Pandavan is preparing to launch!

The Pandavan has been designed and developed over the last five years, from the backs of envelopes, though to a first working prototype. It is now a full CAD designed and engineered production ready camping vehicle.

Steve Seabrooke: The man behind the Pandavan is not a product designer by trade. “I have always been a bit Heath Robinson and sometimes a bit Proffessor Potts”. By qualification, I’m an environmental surveyor (MSc from Exeter University) and have, for many years been a surveyor and rigger in the telecommunications industry. I am an inveterate up-cycler of bits of obsolete hardware – it offends me to buy something new if I can fabricate an equivalent from otherwise obsolete components. Until recently, it never really occurred to me that I have any serious design skills until, that is, until I designed and built my pop-up caravan, which my daughter said reminded her of a Panda (hence its name). I am a big fan of the great outdoors and have done my fair share of camping. Over time with increasing aches and pains, I became increasingly aware of the drawbacks to living under canvas but when it comes to caravans I put myself in the ‘Top Gear’ category of caravan ‘admirers’. I lived for 5 years in the rural South East of France and was surrounded by stunning countryside and loved to jump in the car and take the family camping at every opportunity. Soon after I returned to live in the UK an advert for a vintage, folding, trailer based caravan in the Lymington Times sparked my curiosity. I ended up buying it! It was by no means without issues, cumbersome to set up, not what I would call weatherproof and it seemed a bit ‘thrown together’. This became my ‘light bulb’ moment as I realised that a folding caravan could offer the flexibility and light weight advantages of a trailer-tent with the comfort and security of a caravan. After a few expeditions with the ‘Portafold’, I saw that all of the negative points could be overcome and improved upon easily. I was wrong about the ‘easily’ part but correct about the ‘could be’. I did an enormous amount of research on the vehicle type history and looked at any current examples and my design evolved quickly. I live in the New Forest, near Lymington with a large and established boat-building industry. I approached a local small scale outfit who agreed and quoted for a set of moulds and a set of panels from the moulds. My first lesson in business was not to pay staged invoices until the stages are completed. By the time the moulds and first panels had been produced, the calendar had moved round to Spring and their attention reverted to their principal source of employment in the boatyards and marinas. I was told one day by the fabricator that they had under quoted and were off to live in France in semi-retirement, if I wanted any advice, feel free to call. I was left with a rough set of moulds minus the roof mould and a set of panels…..minus the roof! Throughout that Spring and Summer, I had to learn and attempt the alchemy of fibreglassing in order to make the roof so I could finish and assemble the prototype. From time-to-time friends offered help and advice but by the end of Summer, I was on the verge of giving up, the art of fibreglassing was truly a mystery. To cut a long story short, with both financial and emotional support from my parents and some help from good friends I eventually managed to complete the first prototype of the Panda Pop-up Trailer. I am going to frame the sweatshirt I wore for laying up, it now has a resin reinforced glass fibre look resembling batman’s suit without the six-pack and a Hampshire cricket emblem just visible through the shell. Its always good to remind yourself of things that have tested you to the limit for future reference. This first prototype enabled me to do lots of field testing. The result was like the curate’s egg – good in part and bad in part. The good result was that the prototype proved that the concept worked, to my satisfaction. This was also confirmed by numerous positive comments from friends and strangers, several of whom asked where they could get one. The bad result was recognition that the prototype was simply too ‘rough’ to be offered on the market. Serendipity provided the skill and expertise of Jon Oates, a very clever computer aided design architect. He gained his skills creating solid works designs for a variety of one design and high end production yachts. We were introduced by a mutual friend and found we had lots of interests in common including comfortable camping (Jon has a VW camper and loves getting away in it). He was immediately impressed with the prototype and jumped on board straight away. The Panda is Jon’s first land yacht design! Jon was able to use the prototype as the basis for a SolidWorks format of engineering design. The final production design provides the PandaVan engineering specifications from which all fabricators involved in production have costed for the initial production run. Alex Baker came along after all of the hard work was done! He is an old friend with far too many ‘hats’ to mention here. Primarily an awesome drone pilot and a former sommelier and Maitre’de at some of the poshest hotels in the world. He comes equipped with business smarts and is extremely tech savvy and is the man behind the push to production. He also regularly jumps out of planes for fun! This is where we are now.

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