ONE of the most versatile rigs for touring Australia is the slide-on/slide-off camper van. There's no trailer hitch to worry about and, once the van is off the tray, you have the convenience of a normal ute. The only inconvenience has been the removal and pickup of the camper.
Fortunately, this problem can be easily eliminated with the use of airbag suspension.
Welby Davidson, who makes the robust Innovan campers in Toowoomba, Queensland, has found that by replacing the coil spring suspension on vehicles like the Nissan Patrol cab chassis with an On-Air full air suspension from Airbag Man , he can make camper loading and unloading "a breeze".
"The Innovan camper is constructed from fibreglass. It is light (about 500 kgs unladen), extremely strong and very versatile and I designed it to meet the special needs of a couple who want a camper that can take them almost anywhere in comfort," Welby explained.
"For a few years my wife Marg and I had many enjoyable trips in what became a prototype version. The interest it created was so amazing that we decided to go into production. My son Neil, an industrial designer, then took over the project. He gave the camper a more efficient aerodynamic shape and came up with some ideas to better integrate its amenities.
"The original camper had four extendable steel legs to enable it to be self-supporting when separated from the vehicle. To remove the camper it had to be jacked up above the vehicle tray using a winding mechanism in the legs -- a relatively slow process. Then I heard of the unique benefits of airbag suspension."
Mr Davidson contacted Airbag Man who explained that an On-Air full air suspension with on-vehicle controls could instantly raise or lower his Nissan Patrol's tray enabling it to be driven away from under the camper.
"With the airbags fitted, I don't even need extendable legs. I drive the rig onto a flat surface, attach a set of legs and lock them in place before deflating the airbag suspension to drop the chassis and tray. Then I just drive away from under the Innovan before reinflating the Nissan's air bags. To reload the camper I simply reverse the procedure."
Welby Davidson has discovered other benefits of the On-Air suspension.
"At river and creek crossings I maximise the vehicle's clearance by inflating the airbag suspension. I also raise it when negotiating deeply rutted tracks or in rocky, off-road conditions.
"On good open roads I drop the rig down to lower the centre of gravity and improve the ride," he said. "This also increases safety and handling characteristics of the laden vehicle. Another major advantage is that, with the airbags, it is just a matter of pressing a switch to quickly level the unit for cooking or sleeping."
Airbag suspension also has been fitted to the new trailer version of the Innovan.
"With on-vehicle controls we can increase or decrease the trailer's clearance at will to clear water or obstacles that you find all the time in remote areas of the country. It's a real plus for serious touring," Mr Davidson added.
An Innovan camper sleeps two in single beds or a Queen bed. It can have both internal and external kitchens, dinette, fridge/freezer, shower, toilet, air-conditioner, TV, water tanks, generous dust-proof storage compartments and more. A tough, extendable, folding awning can be put in place in a couple of seconds to offer outdoor shade and weather protection.
The attractive aerodynamic shape of the camper minimises drag and cross-wind problems usually associated with campers and vans.
The Innovan can be fitted to any conventional tray-back ute or modified dual and king cab chassis.
Before being released, the Innovan campers underwent more than 20,000 kilometres of arduous testing in extreme conditions on Fraser Island, Cape York, the Simpson Desert and the roughest tracks in between.
Airbag Man designs and manufactures a broad range of air helper and full airbag solutions to counter problems with conventional suspensions in all work and recreational vehicles. These rugged suspension systems improve vehicle safety, steering, braking and comfort.
"Our Ride-Rite air-bag helpers for leaf springs and On-Air full air suspensions are keeping all makes of vehicles flat and level despite heavy loads, uneven side weights and when towing," said Airbag Man.
"The premium quality Firestone airbags used in both systems are fully adjustable. By simply adding or removing air, owners can maintain their vehicle's height under different loads and optimise ride, performance and safety."
Fitted between the chassis and leaf springs, Ride-Rite air-bags adjust to the load so that cause vehicles do not sag or lean dangerously. They also help control wear and tear on the vehicle's tyres, suspension and frame.
On-Air suspensions do the same, replacing the factory-fitted front or rear coil spring suspensions with an infinitely-variable, more efficient system.
"Both types take the load tension off existing leaf springs; preventing sagging and helping them last longer."
Vehicles can be fitted with in-cab controls and on-board compressors enabling drivers to dial the ideal suspension setting for the road conditions without stopping.
Airbag Man supplies coil replacement and air helper springs for many vehicle applications including:
* Utilities carrying uneven loads for tradesmen, couriers, manufacturers and government and private service industries.
* Delivery vans, including retail, electrical contractor, engineering and transport industries.
* Recreational and work vehicles in uses ranging from farming and mining exploration to camping.
* Towing and specialist vehicles like ambulances and computer delivery vans.
* Buses and trucks.