May 01, 2004

A Cub Experience

Donna has been suggesting for a long time that we tow a trailer on some of our longer trips, but I have been categorically refusing. I am not a big fan of towing, especially into challenging terrain. However, on a trip to the Barrington Landrover Lease last year, we met a couple who were camping quite comfortably, thank you very much, and we got talking to them about their trailer, which just happened to be a Cub. They were extremely positive about it, and started telling us about all the places they had towed it to over the years. Considering they had bought it second hand about 15 years ago, and had since towed it around Australia several times, I was quite amazed at what good condition it was in. They enthusiastically showed us in and around the unit, showed us the standard features as well as all the little extra modifications they had made, and insisted we come back when they were getting ready to go to see how easy it was to pack up.

I must admit it got us thinking a bit. Perhaps a camper trailer might not be such a bad idea, especially given that we were tending to do more of the long distance touring trips these days. Donna and I decided we might try and see if we could pick up a second hand Cub trailer at a reasonable price, so we started to scour the classifieds to see what we could find. We discovered two things. One was that it was incredibly difficult to find a good second hand trailer that was specced the way we wanted it, especially a Cub. They seemed to be as rare as hens' teeth.

The second thing that became pretty obvious was that the ones we did find were not cheap. They seemed to hold their value really well, and buyers were prepared to pay the premium prices for second hand trailers because they were just so hard to find. We looked at the idea of just hiring one when we wanted to use it but, apart from being pretty expensive, it was again very difficult to find one that was set up the way we wanted.

Logic kicked in and said since we would really like one to take on the Uluru trip, and given the excellent resale value and the fact that we had trouble finding a suitable second-hand one, perhaps we should just buy one, use it and then if we find it's what we're after we can keep it and if not, we can sell it for close to what it cost us. That way, we get exactly what we want and the whole deal will probably work out cheaper than hiring one anyway.

So with some typical buyer's nervousness, we went out to Cub last January for a look at what they had. We knew pretty much what we wanted in terms of design and weight, so after looking around at the various campers we were pretty impressed with a model called the Explorer. It is a bit of a hybrid model – classed as an offroad trailer, it was a heavy duty, lifted model suitable for some pretty rugged use, but not quite as kitted out as the full-offroad model (which was heavier than we were willing to tow). After some deliberating, we decided to go ahead with the purchase.

I must say that Cub was very cooperative in their approach and more than willing to make minor changes for us. We asked that the standard 6-stud axles be replaced with the Suzuki 5-stud wheel pattern. We also changed the standard 14” wheels with 15” wheels. (We would have liked to go to 16”, but they wouldn't fit without moving to the full offroad model, and we didn't want the extra weight) 15” wheels were not ideal, but we figured that so long as a trailer wheel could be made to fit onto the car in a pinch, it was a bit more security in an emergency. We asked for a few other minor changes, right down to the colour of the interior curtains and, wherever possible, Cub did their best to meet our requests.

After a long wait – manufacturing time for new trailers is approximately 3 months – we finally picked it up just before Easter. Ross Nichols from Cub took the time to go over the trailer with us, explaining all the bits and pieces, gave us a practice at opening and closing it, and made sure we were comfortable with it.

First excursion with our Cub was to Mount Yengo . It had been a while since I'd towed a trailer so it took me a while to get used to having it sitting behind the car, but we adapted pretty quickly. Towing it into the Yengo Station Valley was straightforward. Having the convenience of the flip-open camper with a built-in, roll-out kitchen made life really easy, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Second trip for the trailer was a visit to the Landrover Lease at Barrington Tops. Each time we use the trailer we learn new things about the best way to open it, the best way to get it level, and the best ways to camp with it. Having the kids' beds on the floor is a pretty easy solution but also uses up a lot of floorspace. We used the add-on awning for the first time and found it greatly expanded the living space around the trailer. Towing it into the Tops was a bit more challenging than Yengo, as the roads are rougher and the hills bigger and steeper, but there were no great dramas. I was really impressed with the way the trailer sits behind the car on the road, with the suspension easily soaking up the rough bits.

These first two trips made obvious a couple of improvements to the drawbar arrangement in order to make access to the tailgate easier. The jerrycan holder and the stoneguard were not really in the ideal position, so with a bit of engineering expertise from Troy Campbell, some modifications were made and the new arrangement proved much more workable.

The big test was of course the Uluru trip. 23 days of touring, the first week having a new overnight camp each evening, was sure to fine tune the process of setup and packup. We learned something new each day, making minor changes to the way or the order in which we did things. We tried different combinations for packing the inside of the trailer, and eventually got the process quite streamlined. Packing for 4 people over 23 days is never going to be a simple task, but the trailer certainly made life easier.

Towing was superb. By the time the trip came around, we had moved to a 2.7 litre XL-7, and the larger vehicle and more powerful motor made a noticeable difference. Indeed, the improved towing ability of the XL-7 was a major factor in deciding to change vehicles. There is no doubt that the XL is a much better tow vehicle than the V6 Vitara it replaced, even though the Vitara was pretty good already. There were plenty of times I had to actually remind myself that I had a trailer behind, such was the easy towability of the trailer and the smooth power of the XL-7.

After towing the Cub through the Flinders Ranges , up the Oodnadatta Track, across the MacDonnell Ranges and around the Mereenie Loop, I have to say it was a really effortless experience. The trailer tracks extremely well behind the car, and the shock absorbers on the suspension do a great job of reducing bounce and sway. It was nice to be able to pull into camp, release the clips and wind the top open to reveal a comfy double bed, ready to sleep in. The kids' beds were simply slid out onto the floor. Roll out the kitchen and we were just about set. It really did make life a lot easier on the road.

One of the throw-away phrases you hear from people with offroad trailers is “you can tow it anywhere the car can go”. I don't necessarily agree with this statement. There are plenty of places I wouldn't want to pull a trailer, but they are generally pretty extreme with lots of low range rockcrawling and the need to manoeuvre the car with lots of forward and reverse work. Forget trailers in these conditions. I also wouldn't like to be towing one in really steep, slippery conditions, or very soft sand for extended distances. Things could get pretty uncomfortable. But for the great majority of moderate 4WD use, over rough terrain, through bumps and dips, across shallow creeks etc, I can't see any great problems. The trailer pretty much follows wherever the car goes, with the Treg hitch coupling giving plenty of articulation for almost any angle. So long as the track wasn't so tight it required lots of reversing and critical line-picking, I'd be pretty happy to tow it over most terrain.

After 8000kms of corrugated roads, we had a few very minor issues – a bit of dust leakage, a cracked kitchen bracket, etc. Cub was quite willing to address these problems and fix them under the terms of the trailer warranty. Generally, I have been very happy with their aftersales service and support, and their willingness to listen to any issues that may have arisen.

So, is a camper trailer for everyone? No, probably not. There are lots of people for whom a trailer is not going to be the right solution. But for us, we find it fits really well with the sorts of things we enjoy doing. We can see ourselves using the trailer not only for 4WD trips where it suits the terrain, but also to take with us on holidays generally. Not everywhere we go requires offroad capability, but it's nice to know that we have a trailer that is just as much at home on road as off, and we can hitch it to the car anytime we like and just head off for a weekend somewhere.

Chris Betcher