RV History: Motorized RVs

By Al Hesselbart

old camper carFrom the earliest days of motor camping,” (that is camping with motorized vehicles either to drive or to pull a trailer) driven RVs were known as house cars.” One of the earliest was the Touring Landau,” a chauffeur-driven camping limo built by the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car company. It was much like a modern type “B” van camper where the passenger area converted to a bedroom and was equipped with a kitchen in a box and a toilet (chamber pot). The Touring Landau sold for $8,000, a luxurious price.
Through the entire pre-World War II era, most house cars were home-made or custom made by carriage shops or sometimes

Frank Motor Home

 yacht builders. After the war, several trailer manufacturers began to build motorized versions of their camping vehicles. In 1958, a small trailer manufacturer named Ray Frank from Brown City, Michigan built a house car for personal use. When his family protested, calling his vehicle a house,” they began to call it a motoring home,” quickly shortened to “motorhome.” As fellow campers saw this “motorhome,” they began wanting one for themselves. The Frank Motor Home rapidly gained popularity, and within a few short years, manufacturers started building motorhomes and no longer used the term house car.
In 1961, Ray Frank’s son, Ron, received an assignment in his high school art class to take some square object and, with a French curve, create radius for every edge. Choosing his Father’s Frank Motor Home, Ron created the smooth rounded design that, a few years later was sold to PRF Industries to become the Travco Motor Home.
1967 Winnebago motorhomeThe 1960s showed the birth of many of the brand name, factory produced, motorhomes that are popular today. This growth was led by the highly affordable motorhome introduced in 1967 by travel trailer manufacturer Winnebago Industries and initially sold for under $5,000.
The assembly line built, no options available, original, affordable Winnebago Motor Home quickly gained such a large following that, by the mid-1970s and through the 1980s, Winnebago was no longer looked on as a brand name but had become a generic name for all motorhomes,  no matter who had made them. In 1978 Winnebago pushed the line on motorized RVs by introducing the Winnebago Helihome, a helicopter based flying RV. That effort was not accepted.

motorhome

About the same time that Winnebago introduced the affordable motorhome, a few manufacturers began to introduce very high line luxury coaches. Bluebird introduced the Wanderlodge, Newell took over the motorized division of Streamline, Barth changed from travel trailers to coaches, and Foretravel joined the luxury field. These four manufacturers lead the introduction of diesel pushers in the early 1970s.
While $5,000 motorhomes are a dream from the distant past, today’s coach prices vary from under $100,000 to well over $1 million.

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4 Thoughts to “RV History: Motorized RVs”

  1. Steve Barnes, Kamloops, BC

    Enjoyed historical article. Let’s have more pics and copy, Emily.
    .
    I think Emily is your newest employee and daughter, Chuck. Be proud to have Gail and Emily working with you.

  2. Kathy Nisse

    Would like to communicate wit Al in his research of Ray Frank. I actually purchased a Frank Travel Trailer in July of 2015. No paperwork, and finding zero info online or in Brown City, Michigan about the travel trailers Ray built prior to his now famous motorhomes. The insides are a mess and I want to fix it up to as close to original as possible, but have nothing to go by. Thanks.

  3. George

    I bought, and read, Al’s book “The Dumb Things Sold..just like that”.
    A very interesting history of rvs and rving.

  4. Suka’s Mom

    I enjoyed this article, Al. I look forward to seeing many more.

Comments are closed.