All about Lilliput Caravans

Lilliput caravans were designed and built by the late Bruce Webster, an expatriate English coach-builder who, having despaired of the very heavy vans that his customers asked him to build to their own designs, set out to design and build and lighter version which would be easily towed by the average family’s medium powered car.

His first attempt in 1962 was a compact design which made extensive use of light but very strong plywood. On the return from their first family holiday outing with it, this van was sold to a motorist who had followed them and, when they stopped, insisted that they sell it to him. Encouraged by this success, Bruce decided to try building caravans full-time. Ever the perfectionist, he repeatedly modified his designs, progressing from all plywood through to aluminium over ply sides with molded fibreglass roof and finally to fully molded fibreglass construction.

While only a few of the early designs incorporating plywood are known to still be in existence, the last two models endured better. They are the penultimate 12’6” Special which is 3.81m and the final model, the 10’6” (3.2m) Gazelle. While Webster designed and built the 12’6” Special as a premium caravan, it was not a commercial success and it is believed only 29 were built. The Gazelle, however, was an immediate success and approximately 250 were built.

The evolution of Webster’s designs has an interesting facet. On first sighting a Lilliput, one is struck by the very low profile. This came about because the early production took place in the basement garage of the Webster family home and the height of the finished van was dictated by the height of the garage doorway. One might think that there would be cramped headroom inside but it is surprisingly roomy. The raised centre section of the roof obviously helps but a feature unique to Lilliputs in their day is the floor being secured to the bottom of the chassis rails rather than the top, enabling you to step down into the living area and gain an additional 3” (7.5cm) of headroom.

The genesis of the name Lilliput is another interesting aspect. At the time that the Webster family were bouncing around ideas for naming their first caravan (the one sold at the dairy), their son was reading Jonathon Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”. His young mind made the connection between Gulliver’s perception of “smallness” in the land of Lilliput and what his father was trying to achieve with his caravans. He suggested the name Lilliput and it seems it got universal approval. It is now thirty years on from when production ceased and the work of Bruce Webster is increasingly gaining recognition, a recognition it rightly deserves. His creations have become classics in the eyes of collectors.

While clearly retro in appearance to some people, the Lilliputs pleasing lines and rounded contours lend a certain charm that will never date. Interior layouts vary from one van to another as designs changed over the manufacturing period. In addition, a number are believed to have been custom built to the original purchaser’s requirements. Many Lilliput caravans have been modified over time to suit changing requirements while run-down and derelict caravans are refitted by their new owners, leading to a great variety of Lilliput caravans.

By contrast, Roger and Anne Price’s 1965 Lilliput, “Tahi” is little affected by its almost 60 years and, with a recent external repaint, still looks as good as new. In the same vein, Susan and David Bergin’s Lilliput, recently inherited from Susan’s parents, Roy & Margaret Larsen who won it in a raffle in 1971, would be instantly recognisable by Bruce Webster in spite of it having the exterior repainted four times, two gas stoves, upholstery and curtains replaced three times, two refrigerators, three awnings and gone through two sets of tyres, two motor cars and seven station wagons. As Roy says, like Paddy’s axe, it’s exactly the same as when it was new, bar a new stripe colour, a common change for a new owner.

The Lilliput Caravan Club of New Zealand is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment iconic Lilliput Caravans which were manufactured in Auckland from the early sixties thought to the late seventies,

The Lilliput Caravan Club of New Zealand is a single National Organisation with membership spread from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island and also including some Lilliput caravans in Australia. Ownership of a Lilliput is a prerequisite to full membership.

A National rally including the AGM is held annually in February, usually in a central North Island location, either Rotorua or Taupo with the venue decided by members at the AGM. Many members like to get together more frequently and over the years they have gravitated into regional groups:

Northern Region – from the top of the North Island to North of the Auckland Harbour Bridge

Central Region – South of the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Taupo

Southern Region – Taupo to the bottom of the South Island, including Napier and the wider Hawkes Bay area.

There are generally 5-6 rallies from each region held throughout the year, omitting the winter months. This includes a Christmas Rally per region held at the end of the year. All members are welcome to attend any regional rally.

Newsletters are compiled by the Club Secretary and circulated to Club Members in February, April, June, August, October and December. Members are most welcome to submit an article of interest for the members.

The Lilliput Caravan Club of NZ has great camaraderie amongst its members with many becoming lifelong friends. Members range from retired people, working members and families with young children. Many of the members combine their interest in classic and specialist vehicles with their caravanning adding another dimension for the public at rallies. Older members often transfer to Associate Member status, after passing on their Lilliput to a family member, which allows them to continue to participate by using on-site camp accommodation.

Also, last but certainly not least, Life Member, Rob Carthew, has written an extensive history of the Lilliput Caravans. Called “One Man’s Dream”, it’s a high-quality, comprehensive book and much sought after by Lilliput owners and the general public alike.