CAMPING - CAMPER TRAILERS
Melbourne-based Opus Camper Trailers has released a joint China-UK-Australian product that is said to be the world’s first self-inflating camper. The canvas roof section is fitted with ‘air beams’ that are electric-pump inflated, to form a camper trailer tent, without the need for booms and poles.
The unit converts from a compact trailer into a luxury camper in around three minutes. With the air-beam annexe attached, set up time is around seven minutes. And, yes, to back up the inbuilt electric air pump, a manual air pump and a puncture repair kit are provided with every Air Opus camper trailer.
Air beam technology has been available in the marquee and premium tent industry for some years, but as far as OTA can ascertain this is its first appearance on a camper trailer.
Air Opus is the latest enhancement to the Opus Mark 2 dual-fold camper, adding innovation to what is already a breakthrough camper design.
Unlike traditional camper trailer designs that have forward, rearward or side-fold lids the Opus has two lids – one forward opening and one rear opening – that form the base for two tent-covered double beds.
This leaves the trailer body space available for a large dinette/lounge area.
The beds are on the short side for tall people, so an option is an extendable forward bed, with more leg room.
In 2012 the Opus team in the UK began the development of a folding camper trailer and the original dual-fold Opus concept, with hoop framing, was the result.
Within a year of the original concept, the Australian Opus team developed a heavier-duty chassis to suit Australian conditions. This camper had seven-leaf beam axle suspension and Australian-style electric brakes in place of the BPW chassis with rubber-bushed torsion-bar suspension and override brakes that the UK Opus used.
The European model was available here as an All Road extra-lightweight model, for use on formed surfaces.
In 2015 the Australian team started development of the Opus Mark 2, which featured coil-sprung, dual-shock trailing arm suspension, simple, articulating
poly-block coupling and a large slide-out kitchen in lieu of the smaller internal kitchen.
Also, the departure angle was improved by moving the spare wheel from underneath to a rear-mounted carrier.
The Mark 2 also scored functional improvements, including a substantially bigger storage box, simplified bed struts, dual batteries and thicker mattresses.
In 2016 the Australian and UK teams began development of the Air Opus concept, taking proved air beam technology and redesigning the Opus tent to suit.
The Air Opus has five air beams, replacing the conventional tent’s seven hoops.
Importantly, the air tent can be retro-fitted to every existing left-side entry Opus camper.
Prototypes were shown at the massive camping show in Dusseldorf in August 2016 and in Melbourne in February 2017.
The differences between the European-market air tent and the Aussie one are mainly for improved ventilation in hot weather, whereas theirs is optimised for cold weather. Also, the UK-preferred small interior kitchen was replaced by a large external slide-out type for Australia.
When it comes to the Air Annexe, the differences are more obvious, because the Australian-market Opus chassis rides substantially higher than theirs. The Aussie annexe needed to be higher, so it was relatively easy to give it a larger footprint at the same time, with more volume and headroom.
What you get
Australian-market Air Opus camper trailers are made in China and have a galvanised steel chassis and draw-bar assembly, mounting an aluminium-framed, composite sheet body. A jockey wheel and poly-block coupling are fitted and the suspension is independent trailing arm, coil spring, with twin shock absorbers each side.
Tare mass is a claimed 1200kg, with a ball weight of 135kg. If a loaded 60-litre fridge is allowed for that ball weight figure is likely to be much higher.
Aggregate trailer mass is 1800kg, for a theoretical payload of 600kg. A 200kg-capacity folding luggage rack is optional, as is the fridge, so some buyers may need all of that payload figure.
Brakes are 12-inch electric and the three wheels are 15-inch aluminium, shod with 235/75R15 tyres.
The tent material is 260gsm poly-cotton canvas and a tropical roof and an annexe are standard. Beneath the tropical roof are zip-open roof ‘hatches’ that provide excellent ventilation. These openings are fitted with ‘clears’, allowing light entry if ventilation isn’t required.
Also standard are four stabiliser legs, two 100Ah AGM batteries and 240V charger, stereo system, two 80-litre water tanks with electric pumps, external shower kit, vinyl lounge and a large slide-out external kitchen with sink, folding shelf unit and four-burner LPG stove, fed from two 9kg bottles. An Aqua Cube gas hot water system is a $499 option that shares the LPG supply.
That’s pretty good value, we reckon, for a 2019 RRP of $32,365, including the $2500 annexe. However, when we managed to evaluate a test camper in March
2019 the special price from Opus dealer, RV Connection, in western Sydney was only $28,990.
Opus Camper won a Good Design Selection for its Air Opus self-inflating camper in the Australian 2017 Good Design Awards.
The jury said Air Opus offered: “genuine innovation at a surprisingly affordable price”, and was “spacious with well thought out, easy to use and functional spaces”.
The jury’s highest praise was for the air beams: “The convenience of pushing a button to erect the camper with air is simply genius and makes camping accessible
to everyone,” the Jury said.
Good Design Australia CEO and Chair of the Good Design Awards program, Dr Brandon Gien, said the awards attracted entries from all corners of the world:
‘This year’s Good Design Selections represent excellence in design across the widest spectrum of design,’ he said.
Opus Camper’s Australian director Malcolm Hill said the Good Design Selection was a credit to the Australian and British teams who had designed the Air Opus.
“We are proud to be included in a field which includes such global design leaders as Tesla, Audi and Bombardier Recreational Products,” he said.
Evaluation Air Opus
Because the test Air Opus was brand new dealer stock and already sold, our evaluation was confined to a short suburban drive and careful assessment of the erection and pack-away process. RV Connection staff, Katie and Kevin, know the Air Opus well and talked us through the set-up process. We’re hoping for a longer, bush test later in 2019.
The evaluation camper was fitted with an optional gas-strut-folding roof rack ($999) that we were told most buyers opt for. It can reportedly carry 200kg, making it ideal for water-toy or ‘tinny’ storage. The rack tilted out of the way of the camper lids with little effort, thanks to powerful gas struts.
Twin opening lids were actually the forward and rear bed bases, similar in arrangement to Jayco’s Expanda caravan layout and there was an optional king-size extension ($299) available for the rear bed.
One possible downside of the twin-lid design is the need to uncouple the camper from some 4WD wagon and ute tow vehicles before opening it, because the
forward bed base may intrude into the wagon rear door or ute tailgate opening arc.
With the lids opened the folded tent was exposed and raising it proved as simple as the brochure claimed: a press of the air pump button stated the ‘growth’
process and in three minutes the Air Tent was erected. (Our test unit didn’t have the optional air-annexe.)
While the tent was inflating it would have been possible to set up the stabilising legs and slide out the kitchen.
With the tent inflated there was some necessary redistribution of the packed dinette cushions and the collapsible table and that took a further three minutes.
The interior ambience was a great improvement over that of most camper trailers, thanks to a complete lack of unsightly metal hoops and the airy effect of the translucent roof and its zip-open panels. The dinette was large enough to host a party if the weather didn’t encourage outside entertainment.
Both beds were fitted with webbing straps that allowed the bedding to be left in place when the beds were folded away. The dinette table doubled as a bed base, so, in theory, you could sleep six if required.
Fit and finish was quite good, although we don’t know how durable the melamine-covered plywood furniture would be on some of Australia’s rough roads. Only a long-term test can evaluate that.
Collapsing the tent was simply a matter of undoing the valves and the whole kit fell into the camper. The brand new tent canvas offered some resistance to folding under the lids and we think webbing ratchet tie-downs would be better at snigging down the lids than the standard over-centre toggles – especially if the annexe was left attached.
The centre join between the two lids was sealed with a soft rubber gasket to keep water and dust at bay.
We reckon the Air Opus should have great appeal to families looking for caravan-style accommodation at a budget price and in a package that’s much easier to store than a caravan on a small suburban block, or in an apartment garage.