Achtung Camper is a small mob based out of Geelong, Victoria, that convert VW products into camper vans.
Founded by couple Ronny Probandt and Tania Differding, the pair established their love for vehicular-based camping (and each other) back in 2004, just after Ronny arrived from Germany. Their original van was nothing more than an old-school Toyota Tarago complete with an esky filled with ice.
Trained as a high-end carpenter and joinery specialist in his native country, Ronny blended his professional career and love for the Aussie outdoors into Achtung Camper. Some 15 years and one child later, the family are firmly settled in Australia, and have mastered their own smart take on ‘vanning’ for Aussie punters.
Before getting into the van we’re testing, I’ll briefly explain the Achtung Camper à la carte approach to building.
We’ll take the Transporter as our example, as it’s the brand’s most popular conversion base and what we've been given to test. After specifying your van with factory VW equipment packs and maybe the option of '4Motion' all-wheel drive, there are three ways you can head: the Long Weekender, the Nature Lover, or the Social Butterfly.
Each has a focus and caters for different users. For example, the Long Weekender is a more basic set-up with no onboard water storage, whereas the Nature Lover has solar panels, a portable toilet, and stacks of cabinetry.
From here, individual pieces of equipment can be added or subtracted as you see fit, with the Achtung Camper website outlining the cost of extra equipment.
For example, something basic would be adding a weatherproof privacy screen to the awning at a cost of $220, or something more complex turning the pop-top roof cavity into a dual-purpose sleeping area for $1100.
It's a clever, modular approach that allows you to forecast your conversion costs at home. Try it out for yourself here.
Our test van is a front-wheel-drive Volkswagen Transporter TDI340 LWB auto in the Nature Lover guise that's been fitted with a whole host of upgrades – including a cinema. As-tested pricing for this example is $107,000 plus on-roads.
|Volkswagen Transporter TDI340|
|Engine capacity (cc)||2.0-litre (1968cc) turbo diesel four-cylinder|
|Power||110kW @ 3250–3750rpm|
|Torque||340Nm @ 1500–3000rpm|
|Claimed fuel economy||8.3L/100km|
|Fuel economy on test||9.0L/100km|
|Automatic transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch|
|Conversion cost with options (as tested)||$52,510|
|Van + conversion cost (as tested before on-roads)||$107,000|
Let's discover the fit-out first. During the handover of the vehicle, Ronny mentioned that he strives to “use Australian-made first, with a high priority on quality also”.
The electrical architecture is run by equipment from Aussie engineering legends RedArc and Swedish brand Dometic, whereas electrical peripherals come from Clipsal. The set-up includes exterior-mounted in-and-out 240-volt plugs, breakers and internal powerpoints (2x dual) in wise locations.
Cabinetry is built in Geelong from birch plywood provided by Australian architectural timber supplier Maxiply. Not only is the quality of the material top-shelf, but so too the artisans who crafted it. To say Ronny is fussy is an understatement, and to survive working with him you must be equally so.
No better representation of the quality is how rattle-free the fit-out is. That's despite there being stacks of cupboards and sliding parts, all with tolerances to allow for movement. Another German is to thank here also, Hafele, which provided the fittings. Its locking mechanisms and silky-smooth rails both keep things secure and quiet. The tactility they demonstrate is nice to behold also.
The wider 'frame' that lives in the van is clad with more Australian-made goodness, this time a non-fray, static neutral and environmentally friendly carpet from Autex. It also supplies its 'quietspace' fully recycled insulation, too, which is non-toxic and non-allergenic.
The pop-tops – as fitted to our van – come from a UK-based supplier of over 30 years in the business.
You get the picture here. It's a story of quality materials assembled by quality tradesmen and women. For reference, a total fit-out ranges from 200–400kg depending on the extras added.
After becoming armed with the knowledge to get the most from the van on a weekend getaway, we started to pack. Our destination was a small town in the Southern Highlands district of NSW.
Firstly, the 55L water tank was flushed and refilled. Water level can be checked via a Voltronic gauge inside the van. A Webasto diesel heater was installed, which cleverly drinks from the van's main fuel tank.
The second, sealed battery level can be easily monitored with the onboard Dometic system, which showed 85 per cent capacity. The solar's charging rate in direct autumn sunlight was 12 amp-hours.
As we weren't staying long, the Dometic 65L fridge-freezer had its chill section removed to extend its cooled carrying capacity. Breakfast essentials including eggs, Aussie-made bacon and sausages were stacked, as were a selection of locally brewed beers and other knickknacks more suited to our three-year-old son.
Every available centimetre of space has been thought about, which creates some ergonomic quirks. To access the linen and bedding cupboard, the second-row bench needs to be dropped to its sleeping position. This takes all of five seconds to do, and given you only access bedding when sleeping, it's actually quite clever.
There are heaps of storage spaces in this camper, and some of the cavities are incredibly large. One stowage area located at the back is 1.2m deep, which allows for the stowage of camping chairs, fishing rods, or even a cheeky nine-iron and some throw-away practice balls.
Included cooking hardware consists of an Ecoheat induction cooktop and Primus butane stove. The induction plate is designed to slip into a groove in the fold-out tray, which also features nifty cutlery storage.
And for even more fun, a slide-in, tin-faced splashback pops into place, so you don't splatter whatever you're cooking all over the vehicle's floor and seats. It's these touchpoints that make Achtung vans clever. They're clearly the product of those who love van life.
With the larder jam-packed with sweet treats and popcorn for movie night, we set off.
As the van goes through relevant engineering to Australian Design Rules (ADRs), the team have fitted a child seat anchor point in the second row. As I had our blue heeler with us, the seating arrangement went as follows: myself in the front, clip-in-seatbelt dog tether used with the passenger seat to secure the dog safely in the middle, and my wife and son in the second row.
The drive down was nice and easy, as the base van is well-fitted with blind-spot monitoring and city emergency braking as standard. If you'd like to read a detailed review on the van itself, check out Sam Purcell's assessment here.
Performance and cruising remain decent given the relatively lightweight fit-out. Remember, vans are expected to be more laden than this. It returned an average fuel use of 9.0L/100km, which includes the van buzzing around in traffic before and after the nine-to-five. The official claimed combined fuel figure is 8.3L/100km.
Ride quality was as expected for a van, which is fair and honest over most surfaces, and slightly crashy over the bigger ruts. The sound-deadening floor works wonders to keep the experience quiet, as do the added carpeting and insulation.
In just under two hours, we'd arrived at our site. The Dometic awning was kicked out as a first point of call, and a portable table assembled to allow for a cheeky afternoon beverage. Made by the team at Achtung, the table is sized to also function inside the cabin.
Everything is dual-purpose, which sums up Ronny's fastidious nature. If it can't be used two ways, then redesign it.
We decided to eat out for the evening, which freed up time to catch a movie before bed. Before doing so, it's wise to prepare the van for the night. Clip-in insulation is popped onto the windows, which also acts as a light blockout. Every other window has curtains that can be drawn.
Once prepared, a large projector screen can be anchored inside the van's pop-top, again by using pre-existing fittings. Then, a roof-mounted Nebula projector secures to the roof, and voila – your van is now a movie theatre.
The Nebula projector runs an Android-based operating system that enables it access to Netflix, YouTube and Spotify. The clarity is brilliant, as is the sound quality also. My son's currently into Paddington bear, so that was the flick picked.
The foam cushions that make up the lower mattress are comfy, and all four of us got a solid night's kip. Our van has a second, slimline mattress in the pop-top roof, which is much thinner and thus firmer.
The next morning, we fired up the Primus gas stove and organised brekkie. If you're keen for a warm shower, the tailgate contains a fold-out privacy screen that's once again smartly stowed inside after use.
Also on the back of the van is a hot-cold mixer and clip-in shower head, with a small mirror and shelf for a shaver or soap. As usual, everything is simple and easy to use, and required little effort to arrange.
As a family of complete newbies to van life, we were all stunned at how easy it can be. The amount of fun we had was huge and as expected, but it's more the convenience and cleverness of the Achtung Camper that got us thinking.
Could we morph into a nomadic tribe for months on end in something like this? Absolutely.