Curbside Classic: 1973 Dodge Balboa Motorhome – The True Pioneer in Class B+ Motor Homes

CC 214 058 1200

(first posted 11/13/2014)    Those of you that have been around here a while know that I do have a thing for old motorhomes and such. So when I started seeing this old pink Dodge re-purposed as a food cart, I had to pull over and shoot, not eat (I was full). Especially so since this Balboa is almost a dead-ringer for my own 1977 Dodge Chinook. And this turned into a bit of a history lesson, as I had erroneously assumed that Chinook was the pioneer in this category, which came to be known as “Class B Plus” (in between van-based Class B and larger cabover sleeper Class C motorhomes). Not so. This Balboa was the real pioneer.

CC 207 080 925

The similarities between the Chinook (our ’77 here),

CC 214 059 1200

and the Balboa are quite obvious. Same basic idea: a durable leak-proof fiberglass body on the back of a Dodge cutaway van chassis, with a rear door. Just the right size to accommodate two quite comfortably, and nice big windows with which to enjoy the scenery when having a meal at the coast, lake or mountains. And both of these models came out in 1971, the same year these new chassis did from Dodge and Chevrolet. So which came first?


CC 214 061 925

Before we do that, let’s take a brief look at this one.

CC 214 062 925

Balboa was the recreational vehicle division of Jensen Marine Corp., of Costa Mesa, CA. I can’t readily find any history of what they built, as I don’t think it’s the Jensen Marine Radio company.

CC 214 060 1200

Like the Chinook, these rigs both have rear doors, which is actually somewhat more space efficient and creates a cozy cabin with facing couches that turn into a bed/beds.

CC 228 058 1200

I’m pretty familiar with Chinook’s history, and it’s quite well documented. Before their new 1971 Class B+, they made slide-in campers, and larger rigs like this one I did a CC on a while back. But the Class B+, called “18+” (later “Concourse”) became their big hit, along with the Toyota Chinook, and was built for several decades until quite recently.

Balboa Dodge a100-motorhome-004

It’s not easy getting historical info on Balboa, except that they started building compact motor homes back in 1968. And this is what they looked like: very much like the later one, but on the back of the older Dodge A108 chassis. With a 318 between the seats and a Torqueflite, this rig wasn’t actually underpowered.

CC 233 049 1200

So the Balboa was first “Class B+”. But it didn’t last; like so many RV manufacturers, the 1973-1974 energy crisis wiped it out. Chinook survived, by the skin of its teeth, and prospered with its Concourse, which became the prototype of so many Class B+ rigs, now one of the biggest segments of the motorhome market. Who wants to hit the road with kids anyway?

But this Balboa lives on, with a snout on its nose and ears on its side.