A Look at Some of the More Interesting

Early or Unusual Motor Homes

 

This page is a "work in progress" with information added frequently as I have time to research old and unusual motorhomes.  Check back later to see what's new.  Also note that there are links behind several of the photographs.

 
 

Once the car was a familiar sight on the American roads, it did not take long for someone to create a motorhome. This photograph of a happy family in their home on wheels was published in a 1909 edition of Motor Magazine.
Zaglemeyer, in Bay City, Michigan, made Model T Ford housecar conversions.  This one, complete with a "bedroom slide", was definitely ahead of its day.   (Circa 1920)

Here is another Model T conversion with a telescoping rear slide, complements of the RV/MH Hall of Fame.

1915 Lamsteed Kampkar - an early recreational vehicle manufactured by Anheuser-Busch. The vehicles were mounted on a Model T Ford chassis and sold for $535. This example is owned by Peter Kable in Australia.
This 1920 housecar is a full cottage, complete with a sunroom and a back porch. 

The chassis is a Model TT Ford truck, based on the Model T, but with a heavier frame and rear axle.  It had a one ton capacity, and second gear which was useful for climbing hills.  Ford sold it from 1918 to 1927 as a truck or simply as a chassis for buyers to build on as needed.  

   
 This 1923 Nomad house-car is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  It was commercially produced for sale, and also utilized the Ford TT truck chassis.  Note the chimney and the pull-down roller window shade.  It has a set of rear steps that fold down.

 

   
A whimsical picture of a Model T Ford conversion.  Note the matching outhouse and the still out back.  Click on the photo for a larger view.

This picture is a promotional image found on the web site of Pyne's Texan RV in Houston Texas.

 

   
This custom made motorhome, probably dating to around 1918,  is made of redwood and mounted on a Nash-Quad truck chassis.  It was built and used by a photographer of the time. 

The photo was taken by Mark Quasius, an iRV2 forum member, at a visitor center in the Redwood Forest, just south of Eureka, CA

 

 
Here is a picture of a 1918 Nash-Quad flatbed truck similar to the one used as the platform for the redwood custom motorhome above.  The Nash-Quad was an extremely popular tuck in the mid 1910's into the 20's.  It was first manufactured in 1914 by the Thomas B. Jeffrey Co. in Kenosha, WI.  In 1916 Jeffrey sold production rights to the Nash Motor Company.

   

In the 1930's "House Cars" continued to be a novelty, even while growing in popularity.

This 1937 Ford House Car was produced in very limited numbers at the Ford Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The body is framed and paneled in wood, with sheet steel cladding.

 

   

The vehicle to the right is a 1931 Chevrolet house car presented to Mae West by Paramount Studies when Ms. West moved from vaudeville to Paramount Pictures the same year.  It was a chauffer driven touring car, complete with seatback tables and a kitchenette for meals on the road.   Notice the open observation area in the rear, with its own door.

This house car currently resides at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana.  Here's a large view from their site.

   

1938 Fleetwheels, custom made for Italian explorer Attilio Gatti as one of his "Jungle Yachts", as featured in a 1938 Time Magazine ad for International Trucks.  Gatti made 10 expeditions to Africa in the first half of the 20th century.  He had two of these rigs, which when joined together at camp, made up a 5-room apartment.

 

See ad here. (Click again on ad image to read it.)

Click here for an actual photograph of this rig

Click here  for more photos on the Web.

Scroll down to "Pictures Search" and enter "jungle yacht".

Click on image for larger view.

 
   
This picture has more to say than I can possibly say with words.  Click on the picture for a large view.

   
Sometimes, when you outgrow your home on wheels, the solution may be to simply build on a new addition... 

Photograph by Karen Withak

...or, if chassis length is a problem, maybe adding a second story is the answer.

These two unusual motorhomes were captured on film by photographer Karen Withak, while visiting New Zealand.  Wouldn't you love to have a look inside?

Photograph by Karen Withak

This museum piece was built by a Danish painter in order to stay for several years in Spain with his wife and 2 children. It had a double-roof against the hot sun in Spain, a full kitchen and even a bathtub.
A fascinating 1946 Chevrolet motor home featured in the September 1989 issue of Motorhome Magazine. This vehicle was owner-built from a new chassis over a period of several years soon after WW1. It attracted so much attention on the road that vacation travel was hampered by all of the people gawking and asking questions.
A strong post-WW2 market for recreation vehicles prompted the Flxible Company to furnish some of its intercity buses as luxury bus homes and sell them to affluent vacationers. They called the new line of coaches the "Land Cruiser".  This one is pictured with it's owner, J.C. Long, an attorney and real estate developer of the time.

In 1955, Flxible sold the Land Cruiser line to Kirwin Elmers, who with his father, founded Custom Coach Corporation in a small auto service garage in Columbus, OH.  Today Custom Coach Corp. is a leading custom bus conversion company.

Since those days, bus conversions have always been popular with RV enthusiasts.  And the 40's and 50's era Flxible has always been a favorite to convert.  This 1957 Flxible Starliner is owned by Dave and Carol Lang, as photographed at a gathering for bus enthusiasts held in Timmonsville, SC in May, 2006. 

Another Flxible conversion (a beautifully restored 1948 Clipper) was featured in Robin William's recent movie "RV"  See more Flxible conversions here.

   

I originally included a picture of this vintage RV just because I love the futuristic look, the smooth lines, and the wrap-around windshield.  But I had no idea what it was. 

However, I've recently discovered that this was one of Cinematographer Roy Hunt's house cars.  He was intrigued by the idea of "house cars" and started a small production company, which built a few of these.  This is one of his first models called "The Star", built in 1937.  (See the star ornament above the grill.)  There is a sister car to this one called "The Turtle", finished the following year.  Both were equipped with a bed, kitchen, a toilet, and even a shower (with a hand operated water pump).

Here is another of the Hunt house cars, built in 1940.  It appears, from the picture, to be a bit longer than the first two.

 

 

Some attribute Ray Frank as the father of the modern Class A motor home.  In 1953 Frank, a farmer and engineer who had a strong automotive and aviation background, built his first house car on a Dodge truck chassis, which he called a "motor home".   Soon afterwards, because of all the attention his motor home received, he built four more.  The photo on the right likely shows one of those four.

In 1958 Frank's son Ronald became involved and raised the capital to start "Frank Motor Homes".  By 1960, they had built seven more.  In 1961 Frank linked his company with Chrysler Motors and the motor homes were marketed under the "Dodge" brand name, as you can see in this 1962 ad.  The Class A motor home industry had been launched.  In 1963 Frank started producing fiberglass body shells, but unfortunately went bankrupt later that year.  Two investors bought the body molds and patent rights, and formed Travco Corporation, the company who supplied the bodies for the popular Dodge Travco shown below

   
The Dodge Motor Home above quickly evolved into the Dodge Travco.  Dodge and Travco ruled the motor home industry in the 60's and 70's with this popular RV which featured a rugged fiberglass Travco body on an enhanced Dodge truck chassis.  Tens of thousands of these were sold.  They came in body sizes ranging from 21' to 27' (27' being the most popular).  Most had the trademark mid-height color band paint scheme you see here. 

In the late 70's Chrysler Motors abandoned its medium duty truck market including its popular Dodge motor home chassis.  This soon led to the demise of Travco, since the two companies were tied so closely together.

   
The Ungers Crown Commander, offering more room inside and nicer amenities was another motor home of the same era, also built on the Dodge truck chassis.  The Crown Commander was designed and built by brothers Paul and Matt Ungers from 1964 to 1974 in Madison, OH, during which time they built and sold around 800 of these units.  The Crown Commander was a bold and unique design in its day, featuring a completely hand laid one-piece molded fiberglass shell, which made it stronger and more durable.  The interior featured custom fiberglass fittings, up-scale wood cabinetry, a spacious molded fiberglass bathroom, and loads of storage space.  See more detailed information here.

(Photo compliments of the Ungers family.)

   
In 1958, the same year that Frank Motor Homes was formed, John K. Hanson, of Forest City, Winnebago County, Iowa, was putting together his own RV trailer company with a small group of fellow businessmen from town.  The first motorhome was produced in 1966.  Winnebago developed a market lead by making its motorhome available for sale at about half the price of competitors' models, selling 100,000 units by 1977.  The company did so well that for several decades the brand name "Winnebago" was synonymous with "motorhome".

Here is a classic Winnebago Brave from the early 1970's.  Click on photo to see a magazine ad from the era.

   

Class C motorhomes were also beginning to enter the market during this era.  This 1969 model, on a Ford truck chassis, was built by The Stites Camper Company of Denver, CO.  It demonstrates the evolution from slide-in truck campers to today's type C. 

This particular unit is on display at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, IN. 

(Photo from the RV/MH Hall of Fame web site.)

   

During these years, the late 60's, the entire industry took off.  Recognizing a market for more "upscale" motorhomes, L.K. Newell founded the Newell Coach Corporation in 1967.  Here is a picture from the 1968 Newell Coach brochure.  Their first motor homes were built on a Ford chassis, with a Ford gas engine.

Just two years later in 1970, Newell was the first company to market a rear-engine motor home, on their own built-from-scratch class A pusher motor home chassis - a design which would become the standard for the future.  Within another two years they were offering "diesel pushers" far ahead of the rest of the industry.

 
   
Also built in 1972 on a Dodge M300 chassis, with a fiberglass skin, this Rectrans Discoverer 25R was a futuristic attempt at streamlining.

Although Dodge would yield the Class A market to other manufacturers, they would continue to become the leading manufacturer of Class B and Class C motor home chassis' for many years to come. 

   

See catalog with floor plans.

No pictorial history would be complete without mentioning the popular and futuristic GMC Motorhome.  Just under 13,000 of these were manufactured between 1973 and 1978.  Over 8000 are likely still in use today.  It was front wheel drive with a pair of tandem wheels in the back.  No rear axles or drive shaft intruded into the living space, allowing for a long, low fully integrated body, built with aluminum framing and a fiberglass shell.  Air bags were utilized for suspension which could be manually controlled for leveling in a campsite.  Most were 26' long, and powered by a 455 cu ft. V8 engine from the Oldsmobile Toronado. They often had "luxury features" common on upper models of GM cars, such as cruise control, air conditioning, and AM/FM/8-track sound systems.
   

By the 60's Volkswagen was well entrenched in America, and they would not be left out of the growing motorhome/camper market, as exemplified by this 1967 VW Westfalia Camper.  The next year VW came out with the larger and  more squarish VW Bus, which were also popular in the camper configuration.  Our fist "motorhome" was a '68 VW Campmobile.

Speaking of Volkswagens, here is an unusual conversion.  It was sold as a kit and marketed by a small company in Irvine CA as the "MiniHome".  (Not sure what years.)

You can still order the plans for this kit today from Robert Q. Riley Enterprises.  The new detailed version of the plans will cost you $55.  The materials should run just under $2000, plus the cost and preparation of a good VW Beetle chassis.  Click the photo for details and more pictures.

   
Here's another unusual model.  Built on an Isuzu chassis, with a diesel engine, the Navette is a streamlined design that was admired for its sleek looks and excellent fuel economy.  (Don't ask how you check the tire pressures.)   The Navette Motorhome  was first produced in 1990 by Bob Smith.  By 1995 he had produced and sold 16 vehicles, including one special ordered by Kellogg Cereals.  Unfortunately he had to close the company at that time due to severe illness.  Read the interesting story of this company on this link, which contains info from the Navette web site (no longer active).  Smith listed the company for sale a few years ago, and it still may be available.
   
In keeping with the "unusual motorhome" category, here is another do-it-yourself model.  This fellow took the easy way out.  All he did was mount an old travel trailer on a Mercedes Benz chassis, and then stick some skirting around the bottom.   Still, it's functional.  But watch that first step.
   
A motorhome for those who like to camp and go 4-wheeling at the same time.  This one was built on a MAN 4x4 truck chassis.  With those oversized tires, the owner of this off-road motorhome can go just about anywhere.  The top breathers will come in handy in case there are any rivers or steams in the way that need crossing. 

Actually, there is a company in Australia, Amesz Design Pty Ltd, that sells a line of off-road motorhomes.  They are popular for use in the Outback. 

   

This 1975 Daystar, with a luxurious teak wood interior, is one of only 16 made by Daystar Motorhomes of Compton Cal.

Could it have possibly been the front grill design that did the company in?

Photographs by Bruce Fingerhood

 
   
The epitome of "unusual" in motor homes of course, is the Terra Wind Luxury Amphibious Coach/Yacht.  Click on the photo for additional views. 

This is not a one-of-a-kind custom.  You can order one for yourself.  See the Terra Wind web site for all the interesting details on this unusual rig. 

   

Since I am a motorcycle fan, as well as a fan of motorized recreational vehicles, I've got to close this short list of "unusual motorhomes" with this picture. 

This custom 5-wheel camper-trike was designed and built by David Castillo of Coachella, CA.  (Here is another camper-trike Castillo created.)  Can you imagine how much fun it would be to take to the road on this? 

 

   
For anyone interested in the history of motor homes, here are three books that you would really enjoy.  Click on the books for more info, and how to order them. 

Mobile Mansions: 

Taking Home Sweet Home on the Road

RV's & Campers:  1900-2000

(An Illustrated History)

The Dumb Things Sold

....just like that.

(History of Early RV Manufacturers)

 

If you have suggestions for this page, or comments, please email me.

Top of Page          Return to previous page