DIY Vintage Caravan Renovation

DIY Vintage Caravan Renovation of a 1970s Chesney (on the cheap)

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Before the days of wandering the country in a 2015 Jayco Starcraft, we started with an old vintage 1979 Chesney caravan. And when I say vintage, I mean vintage! Think orange and brown pinstripes with a pea-green kitchen!

We bought it back in 2013 with the full intention of doing a DIY caravan renovation, as a way of being able to get away for weekend trips on the cheap, since we didn’t have a lazy $20,000 to spend.

Here’s a rundown, with photos, of our 1970s Chesney DIY vintage caravan renovation.

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DIY Vintage Caravan Renovation – Before

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (before)

Our Chesney was a 6-berth caravan with a pull-out double bed up the front and four bunks in the rear. It had an L-shaped dinette with a simple kitchen. The sink had a cold water tap for use when connected to mains water.

Given the age of the van, there was no water tank or solar power, so it was only good for caravan park-style travel, or back-to-basics camping.

We didn’t want to change anything about the structure or layout of the caravan but just went with a modern facelift on the cheap in the backyard.

What it looked like ‘before…’

Unfortunately, I don’t have too many ‘before’ photos. Either I forgot to take them (rookie mistake!) or they’re long gone on an ancient phone somewhere.

You can see below the lovely brown and orange fabrics with old lino/ vinyl flooring.

The entire interior of the caravan was covered in wood panelling, from the fridge to the walls, drawers cupboards and inside all of the cabinets.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (before)
Brown & orange interior upholstery with lino flooring
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (before)
Woodgrain panelling, old oven and single sink tap
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DIY Vintage Caravan Renovation – Steps

For the DIY caravan renovation on the cheap, we decided to:

  • Cover the exterior pinstripes with checker plate
  • Repaint the drawbar
  • Add a swing-up jockey wheel
  • Add a pump tap and water tank (for off-grid use)
  • Lay new flooring
  • Paint over the old brown walls & cabinetry
  • Reupholster the fabrics
  • Add a kitchen splashback

Added Checker Plate to the Exterior

To avoid having to do a full sandblast and respray of the caravan’s exterior, we decided to simply cover the old orange and brown pinstriping with custom-cut sheets of checker plate.

We took all of the measurements to a local fabricator who was able to cut the sheets to size for us. Then it was a matter of lining them up perfectly and siliconing them into place.

To finish off, we added strips of checker plate around the external fridge vent like a frame, just to help cover the edges.

We also added a custom number plate frame and added some checker plate edgings around the tail lights.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Added checker plate to the exterior to cover the original pinstriping
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Added a number plate frame & checker plate edging around the tail lights
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Added checker plate frame around fridge vent to cover seams & edges
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Check plate wrapping underneath at the front of the van

Added a Swing-up Jockey Wheel

The Chesney caravan had its original jockey wheel, which needed to be added and removed every time we wanted to use it, then stored away somewhere.

To make life more convenient, we added a simple swing-up jockey wheel instead, which can be picked up from Supercheap, eBay and Caravan RV Camping.

Swing-up Jockey Wheel
Jockey Wheel →
(eBay)

While we were there, a quick respray of the drawbar area brought it up nice and fresh.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Added swing-up jockey wheel & repainted the drawbar

Added a Water Tank & Pump Tap

The caravan had a single tap inside at the sink, which only worked when connected to mains water.

So, we added a small water tank underneath the caravan (around 50L from memory) and a hose with a tap fitting so that we were able to fill up the tank externally. Then we added a simple pump tap inside at the sink (next to the existing tap), which connected up to the tank water.

That way we could have water both when connected up at caravan parks, or while roughing it in the bush.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Added water tank underneath the caravan
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (added pump tap & water tank)
Added pump tap at the sink, connected to the water tank

Repainted the Interior

The most painstaking task throughout the entire DIY vintage caravan renovation was repainting the interior.

The biggest mistake we made was buying the cheap white paint, which meant that we needed 97 coats (okay… that’s a slight exaggeration), to get proper coverage.

If you look closely at the photos below, you may notice that the walls have a vertical grooved line every 15cm or so, which just added to my nightmare. Add in sweltering hot 40℃ summer days and you can safely say I was glad to see the back of that task!

Anyhow, it turned out well in the end and lightened up the whole interior, giving it a fresh and clean feel.

We went with crisp white for the walls and overhead cabinets, with an accent of turquoise for the benchtop, plus the cupboard doors and drawers. The fridge was covered with a thin sheet of matte stainless steel.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (repainting the interior)
Undercoating the old brown interior walls, doors, drawers & benchtop
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (repainting the interior)
Repainting the walls & cabinets
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (repainting the interior)
The finished white & turquoise interior

Laid New Flooring

The easiest way to deal with the old lino/ vinyl flooring was to cover it up with floorboards.

We headed to Bunnings and got some light-coloured click-clack floorboards that we could easily cut to size and install ourselves at home. The matching edging pieces finished it off nicely.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (timber floorboards)
Covered the old lino flooring with timber floorboards

Reupholstered the Fabrics

Luckily for us, the previous owner had already reupholstered most of the fabrics throughout the caravan, including the front bed, the four bunks and the dinette seats.

We really liked the pop of green and blue, so we decided to keep it, which is why we chose a turquoise feature for the drawers and cupboards.

The only fabric that was still in its original retro colours was the dinette backrest. So, we used a salvaged off-cut of white vinyl (found at my ex’s work at the time) to re-trim the dinette backrest.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (reupholstering the fabrics)
The ridgy-didge retro fabric
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (reupholstering the fabrics)
Added white vinyl & upholstery studs to the backrest

Added a Kitchen Splashback

To finish off the kitchen, we called in a favour from a glazier mate who whipped up a glass splashback for us (in black). If I had my time again I probably would have gone for a mirrored or white splashback instead.

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (kitchen)
Added a glass splashback to the kitchen
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DIY Vintage Caravan Renovation – AFTER

Okay, so now that you’ve seen the whole DIY caravan renovation in progress, here are the final ‘after’ photos.

‘After’ Photos

1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (checker plate exterior)
Vintage caravan renovation – exterior
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Vintage caravan renovation – kitchen
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (reupholstering the fabrics)
Vintage caravan renovation – dinette
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (after)
Vintage caravan renovation – bunks
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (repainting the interior)
Vintage caravan renovation – rear
1979 Chesney Caravan Renovation (timber floorboards)
Vintage caravan renovation – front with pull-out double bed

How Much Profit Did We Make On Our Caravan Renovation?

We originally bought the Chesney caravan for around $3,500 (from memory), which was in 2013. By the time we got around to renovating it, we were already starting to plan to sell the house to hit the road.

Once the caravan was fully renovated, we sold it for $7,500, which helped us raise money for the Patrol (our tow vehicle for the Starcraft).

So, the profit was somewhere around $3,000 after the cost of materials. Our labour was free since it was a labour of love!

You can read more about the planning journey below.

Planning Full-time Caravan Travel →
Caravan Packing List

Caravan Packing List

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Travel Checklists
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Budget Spreadsheets
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