A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that ffiona and I were due to visit the 5th Wheel co to view the Celtic Rambler and it's production line. A couple of people contacted me and asked if I would report back and so i have compiled the following, rather long winded report. VISIT TO THE 5TH WHEEL COMPANY – SATURDAY, 17TH NOVEMBER 2007. Objective. As Fulltimers, currently using American RV’s, we are looking for a change of home with the hope of improving running costs and more flexibility over that offered by an RV. Having done the old elbow fight at the N.E.C with the inevitable tyre kickers, we decided that a quiet visit to the factory would give us a greater opportunity to properly view the vehicle and it’s build quality and asses it’s suitability for full time living. The visit Saturday morning, ffiona and I set off in the car from our base site in Cheshire at 8:00 AM. We called in to pick up 2 friends who are caravaners themselves and live in a static park home on a beautiful site not far from us. The idea was that ffiona (my wife) and Michelle would spend time inside the 5ver working out where everything from our RV would go, and Darren and I would be outside (or in the factory) checking out the tanks/systems/electrics etc etc. In this respect, quite apart from being a dammed good mate, Darren was invaluable to me as before becoming a caravanner, he built his own 60ft narrow boat and has great experience of creating electrical looms, gas runs, scratch built furniture etc. I was lucky enough to work on this project with Darrren for a short time and we were both very proud and pleased when, upon sale of the boat at a brokerage yard, we were told that the standard of build would be the envy of many a boat yard, let alone an individuals build. Arrival Good old TomTom got us to 5th Wheel Co’s premises at 09:40, twenty minute early for our 10am appointment. We were welcomed by Adrian and given the schedule for the visit which meant that we would tour the build factory first, after which, we would all take a seat in a newly finished Celtic Rambler where coffee was provided and then lastly, we would all go out for a test drive using the rig in which we had had coffee. Adrian, doing his best impression of the pied piper with 4 of us in tow, took us into the build hanger. I must admit that I was slightly surprised at the small size of the hanger. I thought the premises would be much larger but, having said that, it was well laid out, exremely tidy and brightly lit. I’ve tried to split the built into three areas as we saw it on Saturday but all three areas are in the same building. Build area 1 As one enter the shop, the first thing one sees are two bare chassis complete with electrical cable looms, electrical services locker, suspension units , waste tanks and air braking accumulator tanks. This was an important part of the visit for Darren and I because it allowed us to see the quality of the workmanship which is normally hidden from view. As a design engineer in the aircraft industry, I’m used to seeing the care and attention that is paid to electrical looming and hydraulic pipework and I’ve got to say that I was very impressed by what we were looking at on this chassis. Everything was loomed, tied and protected properly at an early stage in the build and I am sure that this will go a long way to ensuring the long term reliability of the unit. Build area 2 This is where the double floors are added, sandwiching the fresh and waste tank between 50mm insulated skin. The floor is equipped with underflow heating and felt lovely under bare feet on a cold day such as last Saturday. The insulation on all floors/walls/roof is of aluminium/foam/hardboard vacuum bonded construction as used by most manufacturers these days. Where it differs, is that the 5th Wheel Co use high density foam for the core and this gives much greater insulation properties than the older style expanded polystyrene foam core. It’s also a lot more rigid. At this stage, with the help of an overhead crane and huge suction cups, walls and roof are added, however, the slide out is not yet added as the hole it leaves, allows good access for installation of the furniture and equipment. Again, this stage of build allows the visitor to see what’s going on behind all that fancy finish and, again, we were impressed by the level of care and attention to detail and the quality of the workmanship. Build area 3 Installation of slideout room and final finish. The slideout room is cable operated using a push/pull system off an electric motor which is mounted in the roof. All cables can be tensioned individually to ensure that the slide out "sits” properly and seals against the sidewall whether in or out. It is very smooth and quiet in operation. Exterior graphics are added at this stage and, as with the upholstery, there is a range for the customer to choose from enabling the 5ver to be personalised and/or matched to the colour of the towing rig which in this case was the imposing Nissan Navara. The tour of the build shop lasted approximately 1 hour during which time, Adrian displayed his obviously vast knowledge of the product and did a sterling job of answering the rapid fire questions aimed at him from Darren and myself. I’m a great believer that if you’re going to use, or,as we do, live, in a product like this, it pays to gain as much knowledge as possible on the product so that if things do go wrong at some point during ownership, you have enough knowledge to repair the fault yourself on site, rather than keep trundling back to the dealer/manufacturer. A point which is even more important ( I think) to Fulltimers. We came away from the production line tour with a good feeling about the product and the fact that 5th Wheel Company have nothing to hide by allowing customers full access in this way. Coffee time / The interior The five of us retired to a newly completed Celtic Rambler sat outside in the bitterly cold weather. We entered via the main door which on the Celtic Rambler is on the “wrong” side for the UK. The reason for this, I was told, is that a great deal of the Ramblers are taken abroad for the winter where-as the smaller GlobeStormer tends to stay in the UK and consequently has its door on the “correct” side Thankfully, Adrian had turned on the heating before we arrived and the unit was surprisingly warm and cosy inside considering the heating hadn’t been on that long. Ffiona and Michelle became the chief question firers here and again Adrian proved a wizz a batting as fast as they could bowl. We all had a much needed sit down and a very nice cup of coffee. This in itself was a good test because it allowed us to assess the accommodation of the unit for more than just the two of us. With five adults sat down, there was more than enough room for everybody, even if we all had the insane desire to drink our coffee with elbows extended to the max! Interior finish of the unit could only be described as beautiful. The fit and finish was of a very high standard and really looked “the business”. The two tone wood effect (light coloured laminate doors with dark coloured solid wood edging) looked stunning The galley area (in the rear right corner) is large and extremely well equipped with full hob oven (British – YES!!!!) , fixed microwave, huge fridge/freezer and plenty of usable work surface. Storage is plentiful with all sorts of cupboards and slide out pantries. Lounge area (including slideout along the left hand side), as previously mentioned, is huge with two large and very comfortable sofas. These were in soft leather and although lovely were very impractical for us due to Dougal (our lunatic Persian cat). I must admit that I don’t really like leather anyway so our preference would be for one of the very nice fabric material options. The largest of the sofas has a full size pull out “hide a bed” so guests are well catered for. Almost all of the two seating areas has accessible storage underneath and I’m fairly confident that the contents of out 34ft RV will fit into this 27ft beauty if we decide to go down this route. Lounge entertainment is via flat screen surround sound TV (with the option of self seeking satellite on the roof) and built in CD/DVD unit. Only two personal preferences spring to mind and they are that if we do come to order a 5ver, I would ask that the carpet be extended a little further as in my opinion, the extremely practical lino type material in the galley area extends a little too far into the living area. Probably, given that the unit has underfloor heating, this wouldn’t cause the unit to feel cold, it’s just a personal preference of mine. The other thing I would like is to have a large rectangular dining table as well as/instead of the 2 smaller round tales provided, to allow 4 to dine at the same table. Our only slight concern is that the unit has a very high internal ceiling height and ffiona stopped growing upwards some time ago! The girls got their heads together and sussed out where to store the frequently used items in the lower half over the overhead cupboards and the infrequently used items, way up in the roof. For these items, I’m afraid that beloved will be calling on the services of either a step or me! Turning right (forward) from the entrance door, one climbs two steps at the top of which are the bathroom (on the left) and the bedroom further forward. The bathroom is beautifully finished in wood and is extremely spacious. There is a large and well placed washbowl with chrome mixer tap and a VERY large shower cubicle with glass fronted panels/door. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my extended elbows to touch the sidewalls! There is plenty of storage space both under the sink and in wall-mounted cupboards and the whole room is heated by on of the radiators headed by the Lade (2Kw) combined heating and hot water unit. This is a clever piece of kit which we were told, not only has a timer on it (very handy), but also it is switchable depending upon whether one is on a 10 amp or a 16 amp supply. Now that’s nifty, I like that! The bedroom is furthest forward and is huge. There are opening windows on each side with cassette blinds and a large Hieki roof vent for the stargazers and romantics. The bed has plenty of storage underneath for linen etc. Behind the bedhead are four mirrored cupboard doors across the width of the bedroom and these conceal a very large amount of storage space. Each side of the bedhead is a small bedside unit with lifting top revealing yet more storage. At the foot of the bed is a reasonably large wardrobe. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to use the word reasonable but when one has been used to the huge double wardrobes in our Georgieboy Landau, anything else is going to feel small. I think the cloths storage will be adequate, but that’s about it. We’ll probably have to fold rather than hang quite a bit more. Driving. Ok, tour over, time for a test drive. Adrian showed us how quick it is to prepare the fiver for the road. Slideout in, rear legs up, extend front legs to clear the hitch. All this done via a remote control in Adrians hand………nifty!. Move the air suspension lever from PARK to DRIVING. – When on site, you can (if you wish) dump the air from the suspension to lower the rig for easier access. If you do, it has to be pumped back up again before moving off but this doesn’t take too long. There is also a RAISED position on the lever which will give extra ground clearance (approx 2” extra) for ferry ramps etc. Adrian added extended wing mirrors to the Nissan and climbed into the tow vehicle which was to be an 07 plate Nissan Navara in black. It was the top of the range Adventurer with full leather in black, sat nav, sunroof and electric everything! It was very plush and was powered by a 2.5 common rail turbo diesel pumping out 171BHP as standard. I believe this can be chipped up to about 230BHP if required. The vehicle had a 6 speed manual box. He carefully reversed onto the fiver in exactly the way an HGV driver would couple an artic. The fiver rose a couple of inches as the latch plate slid under and there was a loud clang as the latch engaged. Its important to make sure that the Nissan is now more than a couple of degrees off line when hitching or it may fail to engage properly. Once latched on, Adrian connected the pigtail lines for air (trailer brakes) and electrics. In this case, the air tank on the 5ver chassis was empty so it took a couple of minutes on fast tick over for the compressor in the Nissans load bed to fill the accumulator tank on the fiver, sufficiently to release the brakes. The Nissan is equipped with a “hydraulic over air” valve (least I think its that way round!) which means that as you push the hydraulic brake pedal in the pick-up, a measured quantity of air is fed to the trailer brakes. The compressor in the pick-up load bed will automatically kick in and out as required to maintain the accumulator tank at the correct pressure. So, off we go. Adrians driving, I’m in the front passenger seat and ffiona, Michelle and Darren are in the back. We’re 5 up with 3 ½ ton on the back and have a 2.5 diesel…………this should be fun! Cabin comfort is good, the guys in the back say they don’t feel cramped and the view is good. First impressions were that Adrian was having to gun the motor to build up speed and he seemed to be keeping it in gear longer than I would like. Having said that, I think he was pushing it trying to show just what the set-up was capable of and we were up to legal speeds very quickly. After a somewhat fast drive down the lanes where he was really throwing the rig about to show off it'’ stability, we entered the A55 towards Conwy. This is a very fast dual carriageway which I normally take at a steady 60 in my RV.! Faster than Captain Kirks transporter, we were up to 70MPH and ensuring there were no cars around us, Adrian warned us and then viciously threw the steering from side to side. The unit never budged! The stability was incredible. No snaking, no wallowing, nothing! The only thing I felt was when on the country lane and there was a slight pitching motion but it was barely noticeable and nothing even close to the effect one can get when towing a caravan. I haven’t towed a caravan very much, only my Dads a couple of times, and quite honestly I didn’t enjoy the experience as even when using my Dads large and heavy diesel Volvo estate, I still felt like the “tail was wagging the dog”. There was none of this here. The whole experience was calm, comfortable and enjoyable, especially as it was being done a much higher speeds than I care to tour at myself. After a few miles on the A55, we pulled off and into an industrial estate where I thought “great, my turn!” Unfortunately, it was just so that Adrian could demonstrate the “U-turn-ability” of the rig which was very impressive given the warp factor speed at which he carried it out! Coming out of the industrial estate and back to the A55 entrance slip road, we pulled over and this time it WAS my turn……….GULP! Why was I worried? I’ve no idea! I’ve driven 7/12 tonners and A Class RV’s for years with no problems but this was a different set up all together………AND I don’t like towing! I needn’t have worried. The unit felt instantly comfortable and controllable, the only downside being that I didn’t like the extended wing mirrors, which were puny, compared to my RV mirrors. The six speed box was smooth, the engine quiet and the power definitely felt good. I felt perhaps that I needed a little too much right foot in 1st and 2nd but after that, it was a smooth surge of power and I was genuinely shocked to see I was doing 60 next time I looked at the Speedo because I thought I was doing about 40 ! Exiting the A55, I encountered my first roundabout and, as with the RV, was very aware of “drift in” and “tail swing”. Both were there but both were acceptable and easily countered with a bit of thought. We eventually got back to the factory where upon I utterly embarrassed myself by messing up the gear change and stalling the Nissan, much to the amusement of my darling ex wife and wonderful ex friends!…….DOHHHH.! Conclusions The whole visit had been a wonderful experience. Very informative and extremely interesting. No question was left unanswered and nothing was hidden (at least not as far as we could tell- and believe me, we looked!) and the attitude displayed to us would definitely encourage us to deal with this company. We’re still not sure which way we’re going to jump. We’ve decided we definitely don’t want bricks and motar, we’re not yet ready for a static, but we don’t know whether to go for another RV or a 5ver. I LOVE my A class RV’s but the running cost can hurt, especially if you get engine problems which although now thoroughly sorted, have left a sour taste and a HUGE hole in my pocket! The appeal of a 5ver is the lower fuel consumption which given current trends with grabbing chancellors and lentil munching greenies is worrying me, I cant help but feel that RV’s are in for a rough ride in the future. Also, the appeal of daytime touring off site in the Nissan, rather than ½ an hour getting togged up in motorcycle kit and another ½ hour smashing and cursing at the intermittent intercom system………..and that’s just if the weather is nice! If it’s not…………….? Another appeal for us as fulltimers, is that by going down the 5ver route, we can get rid of the sightseeing motorbike and the car I use to get to work. That two lots of tax, mot, insurance, fuel and running costs saved. That’s a hell of a lot of brass! Trouble is, I love playing Yorkie man in my A class! It’s big, its very comfortable and its all I’ve ever wanted………apart from the running cost! This might not be the end of RV’s for us, even if we do go down the 5ver route. We can always come back to RV’s if we decide we’re not happy with the 5ver………..we’ll see. The above is purely personal opinion and is based on our observations. I hope you find it interesting and possibly even of some help.