Don Caravan Restoration

This 1950s Don Cadet restoration project is starting to take shape…


It takes a special kind of enthusiasm and passion to restore as many caravans, vehicles and things that Andrew Phillips has. From old bondwood caravans to a Wagon Queen Family Truckster station wagon – the outlandish vehicle created specifically for the film National Lampoon’s Vacation – Andrew has dedicated countless hours to their meticulous restoration.

DonYou see, Andrew not only owns and runs The RV Repair Centre in Bayswater North, Vic, his near-obsession with faithfully restoring vehicles and vans has lead to a shed full of classic cars and caravans that he can’t bear to part with! 


His latest project is this Don Cadet caravan, believed to have been built in 1956 or thereabouts. When he acquired the van, it was in appalling condition. Rot had claimed the plywood offside wall and it was being held together by duct tape. The interior was a shambles. Anyone else would’ve put it in the too-hard basket. But not Andrew.

Over the last 12 or 18 months, the Don has received a new offside wall. All dents have been filled and sanded. Andrew even still has the van’s original licence plate – to give you an idea of the van’s age, the licence plate starts with a ‘G’.

DonThere is still a lot of work to be done. However, now that the body of the van is looking almost like new again, both the interior and the exterior have been painted. But given the state of the van when Andrew acquired it, it was difficult to be sure about the original colour – the existing paint was old, faded and peeling. However, when he removed some trim here and there, it exposed a yellow colour that Andrew could be confident was the original.

It was a similar story inside. The existing white paint had seen better days, but when he removed some light fittings, he discovered a vibrant mint colour. Now, he wasn’t certain that the white paint was original – it seemed more likely that the ‘hidden’ mint was in fact the original colour, and so he colour-matched a sample and used it to coat all interior surfaces.

When we last looked at this van, it was in terrible condition. While Andrew has been able to salvage some of the existing fittings, such as the drawbar hardware, a few things have had to go. These include the refrigerator that the previous owner had fitted to replace the ice box that would’ve come standard with this van back in the 1950s. The previous owner had also installed a powerpoint in the ice box cavity to power the fridge. Andrew, however, will source an ice box that fits the era as well as the space.

DonIt’s a similar story with the stove. At first, Andrew had wanted to salvage it; however, it was apparently beyond repair, and so he will replace it with a metho-fired stove, which fits the era and allows him to keep the van gas-free.

This Don Cadet has 12V wiring for the lights, which Andrew has tested and will retain, and each of the original aluminium-framed windows is also in good condition. They just need a bit of a clean-up, and will go straight back in.

There is still a lot of work to do before this Don resembles its former glory. However, having seen his collection of restored vehicles, vans and things, I have no doubt that this old Cadet will be taking its place in his shed soon.

Andrew Phillips’ ‘Happy Days’ diner, which is filled with memorabilia that he has personally restored.

Now, I mentioned that Andrew is near-obsessed with resto projects. So it might not surprise you to learn that he also has a 27ft 1976 tandem-axle Franklin on the go. This beast of a caravan is complete with two dinettes and a rear bedroom. It also has two doors: one in the front, and one in the rear bedroom area. We don’t see this design too often anymore, perhaps because modern vans don’t typically exceed 22ft, but it does have a certain appeal.

This project is in its very early stages. So far, he has removed the rear wall and sourced some wood-look laminate that almost perfectly matches the existing wall laminate. When this Franklin is finally complete, there’s no doubt that it will turn heads wherever it goes…