Norma Jean crowned best retro

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BEAUTY: Mike Wells of Retro Custom Caravans stands outside the lovingly restored 1957 caravan Norma Jean.

A painstaking restoration has paid off for Mike Wells, who has taken home the Best Retro Caravan title from the Whangamata Beach Hop.

This isn’t the first time Mr Wells has been crowned winner at the beach hop, with his beautifully restored caravans always a crowd pleaser at the annual event.

This year’s winner, Norma Jean, was originally made in 1957 by the Auckland Caravan Company and was lovingly restored by Mr Wells over several weeks after he bought it in derelict condition for a customer. Caravans from this company are extremely rare, as it was only in operation for a few years and many leaked through their distinctive lantern roofs, which meant they had to be scrapped as the wood rotted.

Mr Wells had been working on the caravan off and on for over two years, but six months before the beach hop his customer contacted him and said he would love to have it entered. Cue Mr Wells feverishly working for three weeks straight to get the caravan ready in time.

The hard work paid off, with the beach hop crowd voting Norma Jean as their favourite caravan.

Mr Wells said his customer requested he create a caravan “solely for entertainment”, and he has done just that.

This is a party caravan, Neon blue lights light up under the cabinetry and curve under the table, a Bluetooth stereo is cunningly disguised as a retro radio, the centre of the table conceals an icebucket for drinks and the bar holds every bottle and glass in place with custom cabinetry. Every little detail has been thoughtfully considered, including the stool to step inside, which features a metal inlay engraved with the name “Norma Jean”.

While all the cabinetry and appliances may look original most have been handmade by Mr Wells. The only exception is the fridge, which dates from the 1930s and has been refurbished.

All of Mr Wells’ caravans are restored by hand at his Retro Custom Caravans premises based near Te Teko. It is clear Mr Wells loves what he does. He had previously been in the business of restoring American cars from the 1950s but switched to caravans nearly 10 years ago because they allow for more creativity.

“With cars you are really limited in what you can create,” he said.

“Caravans are an open deal; you can do whatever you want with them. They are really a blank canvas.”

Mr Wells’ creativity is evident in Norma Jean, with the great and fun addition of a genuine 1940s airhorn installed on the hitch.

“I bought that several years ago and was just waiting for something to use it on,” said Mr Wells.

“I thought, why not?”

Mr Wells’ commitment to creating dream caravans for his customers, spending over 700 hours on each one, has cemented him firmly as New Zealand’s leading custom restorer of retro caravans.

Despite winning at the Beach Hop, Mr Wells said he was still not done with Norma Jean.

He plans to add decals of her namesake Norma Jean from before she changed her name and became Marilyn Monroe, among other things.

For those who would like to see Norma Jean, she will be on display at this weekend’s Classics at Ohope.

This popular annual event held at the Surf and Sand venue showcases classic cars and caravans along with entertainment and food.

The event will be open this Saturday from 12pm – 5pm and entry is a gold coin donation towards the charity Ronald McDonald House.