caravan was developed in Germany as an alternative to the big,
heavy, rectangular traditional touring caravans for people who
want a lighter and more stylish solution. In fact, many people
who have never towed a caravan before opt for a Tab because of
its lightness, elegance and easiness to park and move. And
inside as well as out there's a high-spec finish.
talks to John West at Springfield Leisure about these Retro Chic Off-Road Tab Caravans.
Can you please tell us about the
background to Springbank Leisure and your Tab Caravans?
In 2005 some people moved into our area and asked us to store
a Tab caravan with yellow trim which they had bought a year
earlier when they were on the continent. And I saw the Tab
caravan for the first time and thought it was a very unusual product.
I had no
idea where it was manufactured. I did a little bit of
research, initially thinking it came from America but then I
found out it was manufactured in Germany. Up until 2005 it has
only been brought in to the UK via individual people in its
continental form, with two-pin plugs and non-British
conforming upholstery and things like that. So I then went
over to Germany with two colleagues and met the people at the
factory and had a good look at the product. I decided that it
was not only unusually-styled but also extremely well-built.
What a surprise for a German product eh?!
Well, yes. Most of these compact caravans on the market are
things that have a rather homemade look about them. They look
rather like a double bed on wheels but this is a proper
caravan and extremely rigid as well, so the walls donít move
when you lean against them. You slam the doors in a typical
German way and itís built in such a way as it currently
holds the world land speed record in its standard form. The
retro model was taken around the Nurbergring Grand Prix track
in Germany where Lewis Hamilton won last weekend.
Does Jeremy Clarkson know about this?
He does actually. It was 238 k.p.h. The standard model with
standard steel wheels and dragged around behind a Porsche
Cayenne turbo. And yes, in answer too your question, Jeremy Clarkson is
allegedly quoted as saying that if he was strapped down and
had boiling oil poured into his eyes, the caravan he might
deign, in fact, to enter might be a Tab caravan.
(Laughs) Thatís great.
Itís appeared on things like The Gadget Show and also
various celebrities have used it. It was known as 'Boycieís
caravan'. I donít know if youíve ever seen the spin-off
from Fools and Horses called Green Green Grass? John Challiss
lives quite close to us here in Shropshire and in fact he was
doing Much Ado About Nothing this season at the Ludlow outdoor
(Boycie impersonation) Oh no Marlene!
When Marlene threw him out of the house he went and stayed in
his Tab caravan in the garden. So I did actually get
involved with Springbank giving a Tab to the BBC for the
filming. In fact, we went down to Pinewood Studios afterwards
where they did a lot of the studio shots rather than the
outdoor shots which were done up here and one of the cameramen
had grown to love it so much that he actually bought it off me.
So I didnít have to collect it after the rental period
had expired with the BBC.
So that was a good result all round.
Yes. So in 2005 we got involved and took on the agency to buy
directly from the factory in Germany. Not an easy thing to do
as theyíre very picky as to who imports from them and since
then weíve just been building up . We sell around about
three to four caravans per month and that suits us fine. So
there is a degree of scarcity, if you like, in the Tabs. Apart
from ourselves, we obviously sell throughout the British
Isles, there are also two other outlets available, one in
Southampton from a motorhomes dealer and one in north
Yorkshire from a big caravan dealer. We only deal,
exclusively, in Tabs and donít deal in anything else. We
like to think thereís nothing we donít know about Tabs. My
two colleagues have been factory-trained, so we can sort out
any little technical issues which might crop up. We are
genuinely the Tab specialists.
How long have they been going John?
2003 they were first produced in Germany.
Oh I see. I thought they would go way back from the look of
They were designed as a complete contrast to the companyís
mainstream production. The mainstream line is a range known as
the Tabbert and that range is best-known for being the first
choice for all travellers in Europe. So no self-respecting
Romany gypsy would not want one Ė itís their lifeís
ambition to own and live in a Tabbert.
When it comes to caravans and what goes in them they know
their stuff donít they?
The build quality is completely in a different league to
pretty well everything else.
My dad has a Sprite Musketeer in the sixties and seventies and
it was rather flimsy.
Iím afraid certain other manufacturers think that the way to
get a lightweight caravan is to get a standard caravan and
just thin down on all the materials. That wasnít the idea
with the Tab Ė the construction is so lightweight, with a
special internal cleanable liner and then itís bonded with
polystyrene to the aluminium outer shell. So you have this
laminated, if you like, shell which is incredibly rigid but
astonishingly lightweight at the same time. So the net weight
of the Tab is 550 kilos- thatís with it full of water and
with gas bottles on board. And the standard tab is mounted
onto a chassis which is 150 kilo chassis so, having filled it
up with water and having put your gas container at the front
of the Tab, you have the option of loading up to 250 kilos
worth of stuff just onto the standard chassis. You can get an
upgraded chassis up to 1 ton if you like.
What about options?
There are essentially two options Ė the standard Tab which
is a two-person caravan which is available with a built-in
fridge and a built-in heater. And then the most popular extras people
choose which are the window blinds set which includes mosquito
nets. Also, luggage nets to stop things flying around when
youíre in transit. It comes as standard with steel alloys
wheels but you can have alloy wheels as an option. And
essentially all the running gear under the caravan is made by
the company Al-Ko who are a German manufacturer who have had
their headquarters in Rugby Warwickshire for thirty years I
believe, maybe longer.
Digger: At the NEC caravan show I remember seeing their name a
John: Virtually every British caravan now is using Al-Ko
chassis and Al-Ko self-breaking wheel hubs and Al-Ko hitch
locks and all the running gear. So while the body is made at
the Tab factory all the underside is made by Al-Ko. Itís
quite nice to know that there arenít any strange hybrid bits
and pieces kicking around on the caravan. I believe that there
are about 170 Al-Ko registered service agents throughout the
British Isles, so even if you buy from us any servicing requirements can normally be catered for very locally to
whoever buys it.
Who buys them John? Individuals, corporates or a complete mix?
Itís a different market in the UK to that on the continent.
On the continent, itís marketed more for students and people
in their twenties as a young personís funky caravan. In the
UK, it seems to appeal to people who are not, shall we say,
natural lovers of the idea of towing a rectangular white brick
caravan around the country. And people whoíve seen these
white brick caravans swaying majestically up and down the
motorway and have decided that they were a little bit frightened
of towing something of that weight and something that isnít
that aerodynamic. The people who the Tabs appeal to are
the ones who are not caravanners at all Ė in fact well over
50% of the first-time buyers have no experience whatsoever. It
only weighs half a ton, it can be moved around like a
wheelbarrow, itís perfectly balanced and so you donít need
any mechanical or elector-mechanical caravan movers, such as
remote controls to park. With a Tab, because
itís so, lightweight it can literally be moved by two
modestly strong people into position. So thatís a big plus
What should people consider when thinking about buying your
Quite simply, itís open to being towed from really a quite
modest engine size of around 1000c.c. up to what people would
probably normally consider to be a normal caravan size engine
of two litres plus.
Or a Porsche?!
Or indeed a Porsche. It can be towed behind a classic Morris
Minor Countryman to classic Porsches and E-Type Jags and MGTFs
and all that sort of car Ė they look very good and weíve
sold one to a Morgan owner. The new little Fiat 500s, the sort of
bubble cars, they are legally able to tow a Tab. 120cc VW
Polos. There are two or three cars, and the Smart car is one,
that have no rating for towing and the other one is what I
call the Keystone Cops Chrysler VT Cruiser Ė you know that
rather strange-looking thing. That doesnít have a towing
rating at all and it must be something to do with the chassis
I think. Generally speaking, one big plus point is that the
majority of people donít have to upgrade their vehicles for
a more petrol-thirsty car because itís so light that it can
be towed by all mainstream medium to small-sized vehicles.
What's the width John?
The width of the standard Tab is 2 metres Ė there is a large
Tab which is similar shape-wise but it incorporates a bathroom
and the large Tab is 2.3 metres which is the maximum legal
width of a towing vehicle in the UK. The large Tab is a much
heavier beast Ė itís got a 1 ton net payload and itís
mounted onto either a 1200 or 1300 cc chassis. That is more
akin, although shape-wise it still has the same style as the
standard Tab, but the large Tab or Tab L as itís called is
much more like a traditional touring caravan. The standard Tab,
which is known as the Tab 320 because itís 320 cm long Ė
3.3 metres, is a camping caravan. It appeals to people who
want to upgrade from tent camping or trailer tent camping to a
caravan but not have the inconvenience of bulk and so on.
What are the best things about what you do?
We wouldnít deal with traditional caravans for two reasons.
Obviously itís already well-catered for by all the major
caravan retail outlets but the second reason we like the Tabs
is, to be quite honest, because we like a vehicle which not only looks
good but also is extremely easy to tow. The thought of towing
anything but a Tab is not very appealing, particularly if
youíre going on a long journey. You scarcely notice that
youíve got the Tab behind the car and thatís the nice
thing about it. The build quality is of course the other thing
Ė because itís the natural aluminium shell it doesnít
tend to weather in the same way as the white caravans do. They
tend to have an unfortunate tendency to become yellow after a
period of time, particularly if theyíre stored on the
coast., I think the salt does something or the humidity of the
air all around the coast. So really a five of six year-old Tab
looks exactly the same after five or six years, fortunately,
as a new one.
Digger: Amazing, isnít it? So what sorts of comments and
feedback are you getting from clients?
Feedback from clients Ė theyíre almost unanimously in
favour. There is a national talk shop, if you like, called the
Tab Forum which is completely independent from us and whilst I
donít visit it on a regular basis I hear from others. And
because weíre a three-man company we try to be very approachable.
Any little minor technical issues that crop
up are dealt with quickly and professionally. And
because itís extremely
well-built - for example the fridge is built by Dometic which is
part of Electrolux and the support for
anything like the fridge or the heater or the electrical control box are all made by
household names. So generally
speaking any form of after-sales needed is advice rather than rectification.
What are your ambitions for the future of Springbank Leisure
and the Tab caravans now that you're selling 36 a year and building up a big customer
We're not looking to widen our product range because we don't
want to become big - we'd rather maintain ourselves as a
small, specialist outlet and go along with a manufacturer who
is always looking for new ideas. Whilst I can't reveal what
they are, I am aware that there is going to be a totally new
style of Tab being available from about November of this year.
So it's a question of watch this space and you'll see that the
development offices in Germany are continuing and evolving the
model. The two styles, the standard style which is by far the
bulk of the sales and there's also a part of the sales from
the new Tab L which was released about three years ago. As I
mentioned, it's more of a traditional touring caravan and not
as lightweight. So development's looking good, the fabrics
change quite regularly inside and the actual build quality
outside is mirrored by the internal material quality. Very
stylish and not the traditional type of interior you'd expect from
a caravan and very much designer. This gives itself a very pleasant,
open feel when sitting inside the caravan. Not at all claustrophobic,
wide, open spaces. In fact a lot of people call it a Tardis
because whilst it's the size of a peanut outside, once you're
sitting inside you very quickly forget you're sitting in a
caravan of such modest dimensions.
You had some input into this latest design did you?
I normally pop over to Germany once a year and we make a few
recommendations on how things can be improved and they
obviously consider them. The average order value is around
£9,000, which includes factory fitted extras and the delivery
charge. We don't want to price ourselves much more than that
because then obviously we are getting into the same prices as
the big rectangular white caravans.
Thanks John for telling us about the Tabs and best of luck
with the new models.
You're welcome. Thanks David. Bye.
TABs Caravan direct from the Tabbert Caravan
factory near Frankfurt in Germany are now available in the UK.
T@B caravans start life at the Tabbert Caravan factory near
Frankfurt in Germany. Their unique seamless aluminium
insulated shell construction with high quality external and
internal fittings, pay tribute to the highest standards in
German manufacturing techniques.
The T@B is a lightweight, easily
manoeuverable unit with outstanding aerodynamic stability. The
range is now extended with the larger, heavier model TAB-L
(single-axle), with fixed bed and bathroom.
T. 01694 723570
F. 01694 724160
M. 07970 694752 / 07966 528146 (direct sales)