Sunliner Caravan History

If you grew up in Australia somewhere between the 1950’s and 1970’s, chances are you would know the Sunliner. Possibly the most iconic Australian van at the time, Sunliner Caravans was started by Bert Tickner, a clever, determined man, who had a knack for small business.

After operating a Volkswagen dealership, Tickner then began selling fibreglass swimming pools and dabbling in inventions. Bringing together his experience in these fields, his dream was to build a fibreglass caravan that could be towed behind a VW Beetle. (Back then, Beetles had trouble pulling their own weight, let alone a caravan!). This dream soon became reality.

Tickner lived in Forster in NSW, which was a small town of 2,000 in the late 1950’s, however, he was determined to manufacture his caravans out of Forster to help create jobs and boost the local economy. He opened his business - Mid North Coast Moulded Products – which was to become the largest fibreglass production facility in the southern hemisphere in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Clever man indeed!

The Sunliner was Australia’s first lightweight fibreglass caravan, and some would say the most beautiful, with its sophisticated ‘egg’ shape stylish curves. Often described as ‘jelly beans’ or ‘baked beans’, the Sunliner’s distinctive shape is used as the universal caravan symbol on Australian road signs.

Not only was the exterior made from fibreglass, the interior was, too, including the cupboards, the doors and even the insect screens. The tubular steel frame and independent shock absorbers completed a caravan that was ahead of its time. Salesmen at the time boasted that “even a woman” could manoeuvre the lightweight van into place!

There were three caravan models to choose from - the 13ft ‘Victory’, the 16ft ‘Sunliner Super 16’, and the ‘Thriftmaster’. Although very popular, the high manufacturing costs of these vans in the 1960’s soon forced Tickner to drop the interior fibreglass for the cheaper plywood and fabric used by other van builders.

Business carried on as Tickner tried to remain viable in the industry, but he finally closed the doors of his business around 1970.

We’re quite sure that Tickner would be very proud to see that his Sunliners are highly sought after by vintage van lovers these days, and you will still see plenty of these retro beauties along the highways.

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