Saturday, 8 October 2011

Foundation of a dynasty – The ERIBA Touring range - Part 1

As mentioned earlier, from the very start of Eriba in 1957/58 it was policy to produce a number of different size vans in a range that would cater for the diverse requirements of potential purchasers. Caravan culture and design were still relatively undeveloped and it was envisaged that a lot of customers would be trading up from camping holidays with very, very few facilities and relatively low expectations. People liked to keep their caravans small to reduce the initial outlay and to be able to store them on drives, in gardens and garages at home and not least to allow them to be towed by the relatively low power cars that were common at the time.
1958 Sprite Caravans advertisement
All sorts of innovative ideas were being tried out by caravan makers throughout the world and to a great extent most new models for any maker were a step in the dark with no idea whether their particular designs would find public favour and profitable sales.
The Eriba designs were unusual, and in many ways unique. They were founded on some of the principles of aircraft design of the time as anyone who has a passing knowledge of planes from the 30’s, 40, and ‘50’s will acknowledge, with a bit of 1950’s current practice car technology thrown in.
Diagram showing Eriba caravan construction and the unique steel tube frame
The shape is somewhat streamlined and owes it’s lines and body strength to an underlying frame of tubular steel to which aluminium sheets are fixed and moulded as body panels. The steel frame provides rigidity which eliminates the panel joint flexing that eventually leads to water penetration on wood framed caravans. The joints between these sheets were covered by various alloy rails to help seal the van and tidily cover the screws and rivets.
2008 Eriba Touring Puck 120GT
In order to keep the profile of the caravans as low and as aerodynamic as possible Eribas were designed with a pop-top roof, an elegant solution or a pain in the cranium depending upon your point of view. The one piece pop-top is made from glass fibre and clamps down onto a fixed one piece moulded fibreglass main roof that is supported by the van’s steel frame. The use of this unique form of construction is one of the factors that accounts for the longevity of Eribas compared to their competition. The one piece format considerably reduces the possibility of leaks in and around the roof area, so the dreaded damp rarely troubles an Eribista.
1970 Eriba Puck with the circular pop-top roof in the fetching orange shade
Unfortunately reducing the roof height also meant reducing the height of the door frame and this has meant that nearly every person who has owned or camped in an Eriba has clonked their head on the aluminium door frame at some time or the other. This rite of passage has become known as the ‘Eriba Kiss’ and veterans proudly point to the line of bruises on their forehead as a badge of honour. I jest of course, but it is true that the frame can fetch you a nasty whack, dependant on your height and your velocity through the doorway. I don’t think this is what the designers meant by ‘aeronautically influenced’, but having seen some of the hatches that WWII aircrews used then, one begins to wonder. In fact you soon adapt and find the required automatic crouch that suits and allows you to exit without injury, but not exactly with total elegance.
In the absence of a photo of an Eriba doorway here's Poppy's door showing the useful storage, but beware, the shelf retainers won't take too much weight and light items can get blown off the shelves.
Inside the caravan there’s little to mark the interior as something out of the ordinary apart from the obvious inside of the pop-top, with its flexible canvas protective outer ‘skin’ and it’s interior net covering. With the top popped people over 6ft tall fit comfortably inside, that is unless they inadvertently forget to duck at either end of the van, where the roof resumes its lower level.
The fitted internal furniture has always been built to a good standard, with pleasing, if not exactly avant garde finishes. The upholstery fabrics are strong enough to stand up to the environment involved whilst not being exactly cutting edge design. In fact with such a long ‘back catalogue’ it’s inevitable that some interiors will look dated, but compared to fabrics used by UK constructors at similar dates the Eribas happily lose out in the embarrassing patterns contest.  
A typical UK built 1980's caravan interior
There are further details on the Touring range in the next blog

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