Brakes on hard, the steering wheel wound hard left, then right. We snaked down the isolated road as we set out to unsettle the Hymer Nova caravan behind us.
We pressed caravan and tow vehicle in areas we don't want you to try for yourself. That included a crash stop from 100kmh. We adventured on rough, broken bitumen with the caravans left wheel deliberately placed on the loose road edge.
And - the Hymer Nova caravan did better than the Toyota Sahara Land Cruiser towing it. Its cleverly engineered anti-sway towhead and mechanical brake system work. It followed faithfully and stopped in our 1985 Retro truck's weaving track. It was the truck that slipped about.
Despite the full ARB rework on the Toyota's suspension the restored Toyota's braking struggled, the Hymer's did not. We chose to use the restored Retro Sahara because it is old technology. There are concerns in some quarters about European caravan design and particularly about the mechanical braking systems the Hymer, Geist and Adria caravans use.
12-pin comes with an adaptor
The retro Sahara is a real old truck so we reason that if there are problems with directional stability and mechanical braking in the European caravan designs this old and new towing match would show them up. The caravan has to do a lot of work for itself. We tried, hard without being ridiculous and could not shake the Hymer systems.
As they are shared by Geist and Adria we think it is reasonable to conclude that the system is effective in the hands of a reasonable driver across the brands.
We do know of one area to be cautious in. That is long steep downhill stuff. The caravan brakes get very hot. Regardless of what we tow mechanically or electrically braked, we always change down the gearbox early and use the massive engine braking the big Toyota six-cylinder diesel provides. But change down early is the key and cool off the caravan brakes with a stop at the bottom.
In this long downhill area electrical braking systems have an advantage if you understand them. They can be used to apply more or less braking to the caravan and keep the brake shoes doing their best work longer. With mechanical systems short jabs on the brakes will quick bump the brake shoes into action and to some extent help keep them cooler.
Almost level on the drawbar
Which brings us to a difference of opinion. European wisdom says few caravanners understand how to get the best from an electrical braking system. This is true in our collective experience. It is certainly true of newcomers to towing caravans.
So the Hymer, Adria, Geist logic leads to mechanical brakes. There is no special knowledge needed. Hook up and tow. The mechanical brakes take care of themselves.
Overall the Hymer is a safe, easy to use light caravan. In freeway running the Sahara and Nova matched perfectly as we cruised at the 100kmh posted limit.
Pulling caravans is never about speed with us. We usually tow between 2100rpm and 2500rpm in fourth in the manual gearbox. That is about 95 to 98 kmh.
Above 2100rpm the big six cylinder diesel is in the sweet-spot of its flat torque range so in flat going we flick into fifth and come back to fourth if a load comes on.
Headwinds and hilly country are typical reasons to use the gearbox.
We have turboed the restored 1985 Sahara with expert mechanical work by GWT Automotive of Bayswater, Victoria who have serviced the Toyota Sahara since new. So the HJ60 has similar grunt to an aspired Toyota 80 Series.
We aimed to understress the bullet-proof 1985 Toyota 3980cc diesel motor with the turbo modification so torque is now 271Nm at 2000rpm.
Editors Note: April 2011, a replacement turbo, increased boost and dyno tuning has nowtaken the HJ60 to 423Nm from 1500rpm for towing work.
The rated tow capacity is a conservative 2500kg.
To put that in a modern context our company flagship auto diesel Sahara is a 100 Series turbo diesel rated by Toyota to 3500kg.
The motor displaces 4164cc and maximum torque is 430Nm at 1400rpm. But either way the Hymer Nova is a light caravan to pull and it is not intrusive.
A good Ford BA will make a snack of towing it.
The Nova's single axle, suspension and engineered toe-in on the wheels combine with the anti-sway towhead to produce a stress-free result at highway speeds. In this area the Hymer is exceptional.
The innovation in the engineering includes a lockdown towhead which brings to mind the hyfield levers which are found in big yachts. Just drop the Nova on the towball.
Yes you will be able to move it yourself. Push down the lock lever and you are ready to go.
A green read-out on the towball head pads button keeps track of when it is time to flip the towhead over and fit new pads.
We donned our boiler-suit and got down and dirty underneath the Nova. The build is thoughtful and tidy. While this is certainly not an offroader thought has gone into protecting the running gear, electricals and gas heater ducting.
We went through the full hook up process which is standard procedure at Melbourne European RV Centre, Seaford with Scotty Webster and hisAdria Australia Award winnining team team.
Our standard towball came off the Hayman Reese towbar and Scotty used a torque wrench to fit the standard, Hymer, Adria, Geist towball and its flanged lock plate. That was followed by an adaptor for the 12-pin electrics.
We found that some minor changes are needed as the caravan's near-side running lights came on to stay when we plugged into the Nova. But we think this is an adjustment related to the layout in our Toyotas Hayes Lemmerz Electronic Brake Controller unit.
This is not going to be an issue for people who go straight to Hymer caravans with mechanical braking.
Weight on the towball is over 100kg. This is not a towing issue with Hymer, Adria and Geist but we used the see-saw method to get an estimate anyway.
Converted table folds out
I am not sure that Lisa will ever forgive me but whenI asked her to step into the Nova via the rear door I had already taken the Nova off the towball. When she stepped up, well aft of the single axle, nothing happened.
But when I stepped up too, adding 90kg to the see-saw, the caravan towhead started to lift off. I don't know that her startled reaction to my joke with the tilting caravan won me any points.
This is a nice looking caravan. Women love its looks and fit-out. It stopped the crowd wherever we took it. On the second morning we spent together I found two young women posing with the Nova while they used the auto function in their camera to put themselves in the picture.
The rear shower and toilet ensuite is well laid out and there is above average attention given to finish and storage space. A big factor is that the storage space is easy to get at. Another is that the huge bed forward converts easily and even when it is made up the Nova still has the living, cooking, toilet, shower cupboard space useable and in the right places.
Hymer Nova lounge
The cooking area, stove, fridge and ventilation are outstanding. The European influence has a major advantage for those who value being warm and cool depending on the climate.
The Nova has gas heating. Double glazing reflects design to cope with cold and snow. The hatches reinforce this attitude. The insulated approach works just as well in insulating from heat. Overall we like the light, spacious feel of the Nova. This is not camping this is home comfort.
Features and figures:
Test caravan from Melbourne European RV Centre 49 Wells Rd Seaford, Melbourne Victoria.
Hymer Nova 570
Berths 3. Body length 20ft 6in. Tare 1565kg (as tested). ATM 1700kg.
Front Lounge with 180 Views
Stand alone Table
2 Single Beds or a big Double
Woodgrain Vinyl Flooring
Converts to a Large Single Bed
4-Burner Gas Stove
Built in Range Hood
Ensuite at the back
Large Stainless Sink with Scraps area
93ltr 3-Way Fridge
Split Door with Fly Mesh Pockets
Contoured Vanity Unit
Thetford Cassette Toilet
Large Hanging Space (table)
Extra Hanging Space
Aluminium Single-Sheet Siding
Kitchen cooking and range hood
Electronic Power Controller with Auto-Shutdown
Electrical Wiring in Conduits for easier access
Double Glazed Windows and Skylights
Fly Mesh Blinds on all windows skylights
Honey Blonde Woodgrain
Free Lay Custom Carpeting
ALKO chassis and Stabilising Hitch system.
$56,990 Tow Away
Dometic Air Conditioning Awning package $3,500
Editor's Note: Model, specification and price correct at time of posting but subject to change without notice
Gas heating ducting
Get ready for a big bed
Green means tow head pads are go
Hymer Nova cupboard space
Hymer Nova shower
Hymer Nova toilet
Mechanical brake rod
Pull out fold down the legs and the lounge cushions drop in for comfort
Shelf space too in the Hymer Nova
Slide out table
Slight toe-in keeps the caravan tracking true
Thread the needle
Towball and lock-plate on the Hayman Reese towbar
Towing mirrors are essential. Look at the track difference
The rig balances well