You might have noticed our latest “pimped out” camper van! We’re actually really happy to announce a new partnership with this Quebec family-run company called Safari Condo. Their success relies on their passion for the adventure and we’re happy to share their dreams through our stories. We thought it would be interesting to visit their plant and show you how these adventure mobiles are made. Here’s an interesting interview with founder Daniel Nadeau.
Can you tell us how Safari Condo was born?
Camping has always been part of our life. When our daughter Dominique was born, we left the tent behind and bought a Westfalia in order to have more freedom and also to simplify the preparation of our family outings. At that time, I was involved in catamaran competitions all over Quebec almost every weekend. With the West, we were always ready to go with the “cat” on the trailer. Seven years later, the transmission broke down in Pennsylvania and we sold it.
We realized that the mechanics gave us many headaches and we wanted a reliable vehicle that could be repaired anywhere in America. I then thought of designing one on an American chassis for my personal needs, but I realized that building one would be too expensive and figured out that if we were able to sell about 15 per year, the business would be profitable. The first year, we sold 38. Safari Condo was born.
What was the first vehicle you converted and which ones do you work with nowadays?
Don’t forget that Safari Condo was born of our love for the Westfalia. We loved the freedom of movement it gave us, the fuel economy and the fact that we could also use it as a 2nd vehicle. Therefore, we were looking for a small vehicle supported by a wide network of dealers. We chose the GM Safari.
We have kept that which we liked on our West, such as the daybed for example and improved upon annoyances. One year later, we added the GM Savana 18’ and 20’ which offered more space, then the Sprinter and two years ago, the ProMaster. We are therefore working on three frames with three different lengths on each chassis.
Ten years ago you have developed the Alto trailer; can you tell us about it?
The Alto is my life project. At first nobody really believed me, it was all in my head and people had difficulty imagining it. It is only when they saw the roof rising from the prototype, with its glass crescent, that they understood. Its development was difficult and took a long time. It is a highly technological product and its construction is complex. I worked three years, seven days a week, to create the Alto. I wanted to produce a caravan that was extremely light, aerodynamic, built from the best material, and which could be towed by a family car rather than a big energy-consuming vehicle. We made the bet that people would be willing to pay for a quality product, recyclable and with a long life-cycle.
As an aircraft and glider pilot, I am very aware of the importance of weight and balance and aerodynamics. In addition, in the 1990s, I built an all-aluminum plane all by myself; it also was from here that Alto was born, aviation.
While in a Safari Condo, we work inside a vehicle that already exists; the Alto on the other hand is produced entirely in our plants. It all starts with some huge pre-painted aluminum rolls that are imported from The Netherlands because the width we require does not exist in America. The construction of an Alto takes two weeks, and we currently produce six Alto each week. We have a sales office in Quebec, and dealers in Ontario, British Columbia, and Australia.
Since the company started you have been organizing van meet-ups, can you tell us more about it?
Here again, our great get-togethers originated from our experience with Westfalia. We dreamed of recreating the feeling of belongingness that we experienced with a Westfalia owners group. At our first get-together, 32 vehicles showed up. I had never seen more than two at the same time! As soon as we finished building them, they were already sold and shipped immediately. What emotion to see 32 vehicles, with their roof up in the night… Now, we visit a different region each year. There is no Safari Condo club… you own one? Then, you’re part of the family and will be invited to all events. It’s Condists from different regions who launch the invitation and Safari Condo supports them in the organization.
The Great Get-Together is the occasion over three days to discover a region, to share knowledge and experiences and to talk about exciting destinations, Yukon and California for example. It is very special because over the balance of the year, Condists are very self-reliant people and travel on their own. Our Great Get-Together generally regroups between 125 and 150 vehicles, Alto and Safari Condo combined. We also have a winter gathering, which brings together the brave, the winter aficionados, the Frosty Snails. These Condists practise skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling and rely on their Safari Condo as base camp at temperatures that can reach – 30 °C. I love it!
Are you planning a road trip this summer?
This summer, I will combine both my passions, travel and aviation. At the end of July, we will leave for Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Every year Oshkosh hosts the largest aircraft gathering in the world, Air Venture. We go every second year. You can see everything that flies … or will maybe fly some day! There are close to 14,000 aircrafts on the ground and more than 40,000 campers in an immense field without any services! I fall asleep and wake up to the sound of aircraft… Pure bliss! Of course on our route we visit with among others, Mackinac Island, an island without cars where the means of transportation is either a horse or a bicycle. But we have no specific plans; we’ll consider whatever shows up along the road.
What are the upcoming projects for Safari Condo?
The coming year will be largely devoted to increasing our production in both our Alto and Safari Condo facilities. Demand is very strong and we must consider increasing our production capacity to meet this increase. We also have large projects over the next two years … but I can’t really tell you about it now. It’s top secret!