Bailey Rangefinder Gemini: Review
The new Bailey Rangefinder Gemini offers value for money and a clever and lightweight design.
The Gemini reviewed here is one of three new, solid-wall Bailey Rangefinder vans, with two new slide-out models due out in a few more months. All the vans share some important things in common: they are locally designed and built for Australian touring conditions, and each weighs around two-thirds that of a similar size and specced mainstream Australian caravan.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
The 6.66m (21ft 10in external) Gemini tips the scales at just 1820kg Tare and, with its twin 105L water tanks full and with the van packed to its generous 500kg payload, it can be hauled easily and legally by any car with a 2500kg tow capacity. What this means is that you don’t have to purchase a large 4WD to enjoy touring Australia in a good-sized caravan. Of course, a lighter van is also easier to tow, and easier on fuel and other consumables such as tyres and brakes.
Bailey’s patented Alu-Tech interlocking aluminium extrusion framing, its 35mm thick composite roof and walls, and 44mm floor all come from the UK, taking full advantage of the 65-year-old company’s substantial investment in the latest German machinery. However, the body panels are stamped out to a uniquely Australian design before being flat-packed for local assembly.
At Bailey Australia’s Campbellfield, Vic, HQ, all the pieces come together on a local Austrail steel chassis which has been designed to take advantage of the van’s strength to form a lightweight, yet robust, integrated structure. These are quite different underpinnings to a European chassis and suspension modified for ‘Australian conditions’, and the proof is in the weight of the Rangefinders. Because the Gemini’s frame and five-part body become a solid, structural component when locked to its floor, up to 450kg has been shaved from the weight of the ladder-frame chassis without sacrificing rigidity or strength.
Apart from its decals (which are due to be revised on production Rangefinders), the Gemini’s obvious external difference to British Baileys is its single, central, panoramic front window. New wheel arch mouldings and vacuum-formed front and rear bumper moulds made of impact-resistant Bear-X TPO – a material unique to Rangefinder – are other distinctive changes to the new 2.49m (8ft 2in)- wide body.
Look closer and you’ll see a pair of ‘naked’ 9kg gas cylinders on the A-frame and, behind them, a neat shield for the gas regulator and its flexible steel piping, a large rectangular hatch for the front full tunnel boot, the sturdy-looking new Dometic security door, and the standard 15in alloy wheels shod with 205/70 light truck road tyres.
A critical aspect of any new caravan, particularly one that blends British and Australian know-how, is how it tows and, here, I’m about to go out on another limb.
It’s no secret that Toyota’s 200 Series LandCruiser is one of the best tow cars around and it was clearly a lot more capable than the Gemini required. But there are benefits in having a caravan that, fully-laden, weighs only about 70 per cent of your tow vehicle and I can say, unequivocally, that the LC200/Gemini combination probably delivered the best and most confident large caravan towing experience I have ever had. It tracked arrow true on every surface at virtually any speed.
The Gemini’s stability is due, in part, to having the axles further rearward, which puts more weight on the tow ball than a typical Euro van but the inherent stability of the LandCruiser, combined with careful loading of the Gemini and the load-levelling benefit of the Hayman-Reese weight distribution hitch that was fitted, allowed us to maintain impressive speeds on all surfaces.
With simple roller-rocker leaf spring suspension on the review van, we thought the Gemini would soon be out of its depth when we struck the worst corrugations of the trip approaching Uluru, NT, but we were pleasantly surprised. Taking expert advice from seasoned travellers who know this road well, we dropped the van’s tyre pressures to the point where there was discernible ‘bag’ in the tyre walls. This related to just 20psi – about 5-8psi lower than we would normally have dropped them to, but the result was really surprising. Not only did the lower pressures treat the van more kindly than we had expected, with no mechanical or structural defects in about 8300km trans-Australia, but the Gemini stayed firmly on course. We have previously experienced some bouncing and hopping on poor surfaces with lightweight British and European vans.
Of course, some things broke or fell off, but nothing important. That was the whole purpose of taking a prototype on-road British-Australian caravan well outside its comfort zone. A lower cabinet hinge pulled away from its fixture but customer vans will have a strengthened area for the hinge to be screwed to; the fine, red bulldust that filled the cabinet under the fridge and the upper bunk will be stemmed by twin seals around the wheel boxes of future Rangefinders before they reach the public; the front panel of the cutlery drawer that vibrated off mid-trip will be more securely fastened, and the curved decorative panel that fell off the front of the fridge will be held in place by silicone in the future. But, to put all this in context, I have had similar or worse problems with some offroad caravans on the bitumen!
THE WRAP UP
I left the Rangefinder Gemini behind after 8300km of intensive travel over a range of surfaces with the feeling that I had seen the future of Australian caravans.
After experiencing what the combination of clever European technology and Australian know-how was able to achieve, I can see many travellers wondering why they need more to tour Australia’s major sealed and unsealed highways in safety and comfort.
HITS AND MISSES
- The best of British and Australian design
- Clever, lightweight construction
- Value for money
- Needs better dust sealing
- Lower cupboard hinges not
- strong enough
- No solar panel
BAILEY RANGEFINDER GEMINI SPECS
Weights and measures
- Overall length 8.12m (26ft 8in)
- External body length 6.66m (21ft 10in)
- External body width 2.49m (8ft 2in)
- Travel height 2.88m (9ft 5in)
- Internal height 1.96m (6ft 5in)
- Tare 1820kg
- ATM 2320kg
- Ball weight 160kg
- Frame Structural Alu-Tech interlocking aluminium extrusion
- Cladding Fibreglass outer panels
- Chassis Austrail Duragal
- 100x50mm steel
- Suspension Roller-rocker seven-leaf spring tandem with Al-Ko axles
- Brakes 10in Al-Ko electric
- Wheels/tyres Alloy 15in with 205/70R15 light truck tyres
- Water 2x105L (fresh)
- Battery 1x100Ah deep-cycle
- Solar Provision only
- Air-conditioner Aircommand Ibis 3
- Gas 2x9kg
- Sway control Al-Ko ESC
- Cooking Thetford Minigrill Mk III combo four-burner, grill
- Microwave Sphere 900W
- Fridge Thetford 185L three-way
- Toilet Thetford cassette
- Shower Full-height one-piece moulded fibreglass
- Lighting LED
- Hot water 23L Atwood gas/electric
- Options fitted
- Front protective stone cover;
- Al-Ko ESC; TV
Price as shown
The full test appears in Caravan World #543 October 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!