured me the van is capable of tackling environments like the Gibb River Road.
Composite aluminium panels cover the side walls and are bonded to the 2”x1” frame. The ultra gloss finish is both easy to clean and looks terrific. This new cladding material is said to have good insulation and dent resistant properties so along with the foam fitted into the wall cavities the van should be cool in summer.
A deep boot at the front has lots of useful storage space and also houses the 30L gas and electric Swift hot water service and a 120ah battery with a 30amp Ozcharge battery charger that is solar ready.
Two 9kg gas bottles sit on the A-frame and the van hitches to the tow vehicle on a 3500kg Al-Ko ball hitch, which might limit real off road capability somewhat.
Along the side is a large fold down picnic table with an LED light, full length Dometic awning and a rear generator box while on the back is a rear view camera and a full width bumper with a single spare wheel.
Inside this very contemporary exterior is a fitout that benefits from furniture cut on a CNC router that gives a new life to the classic timber finish. Warmth radiates from solid ash finishes that offers a contemporary take on traditional picture frame design with a flush rail system giving the style a new lease of life.
I think a lot of people will choose the timber look for its organic charm that resists the temporary nature of some trendy colour schemes. For me, the interior combines the benefits of modern construction with perfectly cut components and the timeless appeal of real hardwood.
At 19’6” the test van sits in the middle of the Elegance range with two other models a foot shorter and longer. This size is currently the most popular, being not too big to tow and not too small for comfort for a travelling couple and occasional guests.
Its ATM of 2830kg and ball weight of 220kg means it will need a larger tow vehicle like some of the latest twin-cab 4wd utes as well as the go-to Patrol or Landcruiser. It’s not Commodore or Falcon friendly.
On board are all the features expected for extended touring, with a sensible layout encompassing a front bedroom, rear ensuite and central living area. Entry is towards the back of the van via a fold down step and a three-way security door with brushed stainless steel grab rails both outside and in the stairwell.
The light timber colour blends well with mocha leather seats and bronze curtains while large overhead hatches and well-placed windows enhance the light and airy feel.
The queen bed has a firm but comfortable Grantec Posturepedic innerspring mattress supported by slats over a steel frame and a storage space accessed with the help of efficient gas struts.
Bedside tables and hanging lockers on either side accompany three overhead lockers for items we like to keep handy at night. Timber pelmets over the window curtains add to the van’s elegance and newly introduced magnetic-catch slides combine insect screens or blockouts and look sturdier than the clip versions usually found in vans.
Ranger double-glazed windows let in plenty of light around the van and they are all side and bottom locked for a tight seal. They have sturdy friction locks on struts to keep them opened to any desired width.
The Elegance offers two versions of the living space layout with an L-shaped lounge and a long dining table in the test van and a club lounge available as on option. The test van arrangement makes sense for its generous seating and the ability to stretch out when relaxing, with the added bonus of being able to be converted to an occasional bed.
All kitchen appliances are set out on the driver side with a 175L fridge-freezer with three way power leading to a Mustard Marble Laminex bench that splays out for extra room where it meets the ensuite wall. A laminex cover over the stainless steel sink and draining board extends the bench space and the dining table could be used as preparation space when cooking up a banquet.
The Swift 500 Series stove is hidden under another hinged bench section and comes with three gas and one electric burner, a griller and a small oven.
Overhead cupboards, large cutlery and deep pot drawers and a slide out pantry should hold a decent amount of supplies and utensils, while the microwave is at mid height, although still a bit high from a safety angle for some people.
At night the interior would be well lit with downlights in the roof and around both roof hatches as well as in the rangehood, while there are also individual reading lights at the bedhead.
The quality of the cabinetry is very high, as might be expected from the CNC cutter, but there are little touches like the fully-lined cupboards and quality friction-lock hinges rather than the small butt hinges seen in most vans. So too, the rolled edges of the bench and the solid timber edges that are durable and easy to repair.
Overhead cupboards are built to hold the sort of excess weight people load into them and they boast a lip on the outer edge to prevent things falling out after a ride over some rough road. You can’t see it but Mark tells me they use 8mm wiring to all appliances for added longevity and safety.
I couldn’t find a television, but Mark assured me that a 19” unit is standard but the bracket is fitted at time of purchase so the owners can have it positioned where they prefer.
A sliding timber door opens into the ensuite and there is the same attention to detail inside. To the offside is a Thetford ceramic bowl cassette toilet and although it’s not the Hilton, there is room to move. Because ensuites often double as general storage areas on the road I liked the big linen cupboard with two shelves, the overhead cupboard over the toilet and the shelves and drawers of the neat vanity.
A 3kg Sphere washing machine is set under the wide vanity top and the deep ceramic sink with flick mixer looks classy. My take is that while most women might like the big vanity mirror, I’d find it a bit oversized and brightly lit for my own use in the mornings.
The one-piece moulded fibreglass shower is big enough to enjoy and the sliding Euro style showerhead is another nice touch. The rounded corners of the moulding should make cleaning a breeze.
Our Roma test van impressed with its high attention to detail and understated but timeless interior. It’s well equipped and engineered to last and at $65,490 it represents good value from a company with a long heritage and a pride in their product that shows.
Model: Elegance 19’6”
Country of manufacture: Australia
Overall length: 7.3m
Travel height: 2.69m
Tare weight: 2250kg
Ball weight: 220kg
Price from: $65,490
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Ph. 03 9357 0488