At the 1975 Earls Court Caravan Show Ace Belmont International, or ABI Caravans as they were commonly known, showed off two new ranges, the modern ABI Target and the luxurious Elddis Crusader (Elddis Caravans were part of Ace Belmont International at the time, however operated away from the Beverley headquarters at Consett, Co. Durham).
The ABI Target range had already been seen and was a continental styled flat roofed caravan in three layouts, the 3.90, 4.40 and 5.10. Distinctive with a body colour mainly of light straw with chocolate and orange accents, and bronze tinted windows, the Target was a mid range caravan for those wanting something different.
The other new range launched, with the help of ‘Penthouse Pets’ (it was the mid 1970s remember) was the equally distinctive Crusader range of two models, the Crusader 2 and Crusader 4. Both shared the same body she’ll, the difference being the layout. The 2 being a two berth featured an end kitchen with front single beds, the 4 being a four berth and a front double bed, nearside kitchen and rear bunks beds.
The body featured extensive use of moulded panels for the front, rear and roof of the caravan. Styling was wedge shaped and the axle was widened, hence the need for wheel arches extensions to be fitted, unusual at the time and a feature ABI developed through their participating in the Caravan Road Rallies held at the time.
The roof was particularly distinctive with a raised middle area for additional headroom. Being made out of moulded panel, the shape wouldn’t have been possible to make out of aluminium as other Elddis caravans had. The windows were made out of bronze tinted glass and the rear window was full width on both models even though on the two berth model the window crossed from the kitchen through to the washroom area. Two small drop down mini windows at the the top of the main rear window were fitted for the kitchen and the washroom.
The moulded in gas locker at the front of the caravan featured space for two gas bottles, wheel chocks, clips for the corner steady brace and a set of four W4 corner steady pads to go under the corner steadies.
Other exterior features were the door for the Bowen water heater and the mains electrics input. At the time there were very few sites that offered mains electrics so this was an unusual feature. The 13″ wheels featured stylish wheel trims. Scandinavian standard insulation was fitted. At the time Elddis sold caravans successfully in Sweden so knew how to make sure the caravan was warm in winter and cool in summer.
Internally the layout of the Crusader 2 was classic two berth with front single beds, which also made into a double bed, rear kitchen and washroom with a large wardrobe opposite a fridge unit.
Furniture was in glass American Cherry with trim applied to add interest. Due tonthe shape of the roof there was an absence of roof lockers over the end windows, meaning whilst there was plenty of shelf space only two roof lockers were fitted in the lounge area. Over the 30 litre Electrolux 121 fridge was a cocktail cabinet. Now that size fridge might be classed as tiny, back in 1976 this was the height of luxury. A small ice tray was available so you could have ice in your gin and tonic.
Opposite the fridge the capacious double doored wardrobe featured a hanging area, drawers, shelves and a large locker. Many modern caravans don’t features such adaptable clothes storage. The control panel for the mains electrics lived in the wardrobe also. At the base of the wardrobe a thermostatic Carver SB1800 flued has heater was fitted. Together with the high level of insulation, the Crusader could be used all year round.
High quality plush upholstery, pleated curtains, scatter cushions and corner reading lights all came as standard. Features that whilst common today, were considered luxury items in the min 1970s.
The washroom by today’s standards was basic however at the time and washbasin with pumped water, fitted lighting and a roof storage locker were considered luxury items. No shower tray was fitted and as the Cassette toilet hadn’t been invented, there was plenty of room for a Porta-Potti toilet
The rear kitchen came with a combination two burner hob and grill with sink and drainer unit in stainless steel. Below the grill the standard oven came with wooden cover so that when not in use the kitchen could be ‘hidden away’ and out of sight.
The Crusader 2 also received competition success too at the hands of Malcolm Fawcett from HC Fawcett Caravan Centre York who entered a Leyland Princess 2200 HLS towing an Elddis Crusader 2 in the 1976 Caravan Club Caravan Road Rally. Whilst the aim was not to win the road rally itself, Malcolm did not disgrace himself and brought the outfit back in one piece after the grueling road section.
The aim of the entry was take part in the Concours d’Elegance competition. It was no surprise to learn that the colour co-ordinated Princess/Crusader outfit, which even had matching wheel trims, won the overall prize of the Brighton Trophy. The last year the Caravan Road Rally was held.
The Crusader 2 was certainly a different caravan from anything else made before by ABI or by Elddis. It didn’t look like anything previously made and only lasted for one season. The caravan was expensive too, at £2373 for the two berth and £2395 for the four berth. A standard 1976 Elddis Mistral of around the same size cost £1180, less than half the price of the Crusader, however it didn’t have the level of specification or style as the more expensive caravan.
The Crusader was competing against established names such as Castleton, Carlight, Safari and Stirling who all had models in a similar price range, and also the likes of Buccaneer, Cotswold, Viking Fibreline and Windsor who had caravans at a lower cost.
Sadly, the Crusader wasn’t a sales success and was dropped for the 1977 model year with only a few sold and to see one now is a rare event.
The Crusader brand came back between 1979 to 1981 which a toned down version of the original Crusader with a three panel aluminium roof. The American Cherry furniture was finished in Formica. These models came with wet central heating and 15′ two and four berth models were available together with a 13′ two berth.
The Crusader returned for a third time in February 1983 with an all new aerodynamic body. Model names were Knight, Earl, Count, King and Emperor. These models were made for 1983 and 1984 only despite being a popular choice for a luxury caravan.
The Crusader name made a brief return at the 1987 Boat, Caravan and Leisure Show held at the NEC, Birmingham. The prototype, which featured a pull up TV in the front chest, wasn’t a success and at nearly £9000 for the Crusader Knight, it wasn’t put into production.
The Crusader made it’s final return in 1989 with a range all on twin axles at a luxury level and all having traditional Elddis ‘wind’ names. The Storm model went on to win the 1989 Caravan Industry Tourer of the Year. Single axle models were reintroduced for the 2001 model year with a single axle Typhoon.
The Crusader name is now over 40 years old and for the last 30 years it has been the top branded Elddis model. The only exception was for the short lived Genesis range from 1997, which in spirit was certainly very similar to the original Crusader.
The Crusader has certainly come a long way since the first super luxury caravan. It proved that mass production manufacturer could made a niche product, however back in the mid 1970s there was a lot of competition.
Caravanning Life rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐🔳 4/5
List price: £2374
External body length: 13’1″
External body width: 6’10”
Unladen weight: 17.4 cwt
Max. laden weight: 21.7cwt
Details as listed in September 1976 issue of Practical Caravan magazine.