By Richard Robertson
You wouldn't pick Mildura, on the banks of the Murray in far North Western Victoria, as a motorhome manufacturing centre of excellence. And yet it is, because it’s home to Wirraway Motor Homes, a small-volume semi-bespoke manufacturer with a big reputation.
Wirraway is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘challenge’ and for owners Rob and Amanda Tonkin I’m certain there’s a measure of irony in it. For the business, the Wirraway name and logo is a tribute to the first Australian-built military aircraft of World War II (a two-seat trainer) and the No 2 Operational Training Unit that flew them and was stationed in Mildura from 1942 to 1946. However, if you look closely at the logo you’ll see it’s spelled Wirr-Away, a clever and subtle play on words for a motorhome manufacturer!
Rob and Amanda were building motorhomes in Mildura before I first met them back in the early 2000s, while working for the now-defunct Caravan & Motorhome magazine. Rob’s an engineer with an eye for innovation and while the rest of the RV manufacturing world has ebbed and flowed in the intervening years, Wirraway has navigated a steady course and in the process, built a loyal following.
Unlike major manufacturers with stock models and a rigid list of options, to Wirraway’s ‘stock’ designs Rob will add or change pretty much anything as long as it’s practical – or you can afford it. That makes Wirraway something of a hybrid manufacturer, sitting between the mass-market and custom builds. The positioning works well because it provides some economies of scale and gives buyers a starting point from which to develop their dream motorhome.
All manufacturers have their ‘signatures’ and Wirraway is no exception. Inside, that has long been the meticulously crafted Tasmanian myrtle timber finish, although gloss white is now an option.
Outside, there’s the unmistakable paint scheme, the unique, top-loading storage drawers and the pull-out barbecue. Ditto the clever built-in water management system that includes a hose reel so you can even wash your motorhome by drawing water from a mains connector, creek, dam, etc, without contaminating the vehicle’s fresh water supply or plumbing.
Rob has long been a fan of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and it powers most of the range. The very latest Sprinter 519 CDI adds upgraded technical features and now, 4x4 is available across the Sprinter-based range. They also come with a 5 year/250,000 km warranty and you can pre-pay 1 of 3 service plans if you want to ensure it’s looked after by experts. Iveco’s big Daily 70C17 is a recent addition and is backed by a 3 year/200,000 km warranty. It’s the flagship of the range and provides increased load carrying and therefore more features, but for most buyers the Sprinter will be the vehicle of choice.
Upgrade options across the range include a four-point hydraulic levelling system, bull bar, towbar, washing machine, inverter, satellite TV, diesel heater, UHF radio, cabin sidesteps and twin beds (a queen bed is standard). You might think some of these items should be standard on a premium motorhome, but the bottom line is everybody's needs are different and there is little to be gained by adding equipment, cost and weight that’s unwanted.
There are three basic models in the Wirraway line-up plus a couple of variations. Here’s a quick rundown:
The original Wirraway model, the 260 is a 26 ft (7.9 m) B-class coach built that’s slide-out free. The layout has a front dinette, mid kitchen and bathroom, and rear bedroom. Gross vehicle mass (GVM) is 4490 kg, so it can be driven on a standard car licence, and base price starts at $209,000 plus on-roads.
Wirraway 260 EuroStylePhysically the same size and shape as the ‘base’ 260, the EuroStyle brings Euro flair to the layout: Retaining the same swivelling cab-seat/dinette arrangement and rear bedroom options as the 260, it switches things up in the middle. There you’ll find an L-shaped kitchen and a split bathroom. Base price remains the same at $209,000 plus on-roads.
Wirraway 260 SLThe 260 SL features a near full-length slide-out on the driver’s side, adds a full-width rear bathroom, east-west bed and revised dinette. The slide-out makes it feel much more open plan, but does sacrifice the bedroom privacy of the non-slide 260 models. It also offers the option of a high gloss Classic White Interior in place of the traditional timber finish. Mechanically, the Sprinter’s GVM increases to 5500 kg, meaning a Light Rigid (LR) driver’s licence is required. Naturally, the starting price increases, to $239,000 plus on-roads.
Wirraway Evolution 280 SLAptly named, the Evolution 280 SL sees length increase to 28 ft (8.57 m) on the Iveco Daily 70C17, plus the GVM increase to 7000 kg. Essentially a larger 260 SL, the 280 SL features a full-length slide, expands the floorplan and redesigns some of the layout, especially around the cab/dinette. It also increases payload, of course, and requires an LR licence. The starting price for this imposing motorhome is $281,750 plus on-roads.
ThoughtsIf Wirraway baked bread it would be an artisan baker; a refreshing change in a world of supermarket sliced-white. Evolution through subtle innovation are the brand’s hallmark, rather than change for change’s sake. It means a 10-plus-year-old Wirraway looks remarkably like a new one – right down to the signature paint scheme – and that's no bad thing (especially when it comes to resale). The product has long been highly developed and refined, and equally as well regarded.
If you're in the market for a quality, hand-built motorhome it's worth making the trip to Mildura (when possible!) or catching up with Rob when the show circuit reopens. Also, be sure to check out Wirraway’s website and its galleries.